A ‘non-specific’ choice in Australia

Last week Australian judges ruled that people do not have to be registered as a man or a woman on their birth, death or marriage certificates. The New South Wales Court of Appeal overturned an earlier decision that a person’s sex could not be listed as “non-specific” under Australian law.

The appeal was brought by a 50-year-old activist from Sydney named Norrie. Norrie, who identifies as being gender neutral, argued that while it was accepted that most people would be explicitly male or female, the law should also cover those who were neither.

“It’s great that the law has done the right thing and been seen to be fair and just for everyone, not just the majority,” Norrie said.

Unfortunately, America is light years away from such progressive legislation. But a recent lawsuit has called into question the general assumption that there are only two sexes.

A Forest Acres couple is suing the state of South Carolina for its decision to perform sexual-reassignment surgery on a toddler in its care who was born with both male and female internal sexual genitals.

The 8-year-old adopted child of Mark and Pam Crawford identifies as a boy, acts like a boy and is accepted as a boy by his family, school and pediatrician. But M.C. is not biologically male, at least not anymore. Because nearly seven years ago, the child who was born intersex, underwent a procedure in South Carolina that surgically removed his male genitalia.

The Crawfords are suing the people who performed and gave consent for that surgery, alleging that “the state of South Carolina violated M.C.’s constitutional rights when doctors surgically removed his phallus while he was in foster care, potentially sterilizing him and greatly reducing, if not eliminating, his sexual function,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Those named in the suit are the Department of Social Services, The Medical University of South Carolina, Greenville Health System and several other caregivers.

Defendants decided to remove the child’s healthy genital tissue and “radically restructure his reproductive organs in order to make his body appear to be female,” the lawsuit states. The suit says doctors performed the operation despite the fact the toddler had high levels of testosterone and could’ve been raised as a healthy male OR female.

“I think the decisions made by the state send a message to M.C. that your body is not acceptable the way it is, that you need to have a body that conforms more toward what we think it should look like,” Pam Crawford says in a Youtube video titled, “The Crawfords Speak About Groundbreaking Intersex Case.” It was released by the SPLC.

The vast majority of us are taught from a very early age that gender and physical sex is black and white, and there can be no deviation from that. About one in 2,000 children born each year are classified as intersex, according to the Disorders of Sexual Development. This does not include the thousands of people in the Transgender community.

It’s clear to me that we need to eliminate gender as a binary. The ruling in Australia is a legal affirmation of an expanded definition of gender, which will hopefully be considered by other countries. Allowing people to check a “none of the above” response keeps our bodies private and out of uninformed public scrutiny.

Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to


or view her Web site at www.SarahTSchwab.com