What makes a person male or female or a hermaphrodite?.. Today my own students, college students in history classes, sometimes in exasperation ask these questions of me at the end of a discussion of the history of sex as if I am hiding the “real” answer from them. ‘What really is the key to being male, female, or other?” But… the answer necessarily changes with time, with place, with technology, and with the many serious implications – theoretical and practical, scientific and political – of any given answer. The answer is, in a critical sense, historical – specific to time and place. There is no ‘back of the book’ final answer to what must count for humans as ‘truly’ male, female, or hermaphroditic, even though the decisions we make about such boundaries have important implications. … [T]he development of new [scientific] tools doesn’t get us closer and closer to some final, definite answer of what it is to be ‘truly’ male, female, or hermaphroditic. Instead it only alters the parameters of possible answers… What is means to be a male, a female, or a hermaphrodite – and how you know you are a male, female or hermaphrodite, and what will happen to you if you are identified as a male, a female, or a hermaphrodite – is specific to time and place.
Alice Dreger, Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex.