Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Journal #7: The Land of No Man or Woman

The Lives of Amphibians and Chimæras:
Journal #7
The Land of No Man or Woman
To continue from the previous journal on the dangers of being grey, I want (or, instead, believe I should) examine the 'hermaphrodite.'
Technically, an organism is only a hermaphrodite if being both male and female (as opposed to one or, in the case of asexual reproduction, neither) is natural/normal/genetically encoded in the species. Therefore any human who exhibits both male and female sexual characteristics is not truly a hermaphrodite; this word is better applied to snails and worms. However, this is the word most people are familiar with--as opposed to intersexual, undefined, etc.--and this is the word Foucault uses, so this is the word that I will use. There is also a good etymological reason to employ this word, which I will get to later.
As Foucault observes in 'The History of Sexuality,' being a hermaphrodite was once considered a crime. Most criminals are defined by an action: murderers have murdered, thieves have committed theft, rapists have raped. Those with both sexualities differ: their crime is being born the way they were, and you'll notice that "being born" is in passive voice and therefore not an action. Thus the hermaphrodite is in the unfortunate position of being punished for something outside of his/her[1] control. They live in the community of the grey and, barring today's frequent surgical solution, have not been able to choose. They live in twilight, between the two exclusive camps of the gendered society, and borderlands are no-man's-lands.[2]
Foucault explains extensively how this position has become that of an unwelcome outsider, so I will not go into this in detail. My interest is in what we can learn from it.
  1. Choosing one side or the other of a debate is not always the only option; in fact, it is not always an option at all.
  2. I think that if we could hear what some hermaphrodite individuals have to say, we could learn a lot from a person viewing things from both perspectives, or neither.

The origin of the word hermaphrodite is interesting: the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, named Hermaphrodite, has come to the edge of a pool. In the pool is a nymph, who is immediately besotted with him. Here the narrative splits: either they make love so passionately that they fuse into a single being, or he rejects her and she prays to the gods that they never let him leave her, and her wish is granted by, again, fusing them into a single being that goes by his name. Thus the origin of the word demonstrates the fusion of two perspectives instead of an alien third.

Finally, biological historians of yore posited that humans were originally two-headed, four-armed, four-legged, two-sexed people--hermaphrodites--who were split apart somehow into two distinct (single-headed, four-limbed) sexes. This was used to support heterosexuality--sex and love were meant to bring two people back into this original being--but, interestingly, it created a privileged class of hermaphrodites who could see from two perspectives.


1] Notice the hybridity of "his/her" over the choice of "it" (which is objectionable for other reasons as well).

2] The play on words was unintentional but apropos, so I kept it and have put it in the title.

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