In the section “The Age of Gonads” in Alice Dreger’s Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex, the author discusses the period of time in which the concept of sexual dimorphism grew prevalent in scientific, medical, and even popular thought about sexuality. During this period of time, for example, it became very difficult to be labelled a “true hermaphrodite,” one with a near-perfect balance of male and female characteristics. Instead, intersex people were labelled pseudohermaphrodites–or male pseudohermaphrodites and female pseudohermaphrodites.

It is obviously really problematic and hurtful when a whole system of belief deems a person or type of person abnormal. However, this injustice is further complicated when such a system then attempts to take away a “hermaphodite’s” identity category in such a way that reifies sexual dimorphism. As we’ve discussed in class, this is only one of many ways binary thinking about sexual bodies can harm actual individuals.

Over the break, I watched this 1960 movie called The Leech Woman. Here’s the IMDB summary: “An endocrinologist in a dysfunctional marriage with an aging, alcoholic wife journeys to Africa seeking a drug that will restore youth.” The associations that the film makes between femaleness, race, and degeneracy is so over-the-top, it’s hilarious. The stock footage of African people chanting and running around with spears was a sort of funny but grotesque example of how people hold each other up to reductionist, binarized constructions of race, sex, sexuality, class, gender–the list can go on and on as usual.

It also made me think about how people can become so indoctrinated with binarized beliefs about each other that movies like The Leech Woman can be made in earnest. How is it that people become so afraid of the unknown under such systems of belief? How can binarized, oversimplified thinking about others leech our understanding of each other as human beings and allow us to see each other as grotesque caricatures who are not worthy of being understood as fellow humans?

We have all questioned binaries. Many of us are gender majors, and it’s our bread and butter. And, I think that we can all agree that usually binaries suck–like leeches! (Ha.) Anyway, I guess that, for me, this film was just a mirror that reflected how sheerly ridiculous male/female, feminine/masculine, good/bad, etcetera binaries can be. And, sure, we can laugh at this stuff, and it’s a step in the right direction. But, how do we go about dismantling harmful systems of belief–or at least fixing the damages they inflict?

Thanks for letting me ramble… Y’all should really check out this movie, it’s pretty great.

Lynn

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