PhD project “Intersex Narratives and the Binary Order of the Sexes”


The birth of an infant with a set of genitals that challenge standard notions of male or female is rarely threatening to the infant’s life, but rather threatening to the infant’s culture, explained sociologist Suzanne Kessler in 1990 (cf. “The Medical Construction of Gender: Case Management of Intersexed Infants.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 16.1 (1990): 3-26). This proposed ‘threat’ to a cultural binary order of the sexes has recently been the object of studies in sociology, psychology, gender studies, and the history of science and medicine. Furthermore, intersex and the question of early infant surgery has become a pressing Human Rights issue. The topic has been widely ignored, though, in literary and cultural studies. In my dissertation I aim to breach this gap and to complement research on intersex with an analysis of cultural representations of intersex and hermaphroditism. My focus is on selected literary and autobiographical texts from North America and Western Europe published between 1850 and 2010. I analyze their respective position within a multi-faceted discursive net (What is said about hermaphroditism/intersex by whom when and where? How does the narrative text relate to other contemporary discourses such as medicine, psychology, or activism?). I scrutinize concepts of self and subject (Which subject positions are claimed by the intersex/hermaphrodite subject or assigned by someone else? And, on what basis are these positions claimed or assigned?), and look at negotiations of the prevailing order of the sexes (In what way does the narrative challenge or reinforce the sexual order?).        


I am interested in interdisciplinary exchange, and I am happy to participate in conferences/workshops (academic and non-academic).     

Here you'll find the introductory chapter of my thesis titled Discursive Intersexions: Daring Bodies Between Myth, Medicine, and Memoir (published 2017 with transcript Verlag, Bielefeld).