The trans community continues to create words in order to capture the nuances of cultural gender roles, our physical sex and the entire experience of transitioning. Developing terminology to deal with all of this nuanced and subjective experience isn’t anything new for the trans community or for society as a whole.
Consider the term, “ambisextorous”…
The Cultural Context of the Time
Before I get into dealing with the word itself, lets look at the context. What ideas were they trying to deal with when inventing this new term?
MANITOBA FREE PRESS, WINNIPEG, FRIDAY, JANUARY 18,1913
The Countess Charming.” seen at the Bijou today, with Julian Eltinge famous feminine impersonator. In the role of the countess, is bound to charm, and in that respect it stands unique among the class of productions known as “vehicle,” principally’ because it rises ‘out of the vehicle class at times, and because of the remarkable personality of the star. It was a happy thought to utilize this accomplished actor on the screen. He is an artist outside of his specialty. In that specialty he is a high comedian to the finger lips, one of the most interesting characters shown on the screen recently. Eltinge has an individuality all his own in the guise of his sex, and he is highly refined In his sex-transformation. He completely dominates “The Countess Charming,” which Is a most delightful picture.
Eltinge is interesting to me because his dual gender personas inspired the critic Percy Hammond to coin the term “ambisextrous” to describe him. While ultra feminine on stage, he was ultra masculine off the stage.
This is Eltinge’s first photoplay. The “ambi-sextrous” actor, as he is called, was accustomed to the shelter of a theater, so that when the me came for his first movie appearance, he declined to parade around in a woman’s evening gown.
While this term was originally coined to refer to Eltinge’s “sex-transformation” , the word evolved over time:
Freeport Journal-Standard, 5/4/1948
An ambi-sextrous fowl was checked in recently at a local poultry market, arousing the scientific interests of agricultural department experts. A New Hampshire Red, it hailed from a Madison, Va., barnyard. Accompanying the fowl was a testimonial signed by its former owner, E. C. Witherow, and his neighbors to the effect that for the past two years it has discharged the obligations of both hen and rooster with equal adroitness. The poultry experts say the New Hampshire Red’s predicament is by no means common. However, it’s not unheard of. They explain it’s what is known as “sex reversal.” It involves a hen who has achieved roosterhood. A rooster never achieves henhood, they add.
Scenes From a Bourgeois Life, p. 126, 1949
Elbert’s belief that most of the leading men in London were ambisextrous (“those boys don’t merely swop wives, pal’ they swop each other”)…
Alton Evening Telegraph, 9/13/1952
An oyster has one advantage over most other living things in the population struggle — he’s ambisextrous.
“If he gets tired of being a male one year, he can turn into a female the next season and enjoy the pleasure of laying eggs,” Toner said.
“Every time you swallow I spawning oyster,” said Toner sternly, “you are destroying between 25,000,000 to 50,000,000 future little baby oysters.”
“People may think right now there are too few oysters. But an oyster feels the other way: there always have been too many people.
The Pocono Record, 12/14/1965
At last the U. S. government is cracking down on the worst discrimination of all — employers against women job applicants.
It is a pleasure to hear jobs being advertised must not be restricted to a certain sex.
I am going to pull a switch and apply for a position heretofore open only to men.
The pay may not be as good for me, as a woman, but I’ll have the satisfaction of competing on the very same level with some of ‘these nitwits.
Practically any job held by a man is presently being done well by a woman somewhere in these United States…
The Press-Courier, 10/9/1966
The ambisextrous mystique
I knew it would happen sooner or later, and I’m only surprised that it wasn’t sooner. The American mate has finally admitted to being as big a mental and emotional mess as the American female is…
The Corpus Christi Times, 4/2/1969
These people scoff at those who wear the unisex, monosex, ambisextrous or whatever-they’re-called styles. Who needs wolves in she clothing, and vice versa, they ask.
Marketing in Europe, page 3, 1969
Directed fo the most part at the young and clothes-conscious without too many financial responsibilities, these shops variously known as “unisex”. “transexual” or “ambisextrous” are springing up rapidly…
Garden City Telegram, 7/25/1972
Women Libbers would advance their cause and help the English language if they invented an ambisextrous pronoun…
The homosexual in America: a Subjective Approach, page 93, 1975
For the “ambisextrous” men, the effeminate people, on the fringe of a fringe society, as it were, play a role which is neither recognized nor appreciated.
Galveston Daily News, 6/28/1979
Molly Picon saw a preview of “Whoopee” with Charles Repole. She also saw it with Eddie Cantorn. Friends of a handsome leading man of the movies are trying to suppress a film bio of him that would show him as ambisextrous.
Mould’s Medical Anecdotes, page 118, 1984
Throughout the entire ambisextrous life cycle, as revealed by the studious statistics of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, females have a significantly better mortality rate…
Art direction, Volume 41, page 43, 1989
… an ambisextrous figure (male left half and female right).
Since this book focuses on the transsexual variable in gender, body, and dress, I have not undertaken a systematic search for ambiguous genders. Most transsexuals identify solidly as men or women, though I met some who. having changed attributed gender, declare an “intersex,” “bigendered, “ambisextrous,” or “transfag” status…
– S/he, page 48, 1998
Explosive Acts, page 483, 1999
A statue was comissioned from the contriversial sculptor Jacob Epstein, a massive ambisextrous Sphinx wearing a tiara yet endowed with a prominent membrum virile.
For more on this term: