It's been a whirlwind week for Norrie May-Welby. Born a male 48 years ago in Scotland, Norrie had a sex-change operation at age 28 in Australia. But that didn't feel right, either. Norrie stopped taking the female hormones and lived as ... neither. And on February 25, Norrie got permission from the New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages to be listed as "sex not specified" on any official documents.
This was big news: Norrie was the first officially genderless person. Now, there are plenty of jokes to be made. "No sex please, we're genderless." But under the inevitable snickering lies a serious question: are we all born to be one or the other? Scientists are seriously starting to question strict one-or-the-other buckets.
As we get more sophisticated about sex traits – understanding how people can be born with hormone imbalances, ambiguous genitalia, or other "intersex" traits – more and more stories pop up in the news. There was the South African runner, Caster Semenya, whose sex was called into question after she won a gold medal in the 2009 Olympics. There's Thomas Beatie, who was born a woman, became a man, and then went very public with his one, two, three pregnancies. And there are other cultures (Native American berdaches, Bengali Indian hijras) that have recognized third-sex people for thousands of years.
So is it really a big deal? If most of us prefer to be one or the other, is it okay for some to say they're neither? Apparently not yet – just this week, the Attorney General of New South Wales reversed their decision, devastating Norrie and causing yet another ripple in gender-studies circles.
So what do you think? Do you really care what kind of equipment your friends are carrying in their pants? Do you know people who kinda don't fit either definition?