Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex

Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex

Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex

Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex

Synopsis

Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex takes us inside the doctors' chambers to see how and why medical and scientific men construed sex, gender, and sexuality as they did, and especially how the material conformation of hermaphroditic bodies - when combined with social exigencies - forced peculiar constructions. Throughout the book Dreger indicates how this history can help us to understand present-day conceptualizations of sex, gender, and sexuality. In an epilogue, she discusses and questions the protocols employed today in the treatment of intersexuals (people born hermaphroditic). Given the history recounted, should these protocols be reconsidered and revised?

Excerpt

The title of this prologue comes from the remarkable encounter of two people at a Belgian surgical clinic one winter day roughly eleven decades ago. The encounter was reported in an 1886 medical review journal under the provocative title, "An Example of Error of Sex Owing to Apparent Hermaphrodism." The report's author, a medical doctor by the name of Dandois, related the recent meeting between a colleague of his, Professor Michaux, and the alleged subject of mistaken sex, a seeming woman identified in the record only as Sophie V

It happened that on the ninth of February immediately preceding the published report, Sophie, a domestic servant who was then forty-two, went to the local surgical clinic seeking advice and help. She had now been married two months to her first husband and, in spite of the couple's best efforts, Sophie's husband could not "accomplish the conjugal act with her" to his satisfaction; he could not seem to penetrate her vagina. Sophie wanted to know what was wrong, and she wanted to know if the problem could be fixed.

Professor Michaux, on duty at the clinic that day, examined Sophie's genitals and quickly came upon what he thought was the source of the problem: Sophie V was really a man, no matter what she had been led to believe all of her life, no matter what her husband had been led to believe. Sophie had, according to Michaux, a penis about five centimeters long "existing in the usual place," and, although it was lacking a hole at the tip, it was, like most penises, capped with a glans and it was, as the published report delicately put it, "susceptible to erection." Sophie's urine appar-

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