Patriarchal Perceptions of Intersexuality

Old Bailey Proceedings: Accounts of Criminal Trials: Katherine Jones vs. John Nowland/Constantine Boone

The case of John Nowland/Constantine Boone vs. Katherine Jones. Click the image for a transcription of the case.

The first logical step for seeing the scope this law book may have had on intersex perception would be to look in the court records around this time to see if the intersex passage ever received court recognition.

This is a particular legal case concerning Katherine Jones vs. Constantine Boone/John Nowland. In the trial proceedings, Katherine Jones had been indicted for marrying John Nowland under the charge of unlawful marriage. John Nowland was an intersex person and was raised as a woman until the age of 12 when they decided to assume the male identity and “go to sea.” This evidence was corroborated by Nowland’s mother, who provided these details along stating they exhibited more “womanly characteristics” than traditionally male and with their birth name, Constantine Boone. 

In the eyes of the court, Jones held two marriages: one to Nowland and one to Boone. This was not permissible because same-sex marriage nor polygamy was legal at this time. However, the court decreed that Nowland exhibited more female characteristics than male and was released from prison with their marriages annulled.

In the context of this particular legal case, the law book may have been used to come to a conclusion based on the court's decision. Though the court did not seek to rob Constantine Boone/John Nowland of their personhood, their autonomy and ability to freely live their life was suppressed and their personal life put under surveillance by the patriarchal state. 

Removal of a Tumour From A Hermaphrodite

The journal entry from the British Medical Journal. Click to read the article; Content Warning: Nudity

This journal article is from the British Medical Journal and particularly addresses the removal of a tumor near the genital region of an intersex person. Though the tumor was the point of medical concern, this individual's genitalia was also put on display through printed images and analyzed as well. This instance of examining and medical intrigue surrounding the intersex body and its perceived ambiguity shows the conscious shift in intersex perception.

What once was viewed as a conceptual phenomenon in previous literature was now viewed physiologically, with the medical community's desire for a biological understanding of the mechanics of the intersex body. This desire led to intersex agency and privacy being revoked from the intersex individual. This would further lead to stigmatization from both the male perpetrator and the intersex individual themselves to conceal these perceived "deviant" attributes. Though this journal article is from significantly later than "The lavves resolvtions on womens rights," it shows the continued occurrence of suppressing intersex agency within the English context, only shifted to the medical sector.

Using the "The lavves resolvtions on women's rights" as a guide, the role intersex people were restricted to during this time period becomes apparent. Their mere existence, coupled with their sexual ambiguity, threatened the overarching cisgender patriarchy. Because of this, their societal positioning was relegated to the same position women occupied. Though intersex people at this time were willing to assign themselves to a category within the gender binary, this decision was not theirs to make. Cisgender men would decide for intersex individuals where they would fit in society, both in the public and private spheres by reinforcing outwardly-presenting characteristics as well, such as clothing and facial hair.

Intersex individuals were subjugated by the patriarchy through paradoxical methods of reinforcing their "strangeness" and examining their personhood through both public and private surveillance, as seen in this court case and journal article as examples. 

Though the intersex narrative is one that still remains underrepresented today, this passage proves that these people have always been a part of society, although a seemingly fringe community. Otherwise, this 17th-century law book would not have taken the space to establish opinions on these people. Knowing these peoples' stories and being cognizant of their struggles will help us understand the intersex narrative and how to help them achieve their goals in the future as well.