It has taken Sara Kelly Keenan 55 years to get the right birth certificate, and now that she has it, she can’t hide her joy. Nor should she — she’s just made history.
Keenan was born intersex, with male genes, female genitalia and mixed internal reproductive organs. Following her birth in New York City in the 1960s, her parents and doctors decided to mark her as a boy on her birth certificate and keep the fact that she was intersex a secret. However, three weeks later, she was issued with a female birth certificate.
This week, she became the first-known American to receive a birth certificate reflecting her true identity: reading “intersex” instead of the standard “male” or “female.”
Keenan, who began hormone replacement therapy at 16 and uses female pronouns, marked the momentous occasion by posting a Facebook picture of herself wearing a T-shirt with the words, “Intersexxy and perfect.”
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As Keenan points out, not all intersex people will choose to identify legally as intersex, nor will all parents of an intersex child opt to have intersex on their birth certificate. “But for those who do, the option must exist,” she said.
People like Keenan — and Jamie Shupe, who also make history by becoming the first American to receive permission to change their listed gender from female to “non-binary” earlier this year — are paving the way for intersex and gender nonconforming people who require legal recognition of a third gender.
In fact, due to the success of Shupe and Keenan, attorney Toby Adams, who runs the Intersex & Genderqueer Recognition Project, is currently helping dozens of people across the nation who want to have their genders legally recognized as something other than male or female. On Jan. 31, San Francisco residents David Strachan, Xin Farrish and Char Crawford will find out whether petitions filed by Adams on their behalf will result in the non-binary status they require.
Campaigners hope that it won’t be too long before the list of legally defined genders covers all possibilities. Much like Facebook, who in 2014 gave users the choice of 58 defined genders (together with a write-in option) including “gender fluid,” “intersex” and “neither.”