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Choose Your Sex: Male, Female or Neither … or Both

In Australia, Norrie is understood to be the world’s
first person to have ‘Sex Not Specified’ on their birth certificate. The NSW
government has legally recognised that Norrie is neither male nor female.

“Norrie, 48, was born in Scotland and registered as male
at birth. At age 23 Norrie commenced sex and gender conversion to female
through hormone and construction of a vagina and was then issued with a gender
recognition certificate as female in Australia.


“But this did not work out for Norrie as zie (gender-neutral
pronoun) did not feel comfortable living solely as a female so zie ceased
lifelong hormone treatment and took up a neuter identity which is neither male
nor female, resisting any further female or male normalisation.

“In January 2010 doctors declared that they were unable
to determine Norrie as either male or female as zie has no gonads, the hormonal
system was atypically male or female, and Norrie’s psychological identity was
neuter” (

Such legislation is a step forward for respect for
personal autonomy and for human enhancement. It acknowledges the right of
individuals not merely to choose whether to be male or female, but to choose something
in between or different. It allows fine tuning of sexual choice. And given
people’s different psychology, anatomy and physiology, it is likely to enhance
their lives.

I have written elsewhere about the principles which
should govern such controversial choices (Savulescu, J. (2007), ‘Autonomy, the
Good Life, and Controversial Choices’, in Rhodes, R. Francis, L. P. and
Silvers, A. (eds.) The Blackwell Guide to Medical Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell
Publishing. Part 1, Chapter 1, pp. 17 – 37). Be the person you want to be. Or
rather, be the kind of person you want to be – is one principle behind such
legislation. The old binary categories are falling – tall and short, talented
and untalented, smart and stupid, male and female. Human life is incredibly diverse.
All states and talents affecting humans occur in shades of grey. We should make
our choices in recognition of the shades of grey. And it makes sense to make
decisions not based on crude categories but fine-grained realities.

Norrie has opted, reportedly, for neither sex. In the
future, there may be some who opt for both sexes. And such choices may be
right. If enhancement technologies radically progress, people will be able to
choose any shade of grey. Your sex would be your choice. You might have the best
or worst of both worlds.

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1 Comment on this post

  1. Jonathan Herring

    Julian, I welcome the call for intersex people not to be compelled to put either male or female or birth certificate. But this is hardly a call based on autonomy. It is a claim based on truth. The current English law requiring either male or female requires intersex people to have lies put on their birth certificates. As Dr Chau and I have argued in several articles (including the law needs to recognise the diversity of sex and move on from the “two box” model. That’s not a claim based just on autonomy, but on scientific truth.

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