This book argues that we have a duty to understand the stakes involved in the conflation of what is supposedly "natural" with what is statistically "normal," and of what is "normal" with what is "healthy." Each chapter examines a specific set of relations through which medical and cultural discourses support each other, and assesses the impact of that continuous process on medical practice, ethics, and cultural perception for those labeled "intersexed." The book also offers counter-narratives to encourage a new way of seeing intersexed people: as viable, desirable, and uniquely beautiful."

Intersex: A Perilous Difference demonstrates that for those apprehended by medicine as intersexed - the modern medical term for hermaphroditism - the rights taken to be obvious for others (agency, autonomy, and a place inside the social order) are compromised, even imperiled, and contradict generally accepted ethical duties to protect as a developing potential the autonomy and agency of all infants and minors. While medicine typically locates the source of peril in the presumed unintelligibility of intersexed bodies themselves, and argues that there can be no place for an intersexed subject or body inside the social order, the personal narratives and autoethnography offered here show that intersexed persons can live as perfectly intelligible, social, and sexual subjects, even with their atypical anatomies intact. From this observation the author develops an argument to show that the source of peril is not in or on intersexed bodies but that it arises in the interactions between myth and medicine, between popular culture and the clinic. Indeed, the narrative evidence under examination here indicates that it is not in their embodied difference but in their experiences of medicalization that intersexed people are thrown into personal crisis.

The author's explorations offer readers a unique assessment of medicine as a form of cultural practices integrally joined with - rather than separate from - other popular cultural modes of apprehending, identifying, and coping with "intersex." This is the first book on intersexuality to combine a firsthand personal voice with a scholarly examination of the cultural context in which intersex becomes a perilous difference.


Individuals frequently contact the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) because they think they may be intersexed. The ISNA indicates that generally those who are intersexed do not need to look far for the evidence:

the evidence is in their own bodies … women who do not have ovaries, men who don't
have testes, women who have no clitoris or inner labia, people who remember multiple
genital surgeries during childhood and scars in their genital area and abdomen, people
who have ambiguous genitalia …

Sometimes people tell us that they have fairly typical genitals, but they think that
they must have been born intersex and subjected to a sex change as an infant.
Surgeons, even today, cannot create 'normal' looking genitals, and surgery was much
poorer decades ago. Thus, if you have genitals that look like most women (or men),
then you were surely born with these, (, accessed 13
March 2006)

The Uncanny 'Hermaphrodite'

The Observer newspaper's article 'In Ancient Greece, She'd Have Been a God. In Wales, They Spit on Her' (Hugill 1998) detailed some of the life of Linda Roberts, born in London during the Second World War, and then living in a remote part of Wales. The author described Roberts as 'born with a penis and a vagina', and named her a 'hermaphrodite' (ibid.: 7). While the author was sympathetic to his subject, the reference to 'dual genitalia' is inaccurate. Roberts was probably intersexed, and – in all likelihood – exhibited genital ambiguity.

In 1933, Sigmund Freud acknowledged a significant human desire to know with certainty what sex a person is: 'when you meet a human being, the first distinction you make is “male or female?” and you are accustomed to make the distinction with unhesitating certainty' (1933: 113). Freud's text continued by describing sex as a biological fact, with anatomy as stable, binary and indisputable (he subsequently distinguished between anatómiai sex and the less fixed notion οι gender). Freud's articulation of cultural investment in . . .

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