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Intersex as far as human beings are concerned refers to the agglomeration of various factors and observable features through which one can differentiate a male from a female (Andy & Sally 1997). They are usually assumed to be present at birth of an individual and not necessarily passed on from the parents to the offspring (Fausto-Sterling 1993).
These traits are acquired during the development of the fetus in the womb and usually involves chromosomal anomalies for instance the diversion from the typical male and female presentations. It is common for an intersex to display both male and female characteristics (Germon 2009).
Intersexuality was a term coined in the twentieth century to describe individuals whose sexes cannot be explicitly be concluded to be either male or female (Kimmel & Plante 2004). It has since been adopted and used even to present day in the field of gender studies.
Many sources have come up with ways in which one can determine his or her sexuality (Andy & Sally 1997). People generally use these sources to tell whether an individual is a man or a woman. With the advance in science and technology, this can be determined by the study of the x and y chromosomes.
Myriad theories and hypotheses have been postulated to tell exactly why such genetic differences should exist in individuals (Germon 2009). They have sought to explain that diverse intersex orientation among humans is normal though only rare in some cases.
In fact, Milton Diamond, a renowned expert in issues of intersex suggests that much care and caution should be taken on the language we use when referring to such individuals. “He lays more emphasis on the fact that these conditions are statistically uncommon yet biologically understandable” (Fausto-Sterling 1993, p.20).
Two of those that have immensely contributed to the mix of ideas related to these conditions are Jennifer Germon and Anne Fausto-Sterling.
In this particular case we shall try to compare and contrast their ideas based on their articles and books, that is ‘dangerous desires: intersex as subjectivity’ by Germon and ‘the five sexes: why male and female are not enough’ by Fausto-Sterling (Andy & Sally 1997).
Anne Fausto Sterling
Anne Fausto-Sterling, a professor at of Biology and Women’s studies in the Department of Molecular and Biochemistry at Brown University is known for her article “the five sexes: why male and female are not enough” (Germon 2009).
She is known to challenge impinged scientific beliefs while at the same time chartering the general public. She enforces and integrates the dynamic system theory as far as the study of the ontogeny of people is concerned (Andy & Sally 1997). As such she relates cultural differences with biological differences within the body of a human being.
She bases her research on the distinguishing factors of sex in the formation of bones and the general occurrence of differences in behavior with gender at the early stages of an individual’s life.
Jennifer Germon is a Professor at the University of Sidney. She is both a research associate and lecturer in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies. Her most recent book ‘Gender: A Genealogy of an idea tries to trace down developments in gender in relation to intersex in the present days (Germon 2009).
Both Jennifer Germon and Anne Fausto-Sterling stress on the fact that the intersex be recognized as distinct sexes and not just anomalies of the two common sexes (that is male and female).
They both concur that if the ideologies that people have on these various sexes could be forsaken, with time it will be very easy for these individuals to fit in the society and feel comfortable associating with others regardless of their different sexual orientations (Fausto-Sterling 1993).
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They suggest that the idea that people born with these characteristics undergo medical procedures to turn them into either male or female should be discarded and that they should just be allowed to grow naturally and if anything they feel much more comfortable in their natural settings (Kimmel & Plante 2004).
In Fausto-Sterling’s article she begins by highlighting an event on the plight of a very hotly contested local election. Here she explains how premature conclusions regarding sexuality may give misleading information (Stephen 2004).
Given the fact that Levy Suydam had more of a female orientation than male, it was difficult to participate in the vote (Andy & Sally 1997).
However, William James Barry comes in and settles things by declaring Levy a male though prematurely and as such Whigs ended up winning the vote by a majority of one (Fausto-Sterling 1993). It was only later on that it was discovered that Levy Suydam menstruated often and had other female features.
Anne argues that it is improper to say that sex of an individual can only be classified as either male or female as is usually assumed. According to her there are several grades in between male and female. As such chances are high that there could be five or even more sexes as opposed to the two that are commonly adopted (Andy & Sally 1997).
The three remaining sexes are generalized into one known as the intersex which involves people who are commonly referred to as hermaphrodites. She classifies them according to the number of male and female parts they have (Fausto-Sterling 1993).
First there is the ‘herms’ that are the ‘true hermaphrodites’ with single testis and an ovary. The ‘male pseudohermaphrodite’ also known as ‘merms’ have testes and a few features of the female anatomy but do not have ovaries.
The third group, which is known as the ‘female pseudohermaphrodite’ or ‘merms’, is made up of those who have ovaries and a few features associated with men, but do not have testis (Andy & Sally 1997).
The categories themselves are made up several complexities within themselves and differences in characteristics are expected even members of the same sub group.
The frequency of these sexes is not easily estimated and chances are that it could go to as much as four percent of all Anne suggests that though it may be of the best interest modifying the anatomies of such individuals to become either male or female, it is also important to realize that such an assumption wishes that there could only be two cases, which is not the case (Fausto-Sterling 1993).
The distinguishing factor between the pseudohermaphrodites and the true hermaphrodites is the fact that they have two gonads of the same type in addition to the common male (XY) or female (XX) chromosomes (Germon 2009).
However, their physical body parts and sexual behavior is not in line with their chromosome types. She goes ahead to explain that even the true hermaphrodites could vary in their anatomy in ways that could prove challenging to distinguish (Andy & Sally 1997).
These differences are believed to occur during embryonic development whereby she says the embryonic gonad either becomes a male or female (Kimmel & Plante 2004). In cases where intersex occurs it means that the choice of the gonad was fudged (Stephen 2004).
In addition the embryonic phallus has the ability to develop into a penis or clitoris hence it should not raise alarm when intermediate states of the same arise.
“Within the embryo are uro-genitals swellings that may stay open to develop into vaginal labia or fuse to form the scrotum” (Fausto-Sterling 1993, p.21). The chance of opening and closing is usually uncertain in some hermaphrodites.
Scientific tenet has led to the general assumption that people who are not either explicitly male or female tend to lead a miserable life and that medical attention should be provided to change the states of hermaphrodites (Fausto-Sterling 1993).
Germon’s research on the other hand deals with a more recent approach to the history of gender. However the use of gender in the case of human dimension can be traced down to the late 1950s where the rather controversial sexologist Dr, John Money attempted to give a clue as to why hermaphrodites could gain the identity of either male or female despite the fact that they had different body morphological orientations.
She explains that his theories were instrumental in giving what could potentially control gender (Stephen 2004). She argues that Money’s theories are valid and that they portray a clear relationship between cells, the surroundings of an individual and general experience.
She analyzes contemporary ideas of gender and brings to the fore John Money’s controversial concepts on sexology as well as displaying the effect of his ideas on the same. She seeks to explain the fact that the intersexual have a complex relation to gender and that they have always been there even at the beginning.
There are those who believe in gender distinction yet there are also those who consider the theoretical aspect of the dangers and risks involved when doing the same (Cheryl 1998).
She says gender operates like a technology of sexual difference in that enables one to focus on sexuality as opposed to only looking at heterosexuality (Fausto-Sterling 1993). She goes ahead to explain that doctors cannot just act as defenders of social order due to the fact that they too fall under the umbrella of that order.
She says that scientific concepts are never pure but are determined by concepts in that the visions of human beings are limited to the scope of their thinking and ideas and not beyond what they can easily conceptualize.
As such having just two sexes, that is male and female, bars people from understanding what a different mode of thinking could reveal (Fausto-Sterling 1993).
Initially the study of hermaphrodites was classified under teratology which involved the study of monsters. They were viewed to have developed anomalies during embryonic development and their condition was at times attributed to complications and diseases (Stephen 2004).
According to Jennifer, she is out to disrupt the cases of fixed mindsets as far as sexuality is concerned. That what is commonly believed as the truth could just be a culmination of interpretations of bodies and subjectivity that are unique in their own senses.
Gender is dynamic and that its concepts have been changing from time to time ever since being offered as an ontological category in the past fifty or so years. It is as such possible for an individual to analyze the current cases by analyzing the genealogy and trends of the same over the past periods.
She also compares Money’s research on hermaphrodites and Stoller’s transsexual research and revisits the fact that early feminist scholars did not put into consideration these facts and as such only relied on their own thoughts as far as matters of gender were concerned.
She adds that Ann Oakley, a sociologist, together with other feminists gave new meaning to the Parsonian tradition. She maintained that the classification of male and female as well as masculine and feminine was necessary to help settle disagreements that occurred because of differences in sex (Jonathan 1997).
Her issue of desire revolves around the erotic constituent of Money’s perception of gender (Stephen 2004). This could be because most maxims that stipulate gender are directly linked to Money’s theories and that desire was an integral part of the various theories he postulated about the same.
According to her sexuality is so much important in that it is difficult to understand humanity without integrating sexuality in the same.
It is clear from the above discussion that the issue of intersex and sexuality is of great importance when it comes to defining humanity (Kimmel & Plante 2004). It is also worth noting that inasmuch as the two authors could be talking of different ideas, they have a common standing that sexuality should not be confined to only male and female.
Rather they both suggest that consideration should be given even to those individuals that do not explicitly fall into these categories (Stephen 2004). They both admonish the society at large from considering the intersex as being abnormal but rather advocate for their being recognized as possible sexes among the many that may exist.
They feel it is a high time people did away with their ideologies of people only being comfortable when they are either male or female.
Andy, M. & Sally M., 1997. Lesbian and Gay Studies. A Critical Introduction. London: Cassell, pp.369-384.
Cheryl, C., 1998. Hermaphrodites with Attitude: Mapping the Emergence of Intersex Political Activism, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 4(2), pp.89-212.
Fausto-Sterling, A., 1993. The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough. The Sciences, Apr. pp.20-24.
Germon, J., 2009. Gender: A Genealogy of an Idea. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Jonathan, K.,1997. ‘Homosexual’ and ‘Heterosexual’: Questioning the Terms. New York and London: NYU Press.
Kimmel, R. & Plante, R., 2004. Sexualities: Identities, Behaviors, and Society. New York: Oxford University Press.
Stephen, G., 2004. Histories of Sexuality. London: Equinox Publishing.