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It is believed that binovular follicles sometimes occur in the ovary, by fusion of the immature eggs within them. Fusion may also occur of two eggs, soon after fertilisation, producing an individual with genetically different kinds of tissue. Such a person, developing from more than one zygote, is known as a chimera , while mosaicism involves a single zygote in which errors have occurred during cell division. If the fused ova are of different sex, the individual develops as a hermaphrodite.

"The karyotype of a true hermaphrodite is classified into 46,XX; 46,XY; 46,XX/46,XY, etc. A true hermaphrodite with 46,XX/46,XY is characterised by chimerism." (1)

Uehara et al describe a patient was born with genital anomalies, but was originally karyotyped as 46,XX. This was corrected at age of twenty to 46,XX/46,XY. The individual had already been diagnosed correctly at the age of four, with an ovary on the right and the testis on the left, and the latter was removed. At twenty, menarche had not begun and hormone therapy was provided.

Questions raised.

Extended genetic analysis was performed and it was was shown that the person had inherited material from both X chromosomes of the mother, and from both the X and Y chromosomes of the father. (Unlike the person in the last section, all of whose X chromosomes were maternal)

Gross(2) describes a newspaper report of a Bantu person, Mr. Blackwell, who was taken to be a boy and grew up as one. At puberty, he began to develop breasts and it was found that he had an active ovary on one side, with a small uterus, and an active testicle on the other. It would only have taken a small difference in his internal ducts, (we are told by the newspaper reporter), and he would have fertilised himself without being able to control it. On attending a hospital he opted to live as a man, and the ovary was removed.

Gross mentions him because he suggests that he could well be said to have a 'female brain', for his hormone system was enough to take him through the whole female cycle and ovulate every month. Yet he thought of himself as male and elected to remain as such, nor did he display female behaviour patterns.

Anne Fausto-Sterling(3) records that, in the 17th. century, a Scottish hermaphrodite, living as a woman, was buried alive after impregnating his/her master's daughter.

She also describes hermaphrodites who are quite happy to be so, including Emma, who had a penis size clitoris as well as a vagina. She had a number of steady girl-friends, but then successfully married a man. Though she found little pleasure in sex with him, she satisfied him well. When it was suggested that surgery could turn her into a functioning man, she refused. All the relationships were happy and fulfilling for all concerned and she saw no reason to change.

It may be that ignorance is bliss. Dreger(4) suggests that, once medical science took an interest, hermaphroditism became a pathology. Moreover, the European social and bureaucratic structure has no room for someone who is not either male or female.

It also has to be noted that the outcome is quite variable, as the above examples show, and sometimes the person has serious problems. The Observer(5) reported a person who had been recognised as hermaphrodite at birth, and had been registered as a boy, on the insistence of her father. Because of the attitude of her father, it was a taboo subject, and, because of her androgynous appearance, by the end of her teenage, she was attracting great hostility. She, therefore, never sought help until she was 54, and close to death. It turned out that she was menstruating normally, but had no cervix. For years, the discharge had been building up elsewhere in her body. Even so, she was, at first, misdiagnosed. Also, her NHS trust ruled that, because she had been registered as a male, but elected to live as a female, it was a 'sex change' and refused to provide funds for what was, after all, a life-threatening situation.

Bibliography and good reading.

  1. Uehara, S., Nata, M., Nagae, M., Sagisaka, K., Okamura, K., Yajima, A., (1995) Molecular Biologic Analyses of Tetragametic chimerism in a True Hermaphrodite with 46,XX/46,XY. Fertility and Sterility, Vol 63, No 1, January 1995.
  2. Goldwyn.E., The Fight to be Male. The Listener, May 1979. in Gross R.D. (1987) Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour, London, Hodder and Stoughton.
  3. Fausto-Sterling, Anne. The Five Sexes. in The Sciences, Mar/Apr 1993.
  4. Dreger, A.D., (1998) Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex, London: Harvard University Press.
  5. In Ancient Greece, she'd have been a god. In Wales, they spit on her. The Observer, 24th. May, 1998

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Bland, J., (2001) About Gender: Hermaphrodites
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04.01.99 Last amended 12.11.01, 01.05.14