When a baby is born, the doctor identifies the reproductive organs and assigns a biological sex – either male or female. Essentially, our doctors help ‘identify’ and ‘label’ us for official and legal categorization purposes. But, as we deepen our understanding of sex and gender, we come to realize that our anatomy and biological makeup does not directly correlate with our gender identity or how we see ourselves. How a person feels or how they identify cannot be determined by the chromosomes, hormones, genitalia, or genetic-makeup. So, are we doing more harm than good to the child by assigning them the labels of a boy or a girl at birth?
A baby can be born with genitalia that has male sex characteristics or female sex characteristics. Sometimes, they’re born with both or ambiguous reproductive organs that make it difficult to assign the sex of the baby, thereby, labeling them ‘intersex’ In Science, we are inaccurately taught that all babies born inherit either XX or XY sex chromosomes that make you either female or male. But in reality, people can have XXY, XYY, X, XXX, or other combinations too. Parents who find out that their child is born intersex are shocked because they do not expect babies to be born with anything other than a penis or vagina. Nevertheless, being intersex is like having green pupils, affecting nearly two percent of the population.
In most cases, intersex babies undergo sex-reassignment surgeries where the doctor recommends a corrective surgery to make the genitalia appear more traditionally male or traditionally female. This need to correct one’s genitals to belong to the predetermined binary can be heavily attributed to social stigma and the fear of social isolation. In other intersex cases, the dominant reproductive organ visible/formed enables the assignment of biological sex. If the penis is more formed than the vagina, then the intersex baby is determined to be male and vice versa.
Now, here’s where the problem arises.
Some of us grow to become unattached with our own biological sex. When we box our children into males and females, who are socially subjected to gender roles of being a boy or a girl, we do not acknowledge their gender identity and personal preferences. For instance, a baby who was born intersex, and labeled a ‘girl’ because it had more biological female features may grow up not identifying with that label. In fact, it is possible for any person to grow up not feeling comfortable in their own bodies. They reject the traditional Gender Binary system.
Sex is not a binary. When we make it a binary, we stigmatize traits that lie outside what society deems as ‘normal’ and ‘socially acceptable’. Unfortunately, in our country, the birth certificate of the child will either say male or female because we still live in a society where, if we do not assign sex at birth, the child and the family will face discrimination and stigma. So parents end up choosing one
What’s a gender-neutral policy?
Let us give you an example of New York City. The state allows adults who identify as non-binary to mark their child’s gender as ‘X’ anytime during the first 18 years, even though they can’t do so for the child at the time of birth. When adults choose ‘X’ as a child’s gender, it indicates that they are committed to raising the child without succumbing to gender norms and societal assumptions. What this policy does is give the child the power to choose their own identity when they grow up without reinforcing stereotypes, gender roles, or assumptions on them.
Though we are seeing more people supporting gender-neutral parenting, we have a long way to accepting it because the legal and social assignment of sex and gender at birth is so established in society that it is unlikely to retire anytime soon.
In the next piece, we shall explore the role of ‘gender’ in a person’s life, and how it gives people the autonomy to be who they are.
This article is edited by Faiza Khan, a content specialist, and researcher by day, and a self-taught mixed media artist by night. She currently works as the Program Development Manager for the Bangalore based NGO, One Billion Literates Foundation.
At PinkLungi, we’ve always strived to encourage people to understand reality from different perspectives. We see ourselves as a safe space where conversations, engagements, debates, and more, can help people reflect on their own perceptions, and maybe, learn and unlearn, along the way. That’s exactly why we have decided to start a new weekly series, ‘Understanding Sex, Gender, and Sexuality’, to help you understand, recognize, respect, and humanize people. As with any learning experience, you will learn to explore more about people’s experiences of self through this series.