“Female, male and… diverse?” – Book Presentation and Panel Discussion at the IPU Berlin

MANN_INTER_FRAU (MAN_INTER_WOMAN) (Photo and sculpture: Fabian Vogler)

On 7 November 2018, a panel discussion and book presentation entitled “Female, male and… diverse?” took place at the International Psychoanalytic University (IPU) Berlin. The anthology and illustrated book “Die Schönheiten des Geschlechts: Intersex im Dialog” [The Beauties of Gender: Intersex in Dialogue], edited by Katinka Schweizer and Fabian Vogler and published this year by CAMPUS, was presented. It comprises a large number of inter- and transdisciplinary contributions to the title theme and numerous bronze works by the sculptor Fabian Vogler, as well as artistic interventions by other international artists.

There was great interest in the event, with around 100 participants, IPU students, and other interested parties accepting the invitation. The event was recorded, and there is a link to the podcast here.

The bronzes provided and exhibited by Vogler exclusively for this evening were eye-catching and stimulating for audience and contributors alike. The three sculptures were “MANN_INTER_FRAU” (“MAN_INTER_WOMAN”), “YPSILON” (“Y”), and “IX”. As the new president of the IPU, the psychoanalyst, sociologist and psychologist Prof. Dr Ilka Quindeau opened the discussion by asking the panellists about  their approaches  to the topic and by commenting on the social debate. On the podium, Lucie Veith (from the organisation Intersexuelle Menschen e. V.) and Prof. Dr Konstanze Plett (lawyer), both of whom have also made contributions as book authors, joined the discussion with Fabian Vogler and Dr Katinka Schweizer.  Unfortunately, Dr Ina-Marie Blomeyer from the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs had to cancel.

Dichotomous thinking regarding gender, i.e. the idea that humans are either female or male, is a dangerous oversimplification and, according to Vogler, a “social construct”. In fact, the  Personal Status Code (PStG), introduced in the 19th century due to the lack of a definition for the term “gender”,  was in principle open to any interpretation, but was  dichotomised by the understanding of gender within medicine, according to Plett.

As Schweizer explained, a central problem of interdisciplinary discourse, which is so important for dealing with intersex is the difficulty that the disciplines involved in this field have in expressing themselves comprehensibly to one another and in being able to exchange ideas with one another on equal footing. The focus finally turned to the currently proposed amendment to the PStG and the introduction of a third, positive sex category. Veith pointed out that this was, in fact, a fourth option. Indeed, since 2013, if a child cannot be classified as either a female or a male, the birth register entry must be left open. The new draft bill now opens up  the additional option of selecting the category “divers” instead. Above all, Veith criticised the draft bill’s requirement to produce a medical certificate to prove physical ambiguity before a change in the birth register entry can be effected. Apart from once again “stamping” people who have a variation in physical sex characteristics as “abnormal”, Veith pointed out that this effectively excludes people who cannot provide medical evidence. At the same time, Veith admitted that expecting a perfect draft bill would probably be utopian: “A process has been initiated, things are evolving, and that’s very positive.”

Ultimately, the panel members were inclined to share the view that the choice of sex entry in the birth register should ideally be left open for all people. “When you ask someone to dance with you, you don’t expect them to show you your birth certificate to see if the check mark is in the right place,” Vogler pointed out with regard to the absurdity of the sex entry. The abolition of compulsory military service for men and the introduction of same-sex marriage had made the PStG even more meaningless, said Plett.

Finally, in the discussion with the audience in the lecture hall at the IPU, questions of a genuinely psychoanalytical nature were also raised, for instance concerning traditional concepts and ideas such as “castration anxiety” and the development of desire. The discussion in this area is still largely in its infancy. The book the authors presented contains some psychoanalytically inspired contributions (for example by Almut Rudolf-Petersen, Barbara Ruettner and Lutz Götzmann, and Katinka Schweizer, Viktoria Märker and Fabian Vogler) and it is hoped that psychoanalytic education and training institutions will open up their interest in intersex topics once again. This would be entirely in the spirit of Sigmund Freud. The IPU has certainly set an example in this respect.

Here you will find further information about the event and the venue and the podcast of the event for you to listen to [in German].