The Quest for Transforming the Sex Binary: Comparing Successes and Failures of 1. and 2. Intersex Mobilization in Germany

Friday, July 14, 2017
Gilbert Scott Conference Room - 250 (University of Glasgow)
Angelika von Wahl , International Affairs Program, Lafayette College
States around the globe divide their citizens into two groups: male and female. This changed in 2013 when Germany passed a reform of its Civil Status law, which allowed individuals to be registered as an “unspecified” sex. Why did this legal transformation happen in a conservative gender regime? The research project compares two waves of mobilization, one that failed and the other that partially succeeded. The goal is to tackle the question of what distinguished the two movements and their social context and asks what factors enabled the transformation of deeply institutionalized categories?

Utilizing process-tracing this project bases its analysis on empirical data, specifically primary and secondary sources and semi-structures interviews with activists and decision-makers. The paper compares the framing of goals and network strategies of the first intersex movement (mid-1990’s to about 2000) to the second movement (2005-today). By comparing the two cases the paper isolates the factors that distinguish the successful from the unsuccessful wave of mobilization. It reflects what actors and institutions made a difference during the second wave. One especially important finding is that visibility and important legal reforms in recent years were achieved less by changing movements frames or intersex demands than by building domestic coalitions with more powerful allies and transnational advocacy networks providing access to UN human rights treaties (such as CEDAW). At the UN intersex activists challenged the gender binary by reframing the meaning of their treatment from one of medical “correction” to one of legal and inalienable “protection” of human rights.