The ever-expanding LGBT acronym is currently holding at LGBTQIA+. The added A stands for asexual, the Q is interchangeable for queer or questioning, apparently the + sign stands for the kitchen sink, and a recent annexation, the “I,” stands for intersex, historically known as hermaphrodites.
Of all those letters intersex is the only one with a scientific basis for a person being characterized as “born this way.” There are three categories: True hermaphrodites, female pseudo hermaphrodites, and male pseudo hermaphrodites. Female pseudo hermaphroditism describes someone with ovaries but whose external genitalia resembles that of a male, and who exhibits male secondary sexual characteristics. Male pseudo hermaphroditism describes someone whose gonads are testes but who has external genitalia resembling that of a female and exhibits female secondary sexual characteristics. True hermaphroditism, the rarest, occurs when someone has both ovaries and testicles, either completely or incompletely. The external genitalia can be masculine, feminine, or both, and both XX and XY chromosomes can be present at the same time. The underlying cause of true hermaphroditism is unknown, but the other two types may arise from outside factors such as medication taken during pregnancy or a tumor on the ovary.
The term derives from Hermaphroditus, who was the son of the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Greek god Hermes. The legend goes that while he was bathing in the waters of a spring the nymph Salmacis saw him and fell madly in love. Failing to seduce him, she threw herself in and dragged him under water, begging the gods to unite them forever. Her wish was granted, but the result was that Hermaphroditus had a female body and a male sexual organ.
Hermaphrodites haven’t had an easy time of it. During periods of decadence in ancient Greece they were looked upon as the personification of sexual excess. The Romans saw them as a bad omen: They were cast into the sea, a death sentence. In both Greek and Roman culture, newborns with the condition were killed. The antique world gradually began to see hermaphroditism as simply an amusing quirk of nature. However, according to a 2021 study in the European Journal of Archaeology, a grave from 1050–1300 in Hattula, Finland, contained a body buried in feminine clothing, complete with brooches and furs, and a hilt-less sword. It was thought to be maybe two separate bodies (a male and female), or an uncommonly powerful woman, or perhaps one person with an intersex condition, yet the “the overall context of the grave indicates that it was a respected person.” So, possibly no longer simply a source of amusement. In the 17th century, English jurist and Judge Edward Coke (Lord Coke) wrote in his Institutes of the Lawes of England (widely considered to be a foundation of common law) on laws of succession: “Every heire is either a male, a female, or an hermaphrodite, that is both male and female. And an hermaphrodite (which is also called Androgynus) shall be heire, either as male or female, according to that kind of sexe which doth prevaile.” So, not only not a source of amusement, but they could inherit. Through different centuries they have garnered respect of their own, on their own, but now the National Gay Task Force has decided to make them an accoutrement to their own identity politics dynasty by adding them to their gay alphabet soup.
However, Emi Koyama, a transgendered Japanese-American activist and independent scholar best known for “The Transfeminist Manifesto,” says this: “. . . some people fear that adding the ‘I’ would give the wrong impression that all or most intersex people are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender . . . People with intersex conditions generally do not organize around the ‘identity’ or ‘pride’ of being intersex . . .” Cheryl Chase, on the other hand, who is intersexed and published “Hermaphrodites with Attitude” (a now-defunct newsletter of the Intersex Society of North America) writes: “The emergence of a vocal intersex community follows a natural progression in the evolution of civil rights struggles . . . As we embark on our plan to march out of the Endocrinology textbooks, we must tip our hats to the transgender community for preparing the way for us.” Opposite and somewhat surprising positions given their respective stations in life. In any case, the first statement is an analysis, the second a kiss-up. (Koyama is an academic, Chase a publisher looking for a wider market. Just saying.)
A major issue has recently emerged concerning the subject of intersex people having genital reconstructive surgery performed at birth. There are valid physical-health reasons for it, such as to prevent or lessen urinary tract infections or obstruction, or to reduce the high risk of cancer in gonads. The psychosocial rationales include alleviating parental distress (which, through the harsh lens of political correctness, accuses mom and dad of just wanting to alleviate themselves of embarrassment); to make the appearance coincide with the gender the child will be raised as (which raises the hackles of the non-binary call-me-they gang); and to improve the potential for adult sexual relationships. Today these rationales are under organized attack, most particularly surgical interventions for non-health-threatening psychosocial reasons, because these are lifelong and irreversible. As a result some in the medical field are now recommending that surgical decisions be postponed until adolescence or adulthood. One of these intersex surgeries is a clitorectomy, which is the surgical reduction of a clitoris when it is of such abnormal size as to cause fear that it will result in social humiliation. This can, however, result in the lessening of sexual pleasure.
Amputating a male’s penis will take away sexual pleasure. Female breasts are erogenous and cutting them off will put an end to that for her. These surgeries are lifelong, irreversible, and medically unnecessary, but “trans rights” advocates encourage them and hail as “brave” those off-the-wall pediatricians and parents who put youngsters on hormone therapy if the child simply says “I think I’m a girl” or vice-versa. So, viewed through the “woke” perspective, well-intended medical procedures to ease social complications for children suffering from a real sexual-development disorder are automatically gestapo tactics but interfering with a healthy child to placate a pseudo-science like transgenderism, which has the intellectual fortitude of The Emperor’s New Clothes, is noble.
In the late eighties I met a man who believed he was meant to be a woman. We became friends. I was introduced to others who were of the same mind. They had a shared code, which was: Don’t Cut Anything Off. The men achieved their transition by taking birth control pills, getting breast implants, and having electrolysis to remove their beard. Birth control pills make male genitalia shrink up to practically nothing. If he stops taking them it all grows back in six months. The women in the group took male hormones; the results included a deepening of their voice, increased facial hair, and male pattern baldness. In the tradition of cross dressers of yore, they bound their breasts to flatten their chests. They didn’t cut anything off. The consequence of male hormones on women can be permanent though. Even so, if a woman did change her mind and stopped the hormones, electrolysis and a wig would bring her a long way to getting back home. I thought it weird, yet sensible. Because they had an exit strategy. Ten years or so later that code was replaced with shrill demands from the radical corner (now the whole room) to have irreversible sex reassignment surgery or be labeled a despicable phony and a hypocrite. It struck me as Misery Loves Company delivered with all the intellectual integrity of neighborhood kids screaming: “Dare, Double Dare!”
I once encountered someone I believe was a true hermaphrodite. Our brief conversation was the length of an elevator ride, but in that short time I was thoroughly captivated by the fragile beauty of the face gazing back at me. I found myself mesmerized. It was like looking at one of those holograph cards where, tilt it this way it’s one thing, tilt it another way and it’s another—a gentle, undulating, metamorphosis.
Hopefully treatments for pseudo male and female intersex children will be developed in a well-rounded manner rather than just marched “out of the Endocrinology textbooks” to the beat of the LGBTQIA+ bandwagon. Perhaps true hermaphrodites as a true third sex can take their own rightful place in our society someday. But conflating them with an alphabet soup comprised of those who host “drag queen story hour” for toddlers in public libraries, who insist using “wrong” pronouns is a firing offense, and think trans women competing in female sports constitutes a level playing field doesn’t help. It hinders.