Intersex rights in France

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Intersex rights in France
Location of Metropolitan France (dark green)

– in Europe (light green & dark grey)
– in the European Union (light green)  –  [Legend]

Protection of physical integrity and bodily autonomyNo
Protection from discriminationNo
Third gender or sex classificationsNo

Intersex people in France face significant gaps in protection from non-consensual medical interventions and protection from discrimination. The birth of Herculine Barbin, a nineteenth-century intersex woman, is marked in Intersex Day of Remembrance. Barbin may have been the first intersex person to write a memoir, later published by Michel Foucault.

In response to pressure from intersex activists and recommendations by United Nations Treaty Bodies, the Senate published an inquiry into the treatment of intersex people in February 2017. It calls for significant changes to some medical practices, and compensation for individuals subjected to medical treatment deemed to be medically unnecessary or done without informed consent. An individual, Gaëtan Schmitt, has taken legal action to obtain civil status as "neutral sex" ("sexe neutre") but, in May 2017, this was rejected by the Court of Cassation.


The 12th-century canon law collection known as the Decretum Gratiani states that "Whether an hermaphrodite may witness a testament, depends on which sex prevails" ("Hermafroditus an ad testamentum adhiberi possit, qualitas sexus incalescentis ostendit.").[1][2] On ordainment, Raming, Macy and Cook found that the Decretum Gratiani states, "item Hermafroditus. If therefore the person is drawn to the feminine more than the male, the person does not receive the order. If the reverse, the person is able to receive but ought not to be ordained on account of deformity and monstrosity."[3]

Herculine Barbin was raised in a convent in the early nineteenth century. From puberty, her body began to exhibit more masculine traits. In line with early legal practices, she was reassigned as male following an affair. She subsequently took her own life. She may have been the earliest intersex person to write a memoir, and these were later published by Michel Foucault, accompanied by a commentary and other materials.[4] In his commentary to Barbin's memoirs, Foucault presented Barbin as an example of the "happy limbo of a non-identity", but whose masculinity marked her from her contemporaries.[5] Morgan Holmes states that Barbin's own writings showed that she saw herself as an "exceptional female", but female nonetheless.[5] Barbin's birth is now marked as Intersex Day of Remembrance.

One of the earliest international gatherings of intersex people took place in 2006 in Paris, a summer school organized by OII-France. The summer school is memorialized in a book, A qui appartiennent nos corps? Féminisme et luttes intersexes.[6][7]

Physical integrity and bodily autonomy[edit]

  Legal prohibition of non-consensual medical interventions
  Regulatory suspension of non-consensual medical interventions

In February 2016, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child published recommendations calling for an end to unnecessary surgery or treatment on children, and development of a "rights-based health care protocol for intersex children".[8] In May 2016, the United Nations Committee Against Torture urged the French government to ensure respect for the physical integrity of intersex people,[9] stating:

Take the necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to guarantee respect for the physical integrity of intersex individuals, so that no one is subjected during childhood to non-urgent medical or surgical procedures intended to establish one's sex.[10]

Existrans 2017, with banner reading "Intersex and Allied Collective." Paris, 2017

In 2017, the French Senate published the second parliamentary inquiry into the wellbeing and rights of intersex people (after Australia in 2013).[11][12] Vincent Guillot of Organisation Intersex International states that the document illuminates the absurdity of clinical practices, but is problematic where it distinguishes infants with congenital adrenal hyperplasia and ambiguous genitalia from intersex persons, describing women with congenital adrenal hyperplasia as "failed women".[13]

On 17 March 2017, the president of the Republic, François Hollande, described medical interventions to make the bodies of intersex children more typically male or female as increasingly considered to be mutilations.[9]

Remedies and claims for compensation[edit]

In response to recommendations by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, a February 2017 report[11] by the Senate delegation on the rights of women has called for compensation for intersex people who suffer the consequences of medical interventions.[14]

Protection from discrimination[edit]

  Explicit protection from discrimination on grounds of sex characteristics
  Explicit protection on grounds of intersex status
  Explicit protection on grounds of intersex within attribute of sex


French medical practitioners have been responsible for implementing policies of the International Association of Athletics Federations regarding sex verification in sports. In 2013, it was reported by Patrick Fénichel, Stéphane Bermon and others that four elite female athletes from developing countries were subjected to partial clitoridectomies and gonadectomies (sterilization) after testosterone testing revealed that they had an intersex condition.[15][16] Members of the same clinical hormone evaluation team report there is no evidence that innate hyperandrogenism in elite women athletes confers an advantage in sport.[17] The case has been criticized as showing vulnerability of women athletes to unnecessary medical interventions under duress, with no evidence of cheating and no evidence of athletic advantage.[15]

Associated Press reported during the Rio Olympics on an anonymous African athlete subjected to medical investigations and treatments in Nice, France, in order to compete.[18]

Sex verification policies are currently suspended following the case of Dutee Chand v. Athletics Federation of India (AFI) & The International Association of Athletics Federations, in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, decided in July 2015.[19]

Identification documents[edit]

Article 57 of the Civil Code requires that birth certificates must state the sex of a child, though it does not specify any further details about the meaning or limits of the requirement.[20]

Gaëtan Schmitt, a psychotherapist[21] born in 1951 in Tours with ambiguous genitalia (micropenis and a "rudimentary vagina") sought recognition of "neutral sex" civil status.[20] In a judgement on 20 August 2015, the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Tours supported this status, a first for France.[22][23] On appeal, the decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal in Orleans in March 2016. Schmitt's legal team described an initial male assignment as "fictive", and called for the government to recognize and adapt to human diversity.[24] The team acting for the government argued that creating new civil status categories should be a matter of legislation, not the courts. On 4 May 2017, the Court of Cassation refused to recognize "neutral sex", stating that the existing two sexes were necessary for social and legal organization,[21] and change would have profound implications for French law.[25]

Prior to the Court of Cassation decision, Vincent Guillot, a founder of Organisation Intersex International, described Schmitt as a friend, and Schmitt's lawyer's reasoning excellent, but also described third gender recognition as stigmatizing. Citing the Malta declaration, Guillot called for respect for fundamental rights and abolishing sex as a legal status, as with race and religion.[13]

Rights advocacy[edit]

Notable intersex rights organizations in France include Collectif intersexe activiste.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Decretum Gratiani, C. 4, q. 2 et 3, c. 3
  2. ^ "Decretum Gratiani (Kirchenrechtssammlung)". Bayerische StaatsBibliothek (Bavarian State Library). February 5, 2009. Archived from the original on December 20, 2016.
  3. ^ Raming, Ida; Macy, Gary; Bernard J, Cook (2004). A History of Women and Ordination. Scarecrow Press. p. 113.
  4. ^ Barbin, Herculine (1980). Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-century French Hermaphrodite. introd. Michel Foucault, trans. Richard McDougall. New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 978-0-394-50821-4.
  5. ^ a b Holmes, Morgan (July 2004). "Locating Third Sexes" (PDF). Transformations Journal. Regions of Sexuality (8). ISSN 1444-3775. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-04-16.
  6. ^ A qui appartiennent nos corps? Féminisme et luttes intersexes (PDF). Nouvelles Questiones Féministes (in French). Vol. 27. Université de Lausanne. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2013-08-28.
  7. ^ 1ères Universités d'été des Intersexes et Intergenres d'Europe Paris - du 16 au 19 août 2006. 1 August 2006. ISBN 978-2-88901-007-3. Archived from the original on 11 October 2014. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  8. ^ United Nations; Committee on the Rights of Child (February 4, 2016). Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of France (advance unedited version). Geneva: United Nations. Archived from the original on March 15, 2016.
  9. ^ a b Ballet, Virginie (March 17, 2017). "Hollande prône l'interdiction des chirurgies sur les enfants intersexes". Libération. Archived from the original on March 25, 2017.
  10. ^ United Nations; Committee against Torture (June 10, 2016). "Concluding observations on the seventh periodic report of France". Geneva. Archived from the original on March 25, 2017.
  11. ^ a b Sénat; Blondin, Maryvonne; Bouchoux, Corinne (February 23, 2017). Variations du développement sexuel : lever un tabou, lutter contre la stigmatisation et les exclusions. 2016-2017. Paris, France: Sénat. Archived from the original on March 31, 2017.
  12. ^ Duclos, Richard (March 8, 2017). "Le Sénat veut lever le tabou des enfants intersexes". Le ISSN 1950-6244. Retrieved 2017-03-24.
  13. ^ a b Cavelier, Jeanne (2017-03-21). "Vincent Guillot : " Il faut cesser les mutilations des enfants intersexes en France "". Le ISSN 1950-6244. Retrieved 2017-03-24.
  14. ^ dupont, Gaëlle (March 22, 2017). "" Ni homme ni femme ", la question du sexe neutre pour l'état civil devant la Cour de cassation". Le Monde. Retrieved 2017-03-24.
  15. ^ a b Jordan-Young, R. M.; Sonksen, P. H.; Karkazis, K. (April 2014). "Sex, health, and athletes". BMJ. 348 (apr28 9): –2926–g2926. doi:10.1136/bmj.g2926. ISSN 1756-1833. PMID 24776640. S2CID 2198650.
  16. ^ Fénichel, Patrick; Paris, Françoise; Philibert, Pascal; Hiéronimus, Sylvie; Gaspari, Laura; Kurzenne, Jean-Yves; Chevallier, Patrick; Bermon, Stéphane; Chevalier, Nicolas; Sultan, Charles (June 2013). "Molecular Diagnosis of 5α-Reductase Deficiency in 4 Elite Young Female Athletes Through Hormonal Screening for Hyperandrogenism". The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 98 (6): –1055–E1059. doi:10.1210/jc.2012-3893. ISSN 0021-972X. PMID 23633205.
  17. ^ Bermon, Stéphane; Garnier, Pierre Yves; Lindén Hirschberg, Angelica; Robinson, Neil; Giraud, Sylvain; Nicoli, Raul; Baume, Norbert; Saugy, Martial; Fénichel, Patrick; Bruce, Stephen J.; Henry, Hugues; Dollé, Gabriel; Ritzen, Martin (August 2014). "Serum Androgen Levels in Elite Female Athletes". The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 99 (11): –2014–1391. doi:10.1210/jc.2014-1391. ISSN 0021-972X. PMID 25137421.
  18. ^ Leicester, John (August 15, 2016). "Inside an Olympian's testosterone ordeal". The Big Story, Associated Press. Archived from the original on March 25, 2017. Retrieved 2017-03-24.
  19. ^ Court of Arbitration for Sport (July 2015). CAS 2014/A/3759 Dutee Chand v. Athletics Federation of India (AFI) & The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) (PDF). Court of Arbitration for Sport. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-07-04. Retrieved 2017-03-25.
  20. ^ a b Ballet, Virginie (March 21, 2017). "Ignorer les intersexes, c'est une mutilation juridique". Libération. Archived from the original on March 25, 2017.
  21. ^ a b "La Cour de cassation refuse le "sexe neutre"". Le Figaro. May 4, 2017. Archived from the original on May 4, 2017.
  22. ^ Vantighem, Vincent (October 14, 2015). "Personne intersexuée: "Je suis la preuve indubitable que l'on peut vivre avec deux sexes"". 20 Minutes.
  23. ^ Vantighem, Vincent (October 14, 2015). "Les sept questions que vous vous posez sur les personnes intersexuées". 20 Minutes.
  24. ^ François, Adeline (March 21, 2017). "Le journal de 7h30 : la Cour de cassation s'interroge sur le sexe neutre". RTL. Archived from the original on March 25, 2017.
  25. ^ "La justice refuse l'inscription " sexe neutre " sur un état civil". Le Monde. May 4, 2017.


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