Trans and hermaphrodites in history: a centuries-long question

Aldo Cazzullo (photo by Carlo Furgeri Gilbert).

MArtina Navratilova, perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time, certainly the first to declare herself a lesbian, claims that it is not fair that women should compete against trans people; and the world of sport is divided. Is he a woman, or is he a man, who feels like one, or who has the female or male sexual organ? And who has both?

Athletics faced this issue when South African Caster Semenya won gold in the 800 meters at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. To dispel rumors about her actual gender, the South African athletics federation arranged a test. The results were not released, but Semenya was able to start racing again.

But then the international federation established the rule that to compete among women a certain testosterone limit could not be exceeded, set at five nanomoles per liter of blood. Those like Caster who went further would have to reduce testosterone with drugs.

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Apparently it is a technical question; it’s actually a cultural issue. The federation’s measure might have seemed repressive; it was actually an openingwhich would, for example, allow a trans woman to play tennis with women, based on her testosterone level and not based on her sexual organ.

Even at Miss Italia it was discussed, and the conclusion was reached: no trans. Yet in tribal cultures, people of both sexes are often considered community leaders, favored by the gods. In Western culture, this does not happen; as centuries of repression demonstrate.

But when in 1601 Marie Lemarcis was sentenced to death in Rouen for “acts against nature” – he had an affair with a woman -, the doctor Jacques Duval managed to demonstrate that Marie had both organs, and felt male; in fact he called himself Marin. The judges acquitted Marin. For the first time in history a human being was able to choose their sex.

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All articles by Aldo Cazzullo.