Published on November 13, 2013 | by Rosie Atkin


Indeterminate gender – The ‘X’ files

ALN interactive editor, Rosie Atkin [Emanuele Giovagnoli]

‘X’ marks the spot. ‘X’ is the symbol of a marked man, hunted, suspect. ‘X’ is a cross, a scratching dismissal over a mistake.

‘X’ is the complex issue of gender, and it has taken a progressive new path this month; Germany has announced itself as the first European country to label newborns with indeterminate gender as neither male nor female, but as an ambiguous ‘X’.

Don’t misunderstand my intention; I believe that this is a hugely positive step forward, identifying an issue which has been swept under the carpet for too long.

Under the radar, ‘intersex’ people are born with the characteristics of both X and Y chromosomes, or other conditions which blur the rigidities of biological gender.

A rushed surgical decision ensues in order to fill birth certificates – flip a coin, and your indeterminate genitalia will be altered to whichever gender fate decides.

An identity – a future of blue or pink – will be established by a doctor or midwife, because up until now society has only allowed two options.

On the one hand, this introduction of another gender feels like a small step in the long-line of footprints towards acceptance of, quite simply, diversity in society. It offers a space for future generations to choose their own unique gender, if any. But ‘X’, really?

Speaking to the BBC, the articulate and passionate Sarah Graham (intersex woman and counsellor), spoke of her experiences as an intersex person, and how being lied to about her condition was “completely shocking and traumatic”.

Her support of the ‘X’ gender is enraged and inspiring, emphasized by the frustrating issue that “there is absolutely no visibility for intersex people in the world”.

And if you are honest with yourself, it is true. Did you know that intersex people exist? The third gender movement broadens the categories, and further broadens this debate.

Misinformation about indeterminate gender is where the complexities of gender seem to tangle. Misinformation leads to fear of the unknown, stigmatisation. Thinking back to the controversy surrounding South African athlete Caster Semenya, would the issue of her enforced gender test have escalated in the media if society were more informed of intersex people? In fact, would there have been any need for a gender test at all?

Globally, we do not acknowledge role models beyond the M and F. I recently became aware of the achingly cool Paris Lees – an award winning journalist, campaigner, fellow Nottingham native and transgender role model.

I have no doubt that in the coming years Lees will become a celebrity – she has flair, intelligence and completely held her own on Question Time. But we want more diversity in the public sphere, in the mainstream. Otherwise this third gender will be just another category, another box, and if anything, just a prison for the ostracised.

Yes, awareness is being raised as word spreads and more countries introduce gender ‘X’. The reality of intersex people has been highlighted in the public eye, which we can hope will bring open mindedness about gender to future generations.

But doesn’t ‘X’ just seem like a negative grey area? A waiting room for the indeterminate to decide? ‘X’ meaning ‘pending’. ‘X’, sounding painfully akin to ‘X-Men’. It forms a minority group on the fringes of what is accepted, and we want all gender options to be accepted rather than separated.

Not that ‘other’, like on your standard NHS form, is a better option. But perhaps an offering that emulates the beauty of knowing that there is biological diversity out there.

In the world of the clinical, clean-cut rigidity of medicine, this step acts as an acknowledgement of the biological snowflake rather than the empirical black and white; I hope that it will represent the ‘X’ party not as outsiders, but human and wonderful. Just like the transgender community, gay, lesbian, straight, human. Each as diverse as each other, just as the society we live in.

But if anything, labelling a big, spiked ‘X’ on this interesting development acts as an ostracising algebraic symbol.

Gender is larger than 2 or 3 options; it is as unique as the population itself, and a third – ‘X’ – just doesn’t cut it for such a bold step in a complex issue.


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