Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Hermaphrodite

Before I blog The Blog (look for it on Friday/Saturday), I feel it is important to thoroughly explain one major concept I've been making reference to which you as a reader need to know in order to understand the Big Blog. The concept, hermaphrodites. But many people who I talk to don't seem to know what a hermaphrodite is, and that's ok! The term is kind of "hush-hush" within our modern-day society and doesn't play a huge role in everyday conversation (unless you talk to me ; D!). First, let's begin with defining the word.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives many definitions for the word, the prevailing definition being:
"A human being in which parts characteristic of both sexes are to some extent combined."
By this definition, a hermaphrodite is a physical merging of two different sexes.

A second definition, while identical in theory, paints a less clear cut picture of hermaphrodites.
"An effeminate man or virile woman."
This definition suggests characteristics attributed to sex, or more precisely, a merging of gender.

If something is "hermaphroditic" in nature it is "Belonging to or of the nature of a hermaphrodite: combining male and female characteristics" and hermaphroditism is "The condition of a hermaphrodite; coexistence or combination of male or female organs in the same individual." Which brings me to an explanation of where this idea originated.

In Plato's Symposium, Aristophanes is quoted telling the tale of the hermaphrodite, the "androgynous race," in the classical tradition. He states that our natures started out as not two but three, male, female and "a race whose name still remains though itself has it does not exist except for the name that is reserved for reproach." We were, by today's definition, monstrous looking things, with 2 heads, 4 arms, 4 legs and a big ego...we were a bit too big for our britches and Zeus, along with the other gods, decided to cut us in half, leaving the state of humankind separate and always searching for the other half. The only time the halves could feel whole would be through intercourse, the genitalia of one sex fitting the other bringing it all home with our previous definition of "coexistence of male or female organs in the same individual."
Before this gets too too long, let's explore the idea behind the hermaphrodite. The idea: there is a being which possesses a wholeness of men and women, an ultimate understanding, if you will, of both sexes and genders. Within the humanities discipline it is understood that we are cultivating and educating the "moral imagination," the bridge between Us and the Other. If this bridge is made, it is assumed we can understand anything foreign through imagination. The idea of the hermaphrodite removes the need for that bridge, the wholeness of knowledge as viewed by different genders already present.

Is it possible? Can such an understanding of men or women occur in the opposite sex? Not a secular knowledge but a personal knowledge, a knowledge of the Other based upon self, not a textbook. I know what I think, what about you?!


  1. First off, thanks for your comments. I really appreciate it and they do always help!

    As I was reading this, I think's it's really interesting that it kind of relates to what I'm working on: a unification through mutliple parts, or pieces. With this in mind, do I think that it's possible for "a knowledge of the Other based upon self" to occur? Well, if we are all people of multiplicity, with different identities that we use in different contexts, BUT we are also people who are capable of using the whole of those multiple identities to form one identity, THEN doesn't that mean that we should be able to reach a unification with an Other, simply because we have lived that unifaction before within OURSELVES? Huh. That was a long sentence, and I don't know if it makes sense. But... super interesting Becca! Who knew we would be able to find such common ground? :)

  2. This is such a compelling idea, becca.
    Heather aptly brings up the concept of being "people of multiplicity" and so forth.

    We know that many temporal things in this life are physical symbols of inner/spiritual matters, processes, commitments, etc. (i.e.- how we take care of our body sends a message to others about who we are, the sacrament is a physical manifestation of spiritual covenants being renewed, etc.).

    The Hermaphrodite seems like a physical representation or version of the perfect knowledge we are all hoping to obtain one day (please note that "perfect" here is being used as "whole, complete").

    I don't know if this is making sense but what I'm trying to express is that this sense of Hermaphrodite-ness is most effectively interpretated and applied through a spiritual lens of symbolism. It's through spiritual growth and the development of an "Eye of Faith" that allows us to be taught in our knowledge of the "Other". If this deeper level is not considered, then there is a skewed focus on the physical aspects and conflicts with the whole concept.