Intersex Australia: Third Gender Allowed On Personal Documents In Addition To Male And Female

on June 14 2013 11:53 AM

MF Gender X. The Australian government is allowing transgender and intersex individuals to choose a third gender in addition to male and female when filling out personal documents.  Flinga/Wikimedia

In a move that’s being called a huge victory for transgender and intersex people, the Australian government has adopted new national guidelines that will allow individuals to choose a gender other than male or female on personal documents.  

In a statement Thursday, Australian Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said personal records held by government departments and agencies should reflect the desires of Australians who identify with a gender other than the one they were given.

“We recognise individuals may identify, and be recognised within the community, as a gender other than the gender they were assigned at birth or during infancy, or as an indeterminate gender,” he said.

The new rules are defined in the Australian government’s “Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender,” which were posted on the Attorney-General Department website and take effect on July 1. According to the new guidelines, individuals filling out personal documents will now have a third option (X) in addition to male and female.

“Where sex and/or gender information is collected and recorded in a personal record, individuals should be given the option to select M (male), F (female) or X (Indeterminate/Intersex/Unspecified).”

The government says it hopes the new rules will help correct inconsistencies in its approach to collecting gender data. People who wish to check X on a document must provide evidence of their gender, such as a statement from a medical or psychological practitioner or a valid passport specifying their preferred gender.

The new guidelines were hailed as a victory by OII Australia, an activist organization that supports intersex people in the country.

“We warmly welcome [the guidelines’] publication and implementation, and also the consultation process that has led to publication,” a spokesperson for the organization said in a statement. “Such wide consultation is necessary to prevent adverse consequences for any of the communities affected by the guidelines.”

According to the West Australian newspaper, the X designation has appeared on Australian passports since 2003, when Alex MacFarlane, an intersex, convinced the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to accommodate individuals whose birth certificates recorded their sex as indeterminate. The term intersex is typically applied to people whose biological sex can't be classified as clearly male or female, according to the OII Intersex Network. Determining the frequency of intersex is problematic as experts disagree on what constitutes intersex differences, and medical professionals often don't recognize sex-organ variations, some of which don’t show up until later in life.

Recent years have seen an increased awareness of the need for legal protections for transgender and intersex people around the world. In her 2012 book, “Intersexuality and the Law,” Julie A. Greenberg, an expert on legal issues relating to sex and gender, looks at the relationship between the recent intersex movement and other social justice movements that have “effectively utilized legal strategies to challenge similar discriminatory practices.”

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