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Friedemann Pfäfflin,
Ulm University, Germany

Walter O. Bockting,
University of Minnesota, USA

Eli Coleman,
University of Minnesota, USA

Richard Ekins,
University of Ulster at Coleraine, UK

Dave King,
University of Liverpool, UK

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University of Minnesota, USA

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University of Minnesota, USA

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book Historic Papers


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Published by
Symposion Publishing

ISSN 1434-4599

Harry Benjamin, M.D.

Appendix B
Complementarity of Human sexes
by Gobind Behari Lal [1]

Sex unites and divides man and woman. About the unity and the disunity of man and woman human thinking changes with human evolution. The time probably will never come when a particular thought will become established forever.

During the past six thousand years of Asian-European history the sex-unity-and-disunity of man and woman has been embodied in theological, political, artistic, and mythological ideas. Since the rise of modern science the man-woman sex relation has received scientific conceptual treatments. Particularly important have been interpretations in the light of Darwin's theory of biological evolution.

While some varieties of theology, especially Judaism and its offshoots, Christianity and Islam, have emphasized (1) the separateness of man from the woman and (2) the overlordship of man over woman, Darwin's theory has pointed up the identity of male and female origins. Out of the same basic living molecules there were evolved different sex patterns, male and female.

Thus the old language of "opposite sexes," derived from the theological mythology that God (Male) created "man" and "woman" as absolutely separate creatures, has been modified by modern biology. Out of the same molecules the chemist can produce estrogens and androgens, powerful female hormones and male hormones. Out of the same nucleic acids the chromosomes that make a man or a woman are evolved. Medical arts can bring about dramatic womanization of a man, or manization of women. So far, of course, no man has been sex-changed to the degree of acquiring the capacity to give birth to a baby.

But the progress of medical science and technology, I believe, will eventually make it possible to change a normal man into a normal woman with the capacity to become a reproducing other.

Not that there is any need of more mothers, more breeders of more babies. The world population is expanding, to the dismay of the rulers of nations. What makes the changing of sexness from male to female or from female to male patterns really significant is this: it demolishes some false, even superstition-rooted beliefs, customs, and laws that divide men and women, like two segregated races.

Recognition of the harm done to men and women by absolute, institutionalized separation of the two varieties of human beings is not new. A minority of radical thinkers, saints, poets, lovers, and rationalists, under mighty male tyrannies of kings and priests, remained dissenting believers in the similarities of man and woman. After all, everybody knows that a boy has a mother, whose nature he inherits and acquires in various ways, and a girl has a father, whose nature she receives in all sorts of ways. That means that there is no singleness of male or female sexness in any human individual.

Among religious thinkers who perceived the plurality of sex patterns in every human being, conventionally regarded as a creature of only one sexness, there was the heretical Hindu saint of the nineteenth century, Ramakrishna of Calcutta.

A man without any school or college education, without the sophistication of a great city, married in early boyhood to a girl child, Ramakrishna had some kind of genius that enabled him to see through many frauds and lies. Without bothering about having children, indifferent to domesticity, he plunged himself into religion, which be interpreted to suit himself. He became a believer in God as Brahma, of the ancient Aryan priest-philosophers of India. The Brahma doctrine is pantheism, a conception of God as Nature, not as separate form and creator of Nature. It conceives God-as-Whole-of-Nature as the entire universal reality, underlying the countless material bodies.

So, reasoned Ramakrishna, man and woman are different manifestations of the same Brahma. If Brahma is personified, Brahma is "Father in Heaven," but also "Mother in Heaven." And in order to train himself and his disciples and admirers in such thinking and feeling he used to make up dramas in which he was the actor. Sometimes he played the role of Man-God, sometimes the role of Woman-God.

Writes one of his biographers, Christopher Isherwood: "When Ramakrishna praised the madhura bhava (the sweet mood) ... he actually wore women's dress and imitated feminine behaviour." He would argue that a person's understanding of Brahma was hampered by his or her "egoism," which emphasizes the individual's separateness from the rest of the universe. And such egoism began in a person's awareness of the body, in the idea: "I have a body." From this "body idea" sprang two further ideas, mutually exclusive: "I am a man" or "I am a woman." If the religious devotee, Brahma-seeker, could make himself or herself seriously believe for a while that he or she belongs to the "opposite sex," he or she will be well on the way to overcome the "illusion" of sex-distinction altogether; for he or she will then know that the distinction is not absolute, as he or she had supposed.[2]

Paraphrasing the Ramakrishna idea in secular terms, one reaches this conception: "There are two sex-sides to being human." No one is completely human with only one sexness, male or female. While the relative proportions of the two sexnesses are not equal, except in rare individuals, both are present in every person.

The recognition of the dualism of sexness in a man or in a woman is easier when the sex phenomena are viewed from a nonreproductive angle. For it is the difference between being a childbearing person, a mother, and a nonchildbearing person that makes sharp and crystallizes the distinction between the two sorts of persons. On the contrary, the aspect of sex that has to do with playfulness, pleasure, stimulation, companionship, collaboration, the aspect not concerned with reproduction, has no sharpness of boundaries.

Sexness-as-play-and-love is more like the waves of the sea, not like the rocks that stand isolated from one another. It was this sort of sexness that, in his religious way, Ramakrishna seemed to consider of paramount importance for the building up of a new better civilization.

Now some concepts of modern physics provide us with metaphors that can be very helpful in clarifying our thoughts about the sex relations of man and woman, about the dual nature of sexness in every human being.

In the old physics, which came down from Newton to 1900, matter was matter and energy was energy. Matter could not be created or destroyed, but it could be changed from one form to another. Similarly energy could not be created or destroyed. It could change its forms. Matter and energy were like two independent nation-states; they could not be converted into each other. But in 1905 Einstein established the law of relativity, of which one of the most surprising concepts was that matter and energy are different aspects of the same physical reality, and they can be mutually converted. Experimentally, lumps or bits of matter were converted into electromagnetic waves; and electromagnetic waves, such as gamma rays, were frozen into material particles. Well may this law of physics provide an analogy to the surgical-medical attempts to convert a person's sex.

Another revolution in physics was the giving up of the old theory of light. What was light? In 1900 most physicists were sure that light consisted of waves or vibrations of "ether," a universal space-occupying, invisible substance - like the Brahma of Ramakrishna. But certain experiments showed that in some events of nature light behaved as though its rays were streams of tiny, separate bullets, energy particles or corpuscles. What consternation this caused? How could light be wave and particle at the same time? How could light be like water and like rock at the same time?

In order to meet this difficulty in thinking, Professor Niels Bohr advanced his new law of physics: "Complementarity."

Light was both a particle and wave: instead of being contradictory, hostile concepts, they were complementary to each other.

In order to describe light completely, the scientist must describe light as particle and also light as wave. And now any material particle and any form of energy are described completely as particle and as wave. Complementarity means the relationship of two things which have to be together to make some thing complete.

Using this metaphor of physics, we make the statement that the complete sexness of a man or a woman requires the existence of both sex patterns, maleness and femaleness.

Certainly this comprehensive view of human sexness is more suited to these times than the old, traditional single-sexness doctrine. We are relegating the reproductive aspect of sexness to a lesser status, with the cry for birth control, population arrest, and what not. On the other hand, women are entering more and more the spheres of activity and achievement that used to be the exclusively privileged citadels of male power and prestige.

The less we think of the "opposite sexes," of the "war of sexes," and the more we think of "human beings - with dual sexnesses, in varying proportions," the greater might be the hope of success of a more acceptable civilization than that of today. Not ashamed of their "female nature," men of power might become tamed down, so that the nuclear weapons will not go off, as the guns went off in August, 1914, starting the First World War, the epoch of horrors still not past.


[1] Science Editor Emeritus, The Hearst Newspapers.

[2] From Ramakrishna, by Christopher Isherwood. Simon & Schuster, New York.

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