Skip to content

Structural Coupling of of Hermaphrodism and the Androgynous

October 19, 2009

This was a short paper I did for a class on biological issues in culture. I am looking for feedback in terms of how one think I can further explore this topic. I somehow think that it will also help structure the intellectual narrative of consciousness and epistemology that I’ve been exploring with the Large Hadron Collider project. Also some of the facts uncovered here will be of interest to those into genetics, social biology and medical sciences. 🙂
The paradox I am faced with here is on how to understand the content of a particular epistemology when its category is transient, ambiguous and shifting. However, I argue that being able to work within and with a kind of knowledge whose very foundation is open to question is important in helping us understand our intellectual history, as well as look into some of the problematic discourse present in our epistemology and ontology due to our insistence on particular ways of knowing.
In this particular paper, I am interested in thinking about the complexity and problems of locating sex within the mind, as well as the difficulties of determining such locations since we lack understanding of true causality in the neurosciences. We assume that causality is in operation within the system in which the brain operates on a physical level, and while the mind is being metaphysically navigated. More specifically, I complicate the project by thinking about the concept of an androgynous mind, which is largely taken up in the field of humanities and the social sciences (such as psychology) but mostly ignored by those working within the natural sciences (as a search through Science’s and Nature’s respective archives, and even the National Health Institute database, would indicate). On the other hand, the ‘pathology’ of the chimera (a hybrid being)/hermaphrodite has been the subject of fascination and research among biologists and those working in the medical sciences for many decades. Science seems more interested in evaluating the difference between a masculinized versus a feminized brain than in considering both as possibly constitutive of the organism’s development.
When one discusses human cognition, one of the issues that arise is whether the sex chromosome has any real impact on the construction, wiring and connections made within the human mind (I find the corpus callosum useful for situating a discourse of ambivalence in the epistemological conception of brain science). I am interested in thinking through how the surround of the organism (or conscious being) brings about an interaction that leads to the kind of consciousness created, and how much of it would be dormant material merely waiting to be activated with the right combination of stimulation. I argue for a clearer understanding of the issues and problems involved as intrinsic to helping us to think beyond into the realm of machinic cognition, and whether it is possible or impossible to think about a generalized ontogeny of consciousness (consciousness as an ontogeny of affect and ontology) that is divorced from biology and culture. Also, I am interested in thinking as to whether the construction of the ‘sexed’ brain is a purely genetic event or if it may possibly be the manifestation of a series of effects that have been merely categorized in ‘sexed’ thought styles, and hence possibly replicated within a non-biological being. In the event of the possibility of such replication on a non-human, machinic subject, what would the requirements be for such a replication to take place? Is there a way to access causality within the sex chromosome that expresses the hormones and cues that cause the neurons to be constructed and wired in a particular way? If there is no way to access a causal point, would thinking in terms of developmental systems shed more light in helping us create applications, ‘smart’ medicine or intelligent network systems that can be trained to ‘empathize’ and ‘apply instincts’ as they are put to work?
The problem I am attempting to elucidate in this paper, even if somewhat tentatively, is the “structural coupling,” to borrow the concept of structural congruence between multiple systems as advocated by Maturana and Varela (75) to discern a possible homology (or perhaps non-homology) between a biological hermaphrodite and a metaphysical androgynous mind. However, I do not intend to conflate these two very distinct entities, nor am I interested in analyzing the causal morphology of gonadal dysgenesis, except in relation to the shaping of the cognitive identification of the organism, whether it be the congenital preconditioning of its identity or one that navigates fluidly with the organism’s surroundings.
I am looking at a few possible approaches, mediums or even objects by which I can study biological sexuality and androgyneity, bearing in mind that one does not necessarily have to be a hermaphrodite to be androgynous. The reason I am interested in the idea of the hermaphrodite is that it complicates the entire configuration of masculinity and femininity. Also, as Fausto-Sterling has pointed out in various chapters of Sexing the Body, the very identity of the hermaphrodite is not as clear-cut as it seems, though the medical world attempts to clarify their existence by constructing the category of a ‘true hermaphrodite’ by way of a list of phenotypic attributes considered to be possessed by the individuals in this category. This is a process that may lead to the dismissal of many others whose sexual anatomies do not fit into the clear-cut picture presented in medical textbooks. Moreover, Fausto-Sterling claims that her research has unearthed centuries of records on hermaphrodism, and the greater frequency of such occurrences than would be admitted by the mainstream medical community. This of course engenders the question of value-ladenness and objectivity of scientific discourse that is widely taken up in the sociological and cultural study of science. Nonetheless, there has been very little empirical work done on the sociology of hermaphrodism, with most of the empirical work focusing on the epigenetic that led to the manifestation of hermaphrodism. Moreover, the medical community’s greater interest in perfecting the art of sexual assignation as oppose to trying to understand the consequence and implication of hermaphrodism means very little data, beyond the biological, are available, except for the reassignment of individual sexuality. It seems that there are more attempts at an activist level to create a distinction between an intersex individual and a hermaphrodite, and interest among humanists, particularly those in the literary fields and Classics, to address the occurrence of intersex/hermaphrodite characters that are textually represented. In addition, I argue that thinking through the problem of hermaphrodism and its implications on the mind, whether such implications exist or not, can bring refreshing insights into the masculine/feminine dichotomy from which arguments on conscious behavior and cognition have emanated, and perhaps bring about revision in the epistemology and the hermeneutics of queer theory and gender studies.
Defining Androgyny
Firstly, let us consider the meaning of androgyny by defining what is not constituted as androgyny. According to Cook in her book Psychological Androgyny, androgyny is not
1) economic or sexual emancipation;
2) absence of any sex-role differentiation;
3) physical hermaphroditism or bisexuality.
She also provides the framework by which the dimensions of masculinity and femininity can be articulated within the androgynous model:
1) Conjoint models – whereby three conjoint models depict the way by which masculinity and femininity produce personal characteristics and styles unique to traditional roles. One is the modulation/balance model whereby masculinity or femininity appears individually, each in extreme opposition to the other. When they appear together, they are able to moderate each other. The other is the additive model that represents the summation of the independent influences of masculinity and femininity. Finally, there is the multiplicative model that emphasizes the unique consequences as the outcome of the combination of masculinity and femininity whereby androgyny can indicate “emergent” properties.
2) Developmental models – androgyny is represented as surpassing the known and familiar masculine/feminine dichotomy towards emergence of unique characteristics. In Kaplan’s (1979) hybrid stage, the new behavioral pattern represents an end product of synthesis of the dimensions. Characteristics that are resulted may go beyond the original dimension of assertive-dependency or compassionate-ambition. Then there is the sex-role transcendence which shares in the hybrid model’s developmental flavor. This is where sex-role standards are deemed irrelevant in determining behavior because the masculine and feminine traits are blended together into a process orientation of life.
3) Cognitive Scheme Theory – shares similarities with sex-role typology in terms of the elimination of traditional sex-appropriate distinctions as criteria in perceptions and decisions. Androgyny becomes a particular way for processing information. In contradistinction to sex-typed persons, the androgynous persons do not use sex-related connotations as guides in their information processing, and may be unaware of the sex-appropriate distinctions in a given situation. It also differs from sex-role transcendence because it is not developmentally superior, only that the androgynous persons are not constrained by sex-role distinctions. This particular scheme may partially help explain the conundrum of the hermaphrodite Herculine Barbin, whose story I will later summarize towards the end.
4) Personality trait model – certain categories of the feminine and masculine are designated to be of primary interest. Androgyny supposedly denotes the occurrence of a high-level of masculine and feminine traits in one person. These traits are ‘internally located response predispositions or capacities that have considerable trans-situational significance for behavior but are neither conceptually equivalent to behavior nor its sole determinant.’ Spence and Helmreich see the nature of “masculine and feminine traits to be variants of the instrumental/agentic and expressive/communal distinctions,” which I consider to be interesting because it takes the gender dichotomy into the realm of expedient social performance.
5) Behavioral model – behavioral androgyny is described as an androgynous individual who possesses high social competencies where the individual has a wide repertoire of socially-acceptable behaviors to draw on for a variety of situations. Androgyny is seen as the panacea for producing healthier and more adaptable individuals. (Cook 22-4)
Constructing a Hermaphrodite
Now that we have a general idea of the psychological categorization of androgyny, let us move to looking at what it means to be a hermaphrodite. Originally, there were two main categories of the hermaphrodite in order to distinguish between a ‘true’ and a ‘pseudo’ hermaphrodite.
1) ‘True’ hermaphrodites: a person who has fully-developed, or a mixture of fully and partially-developed, or a mixture of almost-developed (that are easily discernible) sex organs of two genders such as ovaries, testicles, uterus, seminal vesicles, the penis, scrotum, labia, or vulva. These are organs that appear in the six zones originally designated by Saint-Hilaire, a 19th century biologist.
2) ‘False’ hermaphrodites: a person who superficially seems to be fully male or female but could be a ‘female’ with inverted penis or elongated clitoris, semi-developed vagina, or hairy labia that conceal nascent testes.
Of course, such overarching categories prove to be too limiting and render invisible the spectrum of intersex individuals, individuals who could not biologically be located within the binary of male-female sex. Instead, a wider range of categories are now drawn up for such individuals. What I am presenting below is a table taken from pg 52 of Sexing the Body.
Name Cause Basic Clinical Features
Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH)

Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS)

Gonadal Dysgenesis


Turner Syndrome

Klinefelter Syndrome Genetically inherited malfunction of one or more of six enzymes involved in making steroid hormones.

Genetically inherited change in the cell surface receptor for testosterone.

Various causes, not all genetic, a catch-all category.

Various causes, including alterations in testosterone metabolism.

Females lacking a second X chromosome. (XO)

Males with an extra X chromosome (XXY) In XX children, can cause mild to severe masculinization of genitalia at birth or later; if untreated, can cause masculinization at puberty and early puberty. Some forms drastically disrupt salt metabolism and are life-threatening if not treated with cortisone.

XY children born with highly feminized genitalia. The body is ‘blind’ to the presence of testosterone, since cells cannot capture it and use it to move development in a male direction. At puberty these children develop breasts and a feminine body shape.

Refers to individuals (mostly XY) whose gonads do not develop properly. Clinical features are heterogeneous.

The urethra does not run to the tip of the penis. In mild forms, the opening is just shy of the tip; in moderate forms, it is along the shaft; and in severe forms, it may open at the base of the penis.

A form of gonadal dysgenesis in females. Ovaries do not develop; stature is short; lack secondary sex characteristics; treatment includes estrogen and growth hormone.

A form of gonadal dysgenesis causing infertility; after puberty there is often breast enlargement; treatments include testosterone therapy.

This next table is taken from pg 53 of the same book featuring “Frequencies of Various Causes of Nondimorphic Sexual Development”
Cause Estimated Frequency/
100 live births
Non –XX or non-XY (except Turner’s or Klinefelter’s) 0.0639

Turner Syndrome 0.0369

Klinefelter Syndrome 0.0922

Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome 0.0076

Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome 0.00779

Classic CAH (omitting very high-frequency population) 0.00779

Late-onset CAH 1.5

Vaginal agenesis 0.0169

True hermaphrodites 0.0012

Idiopathic 0.0009
Total 1.728

The total percentage above is the average from a large variety of population. However, the figures are based on known and recorded cases.

How to think of androgyny and hermaphrodity together
In this paper, I would like to bring in discussions of androgyny and hermaphrodism by first looking at how emotions and cognition can or cannot provide a bridge between the psychological and the biological, the metaphysical and the physical. At the same time, I would also like to highlight examples of androgyny and hermaphrodity in Western literature, and for the future, to also uncover similar or analogous examples in non-Western literatures. I will begin by taking a look at the ‘science’ of emotions.
Studying emotions come with the caveat that its actual point of causality is a blackbox, for there is no way, as Fausto-Sterling herself would argue, by which we can pinpoint the nascent emergence of emotions within the network of endocrinal system, the various cortices and amygdala. This is articulated in a slightly different manner by Damasio in his chapter on “Emotions and Feelings” (127-64). For example, we do not know the point by which an external (or internal stimulus) triggers that set of chemical reactions in our body that control our skeletal and muscular system and cause us to react in a particular way (especially as the feedback mechanism between the triggers, stimulus and conscious brain is a complex of ongoing parallel processing). If we did, we would have found the answer for treating schizophrenia and depression. While the brain supposedly works to ensure our well-being, our inability to thoroughly understand all its messages and our insistence that the brain should ‘adhere’ to our social and cultural construction motivates us to decide on ‘limiting’ the potential fluidity and capacity of the brain to extend beyond our vision of it.
If we are to consider the emotional state as being a “neural trip” as well as a “chemical trip,” there is a need to think about how a surgical alteration of a hermaphrodite can potentially alter his/her emotional potentiality. Moreover, how would one then evaluate the terms of creativity in this context? Creativity itself is very much an ambiguous notion that can only be approximated and not possibly quantified, as its very categories is also subject to cultural anchors and values.
On the other hand, one can argue that surgeries to remove certain gonads from an infant or young child could probably influence his/her destiny in terms of his/her creative possibilities. While in some cases, there is a close link between creativity and the individual’s emotional responses, this is less easily discernible in idiot and autistic savants. The study of the link between creativity and sex-typed roles was performed by a team of psychologists who were trying to find a correlation between the performance of individuals in the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI), a test modified from the balanced model t-test for femininity-masculinity, and the Creative Functioning Test (CFT). The BSRI measures masculinity, femininity and social desirability while the CFT purports to measure “richness of ideas, expressiveness, creativity and prediction of creative achievements” (Jönsson & Carlsson 271). A two-way ANOVA method is used to analyze variances in more than two independent groups (and there are more since the BEM inventory has been adjusted to account for four sub-groups; male-typed, female-typed, androgynous, and the undifferentiated; and for each of these subgroups to be correlated in a one-to-one with groups of men and women).
However, there are some discernible weaknesses in the project above as
1) It assumes the rigid classification of the biological sex. It seems to assume a typology of male or female, with no leeway for intersex individuals.
2) It assumes a reified correlation between the biological and cultural construction of femininity and masculinity since there is no elaboration on the differences between them. Nor does it explain how the design of the test would account for cultural differences in the perception of femininity and masculinity.
Moreover, the project above maintains the study of androgyny at a psychological level. While this helps us see, though not necessarily understand, the link between androgyny and the creative process especially as articulated by literary scholars such as Carolyn Heilbrun and Luc Brisson, and by writers such as Virginia Woolf, the ‘seeing’ remains at the level of abstraction without any concrete realization. The question I would ask is whether there can be any form of concrete realization for this project?
Generally, sociocultural determinants have been given greater weight than biological factors in causing psychological sex differences. On the individual level, studies of hermaphrodites – individuals whose biological sex variables of chromosomes, hormones, and internal/external genitalia are not in agreement – provide a unique perspective on the interaction of biological and sociocultural determinants of sex roles. Because hormonal anomalies often cause hermaphrodites’ genitalia to be ambiguous, the sex assigned at birth may be concordant or discordant with genetic sex. The subjects’ later behavior suggested that sex-socialization processes overrode physiological factors in determining their sex-role identity. (Cook 6-7)

Cook also suggest two examples of learning theories that may influence the sex-role typology assumed by a child Firstly, there is the identification theory which assumes that children acquire an extensive range of characteristics through an intimate relationship with their same-sex parent. In their effort to become more like the parent, the child approximates the characteristics of the parent. Secondly, there is the social learning theory whereby children are more likely to socialize by imitating same-sex models because of the perception that the models are familiar. Sex-role standard is perceived by way of parental role-models but this depends on the level of identification the child has with the same-sex parent. These two theories try to explain effects seen in children’s behavior at the most general level but does not try to problematize the cause or even note for ‘aberrant’ behaviors in children whose parents seemingly function heteronormatively or stick to traditional behaviors expected of males and females.
Virginia Woolf articulates succinctly, from her own introspection and personal observations, the connection between androgyneity and creativity:
But the sight of the two people getting into the taxi and the satisfaction it gave me made me also ask whether there are two sexes in the mind corresponding to the two sexes in the body, and whether they also require to be united in order to get complete satisfaction and happiness? And I went on amateurishly to sketch a plan of the soul so that in each of us two powers preside, one male, one female; and in the man’s brain the man predominates over the woman, and in the woman’s brain the woman predominates over the man. The normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony together, spiritually co–operating. If one is a man, still the woman part of his brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her. Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties. Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine, I thought. But it would he well to test what one meant by manwomanly, and conversely by woman–manly, by pausing and looking at a book or two…Coleridge certainly did not mean, when he said that a great mind is androgynous, that it is a mind that has any special sympathy with women; a mind that takes up their cause or devotes itself to their interpretation. Perhaps the androgynous mind is less apt to make these distinctions than the single–sexed mind. He meant, perhaps, that the androgynous mind is resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion without impediment; that it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided. In fact one goes back to Shakespeare’s mind as the type of the androgynous, of the manwomanly mind, though it would be impossible to say what Shakespeare thought of women. And if it be true that it is one of the tokens of the fully developed mind that it does not think specially or separately of sex, how much harder it is to attain that condition now than ever before.” Hence, would the study of androgynous features in the works of authors, as done by our literary scholars today, give us more insight into the causality of the creative process and the link between the ‘genetics’ of the androgynous mind and the phenotypical manifestation in the form of the creative works? What about other forms of works of art such as music, art and dance? Do they more strongly imbibe the androgynous creative process, or is there such a thing as a too feminine art or too masculine artform?

A similar strain of thought, though articulated at a different level and with greater hindsight, is discussed by Heilbrun in her book Toward a Recognition of Androgyny. Luc Brisson, a French Classics scholar, in his study of androgynies and hermaphrodity (he conflates the role typology with biological sex typology), has sketched for the reader certain myths and ‘true tales’ told by ancient Greco-Roman writers in the first chapter of his book, Sexual Ambivalence, pp 7 to 40.
 There is the story of Polycritus, an Aetolian who begot a hermaphrodite child in his 3-day to a Locrian woman. Polycritus’s child presents an interesting manifestation of duality (Phlegon of Tralles, date unknown).
 Then, there is the story of Herais, born to Diophantus, and married to Samiades. Within a year of her marriage and while her husband was away, she fell ill and seemed to have developed a tumor until its rupture through her abdomen exposed a well-developed set of male genitalia. She later took the name of Diophantus and became a cavalry in royal army (recounted by Diorodurus Siculus, 377b).
 An Epidaurian girl named Callo was born without a vagina and a perforation from which she urinates. When she married, she was unable to have normal intercourse (and was thought, such as in the case of Herias, to have performed homosexual intercourse). Physicians were summoned to her case but none would treat her until an apothecary took the risk of cutting into the swollen area, and revealed a full set of male genitals. He then performed the necessary operations to bring all the parts together. Thereafter, Callo became Callon, put aside her loom-shuttles and other women’s work and became a man. (recounted by Diodorus Siculus, 378b).
 Diodorus argues that androgyny is a natural event:
“Not that the male and female natures have been united to form a truly bisexual type, for that is impossible, but that Nature, to mankind’s consternation and mystification, has through the bodily parts given this impression. And this is the reason why we have considered these shifts of sex worthy of record, not for the entertainment, but for the improvement of our readers. For many men, thinking such things to be portents, fall into superstition, and not merely isolated individuals, but even nations and cities (378b-379b).
It is interesting that thousands of years ago, learned men have presaged on our ongoing suspicion and prejudice towards what is not normal. However, the question remains unanswered today is, how did we form our conception of normality? Also, none of the stories above articulate a fluid gender role, but keep strictly to sex-to-gender mapping of roles, perhaps in keeping with the sexual politics of the period in which the stories were supposed to have taken place.
We can see how myth and realism intertwine in the following narration of a 19th century French hermaphrodite. While the story of Hermaphroditus was first told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, of the entwining of bodies between a god and nymph, the Memoirs of Herculine Barbin made more explicit the travails, challenges, sufferings and difficulties faced by a hermaphrodite forced to conform to the social construction of gender in patriarchal France. The memoir itself has become a famous case study for those interested in the history of sexuality and the history of hermaphrodites and hermaphrodism. Though brought up as a woman for more than 20 years of her life before she was redesignated as a man, a decision that finally led to her(his) suicide, the persona that is Adelaide Herculine Barbin problematizes the straightforward notions of sensuality, sexuality, emotions, the intellect and circumscribed sexual behavior. The memoir was prefaced by an introduction by Foucault who took it as his mission to excavate the story of human sexuality and to question the ontology of sexuality.
While the protagonist of the story engaged in intimate acts at a physical and emotional level with her various girlfriends, it is neither possible to attribute Sapphic tendencies nor gender inversion to her. Our inability to attribute any category of sexuality to her complicates our discussion as we are so used to setting as the basic premise of our discussion on human relations the sex and sexuality of the individual. While the memoirs only alluded to the “abnormality” of her physicality in comparison to her female peers, a dossier of documents included gave a detailed dissection of her anatomy. The memoir and a short story inspired by her life made varied mention of her character, aptitude and intellectual capacity. The impression that one can gather from the tone of the narrative is that there is a decidedly masculine inclination in her preference for reading serious tomes over handicraft (needlecraft and all manner of dainty artistic activities) or dealing with young children, and that the superiority of her intellect completely overshadows that of the other girls in her school. In fact, the superiority of her intellect is always contrasted with the greater frivolity or inferiority of her lady-loves. Her body is also portrayed as outwardly masculine in built, but more complicated in terms of her genitals (as she possessed almost all the external genitalia of a woman and man, though perhaps not as well developed as a biological male and female). However, her masculinity is not decidedly obvious for she is ascribed with the kind of passions that are stereotypically attributed to women, as well as tenderness, sensitivity and awareness for the feelings of others. In this case, it is not directly clear if the sexual differentiation is restricted to her biological constitution as a hermaphrodite or if it can be clearly perceived as part of her androgynous character trait. Herculine, before Sexing the Body, raises the question of the proximity of relations between the psychological and the biological.
The road ahead
This brings us back to the question of how to take all these disparate parts that articulate hermaphrodism and androgyny in their various guises: in Literature, both classical and modern; through scientific cases as found in medical records and biology journals, and through the route of psychological studies. The next step which I would like to do, though it would require a lot more research and deeper analysis, is to bring together the information mined through these varied sources, in addition to exploring more disciplines that have interests in the problems surrounding the discourse of androgyny/hermaphrodite, such as law and jurisprudence, philosophy (Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus would be a good place to begin), history of religion, and theology, so that one may form connections between them. In the process of forming the connections, feedback loops that are incremental, but non-linear and non-homogenous, are also created. As we improve our understanding of the connection between androgyny and hermaphrodism by creating conditions that will enable us to do so, we are also creating a set of systems that may help us think about consciousness in way that is different from the way it is studied thus far. What can be built is an equivalent of a developmental systems program that will allow us to concatenate all the information into multiple ontogenies. Moreover, there has to be a more concerted effort on the part of scientists, if they are willing, to move away from biologism and psychologism in an attempt to understand a phenomena that is not so much rare as is invisible. But then, how and in what manner can we create a structure by which the scientists and humanists can think through the issues raised by these two big categories of meanings that go against the values and rules that regulate the disciplines? Our understanding of hermaphrodism and androgyny is none the clearer, as we read literatures consisting of descriptive narratives and analyses that do not throw further light into the issue.
My question would be, to build this system that will help us elucidate the ontogeny of androgyny and hermaphrodity in terms of how they may be mapped or not mapped onto each other (without conflating both); can a non-anthropomorphic, non-sexed epistemological system be constructed to work out the issues? This would perhaps mean that we would need to begin thinking about the most fundamental question of sex, a question that has been elucidated by various scholars at different times, yet remains elusive to them.

Annotated Bibliography

This contains the preliminary list of works consulted in the beginnings of this project. Due to limits of space and time, further bibliographic materials will not be included in this version.

Barbin, Herculine. Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite. Trans. Richard McDougall. Ed. Michel Foucault. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.
This book is a republication of the memoir of a 19th century hermaphrodite that is edited by Michel Foucault, with an introduction that precedes and serves as the base of his three-volume History of Sexuality. Included are also notes from the various doctors who have examined Adelaide as well as a short story that dramatizes and imagines the scandal in the school which Adelaide attended to train as a school-mistress. In the ‘actual’ memoir (we would have to take the word of Foucault and the publisher that the memoir we are reading is an unblemished and uncensored/unmodified record), Adelaide’s ambiguous sexuality was only discovered after she had already left school and was earning her keep as a school-mistress.

Brisson, Luc. Sexual Ambivalence: Androgyny and Hermaphroditism in Graeco-Roman Antiquity. Trans. Janet Lloyd. Berkeley, Los Angeles & London: University of California Press, 2002.
Luc Brisson is a French-Canadian philosopher with a strong interest in classics, and who used his philosophical training to revisit and recontextualize the classics from a different perspective, a perspective that has only been marginally tackled and commented on by traditional Classics scholars, which is that with regard to the sexual ambivalence of the characters in these classic literatures. This book can be read as a history of consciousness in human sexuality, especially in the Western sphere, as well as the history of prejudices and of the movement towards the kind of gender distinctions we experience in more recent history. He has re-translated most of the extant Graeco-Roman writings on human beings, animals, and other creatures, some of which I have summarized and included as examples in this paper.

Cook, Ellen Piel. Psychological Androgyny. Cincinnati: Pergamon Press, 1985.
This is one of the earliest and most comprehensive books on the psychology of androgyny. Much of its assessment may not seem groundbreaking today, and is subject to certain problems, especially in view of the evolving nature of developmental psychology and gender studies. The book tries to provide us with an overview on how the psychology of ‘androgyny’ is studied by interested psychologists, though it does not advance any argument that problematizes the variables and measures used in the book, except to give the reader a balanced pros and cons of each approach.

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books, 2000.
This is one of the earliest books in the study of hermaphrodism, and was considered controversial when it first came out (though none of the biological issues it outlines is that new today). What is interesting about this book is that Fausto-Sterling mines the epistemology and ontology in the study of science, sociology of science, history of medicine, sexuality studies, sexual activism and neurobiology to show us how ambiguous and incomplete our knowledge sets really are, and how unscientific and culturally-motivated practicing scientists and doctors are in their analyses of cases involving hermaphrodity and intersex individuals.

Heilbrun, Carolyn G. Toward a Recognition of Androgyny. New York & London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1982.
Inspired by the likes of Virginia Woolf, this book is about conceptualizing and interrogating the meaning and signification of the androgynous mind in an attempt to interrogate and question assumptions on femininity. Heilbrun draws on traditional Western literary canons to support her arguments for the centrality of the ‘feminine’ in androgynous characters. This is perhaps in repudiation of the negative characteristics that is often attributed to the feminine half of the gender construction.

Jönsson P, Carlsson I. “Androgyny and Creativity: A Study of the Relationship between a Balanced Sex-Role and Creative Functioning.” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 41.4 (2000): 269-74.
At the moment, this is the only paper that tries to examine the relation between androgyny and creativity that I have been able to find (though I am sure there are more out there, waiting to be found). While it tries to give objectivity to its argument through a heavy dose of statistics, the paper is problematic as it takes for granted the categories, whether of gender or of creativity, that it uses as the basis from which the experiments are conducted. Moreover, its entire statistical analysis is grounded on the arbitrariness of its qualitative methods, before one can even begin to think of the quantitative.

Varela, Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding. Boston & London: New Science Library: Shambhala, 1987.
This book articulates and presages the idea of networks, structural couplings and relations between different biological systems that was also discussed by Fleck, and later by the likes of Latour and Oyama. It is very easy to read but contains a substantial amount of information that is easily missed due to the simplicity of its style. The authors take a very systematic approach in trying to help us see the biological roots of our thoughts and sociality in a way that is neither hierarchical nor vertical. In fact, there is much emphasis on the interconnectedness of each of the 10 aspects that are interrogated in this book; unity, historical phenomena, perturbations, phylogeny, behavior or nervous system, cognitive acts, cultural phenomena, linguistic domains, and ethics. Some of the issues discussed in this book are still being discussed today, though the language used today has taken a more sophisticated turn.

Woolf, Virginia. “A Room of One’s Own.” 2004. University of Adelaide Library. 4/14/2009 .
This short book has inspired countless humanists and feminists, including Heilbrun, to think and interrogate the trope and personification of the androgynous in both writers and fictional/mythical characters. The central argument of the book is the lack of freedom (both financially and domestically) and opportunities for the women of Woolf’s generation to do serious intellectual work, as opportunities for learning and professional advancement were mostly shut-off from them by virtue of their sex. In advancing the idea of the androgynous mind, one may argue that Woolf’s mission is to demonstrate that the best intellectual/creative person is someone who is balanced between the feminine and masculine, thus rendering positive the category of femininity in an era that tends to demonize and abjectify the feminine. However, Woolf is careful to distance herself from the suffragist-feminists, whom she seems to imply as having given up on their femininity completely.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2009 3:19 pm

    I must confess to only having skimmed this article, only because I was extremely put off by the repeated use of the term “hermaphrodite,” despite the fact that the many intersex people of my acquaintance identify as, well, intersex. In fact, my understanding is that “hermaphrodite” is considered inappropriate by the intersex community; the Intersex Society of North America, for example, denounces the term, as does the Intersex Initiative.

    May I ask, why did you choose the term “hermaphrodite” over “intersex”?

  2. clarissal permalink*
    October 19, 2009 8:17 pm

    Hi Laura
    Thank you very much for your concern. I completely am with you on that and am aware of the activism of the Intersex society. I am also aware of the problematic way in which sex-assignation are done by certain doctors when individual infants fall outside their perceived norms. There’s a move to try to distinguish between ‘false’ versus ‘true’ hermphrodites (I am using this term in its biological sense) in the book “Sexing the Body” which I am sure you may have already encountered. But I stubbornly adhered to the use of hermaphrodite as I was using it in contradistinction against the term ‘androgyny’ (knowing well the different values associated with both, and the greater pejorative association with ‘hermaphrodity’ than ‘androgyny’ but the society that provide associations for them are as ignorant of one as of the other). My rather headstrong attempt is to deconstruct, reproblematize, reconfigure and rethink the meaning and signification of ‘hermaphrodity’ within the larger mind body problem that most have for a long time insisted of thinking as a separable problem. Maybe this would even question the need to attach stigma to the usage of ‘hermaphrodity’ while also exploring its historical context. But perhaps I should have provided a clearer exposition as to my intention in the very beginning of the paper, instead of merely plonking in a text that has already been discussed and understood in class, so that the readers here know where I am coming from. Thanks for the savvy comment!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: