Possible First: ‘Sex Not Specified’

UPDATE: The recognition has been withdrawn. (Thanks, Rachael.)

Norrie May-Welby (who primarily goes only by ‘Norrie’) has just been legally recognised as neither male nor female. Norrie is thought to be the first person in the world to achieve such legal recognition. Here’s Norrie, describing why this is important:

Those concepts, man or woman, just don’t fit me, they are not my actual reality, and, if applied to me, they are fiction. At 48 years of age, I’m less inclined to just humour other people’s delusions about gender and try and conform to one of their expected options.

If I need to show identity documents, I certainly don’t want details that are false, for this will only cause trouble when officials realise I don’t match my documents.

More generally, Norrie notes, “There seemed no sense in having such a changeable and transient quality as gender nailed down as a permanent mark on identity documents.”

Norrie’s blog is here.

10 thoughts on “Possible First: ‘Sex Not Specified’

  1. A practical note: Although I understand (I think) and sympathize with the basic social issues involved, as someone who is often tasked with identifying deceased persons, usually those that have been blown apart in explosions or transportation accidents, burned, skeletonized, etc, a “neither male nor female” designation may lead to non-identification. One major component of the identification process is determination of the sex of the remains, thereby narrowing the field of “possible persons” by eliminating those of the “opposite” sex. The biographic profile obtained (sex, ancestry, age, stature, etc) from remains is crucial information used to obtain the appropriate dental and medical radiographs, DNA profiles, etc, for comparison with the deceased in an attempt to produce a positive identification. If “Individual A” is legally listed as, or “known on the street” as, a sex other than the biological sex they were born with, a major component of that profile may therefore not include “Individual A” in the group of persons that the deceased might be. A “neither male nor female” designation, although not eliminating one sex, will keep the field so wide open that it will be difficult to obtain the appropriate information needed for a positive identification. Please note that “sex” is a biological term (and cannot be chosen) while “gender” refers to social identity (and can be chosen).

    I realize that this is all fairly “non-philosophical” and leads many of you into areas that most people do not want to consider… sorry if I have disturbed anyone….

  2. Yes, I guess that’s quite a general problem for those whose gender identity diverges from their biological sex, and one of many factors to weight in the balance in deciding what to do. It seems likely, though, that most will be more interested in getting the life they want than ensuring identification after death.

    Of course, the problem is heightened by the general tendency to use ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ interchangeably. (I’m well aware that there are actually serious problems with both categories, but these problems are only worsened by using them interchangeably.)

  3. Obviously, the quality of life of an individual is of primary concern. And the freedom to choose how one lives is a necessary part of that quality. I did *not* mean to imply otherwise!

    And yes, Jender, there are indeed problems with both (all?) categories.)

  4. j isn’t there already a problem w postop trans people? -i mean, if someone’s chromosomal sex markers don’t match the physical structures…? how would the legal designation make it easier? (and that’s not a rhetorical question. i’m on cold meds and having terrible trouble thinking thru how all of this would go…)

  5. J, comment #1 brings up some very interesting questions. My archaeology prof is one of the leading experts in CRM in Canada right now. His specialization is in conducting archaeological research on First Nations sites, with an emphasis on treating the sites and the human remains respectfully, according to the burial customs and land treaties in question.

    While the identification of incomplete postcranial remains of intersex or trans people who were modified with or without consent, may be a slightly different version of further complicating an already complicated field of inquiry, I can see the same opportunity in this situation for scientists to begin making amends to another group that has been ostracized on the basis of physical characteristics.

    The trick is to get past the legal nightmare of creating precise AND non-hurtful definitions to measure skeletal and chemical evidence.

    Maybe something like intersex modified to female at birth, trans modified to female on date x by doctor y or trans modified to male. Of course, legally altering somebody’s biological sex definition to something like intersex modified at birth opens up a can of worms that a few surgeons probably don’t want the public to know about.

    Also, if Norrie were to go missing, and the designation “sex undetermined” were to become an issue, her surgeon would have an extensive collection of medical files for comparison, as would most surgically altered individuals’ doctors, right? I mean, how many mysteriously long-deceased individuals turn up with a cranial capacity over a certain measurement relative to forearm length and foot size AND traces of silicone on the ribs anyway? Probably few enough that any good investigator would start his/her investigation with a list of surgeons who specialize in sex changes.

    I wonder if there are any readily apparent differences in the pelvic bones of the 1/1000 people who were born intersex over the last few generations? Or, like the question, “what’s in his medicine bag?”, is that something that we should never ask for the sake of reverence and compassion?

  6. Far from “the first person in the world” – both Pakistan and certain states in India have a legally recognised third or unidentified gender.

  7. Isn’t the case in India and Pakistan a bit different? I was under the impression that certain groups in India and Pakistan are recognised as a third gender, whilst Norrie has been legally deemed to have no gender/sex?

  8. Unfortunately, this needs an update: the NSW registrar has withdrawn the gender-neutral birth certificate. (Story at the top of Norrie May-Welby’s blog, which you linked to.)

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