Thursday, November 6, 2014

H is for Hermaphrodite

Our first word is hermaphrodite (no surprise there, right?).  A hermaphrodite is an organism with male and female reproductive organs.  Many animals are hermaphroditic species like earthworms, snails, starfish etc.  Most flowering plants are also hermaphroditic. 

Historically intersex conditions were classified as either true hermaphrodites (with a mix of ovarian and testicular tissue, or an ovary and a testicle) or pseudohermaphrodites (all other intersex conditions).  This has obviously fallen out of favor for the term intersex.  This is a good nomenclature switch since humans are not a hermaphroditic species.  There are no intersex conditions that result in a body that is reproductively functional as a male and female.  As I mentioned in my ambiguous genitalia post, more masculine genitals mean less feminine and vice versa, you don’t get both in humans.

I have to admit, I sometimes use the word hermaphrodite to describe myself to others.  I realize this is controversial.  Many intersex people consider the word hermaphrodite offensive, or at least not PC. Others use it as a term of empowerment.  I find it makes a good shorthand for people who have never heard of intersex.  They already have some idea what hermaphrodite means, thus shortening what would be a lengthy explanation.  Am I right to do this?  Am I being offensive or is it ok to shorten explanations in a way people will better understand?  Do you call yourself a hermaphrodite?  I would love to hear your opinions.    

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