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social sciences

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Third Sex  
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Tellingly, the term appears unqualified only in two titles of the more than 500 items Hirschfeld published in his lifetime: Was soll das Volk vom dritten Geschlecht wissen? Eine Aufklärungsschrift über gleichgeschlechtlich (homosexuell) empfindende Menschen [What Should People Know about the Third Sex? An Educational Pamphlet on Same-sex (homosexual) Oriented People ] (1902) and Berlins drittes Geschlecht [Berlin's Third Sex] (1904). In the title of a much later publication, Das angeblich dritte Geschlecht des Menschen. Eine Erwiderung [auf G. Fritsch] (1919) [The Alleged Third Sex of Human Beings. A Reply to G. Fritsch] (1919), Hirschfeld suggests an even more cautious usage of the term.

Hirschfeld was well aware that creating a third sexual category meant the addition of a further "fiction" to the equally fictional categories of man and woman. A close reading of his texts shows that his fictional postulation of the "third sex" never led Hirschfeld to revoke the fundamental insight granted by his doctrine of sexual intermediaries, which asserted the intersexual condition of all human beings.

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As Hirschfeld wrote in a text published in 1905, strictly speaking, there are no men and women, but only human beings who are "to a large extent male or to a large extent female." In his view, then, the difference between the "sexes" is not qualitative, but merely quantitative, concerning only the ratio of male and female components in an individual.

With the reference to the "third sex" liable to misunderstandings, Hirschfeld stressed that the term was not meant as "something complete and closed in itself," but as an "indispensable makeshift" introduced in the discussion of sexual difference in order to overcome the "extremely superficial scheme of classification in man and woman."

Hirschfeld's concept of the "third sex" also functioned as a provisional identificatory category for those deprived of their sexual rights in a society organized according to the patterns of sexual binarism. Thus, in spite of its fictionality and tentativeness, "third sex" connects Hirschfeld's basic theoretical insights with his libertarian activism on behalf of the oppressed.

John Henry Mackay's Critique

Hirschfeld's contentions regarding the third sex did not remain uncontested. Indeed, the issue became a major matter of dispute between the two main factions within the sexual emancipation movement in Germany, the group centered around Hirschfeld's Scientific-humanitarian Committee and another group, Die Gemeinschaft der Eigenen [The Community of the Self-Owners], a pederastic-oriented organization with right-wing nationalistic proclivities.

Although John Henry Mackay himself sustained liberal views on politics and never became an official member of "Die Eigenen," he exerted on the group a considerable influence because of his philosophical anarchism, and his collection of homoerotic texts, Die Buecher der namenlosen Liebe [The Books of the Nameless Love], which Mackay published under the pseudonym of "Sagitta" between 1906 and 1926.

Characteristically, Mackay/Sagitta derided in Fenny Skaller, the third of the Books of Nameless Love, the new sexual type described by some "physicians" as "a new sex, a third sex in-between the other two." Although Hirschfeld is not mentioned explicitly in the passage, it is clear that he, being a physician and the most prominent activist on behalf of the "third sex," was the primary target of Mackay's critique.

From Mackay's perspective, the pursuits of the "physicians" were part of an ongoing cultural process designed to deny the specificity of pederastic "nameless love" by creating a third category that is distinct from "male" and "female," but that does not allow for internal differentiation. Mackay was particularly keen on distinguishing the "nameless love" from effeminate forms of homosexuality that he associated with Hirschfeld and his circle.

Sigmund Freud and the Third Sex

One of Sigmund Freud's basic contentions with regard to sexuality is that the phenomenon of homosexuality does not warrant the assumption of a sex distinct from that of males and females. In an addendum of 1915 to Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie [Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality] (1905), Freud stated that psychoanalytical research opposes categorically the attempt to consider homosexuals as a separate group of people on account of their specific sexual disposition.

Five years earlier, in Eine Kindheitserinnerung des Leonardo da Vinci ["Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood"] (1910), Freud had observed critically that homosexual men were pleased to be portrayed by "their theoretical spokespersons" as "a separate sexual variety, as sexual intermediaries, as a 'third sex.'" In a very similar formulation in 1916, Freud mentioned that male and female homosexuals are depicted by their "scientific spokespersons" as a "special variety of the human species, [as] a 'third sex.'"

Despite the plural form, when Freud mentions the theoretical or scientific spokespersons of homosexuals, he means first and foremost Magnus Hirschfeld, the most prominent spokesman of the homosexual rights movement at the time. With his critique, however, Freud reveals a fundamental misapprehension of the actual tenets at stake in Hirschfeld's claims. Besides ignoring the fact that Hirschfeld used the term only in non-scientific contexts, Freud also ignores Hirschfeld's tentativeness regarding the "third sex," as well as the actual import of his fundamental teachings.

J. Edgar Bauer

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Bauer, J. Edgar. "43 046 721 Sexualtypen: Anmerkungen zu Magnus Hirschfelds Zwischenstufenlehre und der Unendlichkeit der Geschlechter." Capri: Herausgegeben vom Schwulen Museum No. 33 (December 2002): 23-30.

Bleys, Rudi C. The Geography of Perversion: Male-to-Male Sexual Behaviour outside the West and the Ethnographic Imagination, 1750-1918. New York: New York University Press, 1995.

Bornstein, Kate. Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Tenth Anniversary edition. New York and London: Routledge, 1999.

Califia, Pat. Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex. Pittsburgh and San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1994.

Derks, Paul. Die Schande der heiligen Päderastie: Homosexualität und Öffentlichkeit in der deutschen Literatur 1750-1850. Berlin: Verlag rosa Winkel, 1990.

Evola, Julius. Metafisica del Sesso. Con un saggio introduttivo di Fausto Antonini, intro. Roma: Edizioni Mediterranee, 2002.

Feinberg, Leslie. Trans/Liberation: Beyond Pink and Blue. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998.

Herdt, Gilbert, ed. Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History. New York: Zone Books, 1994.

Kennedy, Hubert. Ulrichs: The Life and Works of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Pioneer of the Modern Gay Movement. Boston: Alyson, 1988.

Kessler, Suzanne J., and Wendy McKenna. Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

Kroker, Arthur and Marilouise. The Last Sex: Feminism and Outlaw Bodies. London: Macmilllan, 1993.

Laqueur, Thomas. Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Stocker, Gerfried, and Christine Schöpf, eds. Next Sex: Sex in the Age of its Procreative Superfluousness. Vienna and New York: Springer-Verlag, 2000.

Stoller, Robert J. Sex and Gender: On the Development of Masculinity and Femininity. New York: Science House, 1968.


    Citation Information
    Author: Bauer, J. Edgar  
    Entry Title: Third Sex  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated February 26, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
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