Faculty Publications

Intersex Boundaries: Eighteenth- And Nineteenth-Century Hermaphroditic Bodies

Document Type


Journal/Book/Conference Title

Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine

First Page


Last Page



In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, hermaphroditism was considered a deviation or departure from the law of nature, and in order to restore nature’s intention, intersexed persons were forced into choosing a binary sex in order to curtail the threat that their indeterminacy posed to social and civil order. For the broader period, intersex bodies were contested sites; they resisted gender binary and heteronormative constructs which were essential to social functioning. This essay examines case studies that emerged in the period, uncovering the limits and extremes of gender embodiment. It illuminates non-binary people whose bodies confounded science; demonstrates the cultural threat intersex bodies represented in this period; and then examines the medical treatises that sought to “normalise” these “monstrous” bodies. My larger aim is to highlight historical intersex cases and demonstrate how they symbolised the socio-scientific reimagining of bodily boundaries, helping us question, resituate, and reconfigure our current culture’s boundaries and margins.


Department of Languages and Literatures

Original Publication Date


DOI of published version