You're 18 and you've fallen in love with a boy for the first time. You want to sleep with him, but you realize that it's not quite that easy. Doctors tell you that what you thought was your vagina is only two centimeters deep. In order to make sexual intercourse possible, you must first undergo an operation. So, you do. But intercourse still doesn't work and your boyfriend leaves you.
Your parents say nothing.
Your hair falls out. All of it. From your head, from everywhere on your body, your eyelashes, eyebrows and pubic hair. Doctors even have a name for the condition, for stress-triggered hair loss: alopecia universalis. But they don't have one for you, for what you are. They also don't have an explanation for the most important question of all: Why are you what you are?
But that's not the worst part. The worst is the loneliness. The feeling that you are an annoyance, something abnormal. Something that has no place in this world. A monster.
Maxi Bauermeister, a 33-year-old farmer who is 1.64 meters (5'7") tall and weighs 50 kilos (110 pounds), is sitting in the large kitchen of a farmhouse in the German state of Brandenburg telling – and this is where things start to get difficult – his story? Telling her story? Neither is accurate. Bauermeister is neither a man nor a woman. And Bauermeister isn't a fan of personal pronouns. On the playground as a child, other children sometimes used to call Bauermeister a hermaphrodite. Recently, society has begun using the rather unwieldy term "intersex people" to describe those like Bauermeister. Bauermeister occasionally jokingly uses the term "divinely randy hermaphrodite," but since Bauermeister's story isn't particularly humorous, this story will often use "Bauermeister" instead of gender specific pronouns (see editor's note below).
Last November, Germany's Constitutional Court ruled that official documents must add a third gender choice, such as "other" or "various," arguing that the lack of such a choice is discriminatory. It was a revolutionary ruling. "Societal acceptance cannot be mandated by a court ruling, but it is a step in the right direction," said Vanja, the plaintiff in the case, who was supported by the campaign Dritte Option, or "Third Option." It is a view that many around the world have echoed. "The landmark ruling injects clarity and sobriety into an often ill-informed and ideologically poisoned debate about gender in Germany," wrote the New York Times.
It is the first legal ruling of its kind in Europe. For the first time, an open discussion has been triggered about a reality that has been around since times immemorial: the lack of clear sexual determinacy. In Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus is the figure whose body exhibits both male and female characteristics. According to estimates from support groups, there are around 160,000 such people in Germany – a total that hardly anyone is aware of, often not even those affected. It may sound incomprehensible that there are people out there who don't know what their real sex is. But it's true.
Intersexuality was long a taboo. In 2003, the American author Jeffrey Eugenides won the Pulitzer Prize for his bestseller "Middlesex," which described the life of an intersex person. His book is widely considered one of the most important novels of the 21st century – but it didn't trigger a broader societal debate. It has only been since the more recent discussions about gender identity, about transgender and gay marriage, about all manner of identities that deviate from the binary man or woman, hetero- or homosexual – it has only been since the debate has widened to address what it really means to be masculine or feminine that intersex people have also finally become a topic of conversation as well.
Maxi Bauermeister is not the kind of person who seeks out attention. On the contrary. It was difficult to even find Bauermeister in the first place because few intersex people in Germany are interested in talking about themselves, and certainly not with their real names and a photo. The Association for Intersex People has even prepared an extensive list of questions and conditions that journalists must first address before the group is even willing to consider their requests. That says quite a bit about the degree of ostracism, derision, rejection and lack of understanding that intersex people are confronted with.
Bauermeister, though, is willing to talk, in the hope that openly addressing the "third unique sex" will help inform people and awaken understanding "so that doctors one day will tell parents after the birth of an intersex child: 'It's not a problem, nothing has to be done. It is a healthy child. Congratulations!'" That's not what happened in Bauermeister's case.
It is a mild winter morning with the gray sky hanging low as sheep and goats graze in the field behind a row of birch trees. The secluded organic farming cooperative where Bauermeister is a partner produces cheese, herbs and vegetables, which are sold at local markets. Bauermeister is wearing a loose sweater, workpants and a cap. Tea stands ready on the table. The voice is bright, but masculine, the product of the testosterone pills that Bauermeister has taken every morning for several years, much like others take their vitamins.
Bauermeister has adopted a masculine demeanor and dresses like a man, though he's not taking testosterone because he wants to become a man, but because it provides his body with something it is unable to produce itself due to the lack of gonads. Since he began taking testosterone, he feels better – more balanced and calmer.