"That monster of nature": Gender, sexuality, and the medicalization of a "hermaphrodite" in late colonial Guatemala

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Abstract

In Guatemala City in 1803, the court of the Royal Protomedicato requested that the physician Narciso Esparragosa examine Juana Aguilar, called by the court a "suspected hermaphrodite," as part of the legal proceedings against her for double concubinage with men and women. This essay considers Esparragosa's report on Aguilar's sexual ambiguity and his efforts to classify her. The first section analyzes the scope and purpose of the report and places Esparragosa's anatomical and physiological assertions within the context of Enlightenment-era understandings of sexuality and sexual difference. The second section traces how Esparragosa built the argument that led him to classify Aguilar and her ambiguous sexuality into a separate category of "neither man nor woman." Throughout his medical report, Esparragosa appropriated the language of monstrosity to underpin his characterization of Aguilar's sexual and physical difference, recast in gendered and racialized terms. He used these assertions to make certain claims of categorization that attempted to naturalize the female genitalia and to argue that female anatomical and physiological ambiguity led to sexual deviance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-176
Number of pages18
JournalEthnohistory
Volume54
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Anthropology

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