Intersex Germans call for 'third gender' option

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Intersex Germans call for 'third gender' option
Vanja, who is intersex, advocates for a "third option". Photo: DPA.

Germany is the first European country that gave parents of intersex people the option of not having to choose a sex at birth. But now the country's intersex citizens want more than a blank box.


For 26-year-old Vanja, the decision of which bathroom to use is not so simple as it is for others.

Vanja was born intersex, which means having sexual characteristics in between male and female. About one in 1,500 people are born as intersex worldwide.

During childhood, the Leipzig native dressed as a girl and used a female name, but by kindergarten, Vanja had “a fundamental feeling that that didn’t work for me”.

Now Vanja - who has short hair and a small beard - chooses the men’s room simply because “it’s less likely that people will call me out”.

Officially, however, Vanja is registered in Germany as a woman - and Vanja says there needs to be another solution.

In 2013, Germany became the first European country to offer a third gender option for babies born intersex on their birth certificates - marking the sex category “blank”. It was intended to save parents from feeling forced to make hasty decisions about their intersex babies’ identities.

It was also meant to address what intersex advocates say is an extremely damaging practice of parents and doctors putting young children through surgery to be more in line with one gender. But even in 2014 after the law had been implemented, 177 children up to the age of five had such operations.

“Most intersex people realize over time that they want to live life more as a man or as a woman,” said Lucie Veith of the German Association of Intersex People.

But for others like Vanja, the gender binary isn’t so easy.

“For me it quite quickly became clear that being a boy does not really fit,” Vanja said.

Up to January 2016, government figures show that there had been 12 cases of parents not filling in the gender box for their newborns, though these numbers are not definite.

But allowing intersex people to have a blank space for their gender is not enough, argues Vanja.

“Of course you can say that this is perhaps better than having an obviously false registry. But when some people get to have a clear identity and others do not, then that is not equality,” Vanja said.

Now Vanja with advocacy group Third Option (Dritte Option) want to create another official identification beyond male or female, such as “inter” or “diverse”, and the group is bringing a case to the German Constitutional Court. The German Ethics Council had recommended in 2012 that the government have an “other” category.

“If there were to be an official recognition, then maybe this idea could also gain acceptance throughout society, the idea that these people are not a faulty product of God’s love,” said Veith, who also supports the Third Option’s work.

Lawyer Angela Kolbe, who is renowned for her research on the legal status of intersex people at the Körber Foundation, said that not having another gender identification option is a clear violation of basic rights.

“The gender identity of each person is protected under general rights to privacy,” she explained. “This also goes for having a fitting official acknowledgement of one’s sex.”

Kolbe said she believed that lawmakers may shrink away from such a change because it would also involve changes to family law: same-sex marriage is not recognized in Germany, but what would a third option mean for marriage?

Still, this question was also raised with the 2013 “blank” option: who may someone marry if they do not have an official sex?

Vanja says that the path towards complete equal treatment will nevertheless be a long one. Clothing stores divide everything, even socks, into men’s and women’s. In the workplace, employees must fill out forms with “m” or “w”

“Of course it’s sometimes simply exhausting. And then it just makes you sad.”



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