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Is Baby Male or Female? Germans Offer Third Gender

Comstock/Thinkstock(BERLIN) -- Germany is soon to be the first European nation to legally recognize a third gender in cases of babies born with ambiguous genitalia.  No longer will newborns be rigidly assigned male or female.

The law, designed to fight discrimination, will go into effect on Nov. 1, according to Der Spiegel.  Parents of children born with both sex characteristics will be allowed to opt out of determining their baby's gender and to wait until later in life.

Or they may never officially declare a gender, leaving the child "undetermined" or "unspecified" on their birth certificates.

An estimated 1 in 2,000 children born each year is neither boy nor girl -- they are intersex, part of a group of about 60 conditions that fall under the diagnosis of disorders of sexual development (DSD), an umbrella term for those with atypical chromosomes, gonads (ovaries and/or testes), or unusually developed genitalia.

Today, gender identification is still not well understood, but most experts in the United States say that when sex cannot be determined, it's better to use the best available information to assign gender, then to wait and monitor the child's psychological and physical development before undertaking surgery, if at all.

New York City psychiatrist Dr. Jack Drescher, who specializes in issues of gender identification, said the new German law "sounds like a good thing."

"Some people have life-endangering conditions that require surgery, but most kids do not," he said.  "You can make gender assignment without surgery and then see how it develops.  The science of knowing how a child will develop is not very accurate. ...Nobody can answer the questions about why this happens.  It's like the mystery of why people are gay."

A report filed to the European Commission in 2011 described intersex people as "differ[ent] from trans [sexual or gender] people as their status is not gender related but instead relates to their biological makeup (genetic, hormonal and physical features) which is neither exclusively male nor exclusively female, but is typical of both at once or not clearly defined as either."

"These features can manifest themselves in secondary sexual characteristics such as muscle mass, hair distribution, breasts and stature; primary sexual characteristics such as reproductive organs and genitalia; and/or in chromosomal structures and hormones," the report says.

The report also gives an overview of the discrimination faced by intersex and transgender people in the realm of employment, as well as levels of harassment, violence and bias crimes.

Already, Australia and Nepal allow adults to mark male, female or a "third gender" on their official documents.  In June, a 52-year-old Australian, Norrie May-Welby, became the world's first recognized "genderless" person after winning a legal appeal to keep an "unspecified" gender status for life.

But German law has not clarified if it will apply to passports and other forms of identification.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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