In the following passage, what does assignment mean in the context of sex assignment surgery? Does it mean assign: to give a particular value, identity, etc., to something?

Germany, the first European country to make such an allowance, reviewed cases of intersex babies and found that many who were subjected to sex assignment surgery at a young age ended up unhappy.

-- www.newser.com: Germany Creates 3rd Gender

  • 2
    General Reference - Sex reassignment surgery, plus a dictionary definition of assign Nov 28, 2013 at 19:05
  • @FumbleFingers I'm not quite sure which definitions is appropriate from the link you gave, the definitions on the regular dictionary doesn't seem to relate to surgeries/medical procedures. Could it be the first definition of assignment from the medical dictionary: the selection of something for a specific purpose? But then the example it provides doesn't seem to fit the context.
    – Theo
    Nov 29, 2013 at 1:34
  • I'm not going to wade through various definitions appropriate to other contexts and select the one most relevant to this context. You can do that for yourself once you've digested the implications of the fact that gender reassignment surgery applies to people whose current gender is (relatively) clearly established. Nov 29, 2013 at 2:01
  • @FumbleFingers I don't think it's that obvious to go from “sex assignment surgery” to “sex REassignment surgery” (and then go back and correctly infer what taking out the re- prefix entails) and to figure out that this is the right compound to analyze as a unit. Nov 29, 2013 at 10:16
  • @Gilles: Obviously there's no definitive distinction between "assignment" and "reassignment" in OP's exact context. Suppose an ultrasound scan had revealed the clear presence of penises on twin foetuses, for example, and the parents-to-be had therefore already assigned male names to both before birth. Further suppose that subsequent DNA tests show one to be 99% female at the chromosomal level, and the other 99% male, but they both have ambiguous genitalia. I think it's pointless debating whether the surgery for one should be assignment, where for the other it's reassignment. Nov 29, 2013 at 17:41

1 Answer 1


The term sex assignment surgery suggests that the sex of the baby is ambiguous.

Usually, the doctors will let the parents choose which sex for the baby. This surgery will then make the baby's gender unambiguous, thus the term assignment.

Obviously, according to your article, the older approach must be problematic.

  • Just to clarify, so does assign then means to make unambiguous (as to gender)?
    – Theo
    Nov 29, 2013 at 1:23
  • Only in this specific context, yes. By the way, according to the dictionary link you have given, the sense you suggested is the closest one. Nov 29, 2013 at 4:14

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