“Intersex” is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of variations in a person's bodily characteristics. The term reflects the diversity and importance of the open-ended self-description.
Since 2019, intersex people have the legal possibility of using the third gender option (“divers”) apart from the options “male” and “female” as a gender marker or of leaving it blank. Already in 2017, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the previous regulation, which allowed intersex people to leave the entry blank, was unconstitutional. Detailed information on the “third option” can be found here
FAQs on intersex
Frequently Asked Questions
Intersex people have characteristics of male and female bodies. Thus, their sexual appearance is often perceived as a mixture of the sexes. This may be expressed by secondary sexual characteristics such as muscle mass, hair distribution or shape, but also by primary sexual characteristics (internal and external sexual organs, chromosome and hormone structure) and come to the fore in different life stages (at birth, during childhood, during adolescence or in adulthood).
The term “intersex” can also refer to a person’s gender identity though. “Intersex” is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of variations in a person’s bodily characteristics.
There are no reliable figures or statistics on the number of intersex people in Germany. Estimates vary between 8,000 and 120,000 persons. They are based on projections as there is no agency collecting the data. One reason for the strongly deviating figures is the underlying definition of intersex people, among other things. In 2007, the Federal Government (Bundestag printed paper 16/4786) gave a figure ranging from 8,000 to 10,000 intersex persons in Germany and a frequency of intersex newborns of 1 in 4,500. However, only affected persons with “severe deviations of sexual development” are concerned here.
However, other estimates are a lot higher. The Intersex Society of North America, ISNA, for instance, estimates that about 1 in 100 newborns, so around 1 per cent, is born with physical characteristics deviating from the male or female “norm”.
Link to the ISNA website. The United Nations also states that up to 1.7 per cent of the population is born with intersex characteristics. Link to the fact sheet of the United Nations on the topic of intersex.
When an intersex child is born there often is a shortage of professional counselling and support for the parents. Time and again, parents have reported that they have been pushed by doctors to have disambiguation surgeries performed on their child's genitals. Many intersex people feel that these treatments, which are often performed before the children are capable to give consent and which also involve mutilation, sterilisation, castration and cosmetic surgery, are gross violations of their physical integrity. Mistreatment, tabooing and withholding important information have serious consequences for intersex people’s lives and quite often lead to trauma.
Furthermore, health insurance funds are not prepared for necessary treatment of intersex people. Even though intersex people who have been operated on, for instance, clearly face a higher risk of developing gonad cancer (testicular and ovarian cancer), relevant preventive check-ups are only rarely covered by health insurance funds or only if the patient has a certain age. While a great number of medical examinations may be claimed irrespective of gender, intersex people often fall through the cracks as health insurance funds only cover certain costs for people who are registered as “female” or “male” and who have physical characteristics which are attributed to one sex. Thus, “maternity allowance” is only paid to “female insured parties” of a health insurance fund, even though the Maternity Protection Act applies to all people who are pregnant, who have given birth to a child or who are breastfeeding. (https://www.boell.de/sites/default/files/menschenrechte_zwischen_den_geschlechtern_2.pdf)
Intersex people are subjected to discrimination in all areas of life. A study initiated by the Heinrich Böll Foundation looked into numerous cases of structural discrimination.
In particular, as regards an open gender non-conforming physical appearance or behaviour which is not in line with the stereotypical male or female gender, there is verbal discrimination and even physical violence, all the way to life-threatening situations.
The AGG protects against discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexual identity in professional life and occupation and in everyday life. In these fields, the AGG is applied to everyday transactions such as shopping, looking for a flat as well as insurance and banking transactions. The protection ground “gender” does not only include women and men but also intersex people.
Intersex people may turn to the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency if they have experienced discrimination. The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency offers free-of-charge initial counselling. Our counsellors provide information on possible legal action in case of discrimination. If necessary, they can also name further contact persons who might provide support. It is possible for the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency to act as a mediator. Further counselling centres can be found in our counselling centre search.
Bundesdeutsche Vertretung der Internationalen Vereinigung Intergeschlechtlicher Menschen (OII Germany)
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Transidentität und Intersexualität e.V. (German Association for Trans Identity and Intersex People)
Human Rights between the Sexes, A preliminary study on the life situations of inter* individuals
Dan Christian Ghattas