If you want to get a sense of the pace of social change in Western society at this point in time, all you need to do is do what I just did: I looked up the definition of ‘marriage’, first in the dictionary sitting on the shelf in my den, and then with the dictionary app on my tablet. My 1990 Concise Oxford Dictionary defines ‘marriage’ as: 1. the legal union of a man and a woman in order to live together and often to have children. 2. an act or ceremony establishing this union. The Merriam-Webster dictionary app on my tablet, on the other hand, defines ‘marriage’ as: 1a(1) the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law. 1a(2) the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage <same-sex marriage>.
It has been a mere 12½ years since the first ever same-sex marriage was legally registered by the mayor of Amsterdam. Since then, fifteen more countries have joined the Netherlands in passing laws making homosexual marriage legal. In the USA, thirteen states plus Washington DC have followed suit. Like others, I’m sure, I have often wondered: If a societal institution like marriage–understood from time immemorial as a union between a man and a woman–can be successfully redefined, and not only redefined but accepted by the majority in little more than a decade, what else is open to redefinition? Well, now we know.
This past May, Germany became the first European country to introduce a third gender category to its birth certificates: Indeterminate. A law was passed that allows German parents to opt out of determining their newborn’s gender at birth, thereby allowing those infants with both male and female physical characteristics to choose which gender to become later in life. The percentage of infants born with physical characteristics of both sexes is actually very low: 1%. What’s highly significant about this law is that it does not apply to the parents of newborns with sexual dimorphism alone. As of November 1, if a German “feels deeply” that he or she belong to a certain gender, that individual will have the right under the new law to choose how he or she wishes to be identified, irrespective of his or her assigned “plumbing.” That individual may opt to remain outside the gender binary, the male-female classification, altogether.
When it comes to third gender recognition, Australia has led the way. On July 1, Australia added a third gender to its forms: X for ‘intersex’. Australians may now select the gender of their choosing on personal documents: M, F, or X. Australia’s attorney-general had this to say about the change in gender classification: “We recognize individuals may identify and be recognized within the community as a gender other than the gender they were assigned at birth or during infancy, or as an indeterminate gender.”
A similar trend is underway in the USA. California’s Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a state-wide law, Assembly Bill 1266, which gives transgender youth in K-12 public schools the right to participate in sex-segregated programs and activities, based on their self-perception, regardless of their birth gender. The law, which takes effect 1 January 2014, will also allow students to use whatever bathroom and locker room they believe matches their gender identity. Some surveys put the percentage of people in the USA who identify as a ‘transgender’– that is, someone who identifies with a gender role that differs from the biological one assigned to him or her–at only .3%.
The idea that one’s “self-perception” should be allowed to determine one’s gender was demonstrated in dramatic fashion recently by Bradley Manning, the American Army private sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks. The day after he was sentenced, he issued a statement saying that he is really a woman, that he wishes to be known as “Chelsea,” and that he intends to start hormone therapy to transition to a female. He came to that decision, he stated, based on his feelings: “Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.” It’s interesting to note that he is now referred to as “Chelsea” by the media, even though, I would suspect, he has yet to start the transition process. His gender is what he declares it to be!
Is gender really all about self-perception, about feelings? Feelings change, from day to day, year to year. Is gender something that we alone determine? In the Genesis account of creation, the gender binary is presented as an essential part of the Creator’s design. Genesis 1:27 reads: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The number of children born with sexual dimorphism is 1%. The number of individuals who regard themselves as transgender is even lower, .3%. Do such numbers call for the creation of a third gender? Some think so. The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community, in fact, would like to see third sex recognition as a worldwide human right. I don’t agree. Adding a third gender is a case of social tinkering on a scale uncalled for by the numbers, with unforeseen and unintended consequences down the road.