The Third Sex

Leslie DePeel
September 17th, 2009
Women & Religion

The Third Sex: Is There Such A Thing?
First, this is not an essay about gender. This has nothing to do with gender. This has to do with sex and reproductive organs that make males male and females female. To be a female, she must have the reproductive system of a female and it must be the system that functions. To be a male, he must have the reproductive system of a male that functions. Thus, the question is: if a human being has both reproductive organs, is that person in a category of a third sex?
Luce Irigaray believed that there was no such thing as only two sexes; that sex itself was constructed and that there could be many sexes. In Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble article, Irigaray states, “that the feminine ‘sex’ is a point of linguistic absence, the impossibility of a grammatically denoted substance” (14), meaning that even sex such as male and female are imaginary. Thus, if there is such a thing as the third sex, what is it? A hermaphrodite is a person who has both sexes or has both reproductive organs. According to that statement, a hermaphrodite would have to be considered a third sex since that person is neither just female nor just male but both. But are hermaphrodites truly a third sex?
According to “Elements of medical jurisprudence,” by Theodric Romeyn Beck and William Dunlop, “[Hermaphrodites] are either males, with some unusual organization or position of the urinary or generative organs; or females with an enlarged clitoris, or prolapsed uterus; or individuals in whom the generative organs have not produced their usual effect in influencing the development of the body” (48). So, can hermaphrodites be considered a third sex? According to Beck and Dunlop, the answer is no. A female is still a female if she has the reproductive organs that work for females such as a uterus, etc. even if she has extra parts, and vice versa, a male is still considered male even if he has extra parts. So, if a person has “extra parts” how is one to know if the person is a female or male?
The Massachusetts Medical Society had an answer to this: pregnancy or spermatozoa. According to The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, “a histologic examination of tissue removed is, then, a necessity in the absence of the demonstration of spermatozoa or of pregnancy to prove the sex of a hermaphrodite” (955). There have been cases where going by what is seen does not answer the sex question. Often an “ovary has been mistaken for a testicle and vice versa” (955). The Journal goes on to state that, “it is necessary to demonstrate functionating ovarian or testicular tissue, not simply the presence of either sort of tissue, before the diagnosis of sex is established”(955). Thus, even a person who has both reproductive organs, does not automatically make a third sex. That person will be either male or female.
There are a lot of variations in the sexual anatomy of a female or male. Not all clitorises and penises look alike. According to Alice Dormurat Dreger in her article Hermaphrodites and the medical invention of sex, “clitorises and penises come in a wide range of shapes and sizes even in people labeled “normal” in terms of their sex” (5). People are unique. Humans come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Thin, fat, tall, short, blond, brunette, etc. all are unique to the individual so why is it so hard to remember that maybe the reproductive organs are unique also? People are taught to think that all female genitals or male genitals look alike or at least similar. Open an anatomy textbook and one will find that the illustrations all look the same but in real life they are not. “…In fact any gynecologist, urologist, or pediatrician can tell you that in actual practice things are not so cut and dried. Genitals vary a great deal” (5), according to Dreger and so do other parts of sexual anatomy beyond the genitals. Dreger goes on to talk about how breasts are “often thought of as a ‘feminine’ trait, yet a good number of women are quite flat-chested and big-breastedness is common in men” (5). This is known to be true. One only has to look around in a crowd of people and one can see those differences. So, why when a human is considered to look differently on the genital side, do persons automatically define them differently?
Why cannot a female still be labeled as a female if she has extra parts? A hermaphrodite is just a female or male with extra parts or strange-looking parts. There is no such thing as a biological third sex. The third sex does not exist. Yes, males can be considered feminine and females considered masculine but that is gender, not sex. Biologically, the reproductive system that works is how the human being is defined as male or female. The ovarian or testicular tissue that is present and functioning defines if a human is male or female. To have a third sex is to rewrite all human beings know to be true. There is male or female. Period.

Works Cited
Beck, Theodric Romeyn and William Dunlp. Elements of Medical Jurisprudence. London: W. Lewis, Printer, Finch-Lane, 1825.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York and London: Routledge Classics, 1990.
Dreger, Alice Domurat. Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex. Boston: Frist Harvard University Press, 1998.
Massachusetts Medical Society and New England Surgical Society. The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, Volume 165. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1911.

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