On November 1, a new law will go into effect in Germany that opens up the option to choose a third gender on birth certificates, making it the first country in Europe to offer the distinction. The law is meant for intersex babies, meaning that when a baby is born without a clearly distinguishable sex, which is estimated to occur in 1 out of every 2,000 children born each year, they can choose later in life which sex they identify with.
In most countries that require newborns to be given a male or female gender when it isn’t immediately clear, doctors will often assign a gender that they believe best fits the baby, and in some cases will perform gender assignment surgery. This is how Germany has operated in the past, but the new law will now leave this decision up the parents who can choose to leave the gender blank. It is then left up to the child to decide if they are male, female, or neither, once they reach further development.
Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York City psychiatrist who specializes in gender identification issues, praised the new German law and commented that “some people have life-endangering conditions that require surgery, but most kids do not… You can make a gender assignment without surgery and then see how identity develops. The science of knowing how a child will develop any gender identity is not very accurate…. Nobody can answer the questions about why this happens. It’s like the mystery of why people are gay.”
Germans are often seen as being more progressive thinkers when it comes to issues on sexuality, but the country’s policies have often lagged behind the views of the people. When it comes to legalizing same-sex marriage, Germany has opted to only offer same-sex unions, despite a recent Reuters statistic showing 74 percent of Germans are in favor for legalized marriage. This new law however shows that Germany may become even more progressive when it comes to these types of issues.
One thing that is still not fully clear with the new law is how this distinction will be handled on other legal documents, like passports, that require a gender assignment. Australia, which became the first country in the world to allow for a third gender option earlier this year, carried it over to most legal documents with the choice of “M” for Male, “F” for Female, or the letter “X” to indicate the gender as being Indeterminate, Intersex, or Unspecified.