I was reading this article about a Canadian parent fighting for the right to not give their baby a gender after arguing that a simple biological examination cannot uncover the child’s true identity.

This man wants his child to be able to choose its own gender when it is old enough, and has launched a judicial review against the policy.

"I want my kid to have all of the space to be the most whole and complete 
  person that they can be.” 

Which psychological effects could be if a child was not registered as a male or female and consequently was not treated as such?

  • $\begingroup$ Are you only interested in the gender/sex issue or should the answer address the psychological effects of activist parents on children in general? $\endgroup$
    – StrongBad
    Jul 7, 2017 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the comment, the answer should address the consequences of parents interaction on a child not registered as a male of female (under parents' employ) give that there s no law which allow a 3rd gender registration $\endgroup$
    – Fil
    Jul 9, 2017 at 17:06

1 Answer 1


This is an interesting question and with the baby and his/her gender status, CNN reported that the baby

was born in British Columbia, "outside the medical system," and did not undergo a genital inspection after birth, campaign group Gender Free I.D. Coalition said in a statement.

Short Answer

There seems to be no clinical consensus on any psychological effects of not being treated as either male or female, and as the case of this baby seems to be unique and the world's first according to many reports, in the sense of the fact that the baby has not been given an official gender status, there will be no information on any potential future psychological effects to this baby.

Long Answer

Before I answer the question, I will start with a commentary on the gender definitions often used for those who are "genderless" at birth.

Gender Definitions

There are many different names given to gender identities which could be used to genderise the baby you mentioned (Searyl Atli). They include but are not limited to:

Hermaphrodite (not generally used in modern times),

People born "genderless" were previously referred to as hermaphrodites, "congenital eunuchs", or even congenitally "frigid". Such terms have fallen out of favour; in particular, the term "hermaphrodite" is considered to be misleading, stigmatising, and scientifically specious.

There are plenty of well known people who were born without a specific gender (Non-Binary and Intersex) including a human rights activist. Ruth Baldacchino has a "non-binary" gender identity, and describes the Maltese Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act as providing

freedom to an individual to develop, establish and express their gender, rather than having the State or the medical professionals deciding that. In other words, ... to be allowed to determine what identity fits ... best and how ... to embody that identity.

Human rights institutions are placing increasing scrutiny on medical practices and issues of discrimination against intersex people.

Rationale behind medical intervention

According to Wikipedia,

Medical interventions take place to address physical health concerns, and psychosocial risks. Both types of rationale are the subject of debate, particularly as the consequences of surgical (and many hormonal) interventions are lifelong and irreversible. Questions regarding physical health include accurately assessing risk levels, necessity and timing. Psychosocial rationales are particularly susceptible to questions of necessity as they reflect social and cultural concerns.

Medical description of intersex traits as disorders of sex development has been controversial since the label was introduced in 2006 (Lee, et al., 2006). The DSM-5 included a change from using Gender Identity Disorder to Gender Dysphoria. This revised code now specifically includes intersex people who do not identify with their sex assigned at birth, using the language of Disorders of Sex Development, and this move was criticised by intersex advocacy groups in Australia and New Zealand (Kraus, 2015).

There remains no clinical consensus about an evidence base, surgical timing, necessity, type of surgical intervention, and degree of difference warranting intervention (Lee, et al., 2016)(Mouriquand, et al., 2016)(Creighton, et al., 2011). Such surgeries are the subject of significant contention due to consequences that include trauma, impact on sexual function and sensation, and violation of rights to physical and mental integrity (OHCHR, 2016).

In fact it seems that the opposite is true. Whilst it is often believed that it is essential for gender assignment surgery at or near birth, medicalisation and stigmatisation of intersex people result in significant trauma and mental health concerns (IIF, 2013). Whilst the IIF at the same meeting stated that

[To ensure] the bodily integrity and well-being of intersex people, autonomous non-pathologising psycho-social and peer support [should] be available to intersex people throughout their life (as self-required), as well as to parents and/or care providers.

As for the case of Searyl Atli Doty, there will be no information on any potential future psychological effects to this baby for reasons stated in my short answer.

Having said that, gender is an important part of a person's sense of identification within society. UCL (University College London) has an LGBT Student Support page which states

Gender Identity is a person's individual sense of femaleness or maleness. It is also, to some degree, a social construction that categorises certain behaviours into male and female roles. Gender identity conflicts can stem from an individual's gender indentity not matching their biological sex, an individual's gender identity being neither completely male nor female, or an individual's biological sex not being uniquely male or female.

hence the reason why there are so many different gender identities and sexualities within the LGBTQIA community.

Because of the way society frames everyone based on gender, it seems important to have a gender identity, so aside from the possible legal issues such as

which set of toilets is Searyl going to be legally allowed to use?

it will be interesting to the field of Psychology, how being registered and raised without a gender would affect Searyl's wellbeing.


Creighton, S. M., et al., 2011. Childhood surgery for ambiguous genitalia: glimpses of practice changes or more of the same? Psychology & Sexuality 5(1): pp. 34—43
DOI: 10.1080/19419899.2013.831214

IIF, 2013. The statement of the Third International Intersex Forum, December 2013 [Online]
Available at: http://intersexday.org/en/third-international-intersex-forum

Kraus, C., 2015. Classifying Intersex in DSM-5: Critical Reflections on Gender Dysphoria. Archives of Sexual Behavior 44(5): pp. 1147—1163
DOI: 10.1007/s10508-015-0550-0

Lee, P. A., et al., 2006. Consensus Statement on Management of Intersex Disorders. Pediatrics 18(2)
DOI: 10.1542/peds.2006-0738 PMID: 16882788

Lee, P. A., et al., 2016. Global Disorders of Sex Development Update since 2006: Perceptions, Approach and Care. Hormone Research in Paediatrics 85: pp. 158—180
DOI: 10.1159/000442975

Mouriquand, P. D. E., et al., 2016. Surgery in disorders of sex development (DSD) with a gender issue: If (why), when, and how? Pediatric Urology 12(3): pp. 139—149
DOI: 10.1016/j.jpurol.2016.04.001

OHCHR, 2016. End violence and harmful medical practices on intersex children and adults, UN and regional experts urge Intersex Awareness Day – Wednesday 26 October 2016 [Online]
Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20739&LangID=E

  • $\begingroup$ It seems you focused this response on the stigmatization of intersex people. What about babies that are obviously biologically male that are treated sexless? $\endgroup$ Jul 6, 2017 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Good answer! I agree with: it seems important to have a gender identity, in our society...Some categories are needed because of a thousand of reasons...In my opinion, it is not possible not to have a gender defined for some years ... but does this contradict individual freedom, isn't it? $\endgroup$
    – Fil
    Jul 7, 2017 at 11:01
  • $\begingroup$ It is my opinion that I agree that to have one legally recognised gender identity name for a "3rd gender" person would restrict individual freedoms to their own identity, however it may help as there would be legal recognition that gender is not binary and that it is multifaceted. $\endgroup$ Jul 7, 2017 at 11:40

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