Would You Leave Gender Blank on Baby's Birth Certificate?
A new law in Germany geared toward intersex children would allow birth certificates to be completed without a gender designation.
If your baby’s sex wasn’t obvious at birth, would you hold off on recording a gender on the infant’s birth certificate?
Come November, that will be an option in Germany, where a new law will allow the gender designation on newborns’ birth certificates to be left blank, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.
“If a child can be assigned neither male nor female gender, the birth registry should be filled out without such indication,” the law states.
Geared toward infants born with ambiguous sexual traits — often known as intersex children — the law allows for the gender designation to be determined later in life, when the child is older, or to remain blank indefinitely, the newspaper reported.
While Germany is the first European state to institute such legislation, countries such as Australia and Nepal have recently allowed citizens to mark their genders as a “X” or a “third gender,” respectively, on official documents.
Not surprisingly, the law has drawn both praise and criticism on this side of the Atlantic.
“Many transgender and intersex people experience tremendous amounts of discrimination as a result of being labeled male or female at birth when, in fact, they are the opposite sex,” Michael Silverman, the executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York, told BabyZone. “For intersex people, in particular, Germany’s law offers parents the chance to allow their children to develop and let them know who they truly are. That’s a good thing.”
The California-based website Catholic Online, meanwhile, has denounced the law, arguing in an article that “(a)s the world is being dragged into a new state, where gender is a choice, but sexual activity is not, we reverse two more pillars of civilization.”
Estimates on the number of intersex births vary widely. According to the Accord Alliance, which promotes improving care for intersex individuals, one in every 2,000 hospital births “involves a child whose genitals are atypical enough to make the child’s sex unclear” but as many as 1 in 100 people are born with some sort of sexual anomaly.
The German law comes as intersex advocates continue to warn of the dangers of surgery intended to clear the way for young intersex children to conform to a specific gender.
In May, the adoptive parents of an 8-year-old child sued the state of South Carolina after sex assignment surgery left the child with female genitalia when he was 16 months old. The intersex child now identifies as a boy despite the surgery.
The intersex civil rights group Advocates for Informed Choice, which supports the lawsuit, urges “waiting to provide any cosmetic medical intervention until the child is old enough to make their own informed decisions about their bodies and desired gender identity.”
The AIC declined to comment on the German law since the group had yet to review it. But with respect to gender assignments, the organization takes a position that may seem counterintuitive: It maintains that intersex children should be assigned “social” genders.
“We fear that no assigned gender only further stigmatizes a child who is going to have enough struggles as it is working out their preferred identity in a world that unfortunately is still stuck in a binary way of thinking about sex and gender,” AIC’s Kimberly Zieselman told BabyZone.
Some parents told BabyZone that they, too, would prefer to designate a child’s gender early on, with some qualifications.
Olga, the mother of a newborn in Maryland, said that while she likes the German law — “parenting is stressful enough without extra limitations especially if you don’t know the gender of your child,” she said — if she had an intersex child, the new mom would want to designate the infant’s gender.
“Children need stability and certainty,” she said. “I would make a choice but would be ready to answer some tough questions later and prepared for them to make a different choice later in life.”
Image by Dominik Gwarek via stock.xchng
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