Gender Redefined: Intersex Babies ‘Third Sex’ in Germany


Germany has officially recognized the intersex option for newborns. New parents can exit a hospital with all the necessary paperwork, only in the case of intersex babies, the parents need check neither ‘male’ nor ‘female’ on the birth certificate. Intersex is now officially a third gender option.

The new law comes after a 2012 report submitted by the nation’s Ethics Council found that intersex people should be protected from medical developments like genital surgery on infants. The council suggested such operations be deferred until children were at an age where they could understand the repercussions and participate in the decision.

Intersex is defined as having genitalia that resembles both male and female anatomy. Until recently, the designation was most often met with surgical recommendations, urgent ones at that. New parents are routinely pressed to decide the fate of their child’s sexuality before even getting to know their infants and which–if either–gender they most identify with.

The decision is a step forward for the intersex community, but some say it’s a threat to privacy. The once latent nature of someone’s gender at birth is now exposed under the new law. In a TIME magazine article, Silvan Agius, policy director at ILGA-Europe, an international lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex advocacy group, says the law may expose intersex individuals “to more and not less discrimination due to the automatic ‘outing’ that intersex infants may be subjected to as a result of the new category.”

But for the intersex-born individuals who were subject to reassignment procedures, the protection and promise of fewer surgeries is welcome. Katrina Karkazis, a bioethicist and anthropologist at the Stanford School of Medicine in California, told TIME that of all the indeterminate gender people she’s interviewed in two decades, “she has only come across one person who has said that although having the surgery “was not easy” she understood why it was done.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.