Foucault and the Intersexed: A Brief History

March 22, 2016 in General

In the centuries before ‘remedial’ surgery became the ‘preferred’ treatment for intersexed people, intersexed people lived a precarious existence. French social theorist and historian Michel Foucault (1926-1984) observed that as ‘hermaphrodites’, intersexed people were executed if they transgressed against the simplistic reduction of humanity to ‘two’ biological sexes. They were burnt at the stake and denied “Christian” burial.

One such case was Antide Collins, who lived in Dole, France. Doctors examined him/her and found that s/he had the sexual characteristics of male and female. Although Collins was not found to have had sex with both women and men, his/her anatomy had been ‘induced’ by ‘Satan,’ which made Antide a ‘witch,’ therefore s/he was burnt at the stake for her interpolated ‘sin.’

Shortly afterward, a more ‘merciful’ regime was introduced. French hermaphrodites were asked to chose their ‘dominant’ set of sexual attributes and conduct themselves hereafter as either celibates, or dutiful heterosexual representatives of their ‘chosen’ sex. Not all did so, and consequently still had (illegal) ‘same-sex’ relationships with women or men, which led to fiery immolation through death at the stake. Two hermaphrodites were killed because they cohabited and ‘might’ have resorted to the use of ‘both’ sets of anatomical attributes with one another. There was no evidence adduced that they did.

In 1601, Marie/Martin Lemarcis was denounced because as Martin, s/he had married a widow. Surgeons found no signs of ‘masculinity’ apart from a vestigial ‘micropenis’ akin to those in Kleinfelters Syndrome individuals, which ‘meant’ that Martin was ‘not’ entitled to consider him/herself male, which would have led to execution. Instead, on appeal, the sentence was quashed- as long as Marie lived exclusively as a woman, and celibate.

In 1765, Anne Grandjean had originally been baptised as a female, but became attracted to women. Settling in Lyon, s/he masqueraded as a male and married one Francois Lambert. As with Marie/Martin, Anne was denounced to the authorities, tried and sentenced to the pillory, whip and cane. On appeal, Anne was released, on the condition that she lived exclusively as a woman and had ‘heterosexual’ sex with men only. According to legal sources, it was her ‘lesbianism’ that was culpable and an ‘affront’ to the ‘sanctity of (heterosexual) marriage,’ not her variant anatomy. ‘Monstrosity’ had become ‘criminality’ over the course of two centuries. As surgical medicine developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it then became ‘eradicable’ through ‘corrective’ infant surgery. Except it didn’t, giving rise to the modern intersexed movement. At the time Foucault wrote his lecture notes, forty years ago, however, that was still in the future.

Recommended:

Michel Foucault: “22 February 1975″ in Michel Foucault: Abnormal: London: Picador: 2003: 65-75

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