Hermaphrodites: The Past to Present

This week i decided to read chapter 2 of Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality: ‘That Sexe Which Prevaileth’. Fausto-Sterling writes extensively in the field of gender biology and identity exploring the historical and analytic context of the hermaphrodite in this chapter.

Anne Fausto-Sterling

The hermaphrodite is typically classified in biological terms an organism with the presence of both male and female reproductive organs. This is not a new concept and the presence of hermaphrodites has been recorded back to Greek mythology hence which the term originates. Fausto-Sterling explores the changing dynamics and classification for hermaphrodites or intersexuals, the so-called ‘3rd gender’ from hundred year old case studies until the present-day male-female dichotomy of which we currently live in.

Hermaphroditos is depicted as a winged eros (love god) in the form of a young woman (breasts, thighs, and hair-style) with male genitalia. He/she chases a hare, an animal which for the Greeks symbolized sexual desire.

Historically theories of the formation and classification of hermaphrodites has vastly changed and although thoroughly researched and studied, did not translate into social acceptance and understanding of intersexuals, even in modern society. This lack of acceptance was founded on laws condemning cross-dressing, sodomy, and legal structures based on a two-sex system. Societal expectations coerced hermaphrodites to choose one sex and conform to it. 17th century law-maker Sir Edward Coke wrote:

An Hermaphrodite may purchase according to that sexe  which prevaileth.

Surprisingly not much has changed in over 300 years, with modern society deeply rooted in the two-gendered system it is mostly expected that one adopt the gender of the sex that they are physically displaying. Modern science and technology has further concreted the notion that having both male and female organs is not socially acceptable. Most children at birth can attain ‘corrective’ surgery, realigning any physical disparities to a single sex, often with the patient being completely unaware of their own intersexuality.

I personally believe hermaphroditism is key to bridging the gender gap, and blurring the lines of which we feel it is so necessary to classify between male and female. Society still has much revolutionising however before the day we are able to be happy with our genetic make-up without alteration and confusion. Perhaps one day our lives will not be dictated by what’s in our pants and rather by who we decide to be and what we decide to do.


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