Boy George and the Intersex Identity

Jan Morris argues that the growing intersex culture is not a symptom of the moral decline of America, but an evolutionary step.

| Summer 1984

  • Boy George
    Boy George and other androgynous persons face a strange mixture of responses from the public.
    Courtesy of Flickr/rzrxtion and licensed under Creative Commons

  • Boy George

Transformation is nowhere more apparent than in the realm of sex and sexual roles. Are Boy George and his flamboyant clones merely the symptoms of the moral decline of America, or do they represent, as writer Jan Morris asserts in this article excerpted from Vanity Fair, an evolutionary step for the human species? 

Years ago, when I was, so to speak, shifting my place on the scale of sex, from the male toward the female, I realized that I had reached a point almost exactly in the middle. I was neither one nor the other, or alternatively I was both. I was like a figure of fable—or freak show, if you prefer. But at the same time I made a more unexpected discovery; namely, that nobody seemed to mind. On the contrary, I found myself occupying an arcane and rarefied position of privilege.

There were, of course, the world's louts to mock me, the world's cowards to shy away from me as they shy away from anything they do not understand; but the vast majority of strangers, wherever I wandered to ambiguously in the world of the late 1960s, seemed to treat me with a curious sort of concern, as though I were something of fragile public interest. New York customs officials, security ladies in Pakistan, African headmen, London clubmen—all surprised me by their gentle mixture of kindness, curiosity and something approaching complicity. Nearly two decades have passed, and as I have traveled further along that gauge I have become rather more ordinary; but the phenomenon of intersex seems to beguile people even more now than it did then.

A succession of androgynous celebrities has not, it seems, dulled the enthrallment, and today there is scarcely a corner of the earth, politics and communications permitting, where you will not find, strolling pigtailed along tropical boulevards or black-hatted in steamy northern cafes, remote but enthusiastic derivatives of Boy George.

What's going on? Why do those of us who seem to straddle, blend, defy, or ignore the differences between the sexes find ourselves not ostracized, but courted? Why do old ladies and strong men alike dote on Boy George, and what particular chord in the human psyche does his confusing personality strike?

Part of the fascination is, of course, as old as the imagination. It is the spell of the ultimate chimera, the creature that bridges in its own being that most obvious and unbridgeable of gulfs, the gulf between M. and F. Of all the arrangements that the gods are assumed to have made, in all civilizations, in all ages until our own, this was the most intractable. Male and female made He them (and homosexual too, for homosexuality is not what I am writing about): if there was one fact of life that could never be reversed, that stood at the very foundation of reality, it was the physical disparity between men and women, the only means of procreation.

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