Sex Assignment Around 1900. From a Legal to a Clinical Issue

Geertje Mak

in Doubting Sex

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780719086908
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781702628 | DOI:
Sex Assignment Around 1900. From a Legal to a Clinical Issue

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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This chapter describes how physicians' relationships to the law had become troubled by the end of the nineteenth century. It discusses the conflict between legal purpose and a humanitarian perspective that came to a head in discussions concerning plastic surgery on genitals and secondary sex characteristics. It is shown that when doctors were not consulted within a legal context, their diagnostic role was decidedly not the same as that of a judge. Some physicians had strong doubts as to whether the gonads alone should be decisive within a legal context. J. Riddle Goffe presented a brief summary of state-of-the-art medical thinking on hermaphroditism in which Goffe shows himself to be a true believer and supporter of the gonadal ‘true sex’ theory. Both Franz Ludwig von Neugebauer and Fred Taussig took the patient's ‘sexual desires’ as the marker of psychological sex. The position of hermaphrodites underwent structural change.

Keywords: sex; genitals; plastic surgery; gonads; J. Riddle Goffe; Franz Ludwig von Neugebauer; Fred Taussig; hermaphroditism; sexual desires; hermaphrodites

Chapter.  9556 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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