’Spansexual’ Aussie ’In Between’ Genders
After being examined by not one, but two, physicians, an Australian named Norrie has become the first person to receive an official gender classification of "Not Specified." That suits Norrie fine: the 49-year-old, who was born anatomically male, identified as transgender, and finally came to embrace an identity that spans both male and female, offers the term "spansexual" as a self-description.
A Jan. 4 ABC News segment detailed how the Sydney, Australia resident, who goes by only one name, came to be the recipient of the unique gender classification. Norrie was born anatomically male in Scotland, emigrating to Australia as a child. The boy grew into an androgynous gay man who eventually tried on a transgender identity and even transitioned to a female anatomy, supplementing the surgical changes with hormone therapy.
But socially, the usual binary gender identity didn’t seem to work well. "I was absolutely ecstatic about [the sex change], until I got involved with straight guys who, when they found out I was a ’trannie,’ told me I wasn’t a female," Norrie told the media. "They felt they’d been lied to. I was threatened with violence."
Eventually, Norrie concluded that no one gender identity was suitable, and embraced both genders at once. The physical changes remained, but Norrie discontinued the hormone treatments. "I had to challenge the idea that I had to take my identity from a bottle," Norrie explained. "I had to open a cupboard every day and take these pills because I’m a woman and they make me a woman." Added Norrie, "Why can’t I just be me? Why can’t I just be a human being?"
"I see myself as male and female," Norrie told the media. "I’m not specifically ’M’ or ’F.’ You can’t specify me as being male or you can’t specify me as being female," the Sydney resident added.
Two doctors agreed; after examining Norrie, they said that they could make no determination of gender in Norrie’s case. The official gender status on Norrie’s identity papers says, ""Sex Not Specified." The legal status may be unique, but the gender identity--in between male and female--is not so very unusual, noted the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Walter Bockting, who noted that in some cultures a "third sex" is accepted as normal and natural. Third genders have been recognized by some American Indian tribes, as well as by Hindus and Thais. "I think in the last century in our Western thinking, we very much went to thinking about people as either men or women," said Prof. Bockting. In some cultures, the third sex is still part of the social fabric today.
Norrie’s case has excited both controversy and celebration. A Wikipedia article notes that non-specific pronouns to accommodate individuals without gender had been devised, with "zie" replacing "he" and "she," and "hir" standing in for "him," "his," and "her."
Though American society still largely sees gender as binary, the fact is that around one in 2,000 births is of an "intersex" baby, or an infant with "ambiguous" genitalia. Such babies are often assigned a gender by doctors, who shape the appropriate gender-related organs. But intersex babies do not necessarily grow up to see themselves as belonging to the gender to which they were assigned at birth. Modern research indicates that gender is not merely a matter of genitalia, but is far more complicated--as complex, in fact, as the human brain, which can develop in a gender-specific manner that is not always consistent with a person’s external appearance.
This is true even for some individuals who are born with perfectly normal-appearing genitals; indeed, new research indicates that transgender people, who often identify very early in life as a member of the opposite sex, might have the bodies of one gender, but the brain structure of the other gender. Noted Bockting, "We believe that the basis of gender identity is mostly in the brain."
Norrie’s case may be a bit more complicated insofar as the Australian--who refuses to wear shoes, lest footwear impose an unwelcome gender identity--embraces both genders at once. But legally and socially, the binary model of gender is deeply ingrained; the unique identification papers that officially recognized Norrie as "not determined" in gender have been rescinded by the New South Wales government, according to a March 19, 2010 Pink News article.
Norrie has begun a campaign to have the gender-neutral documents reissued. "I want my passport not to say I’m male or female," Norrie told the media. "I don’t want my passport telling lies about me." To Pink News, Norrie said, "I am not seeking to be recognized as without gender. Rather, I am looking for the state to recognize that who I am cannot be contained within the simple gender labels of either male or female."
Added Norrie, "Depending on how one looks at it, biologically or behaviorally, I am either neither gender or a bit of both."