Edward Carpenter.

The intermediate sex; a study of some transitional types of men and women online

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The Intermediate Sex

_Works by Edward Carpenter_


The Intermediate

_A Study of Some Transitional Types
of Men and Women_





_First published_ _1908_
_Reprinted_ _1909_
” _1912_
” _1916_
” _1918_
” _1921_

[_All rights reserved._]

“_There are transitional forms between the metals and non-metals; between
chemical combinations and simple mixtures, between animals and plants,
between phanerogams and cryptogams, and between mammals and birds.… The
improbability may henceforth be taken for granted of finding in Nature a
sharp cleavage between all that is masculine on the one side and all that
is feminine on the other; or that any living being is so simple in this
respect that it can be put wholly on one side, or wholly on the other, of
the line._”


Prefatory Note


The following papers, now collected in book-form, have been written - and
some of them published - on various occasions during the last twelve or
fourteen years, and in the intervals of other work; and this must be my
excuse for occasional repetitions or overlapping of matter, which may be
observable among them. I have thought it best, however, to leave them as
they stand, as in this way each is more complete in itself. The second
essay, which gives its title to the book, has already appeared in my
“Love’s Coming-of-Age” (edition 1906), but is reprinted here as belonging
more properly to this volume.

A collection of quotations from responsible writers, who touch on various
sides of the subject, is added at the end, to form an Appendix - which the
author thinks will prove helpful, though he does not necessarily endorse
all the opinions presented.

E. C.












The subject dealt with in this book is one of great, and one may say
growing, importance. Whether it is that the present period is one of
large increase in the numbers of men and women of an intermediate or
mixed temperament, or whether it merely is that it is a period in which
more than usual attention happens to be accorded to them, the fact
certainly remains that the subject has great actuality and is pressing
upon us from all sides. It is recognised that anyhow the number of
persons occupying an intermediate position between the two sexes is
very great, that they play a considerable part in general society, and
that they necessarily present and embody many problems which, both for
their own sakes and that of society, demand solution. The literature
of the question has in consequence already grown to be very extensive,
especially on the Continent, and includes a great quantity of scientific
works, medical treatises, literary essays, romances, historical novels,
poetry, etc. And it is now generally admitted that some knowledge and
enlightened understanding of the subject is greatly needed for the use
of certain classes - as, for instance, medical men, teachers, parents,
magistrates, judges, and the like.

That there are distinctions and gradations of Soul-material in relation
to Sex - that the inner psychical affections and affinities shade off
and graduate, in a vast number of instances, most subtly from male to
female, and not always in obvious correspondence with the outer bodily
sex - is a thing evident enough to anyone who considers the subject; nor
could any good purpose well be served by ignoring this fact - even if it
were possible to do so. It is easy of course (as some do) to classify
all these mixed or intermediate types as _bad_. It is also easy (as some
do) to argue that just because they combine opposite qualities they are
likely to be _good_ and valuable. But the subtleties and complexities
of Nature cannot be despatched in this off-hand manner. The great
probability is that, as in any other class of human beings, there will be
among these too, good and bad, high and low, worthy and unworthy - some
perhaps exhibiting through their double temperament a rare and beautiful
flower of humanity, others a perverse and tangled ruin.

Before the facts of Nature we have to preserve a certain humility and
reverence; nor rush in with our preconceived and obstinate assumptions.
Though these gradations of human type have always, and among all peoples,
been more or less known and recognised, yet their frequency to-day, or
even the concentration of attention on them, may be the indication of
some important change actually in progress. We do _not_ know, in fact,
what possible evolutions are to come, or what new forms, of permanent
place and value, are being already slowly differentiated from the
surrounding mass of humanity. It may be that, as at some past period of
evolution the worker-bee was without doubt differentiated from the two
ordinary bee-sexes, so at the present time certain new types of human
kind may be emerging, which will have an important part to play in the
societies of the future - even though for the moment their appearance is
attended by a good deal of confusion and misapprehension. It may be so;
or it may not. We do not know; and the best attitude we can adopt is one
of sincere and dispassionate observation of facts.

Of course wherever this subject touches on the domain of love we may
expect difficult queries to arise. Yet it is here probably that the
noblest work of the intermediate sex or sexes will be accomplished,
as well as the greatest errors committed. It seems almost a law of
Nature that new and important movements should be misunderstood and
vilified - even though afterwards they may be widely approved or admitted
to honour. Such movements are always envisaged first from whatever aspect
they may possibly present, of ludicrous or contemptible. The early
Christians, in the eyes of Romans, were chiefly known as the perpetrators
of obscure rites and crimes in the darkness of the catacombs. Modern
Socialism was for a long time supposed to be an affair of daggers and
dynamite; and even now there are thousands of good people ignorant enough
to believe that it simply means “divide up all round, and each take his
threepenny bit.” Vegetarians were supposed to be a feeble and brainless
set of cabbage-eaters. The Women’s movement, so vast in its scope and
importance, was nothing but an absurd attempt to make women “the apes
of men.” And so on without end; the accusation in each case being some
tag or last fag-end of fact, caught up by ignorance, and coloured by
prejudice. So commonplace is it to misunderstand, so easy to misrepresent.

That the Uranian temperament, especially in regard to its affectional
side, is not without faults must naturally be allowed; but that it has
been grossly and absurdly misunderstood is certain. With a good deal of
experience in the matter, I think one may safely say that the defect
of the male Uranian, or Urning,[1] is _not_ sensuality - but rather
_sentimentality_. The lower, more ordinary types of Urning are often
terribly sentimental; the superior types strangely, almost incredibly
emotional; but neither _as a rule_ (though of course there must be
exceptions) are so sensual as the average normal man.

This immense capacity of emotional love represents of course a great
driving force. Whether in the individual or in society, love is eminently
creative. It is their great genius for attachment which gives to the best
Uranian types their penetrating influence and activity, and which often
makes them beloved and accepted far and wide even by those who know
nothing of their inner mind. How many so-called philanthropists of the
best kind (we need not mention names) have been inspired by the Uranian
temperament, the world will probably never know. And in all walks of
life the great number and influence of folk of this disposition, and the
distinguished place they already occupy, is only realised by those who
are more or less behind the scenes. It is probable also that it is this
genius for emotional love which gives to the Uranians their remarkable

Anyhow, with their extraordinary gift for, and experience in, affairs
of the heart - from the double point of view, both of the man and of the
woman - it is not difficult to see that these people have a special work
to do as reconcilers and interpreters of the two sexes to each other.
Of this I have spoken at more length below (chaps. ii. and v.). It is
probable that the superior Urnings will become, in affairs of the heart,
to a large extent the teachers of future society; and if so that their
influence will tend to the realisation and expression of an attachment
less exclusively sensual than the average of to-day, and to the diffusion
of this in all directions.

While at any rate not presuming to speak with authority on so difficult
a subject, I plead for the necessity of a patient consideration of it,
for the due recognition of the types of character concerned, and for some
endeavour to give them their fitting place and sphere of usefulness in
the general scheme of society.

One thing more by way of introductory explanation. The word Love is
commonly used in so general and almost indiscriminate a fashion as
to denote sometimes physical instincts and acts, and sometimes the
most intimate and profound feelings; and in this way a good deal of
misunderstanding is caused. In this book (unless there be exceptions in
the Appendix) the word is used to denote the inner devotion of one person
to another; and when anything else is meant - as, for instance, sexual
relations and actions - this is clearly stated and expressed.


The Intermediate Sex.

“Urning men and women, on whose book of life Nature has written her
new word which sounds so strange to us, bear such storm and stress
within them, such ferment and fluctuation, so much complex material
having its outlet only towards the future; their individualities
are so rich and many-sided, and withal so little understood,
that it is impossible to characterise them adequately in a few
sentences.” - _Otto de Joux._

In late years (and since the arrival of the New Woman amongst us) many
things in the relation of men and women to each other have altered, or
at any rate become clearer. The growing sense of equality in habits
and customs - university studies, art, music, politics, the bicycle,
etc. - all these things have brought about a _rapprochement_ between the
sexes. If the modern woman is a little more masculine in some ways than
her predecessor, the modern man (it is to be hoped), while by no means
effeminate, is a little more sensitive in temperament and artistic in
feeling than the original John Bull. It is beginning to be recognised
that the sexes do not or should not normally form two groups hopelessly
isolated in habit and feeling from each other, but that they rather
represent the two poles of _one_ group - which is the human race; so
that while certainly the extreme specimens at either pole are vastly
divergent, there are great numbers in the middle region who (though
differing corporeally as men and women) are by emotion and temperament
very near to each other.[2] We all know women with a strong dash of
the masculine temperament, and we all know men whose almost feminine
sensibility and intuition seem to belie their bodily form. Nature, it
might appear, in mixing the elements which go to compose each individual,
does not always keep her two groups of ingredients - which represent
the two sexes - properly apart, but often throws them crosswise in a
somewhat baffling manner, now this way and now that; yet wisely, we must
think - for if a severe distinction of elements were always maintained
the two sexes would soon drift into far latitudes and absolutely cease
to understand each other. As it is, there are some remarkable and (we
think) indispensable types of character in whom there is such a union or
balance of the feminine and masculine qualities that these people become
to a great extent the interpreters of men and women to each other.

There is another point which has become clearer of late. For as people
are beginning to see that the sexes form in a certain sense a continuous
group, so they are beginning to see that Love and Friendship - which
have been so often set apart from each other as things distinct - are in
reality closely related and shade imperceptibly into each other. Women
are beginning to demand that Marriage shall mean Friendship as well as
Passion; that a comrade-like Equality shall be included in the word Love;
and it is recognised that from the one extreme of a ‘Platonic’ friendship
(generally between persons of the same sex) up to the other extreme of
passionate love (generally between persons of opposite sex) no hard and
fast line can at any point be drawn effectively separating the different
kinds of attachment. We know, in fact, of Friendships so romantic in
sentiment that they verge into love; we know of Loves so intellectual and
spiritual that they hardly dwell in the sphere of Passion.

A moment’s thought will show that the general conceptions indicated
above - if anywhere near the truth - point to an immense diversity of human
temperament and character in matters relating to sex and love; but though
such diversity has probably always existed, it has only in comparatively
recent times become a subject of study.

More than thirty years ago, however, an Austrian writer, K. H. Ulrichs,
drew attention in a series of pamphlets (_Memnon_, _Ara Spei_, _Inclusa_,
etc.) to the existence of a class of people who strongly illustrate
the above remarks, and with whom specially this paper is concerned. He
pointed out that there were people born in such a position - as it were on
the dividing line between the sexes - that while belonging distinctly to
one sex as far as their bodies are concerned they may be said to belong
_mentally_ and _emotionally_ to the other; that there were men, for
instance, who might be described as of feminine soul enclosed in a male
body (_anima muliebris in corpore virili inclusa_), or in other cases,
women whose definition would be just the reverse. And he maintained that
this doubleness of nature was to a great extent proved by the special
direction of their love-sentiment. For in such cases, as indeed might
be expected, the (apparently) masculine person instead of forming a
love-union with a female tended to contract romantic friendships with one
of his own sex; while the apparently feminine would, instead of marrying
in the usual way, devote herself to the love of another feminine.

People of this kind (_i.e._, having this special variation of the
love-sentiment) he called Urnings;[3] and though we are not obliged
to accept his theory about the crosswise connexion between ‘soul’ and
‘body,’ since at best these words are somewhat vague and indefinite;
yet his work was important because it was one of the first attempts,
in modern times, to recognise the existence of what might be called an
Intermediate sex, and to give at any rate _some_ explanation of it.[4]

Since that time the subject has been widely studied and written about
by scientific men and others, especially on the Continent (though in
England it is still comparatively unknown), and by means of an extended
observation of present-day cases, as well as the indirect testimony
of the history and literature of past times, quite a body of general
conclusions has been arrived at - of which I propose in the following
pages to give some slight account.

Contrary to the general impression, one of the first points that emerges
from this study is that ‘Urnings,’ or Uranians, are by no means so
very rare; but that they form, beneath the surface of society, a large
class. It remains difficult, however, to get an exact statement of their
numbers; and this for more than one reason: partly because, owing to
the want of any general understanding of their case, these folk tend to
conceal their true feelings from all but their own kind, and indeed often
deliberately act in such a manner as to lead the world astray - (whence it
arises that a normal man living in a certain society will often refuse to
believe that there is a single Urning in the circle of his acquaintance,
while one of the latter, or one that understands the nature, living in
the same society, can count perhaps a score or more) - and partly because
it is indubitable that the numbers do vary very greatly, not only in
different countries but even in different classes in the same country.
The consequence of all this being that we have estimates differing very
widely from each other. Dr. Grabowsky, a well-known writer in Germany,
quotes figures (which we think must be exaggerated) as high as one man
in every 22, while Dr. Albert Moll (_Die Conträre Sexualempfindung_,
chap. 3) gives estimates varying from 1 in every 50 to as low as 1 in
every 500.[5] These figures apply to such as are exclusively of the said
nature, _i.e._, to those whose deepest feelings of love and friendship
go out only to persons of their own sex. Of course, if in addition are
included those double-natured people (of whom there is a great number)
who experience the normal attachment, with the homogenic tendency in less
or greater degree superadded, the estimates must be greatly higher.

In the second place it emerges (also contrary to the general impression)
that men and women of the exclusively Uranian type are by no means
necessarily morbid in any way - unless, indeed, their peculiar temperament
be pronounced in itself morbid. Formerly it was assumed as a matter of
course, that the type was merely a result of disease and degeneration;
but now with the examination of the actual facts it appears that, on the
contrary, many are fine, healthy specimens of their sex, muscular and
well-developed in body, of powerful brain, high standard of conduct, and
with nothing abnormal or morbid of any kind observable in their physical
structure or constitution. This is of course not true of all, and there
still remain a certain number of cases of weakly type to support the
neuropathic view. Yet it is very noticeable that this view is much less
insisted on by the later writers than by the earlier. It is also worth
noticing that it is now acknowledged that even in the most healthy cases
the special affectional temperament of the ‘Intermediate’ is, as a rule,
ineradicable; so much so that when (as in not a few instances) such men
and women, from social or other considerations, have forced themselves to
marry and even have children, they have still not been able to overcome
their own bias, or the leaning after all of their life-attachment to some
friend of their own sex.

This subject, though obviously one of considerable interest and
importance, has been hitherto, as I have pointed out, but little
discussed in this country, partly owing to a certain amount of doubt
and distrust which has, not unnaturally perhaps, surrounded it. And
certainly if the men and women born with the tendency in question were
only exceedingly rare, though it would not be fair on that account to
ignore them, yet it would hardly be necessary to dwell at great length on
their case. But as the class is really, on any computation, numerous, it
becomes a duty for society not only to understand them but to help them
to understand themselves.

For there is no doubt that in many cases people of this kind suffer a
great deal from their own temperament - and yet, after all, it is possible
that they may have an important part to play in the evolution of the
race. Anyone who realises what Love is, the dedication of the heart, so
profound, so absorbing, so mysterious, so imperative, and always just
in the noblest natures so strong, cannot fail to see how difficult, how
tragic even, must often be the fate of those whose deepest feelings are
destined from the earliest days to be a riddle and a stumbling-block,
unexplained to themselves, passed over in silence by others.[6] To call
people of such temperament ‘morbid,’ and so forth, is of no use. Such a
term is, in fact, absurdly inapplicable to many, who are among the most
active, the most amiable and accepted members of society; besides, it
forms no solution of the problem in question, and only amounts to marking
down for disparagement a fellow-creature who has already considerable
difficulties to contend with. Says Dr. Moll, “Anyone who has seen many
Urnings will probably admit that they form a by no means enervated
human group; on the contrary, one finds powerful, healthy-looking folk
among them;” but in the very next sentence he says that they “suffer
severely” from the way they are regarded; and in the manifesto of a
considerable community of such people in Germany occur these words, “The
rays of sunshine in the night of our existence are so rare, that we are
responsive and deeply grateful for the least movement, for every single
voice that speaks in our favour in the forum of mankind.”[7]

In dealing with this class of folk, then, while I do not deny that they
present a difficult problem, I think that just for that very reason
their case needs discussion. It would be a great mistake to suppose
that their attachments are necessarily sexual, or connected with sexual
acts. On the contrary (as abundant evidence shows), they are often purely
emotional in their character; and to confuse Uranians (as is so often
done) with libertines having no law but curiosity in self-indulgence is
to do them a great wrong. At the same time, it is evident that their
special temperament may sometimes cause them difficulty in regard to
their sexual relations. Into this subject we need not just now enter. But
we may point out how hard it is, especially for the young among them,
that a veil of complete silence should be drawn over the subject, leading
to the most painful misunderstandings, and perversions and confusions of
mind; and that there should be no hint of guidance; nor any recognition
of the solitary and really serious inner struggles they may have to face!
If the problem is a difficult one - as it undoubtedly is - the fate of
those people is already hard who have to meet it in their own persons,
without their suffering in addition from the refusal of society to give
them any help. It is partly for these reasons, and to throw a little
light where it may be needed, that I have thought it might be advisable
in this paper simply to give a few general characteristics of the
Intermediate types.

As indicated then already, in bodily structure there is, as a rule,
nothing to distinguish the subjects of our discussion from ordinary
men and women; but if we take the general mental characteristics it
appears from almost universal testimony that the male tends to be of a

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Online LibraryEdward CarpenterThe intermediate sex; a study of some transitional types of men and women → online text (page 1 of 9)