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Third Sex  
 
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The relative popularity of the term "third sex" is closely connected to its use by some of the most prominent representatives of the early homosexual rights movement in Germany.

Both Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and Magnus Hirschfeld used the term "third sex" in their writings and traced its origins back to Plato's Symposium. In this dialogue, Aristophanes propounds a mythological explanation of heteroerotic and attraction in connection with the three primordial sexes of mankind: male-male, male-female, and female-female.

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According to this myth, present-day humans are halves of ancestral composite individuals who belonged to one of these three sexes, whom Zeus punished because of their insolence by dividing them in two. Consequently, erotic love is basically an attempt of these halves to recover their primordial nature by reuniting with their lost halves. While the primordial male-female individuals gave rise to men and women who are attracted to each other, the male-male and female-female individuals account for the existence of people who are attracted to members of their own sex.

Two main traits of the myth resonate with Ulrichs and Hirschfeld: its alternative scheme of sexual distribution and the egalitarian (or "natural") explanation of both heterosexual and homosexual love.

Hirschfeld, who during his stay in India was acclaimed as the "the modern Vatsayana of the West," alluding to the author of the Kamasutra, relates, on several occasions, his own concept of "third sex" to the ancient Sanskrit concept of a third sexual nature.

Although "third sex" hardly plays any role in post-modern discourse, recently coined concepts such as "n-sex," "meta-sex," "next sex," or "no-sex" can be considered variations on the "third sex," inasmuch as they also convey the idea of a sexual distribution beyond traditional sexual binaries.

The Third Sex in Late Nineteenth-Century Literature

In the nineteenth century, the term "third sex" covered a broader semantic field than its present-day usage. Thus, at times, it was employed in literary texts to describe non-conventional or subversive women who, without being lesbians, were capable of dealing lucidly with their own sexual complexities and of questioning the social roles females were expected to fulfill.

In 1835, the French Romantic poet and novelist Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) published Mademoiselle de Maupin, whose preface constitutes one of the earliest manifestos of the aesthetics of l'art pour l'art and announces the worldview later propounded by Charles Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde. The heroine of the novel, with a penchant for "impossible things," fantasizes about alternating between the two sexes in order to satisfy her "double nature." She declares that, in fact, neither of the two sexes is her own. Rather, she is "of a separate third sex that does not yet have a name."

Although she yearns for a male lover and a female friend, her self-descriptions clearly exclude the possibility of homosexuality, bisexuality, or biological . The namelessness of her "sex" is not related to an unavowable sexual orientation, but to the unavailability of an adequate language to articulate her own sex and gender awareness: "I have the body and soul of a woman, the spirit and the force of a man."

Without implying the sexual transgressiveness of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs' concept of a female soul confined in a male body (or vice versa), or of John Henry Mackay's "nameless love," Maupin's self-descriptions as a member of a "third sex" intends both to expose and disrupt the gender ideology that hinders "the true happiness . . . of being everything that one can possibly be."

In 1899, Ernst Ludwig von Wolzogen (1855-1934), a German novelist, published Das dritte Geschlecht (The Third Sex), in which one of the protagonists contemptuously depicts the "third sex" as the new women who do not understand themselves as "sexual entities" with clear-cut duties and prerogatives, but just as "fellow human beings." By rejecting marriage and demanding equal rights for both sexes, the new women reveal themselves as not being truly women, but "neuters" with external female characteristics accompanied by a crippled male psyche.

Wolzogen's portrayal of feminist activists as a "third sex" echoes, to a certain extent, Gautier's depiction of his subversive dandiacal heroine, while adding a note of sarcastic exaggeration that reflects the author's awareness of growing feminist self-empowerment.

Only after the turn of the century, in 1901, was the term "third sex" used in an explicitly lesbian context, in Minna Wettstein-Adelt's novel Sind es Frauen? Roman über das dritte Geschlecht [Are They Women? A Novel about the Third Sex], published under the pseudonym Aimée Duc. The novel adopts the general "" understanding of the term to which Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and Magnus Hirschfeld, Wettstein-Adelt's contemporary, gave theoretical contours.

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The Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen included these images of sexual types in 1903: The masculine type (top), the Urning type (center), and the feminine type (above). According to Magnus Hirschfeld, the Jahrbuch's publisher, such sexual distinctions represent points on a continuum rather than distinct categories.
  
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