Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Mistaken Gender: 5-Alpha Reductase Hermaphroditism and Biological Reductionism in Sexual Identity Reconsidered

Another for the reference library. Also.. a bit too close to home, the way some were treated.

Mistaken Gender: 5-Alpha Reductase Hermaphroditism and Biological Reductionism in Sexual Identity Reconsidered Gilbert Herdt, Academic Room 2012

Hermaphroditic infants are sex-assigned as kwolu-aatmwol, not as male. Those assigned as female are mistaken as normal females. Hermaphrodism is regarded as a sad and mysterious quirk.
The kwolu-aatmwol, unless distinguished as a shaman or war leader, is quietly disparaged. Yet several kwolu-aatmwol are well known in local history, and one of them, now deceased, was famed both as shaman and fight leader. The kwolu-aatmwol is therefore not rejected or frozen out of daily and normative social contacts, and may indeed rise to distinction through special achievements, as Sakulambei has done. Nor do Sambia feel disgust regarding these liminal beings. Still, Sambia is a sexually polarized society, and parents do not want infants to be hermaphroditic: the intersexed infant may be killed at birth by women, the men believe (Herdt 1981). If it passes as female, however, it is sure to survive.

Consequently, at birth, women carefully check the infant's sex to ensure that it is not kwolu-aatmwol. When discovered at birth, the child is reared in the direction of masculinity, but not unambiguously; rather, it is referred to as kwolu-aatmwol or male, because parents know that their infant will not change into a female. Sometimes the kwolu-aatmwol as a child is teased and humiliated by peers for having "no penis." If parents feel ashamed or rejecting of the child, the mental health outcome is poorer (Herdt and Davidson 1988).

Five of the fourteen kwolu-aatmwol were reared as females. Two of these are still alive.

One late adolescent continues to live as a female, though she is unmarried, physically larger than a normal female, and is now known to be a kwolu-aatmwol. The other living subject is an older adult who was reportedly reared ambiguously as a female.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

— In a wise and far-seeing conclusion, Margaret Mead ( 1961:1476) once suggested a similar critique of the American folk model: "Early and absolute assignment of sex [and] continuous therapeutic in-
terference with any anomalies are all highly congruent with this contemporary emphasis on the importance of every human being able to function in the same way." (p. 442 in the original)