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More than two genders, a complicated matter

This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)

The attempt at personal clarification

Am I discriminating if I do not agree with the demand of activists on all points?

In my personal situation as Director of Education for a company that aims to empower women worldwide through running and education, it is indispensable to deal intensively with the topic of the actual gender discussion. For a good ten years now, we have been concerned with creating protected spaces for women so that they can move physically and mentally without performance pressure and shame. We have clearly defined our statement. It’s about women, but what are women? Especially in competitive sports, there has been a heated discussion for decades about which people belong to women and which do not. Meanwhile, it is a political discussion, because it is about discrimination in many things. Of course, it also leads to a legal question, which is treated differently in different countries. There is no way around the law, we also have to abide by it. How we deal with it, what significance the gender discussions have for our work, that is a significant challenge for our team. So what to do, we asked ourselves on the board. The first thing we set out to do was to learn more about the issue. I have read and researched a lot about it over the last few weeks. In addition, we involved a renowned expert in the field and did a workshop with her. Kirstin Mertlitsch is a senior scientist (postdoc) and head of the University Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Klagenfurt. We learned a lot about the topic and yet I was left with a thousand open questions and comments. At the beginning it was about terms and their definitions. The term FLINT came up.

 

The FLINT Group

The term FLINT stands for women, lesbians, inter, non-binary and trans persons – i.e. persons who are patriarchally discriminated against because of their gender identity.

Quote Source Fint:

“FLINT does not describe sexual orientation but gender identities and thus makes the social component of gender visible.

FLINT spaces are meant to serve as shelters for people who are discriminated against because of their gender identity and who do not conform to the patriarchally constructed, bipolar logic of “man and woman”. What is important in this is above all the solidarity with the respective other perspectives and the awareness that one can only lead the feminist struggle together. So FLINT is a great achievement of (queer) feminist struggles and even sounds super catchy in the process.”

Our expert also emphasised several times that we live in a patriarchal society and therefore need shelters for flinters. I don’t particularly like this approach. It is mainly directed against men, condemns them more or less directly and releases women from the responsibility of patriarchal discrimination. Who educates the girls and boys, who makes sure that the stereotypes about strong boys and weak girls who identify with pink princesses and dolls? No, I don’t let that stand. These constant hidden or overtly communicated insinuations that men are to blame for the misery is the wrong way to go about successfully advancing gender understanding. Such feminist struggles are counterproductive in my understanding. Likewise, the assertion that the bipolar logic of man and woman is solely the responsibility of a patriarchal society is absolute nonsense.

A more neutral view of the FLINTER movement, would certainly be much more productive. I understand it well when people who identify as women, no matter what their biological nature, claim a protected space for themselves. We have nothing else in our running clubs. This applies equally to sexual orientation, skin colour, origin, faith, etc. We have it in our world predominantly with women who define themselves as such both biologically and identitarily. Now other variants are coming in and we have to evolve on that. That means we have to deal better and more intensively with the new challenge. For me, I have tried to get an overview of the problem. From my understanding, we have to look at things around gender issues in a more differentiated way. In the many contributions I have read, different levels have mostly been confused.

 

The Biological Level

Biology is often instrumentalised in the discussion as proof of multiple genders. I would like to refer to a recent article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Source: Article One, Two Many

Quote: “When it comes to reproduction, biology distinguishes exactly two genders, male and female. So what is meant when we speak of “more than two genders”?

Here, the distinction between biological gender and social gender is explained in detail. Leading biologists are convinced that biologically there are only two genders. In very rare cases (less than 1%), forms of so-called intersexuality, i.e. people with primary or secondary physical characteristics that lie between the typical sexes or carry a mixture of these characteristics, can occur. This opinion prompted the British science journalist Claire Ainsworth to write a much-cited article in Nature in 2015 under the title “Gender redefined. She wrote:

“Some biologists,” she explained, “today would rather assume a broader spectrum than two genders. Before her, the American developmental geneticist Anne Fausto-Sterling had already called for the broadening of the spectrum of gender categories, after it had become clear through ever new findings how complex gender development is.”

Our expert also referred to this article and said that biologically there are not only men and women. For me, this is a typical mistake that is made again and again. Half-wisdom by citing only one scientific reference as evidence is often misused without legitimacy as an argument under the guise of science. The same article is primarily about clarifying the biological understanding of gender. Of course it is problematic to call biological intersexuality a disease. The fact is that it occurs because something has gone wrong. Therefore, these people are not deviant or less valuable. This is exactly where a big social problem lies. These eternal condemnations show how badly we can deal with inner conflicts caused by deviations from the norm. We upgrade or downgrade, depending on how it suits us at the moment. We are simply not able to accept reality rationally and emotionally. There are biologically determined exceptions that differ from the majority and this has nothing to do with the value and dignity of a human being. Biologists define intersexual persons as exceptions without implying a discriminatory background. Marie-Luise Vollbrecht’s lecture on gender at the Humboldt University on this topic had to be cancelled because of protests. Here it becomes clear how emotionally charged the discussions are. It is not about rational understanding of the matter, but about struggle and self-interest.

Biology doctoral student Marie-Luise Vollbrecht gave her lecture  (Gender is not bad: Sex, Gender, and why there are two genders in biology), which had been cancelled at the “Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften (Long Night of the Sciences) a fortnight ago, in the Fritz Reuter Hall. A police bus with several officers was parked in front of the building on Hegelplatz; TV journalists conducted interviews in the foyer; and on their way to the third floor, visitors had to pass through two checkpoints where their names were checked against the registration list. This shows how explosive and highly inflammatory the gender issue is and how it preoccupies our society. Unfortunately, it also shows how badly we can deal with other opinions. Immediately, evil intentions are assumed, horror is expressed and, above all, accusations are made.

Biologically there are two genders + intersexual variants

  • female
  • male
  • intersexual

 

The social level / Gender identity

This is about the aspect of how I define my own identity. I personally believe that this level must be considered completely separate from the biological level. This decoupling is eminently important for understanding gender. Likewise, sexual orientation should not be mixed and brought in here. These are 3 different pairs of boots that have nothing to do with each other. That is why the public discussion annoys me so much, because that is exactly what politicians, many feminists and interest groups are doing quite deliberately.
There are the following identities, which are defined independently of the biological body or sexual orientation. Accordingly, there are three different possible entries  (in official identity cards). For the inter level, there are three further categories (diverse, open and no entry). These distinctions apply exclusively to the interlevel. Another fact is that in Germany the group of nonbinaries (I will explain the term later) are not taken into account on the social level. Actually, there should be four genders instead of three.

  • female
  • male
  • inter
    • diverse
    • open
    • no entry
  • (nonbinary) Is not legally represented therefore not possible for identity cards

If you want to understand the interlevel in more detail, you have to deal with many different definitions. Here, too, I have found many explanations that mix physical and social aspects. It is very important to know that the term intersexuality is a purely medical-biological term and refers to the body. These are people who have female and male sexual characteristics.

It currently appears that the legislation places social identity above all other levels. This means that if a person, no matter what their biological or sexual orientation, identifies themselves as belonging to a group, they are considered as such. This is perfectly understandable when viewed from the personal freedom of choice of how one feels and what one identifies as. From a socio-political point of view, it is not so easy, because it will demand a huge change for the existing structures. I think the majority of people will be absolutely overwhelmed by it. Will it reduce discrimination? I don’t think so, but that’s not the point here. The fact is that the law has to be obeyed and if the law says that a biological man who defines himself as a woman, a non-binary, etc., then so be it. I fear the consequences of such legislation will bring a lot of money on account of continuing lawsuits and suffering. We need more time and knowledge to find a reasonable, common, mutually acceptable solution.

Legal basis in Germany (depends on gender identity)
It currently appears that legislation places social identity above all other levels. This means that if a person, no matter what their biological or sexual orientation, assigns themselves to a group, they are considered as such. This is perfectly understandable when viewed from the personal freedom of choice of how one feels and what one identifies as. From a socio-political point of view, it is not so easy, because it will demand a huge change for the existing structures. I think the majority of people will be absolutely overwhelmed by it. Will it reduce discrimination? I don’t think so, but that’s not the point here. The fact is that the law has to be respected and if the law says that a biological man who defines himself as a woman or as inter, then it has to be respected that way. I am afraid the consequences of such legislation will bring a lot of money and suffering. We need more time and knowledge to find a reasonable, common, mutually acceptable solution.

Legal basis in Austria (depends on biological level)
In Austria, the basis of legislation is tied exclusively to the biological level. This seems problematic to me and I believe that in the future we will have to change to the German legal model here as well. The hurdles for a change of gender identity are very high. A distinction is made between transsexuality and intersexuality.

Transsexuality
A gender reassignment surgery is not a prerequisite for a change of gender in Austria. According to the jurisprudence of the highest courts in connection with transsexuality, an irreversible feeling of belonging to the other sex and a clear approximation to the external appearance of the other sex is required for a change of sex (VwGH 15.09.2009, 2008/06/0032, VwSlg 17746 A/2009). As a rule, this can only be adequately clarified by obtaining an expert opinion.
The MA 63 (→ City of Vienna) stipulates the following basic requirements for changing the gender of transsexuals:

An expert opinion by a specialist in psychiatry or a psychotherapist or a clinical psychologist containing the following:

  • A statement that there is a sense of belonging to the opposite sex and that this is likely to be largely irreversible.
  • Statement that there is a marked approximation to the outward appearance of the opposite sex

Intersexuality
The case law of the Constitutional Court has established that there is another gender category (intersexuality) which is biologically different from the male and female sex. These intersexual persons have a right to have their gender category (= so-called “3rd gender”) entered in the civil status register (VfSlg20258/2018). For the registration of the gender category, the terms “diverse”, “inter” or “open” are available. Furthermore, it is also possible to delete the gender entry. According to the guidelines of the highest court jurisprudence, an application for the registration of an intersexual gender category can be granted under the following condition:

Submission of an expert opinion stating that the sex of the applicant person cannot be assigned to either the male or the female sex on the basis of their chromosomal, anatomical and/or hormonal development.

  • female
  • male
  • intersexual
    • diverse
    • open
    • no entry
  • (non-binary) is not legally represented and therefore not possible for entries in identity cards.

Interestingly, in Austrian jurisprudence the subcategories diverse, open and no entry are defined under the biological term intersexual. This confused me a lot in the beginning. I think that’s why the issue is so complex. If there are such discrepancies in the understanding of the terms between Germany and Austria, then you can well imagine how different it is in other cultures and societies. I think you need local experts to avoid getting bogged down in other countries. According to our expert, we like to follow German law within the EU. Spain and Italy are quite far along. But there are countries like Poland, where the jurisdiction is very political and extremely conservative. I think it will still take a long time.

Legal situation in the USA
And what is the legal situation in the USA, where the discussions are reaching frightening proportions?
As far as I have found out, there is no universally valid legal position on the gender issue. Instead, there are many lawsuits, many demands for money and little agreement. I would say – typical USA.

Sexual orientation

For me, this level does not play a role in the gender discussion. It annoys me that many lesbian and some gay movements claim to be involved in the gender discussion with their sexual orientation, as if it were only about their problems. In principle, I abhor any instrumentalisation of problems for one’s own purposes. Feminists, lesbians and gay associations are no more entitled than anyone else to stand up for gender justice. Any sexual orientation is irrelevant for the consideration of gender and only concerns the person, regardless of the biological and social level. Of course, people are still discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. In many countries, anything that is not heterosexual is considered a disease and is sometimes punished as a criminal offence. This is unbearable and shows me how much people are afraid of diversity. They are afraid because they are afraid of losing control and thus their power in society. Religions are no better, a pathetic reality – full of abuse scandals and many victims.

During my research I found many different definitions. I have therefore chosen one that seemed understandable to me: Source

  • heterosexual: this refers to people who are exclusively attracted to the opposite sex.
  • homosexual: this is the name given to people who are attracted only to their own sex. Other terms are also used for this, for example “gay”, “lesbian” or “gay”.
  • bisexual: Bisexuals are attracted to men and to women.
  • pansexual: Pansexuals are attracted to other people regardless of their sex or gender.
  • curious, interested or “still undecided”: no big deal, you don’t have to commit!
  • asexual: with this term one makes it clear that one does not actually feel any sexual attraction – regardless of the gender.
  • queer: this expresses that one rejects the social norms of heterosexuality, i.e. the restriction of gender to the two categories “man” or “woman”, and does not consider them important for oneself.

I am particularly grateful for the explanation of the term “queer”. Because it is precisely here that it becomes clear to me that this group of people is resisting the conventional roles of man and woman, they do not accept that. Strictly speaking, this has nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation and is, in my view, a construct to exert socio-political influence in this way. For me, the queer community is an interest group and certainly not a sexual orientation. They represent a clear message, abolish the categories of man and woman, abolish norms and stereotypes. That may be legitimate, but then please do not exploit the current discussion around gender for these purposes. Our expert did not want to explain the term “queer” to us because she believes that there are many different definitions within queer community. It may well be that I am off the mark here with my explanation.

 

What is behind the acronym LGBTIQ Source

In English, correspondingly for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans Intersex, Queer. There are abbreviations that do not contain all of these terms and those that go beyond them (e.g. LGBTIQQ – the last “Q” stands for “questioning”). The letters at the back were historically added later. Within the respective communities, there is disagreement about how broad associations should be, and also about whether the practice lives up to the claim of actually representing all the groups/identities mentioned in the respective abbreviations. What is meant by this, sexual orientation or gender identity? To understand this, I researched the origins of the term. Initially, LGB came up in English as an association of people with the corresponding sexual orientations in the fight against discrimination. This collective movement was soon joined by groups of transgender people who did not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth (cisgender). The category “transgender” does not refer to the sexual orientation of the people concerned, but to their gender identity. So it is now very clear; LGBTIQ is an interest group (community) of people with defined sexual orientations and of people with specific identities. Here it is similar to the FLINT groups. But that’s not all, it gets even more complicated. With the emergence of queer theory, queer people joined the collective movement (LGBTQ). Subsequently, the term was supplemented with “I” for intersex people, then with “A” for asexual or agender people and finally with a plus sign + or trans asterisk * as a placeholder for further gender identities (LGBTQIA*). Finally, I come closer to the origin of the term queer. The Queer theory is a cultural theory developed in the USA from the early 1990s onwards that critically examines the relationship between biological gender, social gender and sexual desire. Here, all three levels were combined, the biological level, the social level and the sexual orientation. Recent queer theory is not only concerned with the deconstruction of sexuality, but with all aspects of culture in relation to gender and gender roles and any resulting relations of exploitation. One of the most important points made is the radical openness of the term queer, which in numerous debates has to be constantly re-appropriated by groups who want to be included (e.g. black lesbians coming from the landed proletariat; heterosexual sympathisers of queer attitudes, etc.). Source

What a mess, now cultural aspects, landed proletariat and otherwise are added. With all due respect, this is where I get off at the latest. I am stopping my research on QUEER, because this track leads to the total confusion of the gender question.

 

What is nonbinary gender identity (enby for short) Source

It is a collective term for gender identities from the transgender spectrum who do not identify exclusively as male or female, i.e. who are outside this two-divided binary gender order. Note: A person’s non-binaryness has nothing to do with biological sex or gender characteristics; some intersex (women and men) people also identify as non-binary. I understand nonbinary as the fourth gender and would assign it as a separate gender under the social level.

 

Conclusion

After all my research, I am convinced that we need shelters for people who are discriminated against. This certainly includes women and people who identify as women. I would prefer the term finter instead of flinter because, as I mentioned before, lesbians are also women and should not be considered twice just because they also come out as lesbians. At the same time, the real challenge is more to find an equitable solution in competitive sports and other levels, such as in the awarding of scholarships. If men easily identify as women and are therefore more successful than biological women because of their biological conditions, then that is abuse! A biological woman then has to fear great disadvantages and already we are in a new quandary – the anti-discrimination actions only lead to discrimination against most women. One thing is clear, abuse will always exist everywhere. But I plead for leaving the emotional level out of this discussion and coming together for reasonable and fair solutions. There will never be justice for all, because life is not fair. But we should come to a common consensus. Mutual recriminations will not lead to this. As I said, what we need is time, patience and the willingness to grow together. Quick decisions will overwhelm us – we are hopelessly overburdened with the whole issue anyway. Personally, I resist being judged because I find it difficult to perceive a purely biological man as a woman because that person identifies as a woman; or vice versa. I like to address women as “woman” and men as “gentleman” – that’s how I learned and for me it’s correct and polite to do it. It is difficult for me to change my language completely, to address and write to people only with first and last names, just because a small minority feels disadvantaged or even discriminated against. It’s nonsensical to accuse me of discrimination because of this. I need time to adjust to the new social demands. To the other politically and self-centred crybabies who act as advocates for those affected, loudly condemning societies, patriarchal structures and also men across the board, I have deep dislike and contempt. Stop pointing fingers at grievances and do something for yourselves with your own problems. You have an intrinsic problem that you are trying to solve extrinsically. This creates a toxic, non-target atmosphere in the much-needed discussion. Discrimination also means blanket condemnation of whole societies and thus the majority of people. The demand for diversity can only be met if the majority of people are able to bear it. Dear activists, you don’t need to show off in a self-assertive manner for your convictions with your self-assigned clean note of health. You are neither better nor worse than people who do not share your convictions. If you want to achieve something, convince us with arguments, knowledge and passion; not with accusations to make us feel guilty. Do not devalue us in order to valorise yourselves. If we meet together as equals, we can do it together. Personally, I am at the beginning of a process that will certainly occupy me long and intensely. I don’t yet know how to reconcile my own attitude with the new situation around gender issues. I still lack a lot of knowledge and experience in the matter… and I need time for myself to come to terms with ME and to be able to cope with the challenges to my person.

Finally, I would like to mention one thing. I think that the really affected people have it very hard in our world. It must be hell for them. They have my respect and admiration, I want to open up to them, understand them, reach out to them and support them if they want it.

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