When a baby is born, that infant’s birth certificate gets marked with a designation of male or female. That designation has typically been determined when nurses or doctor’s look at the baby’s anatomy.

So it’s the doctor doing the “assigning”?
The key to understanding “assigned at birth” has less to do with who is assigning rather than what the assignment implies.

I’m confused.
OK, so, historically, a person born with a certain set of body parts and a certain set of sex chromosomes has been designated female, and a person born with a certain set of body parts and a certain set of sex chromosomes has been designated male. And that designation of male or female occurs when a baby is born, if not earlier, thanks to modern medical technology. But that designation — or “assignment” — of male or female ends up having consequences as the baby grows up.

Because of assumptions and expectations?
Right. People who are assigned male at birth are usually raised as boys and men. People who are assigned female as birth are usually raised as girls and women.

In an article in The Independent in 2017, Kashmira Gander explained why those assignments are flawed:

…gender isn’t as rigid as we thought it might be. It’s more fluid than the long-held binaries of “girl” and “boy,” and “man” and “woman.” People are accepting that the gender the midwife assigns us at birth after taking a look at our genitals doesn’t always match up with how we feel inside. That’s why some people identify as trans, gender non-binary and queer.

So everyone is assigned something at birth?
That’s been the rule, though a baby born in British Columbia in Canada in 2016 was believed to be the first baby in the world not to be assigned a gender at birth according to the Huffington Post.

How did that happen?
Kori Doty, the baby’s parent, was transgender and non-binary. Doty didn’t want Searyl, the baby, to experience what Kori did, according to the Huffington Post:

“When I was born, doctors looked at my genitals and made assumptions about who I would be, and those assignments followed me and followed my identification throughout my life,” Doty, who prefers the pronoun “they,” told CBC. “Those assumptions were incorrect, and I ended up having to do a lot of adjustments since then.”

So, Searyl’s health card was marked “U” rather than “male” or “female,” according to the Huffington Post. The U stood for “undetermined” or “unassigned,” with Searyl having the option to make the determination later in life, Kori Doty said:

“It is up to Searyl to decide how they identify, when they are old enough to develop their own gender identity,” Doty said in the statement. “I am not going to foreclose their choices based on an arbitrary assignment of gender at birth based on an inspection of their genitals.”

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