Earlier this year, Germany’s Ministry of Justice decided that intersex children are no longer to be subjected to surgeries forcing them into a gender category. This decision was based on the realisation that it is not possible to decide a child’s gender at such an early stage in the development. Intersex individuals have long spoken up about the traumatising effect of these surgeries and to finally see this response by the German government is an important step towards legally recognising LGBTQIA+ rights.
Acknowledging intersexuality as its own valid, healthy gender category, rather than a biological mistake that needs to be fixed, further opens another discussion about the relevance of gender categories. Some countries already legally recognise third gender classifications, both of intersex and non-binary or genderqueer people. The only European country that legally acknowledges non-binary preferred gender, rather than an unspecified gender or “diverse” third gender category for intersex individuals, is Malta. Outside of Europe, parts of the USA, Canada, Australia and Uruguay, as well as India, Argentina and Nepal, and more, allow for people to self-identify as third gender and be recognised as such by the law.
If sex, biologically as well as socially, is not binary, then why are we still acting as though there are only two genders? Why are we still being asked, for example when applying for a job or membership, or creating an account on a website like this one, which one of the two applies to us? Despite being ignorant and transphobic, why is it necessary for my gender identity to be public anyway?
If there is increasing awareness of the physical and psychological harm of these surgeries and false assigning of a gender, we must similarly recognise that forcing child into a “normal”, gendered childhood cannot protect it from hurt and discrimination. Rather, efforts must be made to educate people on the fact that sex is a spectrum, as science will evidence, so that they may find acceptance in themselves and others.
Young transgender and gender non-conforming individuals show a higher risk of attention deficit disorder and depression, compared to their cis-gendered peers. A UK survey in 2014 found that 48% of transgender people under 26 had attempted suicide, while 59% had experienced suicidal ideation. This research shows the impact that the popular attitudes regarding gender have on young trans people. And perhaps the best way to fight discrimination, intolerance and violence experienced by trans people is through slowly dismantling the binary gender system that is so embedded into our everyday lives.
According to a survey by European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, published in 2014, in the 12 months preceding the survey, one in three trans respondents had experienced discrimination when having to show their ID or other document that indicates their sex. This especially applies to young trans people. While it is unnecessarily difficult to change one’s gender marker on identity documents, not doing so actively puts trans people in danger because it forces them to step out of the closet every time they provide an identity document, often in an environment that is not safe from harassment, discrimination and sometimes violence.
Dr Helen Webberley, a GP and gender specialist, has thus stated: ‘Maybe we don’t even need to set a gender identity at all – in the same way we don’t have to declare out religion, our colour, our sexuality, our intellect – why does it matter where on the gender spectrum we sit?’ Really, why does it matter?
While the discussion about removing all gender markers from identity documents has not yet quite reached the public discourse around LGBTQIA+ rights, a first step could be to stop asking for gender where it is not necessary. It is commonly known that personal bias seeps into every confrontation with another person or their work: if I were, for instance, to read an article by someone without knowing how they identify, could I not ensure a more neutral evaluation of their work, rather than be poisoned by the prejudiced ideas fed to me since childhood?
On the one hand, it would it allow trans people, especially those in the closet, to exist more comfortably, rather than questioning if signing up for an H&M membership is the right time and place to be oneself, and risk being found out by a potentially transphobic family member. On the other, it could benefit both cis- and transgender men and women, who too face bias and prejudice in their everyday lives.
Ignorance and transphobic attitudes go beyond outright rejection or verbal and physical violence, and can be opposed by small gestures and habits: don’t assume a person’s gender based on dress and appearance; ask for pronouns and use the gender-neutral “they” if you aren’t sure; listen to transgender individuals talk about their experiences and struggles, and don’t think that you understand gender better just because the gender you were assigned at birth has always made sense to you.
In the end, we should allow people to live freely within the gender system and start to rethink how the ideologies passed on to us harm those we refuse to see.
 https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra-2014-being-trans-eu-comparative-0_en.pdf , p. 81-82
 https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra-2014-being-trans-eu-comparative-0_en.pdf, p. 78 - 79