France Denies Recognition To “Neutral Gender”

But several other countries have allowed designation as "X" or "gender diverse"

(Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso)
Mar 24, 2016 at 3:50 PM ET

Last year, a French court broke the male-female binary and officially recognized a “neutral gender.” The case was brought by a 64-year-old plaintiff born with “indeterminate” genitalia but assigned male at birth, and it was hailed a “landmark victory for intersex rights.” But on Tuesday, an appeals court reversed the decision, arguing that fulfilling the plaintiff’s request “would require recognising, in the guise of a simple rectification of his personal records, the existence of another sexual category.”

Well, yes. And?

Several other countries have already recognized what is frequently referred to as a “third gender,” although what we’re really talking about is an alternative to either male or female. Germany, New Zealand and Denmark offer the category of “X” on passports, in addition to “male” and “female.” (Germany also offers the choice of “undetermined” or “unspecified” on birth certificates.) India has allowed the categories of “E” for “eunuch,” which is meant as an umbrella term for those who identify as neither male nor female,” and “T” for “transgender” on passports. In Nepal, passport applicants have the option of checking “O” for “other,” a designation that India also offers for voter registration.

The term “third gender” is used for government documents in Pakistan and the census in Nepal. New Zealand went with the phrase “gender diverse” for the terminology it uses for population data collection. Bangladesh offers the choice of “hijra,” a term often used in South Asia to refer to trans women.

Now, progressive as the concept of a “third gender” might seem, these laws are far from perfect. As Christina Cauterucci wrote in Slate last year, some are still based on “rigid biological determinism.” In Australia and Germany, for example, you have to be intersex, meaning your reproductive or sexual anatomy doesn’t conform with either “male” or “female.” Australia’s rules explicitly stipulate, “If you wish to have your sex recorded in your passport as X, we need confirmation from a registered medical practitioner or psychologist that you are of indeterminate sex or are intersex.” France similarly would have required someone to be intersex for a “neutral gender” designation. These approaches leave gender queer people, meaning those whose identities defy binary categorization, out in the cold.

In the case of France, though, now anyone who falls outside of the categories of male or female are completely ignored.