Germany allows 'indeterminate' gender at birth


The BBC's Stephen Evans in Berlin says that it's not yet clear what this will mean for German law on marriage

Related Stories

Germany has become Europe's first country to allow babies with characteristics of both sexes to be registered as neither male nor female.

Parents are now allowed to leave the gender blank on birth certificates, in effect creating a new category of "indeterminate sex".

The move is aimed at removing pressure on parents to make quick decisions on sex assignment surgery for newborns.

However, some campaigners say the new law does not go far enough.

As many as one in 2,000 people have characteristics of both sexes.

'Bruised and scarred'

Sarah Graham, intersex woman and counsellor: "This pink and blue thing is a nonsense"

They are known as "intersex" people because they have a mixture of male and female chromosomes or even genitalia which have characteristics of both genders.

The intense difficulty for parents is often that a gender has to be chosen very quickly so that the new child can be registered with the authorities, the BBC's Steve Evans in Berlin reports.

Sometimes surgery is done on the baby to turn its physical characteristics as far as possible in one direction or the other, our correspondent says.

The law in Germany has been changed following a review of cases which revealed great unhappiness.

In one case, a person with no clear gender-defining genitalia was subjected to surgery. The person said many years later: "I am neither a man nor a woman. I will remain the patchwork created by doctors, bruised and scarred."

German passports, which currently list the holder's sex as M for male or F for female, will have a third designation, X, for intersex holders, according to the interior ministry.

Silvan Agius, ILGA-Europe: "It does not address the surgeries... and that's not good"

It remains unclear what impact the change will have on marriage and partnership laws in Germany.

Current laws define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and civil partnerships are reserved for same-sex couples.

Silvan Agius of IGLA-Europe, which campaigns for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex people, said the law needed to go further.

"While on the one hand it has provided a lot of visibility about intersex issues... it does not address the surgeries and the medicalisation of intersex people and that's not good - that has to change," he told the BBC.

While Germany is the first country in Europe to legally recognise a third gender, several other nations have already taken similar steps.

Third gender recognition

  • Australia - passport applications since 2011
  • Bangladesh - passport applications since 2011
  • Germany - on birth certificates from 2013
  • India - electoral roll since 2009
  • Nepal - census since 2007
  • New Zealand - passport applications since 2012

Australians have had the option of selecting "x" as their gender - meaning indeterminate, unspecified or intersex - on passport applications since 2011. A similar option was introduced for New Zealanders in 2012.

In South Asia, Bangladesh has offered an "other" gender category on passport applications since 2011.

Nepal began recognising a third gender on its census forms in 2007 while Pakistan made it an option on national identity cards in 2011.

India added a third gender category to voter lists in 2009.

While transgender or intersex people have long been accepted in Thailand and are officially recognised by the country's military, they do not have any separate legal status.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 724.

    An interesting subject - for those who don't have to deal with it at least. In a perfect world it would be the individual who chooses, but this can't happen until adulthood can it? It's the parent that decides which school uniform to be worn - the colour of the bedroom - trunks or swimsuit - appearance in general. It's not about the choice, it's about pressure to choose. What a nightmare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 722.

    I'm a man, married with kids (donor) and (drum roll) intersex.
    1. I have male genitalia, not female.
    2. I look like man, all the right bits
    3. I was raised as a boy/man.
    4. I have an extra X chromosome.
    The biggest barrier faced by intersex men, women and children are some of the views below. I didn't choose this but need to live with it.
    First they came for the Jews... (Pastor Niemoller)

  • rate this

    Comment number 694.

    You may all be interested to know that I'm registrar in London and we do in fact have the option on registering a baby's sex as 'indeterminate' as well as the usual male or female. A quick whip around the office and nobody has yet registered one as this, but we could if we needed to!

  • rate this

    Comment number 663.

    One would hope that genetic aberrations of this rare type will continue to be addressed by medical science so they become rarer still and where it does occur those people are given the opportunity to make gender identification they want to make.

  • rate this

    Comment number 536.

    Since third gender is a scientific and medical fact - the legal definition followed.
    They (later in life or by parents) must have, right, though, to change it after the surgery or as it is, just to avoid stigma related pressures.


Comments 5 of 14


More Europe stories


Features & Analysis

  • Cartoon of women chatting on the metroChat wagon

    The interesting things you hear in a women-only carriage

  • Replica of a cargo boxSpecial delivery

    The man who posted himself to the other side of the world

  • Music scoreNo encore Watch

    Goodbye to NYC's last classical sheet music shop

  • Jon Sopel'Emailgate'

    Hillary gets a taste of scrutiny that lies ahead

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • Audi R8Best in show

    BBC Autos takes a look at 10 of the most eye-catching new cars at the 2015 Geneva motor show


  • A robotClick Watch

    The latest in robotics including software that can design electronics to solve problems

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.