Identities: How and when do I know who I am?

“For me, however, the question arises whether […] concepts of identity might not also be able to be so openly and fluidly conceptualised that they contain the non-identical, and whether masculine and feminine […] can exist alongside each other.”

Ilka Quindeau

The concept of identity and of gender identity is often questioned and deconstructed in postmodern discourse. What is criticised is the myth of stability and immutability inherent to the concept of identity. If you look more closely at concepts of identity in philosophy, sociology and psychology, you may come to a different conclusion.

The paradigms of the identity researcher Erik Erikson are still helpful for understanding this, and not only in intersex identity formation. Erikson stressed the importance of dialectics and the double existence of ego- and we-identities. To a certain extent, humans are constantly in conflict between the desire for social group membership (we-identity) and individual uniqueness (ego-identity).

So far, we do not know how gender identity, i.e. the feeling of belonging to a particular gender, “emerges”. However, there are many theories and ideas about it. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the University of Hamburg, biologist Prof. Dr Esther Diekhof and psychologist Dr Katinka Schweizer discussed this topic in an interview with the Hamburger Abendblatt in May 2018 under the title “Ist Junge oder Mädchen Sein angeboren?” [“Is being a boy or a girl something innate?”]. This lively discussion can be heard [in German] here.

Literature for further reading:

  • Erikson, Erik (1994). Identity and the Life Cycle. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.
  • Erikson, Erik (1979). Dimensions of a New Identity. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.
  • de Levita, David J. (1965). The Concept of Identity. Paris: Mouton.
  • Quindeau, I. (2014). Der Janusköpfige Ödipus – der Kernkomplex in der Entwicklung von Sexualitäten und Geschlechtern. In K. Schweizer, F. Brunner, S. Cerwenka, T. O. Nieder, & P. Briken (eds), Sexualität und Geschlecht (77–87). Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag.
  • Schweizer, K., & Richter-Appelt, H. (2010). Dimensionen von Geschlecht. Frühe Kindheit 3/10.
  • Schweizer, K. (2012). Identitätsbildung. In K. Schweizer, & H. Richter-Appelt (eds), Intersexualität kontrovers (459–484). Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag.

Schweizer, K. (2014). Intersexualität und Identitätsbildung. Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag.

Intersex surgery – why and when?

  • Which genital operations – why and when?
  • Who decides?
  • How do gonads and hormone production work?
  • What is “risk of degeneration”?
  • Why were gonadectomies performed?

    The current dispute between some representatives from the medical field and parent groups on the one hand and human rights representatives on the other concerns the issue of the extent to which parents may decide on gender-normalising, non-essential medical interventions being carried out on their baby, toddler or child who is as yet incapable of giving its consent.

    In an interview with Deutschland Radio Kultur (2013), Katinka Schweizer reported from the perspective of study participants and the wealth of experience of the Hamburg Intersex Study when she addresses some of these questions. She refers to the significance of “sovereignty over one’s own body”.

    Also the latest report by Amnesty International addresses the situation of intersex-born people in Germany for the first time, and especially the controversy of how children with 46,XX karyotype and the so-called adrenogenital syndrome (AGS) are dealt with, without taking sides. The group of lived-experience experts with AGS includes both opponents and proponents of early genital surgery.

    From a legal point of view, it was pointed out several times that parents have no right to consent to medically unnecessary, irreversible interventions on their children – due to the child’s right to bodily integrity and an open future. The current Federal Family Ministry, together with activists and self-help associations, is calling for a ban on such non-essential or medically unnecessary operations.

    Language: How do we speak respectfully about our gender?

    Do numbers count?

    How do frequency estimates come about?