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Legal Sex

Updated: JULY 1, 2019

Legal sex is a person’s sex as it is recognized by the law and legal bodies. Traditionally there were just two legal sexes: male and female, denoted by the letters M and F. However, some governments and their legal bodies now recognize a third legal sex: gender-neutral, denoted by the letter X.

More About Legal Sex

Legal sex typically corresponds to the sex on an individual’s birth certificate. This is determined by a health professional assessing an infant’s genitals at birth. This legal sex is then used on other legal documents, including driver’s licenses, passports, social security documents, and other official forms of identification.

For cisgender individuals, their legal sex matches their biological sex and their assigned sex. However, this isn’t always the case for other members of society. Individuals can petition to have their legal sex changed on their birth certificates and other documents. In some cases, courts and other administrative bodies require evidence of gender confirmation surgery to change an individual’s legal sex. In other cases, a doctor’s affidavit confirming the individual’s gender identity may be the only requirement. Because different authoritative bodies have different criteria for determining the legal sex, individuals may have different legal sexes recognized by different authorities.

The growing acceptance of a third, gender-neutral legal sex is good news for individuals who do not identify as male or female, including some transgender, gender-fluid, and intersex people. It may also reduce the incidences of parents signing off on gender correction surgery for intersex babies with ambiguous genitalia, believing this measure was necessary to gain a legal sex status.


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