Abstract and keywords

Ritið 2/14 - 2014

Sólveig Anna Bóasdóttir: One, two, three sexes: Multidisciplinary reflections on ambiguous sex and unusual bodies

Complex relations between culture and body are the main subjects of this article. The motivation for this discussion is a recent German law allowing parents to delay stating the sex of newborns diagnosed as intersex at birth. The condition called intersex is considered present in 1.7% of births, and further, approximately one operation is performed for the condition in every 2000 births. Intersex people have formed communities in many countries and demanded the right to bodily autonomy. They have also demanded a critical reexamination of cultural ideas and norms stating that gender and sexual organs can be changed, and that the tools for that change are to be found within psychiatry and medicine. The article illuminates the relations between the ideology of the two-sex model and the conception of the body. The analytical concepts of sex, gender, and gender identity are used to examine the relation between the two. Ideas of gender were formed in the context of medical research on intersex children in the fifties and sixties, including experiments that were performed and soon influenced fields like gender studies and psychology. Within medicine, the idea that gender is culturally constructed, along with the ideology of the two-sex model, led to the well-established practice of surgeons examining and correcting the sexual organs of so-called intersex children. The article stresses the importance of ideology behind our cultural norms and ideas of normal and abnormal sexual organs with references to Western and Eastern cultures and religions. It urges that a negative duty comes before positive duty in these matters. The most important duty is not to harm, which can be considered the guiding light of the German law on third gender. The conclusion is that the advantage of such law is compound, mostly in stimulating critical and creative questions about the two-sex model and gender as socially constructed in our culture.

Keywords: third gender, intersex, two-sex model, cultural sexual norms, religious studies

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