Impossible Hermaphrodites


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History of the perspectives of hermaphrodites in America.

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Impossible Hermaphrodites

  1. 1. Discussion of Elizabeth Reis’s “Impossible Hermaphrodites: Intersex in America, 1620-1960”<br />Molly Brooks<br />December 2010<br />
  2. 2. People who fall under the several categories of intersex have been around for centuries, if not forever. Little to no documentation is the only reason why intersex history seems to stop before the 1300s. Both intersex and hermaphrodite are used to name people who have parts and wholes of both testicles and ovaries. <br />The surgeon general’s catalogue index documented over 1,000 citations of hermaphrodites (“hermaphroditism”) in the 19th century, several hundred of these have been in America (p. 16). <br />Introduction<br />
  3. 3. Before 1620…<br />Cases of intersex people have been documented since the late 1300s, more specifically by Aristotle who wrote a medical manual that has been reprinted several times. <br />Aristotle’s Master-Piece outlined a case of a woman who reproduced with a dog and a human-dog was born. This case unfortunately is what forever seemed to link inhuman monsters to hermaphrodites. <br />Another case documented in his journal, Aristotle wrote about the “monster” that had a horn, wings, male and female “privities” and stood on one foot (p.416). <br />
  4. 4. From these cases came some ideas as to why children were born so malformed:<br />The thought’s and impressions of a pregnant woman could cause a birth anomaly.<br />Women who had sex during menstruation could cause birth defects.<br />Parental incontinency would cause birth anomalies. <br />If woman didn’t obey such things, they would create monstrous babies as punishment. <br />Aristotle’s Master-Piece asked and answered 3 questions:<br />1) What is the cause of monsters?<br />2) If they are possessed of life? (Which he answered NO)<br />3) Can a perfect monster be considered a human being? <br />Continued…<br />
  5. 5. 1600s <br />Theories and Case Studies<br />
  6. 6. Thomas/Thomasine Hall was baptized as a girl. Throughout her young life, she often switched back and forth between being a male and female. <br />While living as a male, Thomas was brought in front of the Virginia General Court for dressing in “weomen’s apparel” (p. 418).<br />During the investigation, it was revealed that Thomas had had sex with a maid. For Thomas, this would have been considered fornication and was a legal offense in 17th century Virginia. For Thomasine, however, this would have meant nothing. <br />So which gender did Hall fall under? When asked, Hall answered “both man and weomen” (p. 419). <br />The court accepted that Hall identified as both male and female and thus concluded that Hall would be required to wear men’s clothing on the top half and women’s clothing on the bottom half so that to properly represent s/he’s true identity.<br />1629…<br />
  7. 7. Mary Dyers born a child in 1637 whom John Winthrop, the town governor, said:<br /> “it was a woman child, stillborn, about two months before the just time, having life a few hours before; it came hiplings rill she turned it; it was of ordinary bigness; it had a face, but no head, and the ears stood upon the shoulders and were like an ape's; it had no forehead, but over the eyes four horns, hard and sharp; two of them were above one inch long, the other two shorter; the eyes standing out, and the mouth also; the nose hooked upward; all over the breast and back full of sharp pricks and scales, like a thornback; the navel and ail the belly, with the distinction of sex, were where the back should be, and the back and hips before, where the belly should have been; behind, between the shoulders, it had two mouths, and in each of them a piece of red flesh sticking out; it had arms and legs as other children; hut, instead of toes. It had on each foot three claws, like a young fowl, with sharp talons” (p. 415). <br />1637<br />
  8. 8. The Rev. Cotton wanted to conceal the birth, but when 2 hours before the birth the “bed shook violently and Dyer’s body emitted a noisome savor,” it was clear to the Reverend that God wanted everyone to know of this monstrosity (p. 415). <br />Children born like Mary’s were seen as monstrous and were thought to have been sent by God as warnings. <br />Puritan theologies agreed on the doctrine of providence and concluded that, “if God ordered the universe, every unusual event had divine significance” (p. 415). <br />1637 continued…<br />
  9. 9. 1700s<br />Theories and Case Studies <br />
  10. 10. Dr. James Parsons outlined the regulations for intersex people in his treatise, A Mechanical & Critical Look into the Nature of Hermaphrodites. <br />Hermaphrodites had to choose one sex <br />Hermaphrodites were equated with animals<br />Hermaphroditism could be found amongst Earthworms, snails, and some reptiles but NOT amongst humans<br />In his manual, Parsons also listed a series of legal questions from what gendered name to give to a hermaphroditic child to whether a hermaphrodite would be allowed to marry and divorce. <br />Parsons concluded that hermaphrodites were impossible and that they were merely women with enlarged clitorises. <br />1741 <br />
  11. 11. In 1787, Samuel Farr wrote a jurisprudence textbook (not published in American until 1819) defined hermaphrodites as those “partaking of the distinguishing marks of both sexes, with a power of enjoyment from each” (p. 422). <br />He did however believe that perfect hermaphrodites didn’t exist, agreeing with Parsons. <br />1787<br />
  12. 12. 1800s <br />Theories and Case Studies <br />
  13. 13. The 19th century applied new labels to hermaphrodites including:<br />Hybrid, imposter, and unfortunate monstrosity (p. 423) <br />
  14. 14. An edition of Aristotle’s Master-Piece was released, The Works of Aristotle.<br />This new edition set forth the fullest definition thus far of the clitoris, which was called the “seat of lust” (p. 422). <br />A new definition of what was a hermaphrodite was also constructed based on whether the pleasure came from stimulation to the clitoris or the penis. <br />1806 <br />
  15. 15. In Philadelphia in the 1930s, the story of James Carey helped people truly understand the plight of a hermaphrodite. <br />Carey was a recluse and described as a hunchback, with dull eyes, a flat nose, and emitted “preternatural discharges” from his nose, which was said to cause onlookers to heave with nausea (p. 425). <br />He showed an imperturbable aversion to women and remained a virgin his entire life.<br />Only when an autopsy of his body was performed after his death, did people really come to know of his hermaphroditism. <br />1830s<br />
  16. 16. “The early cases of interventionist surgery on genitalia were designed to make the genitals serve the doctor's perception of patients' sexual and marital requirements” (p. 432).<br />One of the first reconstructive surgeries was documented in the case of a 23 year old woman who came to Dr. Warren to have a passage made for a vagina so that she could have normative heterosexual relations. <br />She had breasts and a clitoris, but no vagina or uterus.<br />After the surgery, Dr. Warren claimed to have seen what resembled a labia and a uterus form and thus concluded that the woman was now “a (normal) woman who bled, could be penetrated, and, the doctor suggested, could bear children” (p. 432).<br />1833 <br />
  17. 17. The Boston Medical Journal published an article about a hermaphrodite …<br />1840<br />
  18. 18. 1843<br />Dr. William James Barry and 23-year-old Levi Suydam in Connecticut.<br />Suydam petitioned to be acknowledged as a free man and property owner and to thus be able to vote in the near future election.<br />The courts said he owned enough land, but that he was too feminine and that he “partook in both sexes” (p. 431).<br />Suydam’s sister told everyone that he menstruated and doctors began a new assessment of his physical attributes and his social qualities.<br />Suydam was described as 5’2”, with light hair, a fair complexion, a beardless chin, narrow shoulders, wide hips, and “well developed mammae, with nipples and areola” (p. 21).<br />Further assessment revealed that a doctor surgically made a vaginal opening at Suydam’s birth.<br />Suydam liked women and had an aversion for bodily labor.<br />A “feminine propensity” was recorded by doctors because Suydam expressed a "fondness for gay colors, for pieces of calico, comparing and placing them together”(p. 21).<br />
  19. 19. Dr. Gross , a professor of surgery at the University of Louisville, worked on the case of 3-year-old girl whose parents were concerned with her new-found boyish tendencies.<br />Dr. Goss found ambiguous genitals and came to believe that the testicles wouldn’t fall enough to successfully consummate marriage in the future, so he removed them.<br />Like the first reconstructive surgery, the purpose was to ensure proper marital prospects.<br />Dr. Goss concluded that if the testes weren’t removed, they would “ultimately lead to the ruin of her character and peace of mind” and that it was “better a woman with no sexual desire than a man unfulfilled” (p. 433).<br />1849<br />
  20. 20. The Boston Medical Journal documented a case of 14-year-old Rebecca who was baptized a girl but transformed into a boy, William, in early adolescence.<br />Similarly in 1839, 18-year-old Elizabeth began to grow a beard and began to live life as a man and ultimately married a woman. <br />This kind of transformation was compared to Henry Moss an African American in 1796 who’s skin turned white and the U.S sailors in the 1790s whose skin turned dark due to symptoms from the yellow fever.<br />1850<br />
  21. 21. Mary Cannon<br />Mary, a hermaphrodite, lived part of her life as a female and part of her life as a male.<br />She held jobs that corresponded with the gender she identified with at that time. <br />The idea of inexplicable sexual transformations was threatening to doctors as they started to see more and more cases of people choosing and switching back and forth between genders. <br />
  22. 22. The 19th century brought about emancipation, which figuratively turned blacks white.<br />In the same sense, hermaphroditic women began to threaten into men to claim the political rights of white males. <br />
  23. 23. 1863<br />During the Civil War a Dr. B. Cloak tended to an injured soldier, M.B.H, when he found ambiguous genitalia.<br />Further research showed that the soldier lived as a male even though his male sexual function was nonexistent. <br />Ever since he was 15, the soldier reported a “bloody discharge each month, accompanied by back pain, dizziness, and discomfort in his groin” (p. 25). <br />To add, M.B.H’s penis had no urethra which seemed to sum up the notion about him being a possible intersex patient. <br />Other female attributes were tied to the soldier, which made for even better evidence towards the possibility of being a hermaphrodite.<br />Dr. Cloak’s conclusion was that M.B.H. was not a hermaphrodite, but rather had a “preponderance of a woman” (p. 25). <br />
  24. 24. Pseudohermaphrodite: having the external organs of one sex and the internal organs of the other.<br />One of the first pseudohermaphrodites to be examined and recorded was E.C. <br />Dr. Gross simply said that E.C. had an enlarge clitoris.<br />E.C felt alienated from the other girls and wanted the clitoris to be removed. <br />Gross agreed and removed E.C. “clitoris”<br />Later, other doctors expressed their disagreement in Gross’s decision by putting some puzzle pieces together.<br />These puzzle pieces included the fact that E.C. grew a heavy beard and had thick eyebrows, she had no breast development, and did not menstruate. <br />Questions were asked about why Gross never saw E.C as a male despite obvious male qualities. <br />Since E.C identified as a woman and carried herself as a woman, Gross didn’t necessarily consider the alternative and merely went along without doing proper research.<br />Surprisingly E.C. began to menstruate, according to her reports. <br />1903 <br />
  25. 25. 1917<br />Two New York physicians worked on the case of a 15-year-old African American female, Betty, who had seemingly ambiguous genitals which she claimed was a result of rape.<br />When asked about her history, Betty was indecisive and inconsistent which led doctors to believe that her propensity for deceit was not surprising since many believed that hermaphroditism occurred alongside “other ‘mental’ problems, including ‘hysteria, epilepsy, psychoses, criminal tendencies, and abnormal sexual inclinations’” (p. 29). <br />
  26. 26. This notion of ambiguous genitalia being co-morbid with other so-called ‘mental’ problems was a common conclusion made amongst the medical community.<br />These kinds of conclusions are what most likely led to even more stigma attached to hermaphroditism. <br />
  27. 27. During the mid 20th century, being labeled a hermaphrodite continued to be rare, if not impossible since there was so much debate and little agreement as to what was considered to fit into the category of hermaphroditism. <br />The 1950s began to understand the importance of chromosomes and hormones and it was thought that “social gender could be created to match genital morphology” (p. 30). <br />Conclusions…<br />
  28. 28. As John Money, the leading researcher in inter sexuality for the last half century, put it: "The chromosomal sex should not be the ultimate criterion, nor should the gonadalsex. By contrast, a great deal of emphasis should be placed on the morphology of the external genitals and the ease with which these organs can be surgically reconstructed to be consistent with the assigned sex” (p. 30). <br />Doctors and sociologists alike are trying to challenge the notion of the gender binary by exposing society to this kind of mixed sex. <br />