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How do Foucault's Lectures on Abnormality Further 'Abnormalise' Marin le Marcis or 'Hermaphrodites'?

Throughout this essay, I will be analysing a lecture of Foucault’s on ‘abnormality’ in reflection of Marin le Marcis. I will attempt to establish the argument that the ‘abnormality’ in his lectures, of which Foucault gives examples, is based on a multitude of flawed arguments – for example: that the three categories he gives of abnormality are helpful, that ‘monsters’ are historically deemed as ‘unnatural’, that these categories are privileged in their own times, and the flaws in the formation of these arguments, among other things.

Foucault seemingly establishes categorisations that further ‘abnormalises’ those who may fit into Foucault’s ‘abnormality’. I will begin by stating Foucault’s rhetoric on the abnormal categorises three ‘individuals’ in reflection of politics and law: First, the ‘human monster’, a ‘monster’ that is both ‘human’ and ‘animal’, or some ‘corruption’ of what is ‘natural’ in the ‘human’.[1] Second, the ‘individual to be corrected’, a ‘human’ that, in the eyes of society, requires intervention to ‘correct’ their ‘humanity’.[2] Third, the ‘masturbator’, or ‘sexual deviant’, who betrays the ‘natural’ way to conduct sexuality.[3]


I will begin by summarising Marin le Marcis’ case, so that we may move on to analysing how Foucault lectures upon him. Le Marcis was a man who appeared before a local French court in 1601 to ask permission to marry his wife – the issue for le Marcis was that he had been baptised as a girl, and had to receive permission to be re-baptised as a man in order to marry her. Due to the confusion surrounding his gender, the Rouen court ordered both his and his wife (Jeanne LeFebvre) arrested, and an inquiry to be taken into their sharing a bed as servants – to whether they had committed sodomy, the resulting inquiry questioned le Marcis’ gender, ‘virility’, and sexual organs. Le Marcis was ‘examined’ by a plethora of individuals, one being a doctor named Jacques Duval. Duval, with the help of another doctor whom he enlisted for further ‘examination’, aided le Marcis to escape hanging. Le Marcis was sentenced to wait four years until he turned twenty-five, in order to marry LeFebvre.[4]

Etymologically, the word ‘monster’ derives from ‘monstrare’ – meaning ‘to show’ –[5] and has been used historically to signify those that are supposedly ‘visibly’, or in instances supposed to be ‘intrinsically’, different from ‘normal’ others. We may see this throughout history by analysing contemporary primary sources – for example, were we analysing Medieval ideas of the ‘monster’, we would look towards the Liber Monstrorum (7th or 8th Century), which depicts a plethora of different ‘monsters’ in its binding.[6]Foucault speaks a little in this lecture on the physical aspects of ‘monstrosity’ – most notably with repeated reference to conjoined twins and ‘hermaphrodites’[7] – yet he does not draw precise categories between those judged by society for being physically different and those judged by society for ‘wishing’ to be physically different. Nor does he note of the differences between these categories of ‘monsters’, for example the differences between us visibly ‘monstrous’ beings in contrast to us invisibly ‘monstrous’ beings. Such difference could impact key areas in which Foucault wishes to analyse, such as how institutions treat forms of ‘abnormality’. Foucault states that there are differences between the ‘monster’, the ‘individual to be corrected’, and the ‘masturbator’; which could bring into question whether the concept of the ‘monster’ should be categorised in such a way – or, on the other hand, if these categories are at all helpful in the analysis of the Other. Foucault both emphasises and dismisses these three categorisations intermittently, together with his categorisation of their time frames and importance within them. In a word, he begins his lecture by stating that these categories are unique, then suggests that they are not so distinct, and finally reiterates that their differences are important.

One point of contention within this lecture could be that Foucault does not speak in clear terms about when exactly these ‘abnormal’ beings began to be ‘distinguished’ – as ‘monsters’, being ‘visible’ or bearing ‘marks’, or ‘signs’ of their ‘monstrosity’, they must be ‘distinguished’ from others. At first, he states that they were “defined in the eighteenth century,”[8] despite le Marcis living in the 16th to 17th centuries (as he gives example of the ‘monster’), then that these abnormal characters have ‘very long ancestries’ behind them,[9] which is certainly true, again, we can see this in Liber Monstrorum, but also in others such as Pliny the Elder and Augustine, among others.[10] He clarifies later in his lecture that the “juridico-natural functioning of the monster is, I believe, very ancient,”[11] signifying that functions of the ‘monster’ change over ‘epochs’, as he terms them, but that this does not equate them all to the same kind of ‘monstrosity’. At one point, later in this lecture, Foucault states that “in the eighteenth century, then, the monster appears and functions precisely at the point where nature and law are joined.”[12] There may be issue with the word ‘appears’, as Foucault mentions elsewhere in his lecture, that the ‘monster’ has existed for longer than ‘since the eighteenth century’, and so we can assume that he means ‘appears’ in the sense of ‘is highlighted’ – and not ‘is brought into visibility’.

Yet, Foucault applies importance to time, in which the permission of each category to live changes, each having their ‘epochs’ of acceptation within society – stating that “in the Classical Age I think a third type of monstrosity is privileged: hermaphrodites”.[13] It is interesting that he notes this as specifically within the ‘Classical Age’, since other ‘epochs’ of history have mystified, and in whatever possible sense ‘privileged’, ‘hermaphroditic’ figures. Such as Aucassin et Nicolette (a Medieval story (12th or 13th Century) story about a man who gives birth), and Le Roman de Saint Fanuel (again, 13th Century story of a man who gives birth).[14] These stories may be analysed in ‘hermaphroditic’ terms, as they signify in use of language the gender changes of the men who become women – to give birth – and then become men again.[15] However, much like any analysis of a historical piece, we cannot be sure of what ‘categorisation’ these characters were intended to have. Merely, it may be important to note that Foucault applies ‘hermaphrodite privilege’ to the ‘Classical Age’, though he does not give example as to why, one can argue that these stories of men giving birth run throughout history – and, yet, they do not permit the ‘privilege’ of those who are not ‘deified’ in the same way as these literary and cultural figures. This is especially important when applying Foucault’s analysis to Medieval cases of men, such as le Marcis, who are for all intents and purposes ‘men who can or have given birth’, as many of these Medieval cases detail they have – and, yet, no mention or acknowledgement of the characters in these stories appears to be applied. Foucault may define this mystification as ‘privilege’ to these ‘monstrosities’, but mystification does not necessarily require a lack of oppression or Othering, only an ‘exoticisation’ of the ‘monster’. Another issue with the categorisation of ‘abnormality’ within epochs, as Blake Gutt cites Mills on Halperin, could be that Foucault focuses ‘too much’ on the ‘historical specificity’ of ‘abnormality’ (to Halperin, of ‘male effeminacy’). This focus “leads to the marginalization of anyone whose sexual or gender practices approximate to those of earlier, pre-modern subjects or do not conform to mainstream notions of “homosexuality as we understand it today.”” Gutt goes on to state, “when it comes to transgender readings, it “takes one to read one” becomes pertinent,” and that to conflate “gender transitivity, the inversion model of homosexuality, and transgender identity,” is to overlook the differences between these ‘categories’, specifically when imagining that one ‘identity’ or ‘existence’ is not, in actual fact, always historical – by which it is meant, a reflection of ‘times gone by’, instead of the futurity of a being.[16]

On the categorisation of the ‘monster’, Foucault does not draw any ‘monstrous’ categorical line between the ‘hermaphrodite’ or the ‘conjoined twin’: he talks of le Marcis, labelled a ‘hermaphrodite’ despite not having any visibly ‘hermaphroditic’ organs, in the same manner as he talks of conjoined twins. This could be read as assuming the ‘hermaphrodite’ (and for that matter, conjoined twins) to always ‘visibly’ be categorised, rather than ‘socially’ – or at least, that the boundaries between these forms of ‘monstrous’ categorisation are not important to analyse. In the case of Marin le Marcis, his ‘hermaphroditism’ is purely social. Foucault categorises this same ‘monstrosity’, the visibility of the first type of abnormality, to the sensationalised mythology of a “man with the head of a dog.”[17] Though it is true that these ‘monsters’ (the ‘hermaphrodite, the conjoined twin, and the ‘man with the head of a dog’) are all shown together within sources such as the Liber Monstrorum, it is unclear why this ‘togetherness’ must then be applied to all of history, or to all instances: as Foucault appears to believe that institutions and their individuals view the ‘man-dog’ in the same light as the ‘hermaphrodite’. I aim to argue that this overlooks the importance of material existence regarding those who have been proven to exist, such as the ‘hermaphrodite’, in opposition to mythological creatures such as the ‘man-dog’. In reflection of this, Foucault overlooks the archival histories of those who have repeatedly been accepted or shunned by institutions, instead suggesting that ‘hermaphrodites’ are in the same number as ‘men with the head of a dog’ – and such is one difference Foucault notes between the ‘monster’ and the ‘individual to be corrected’: that the ‘monster’ is an ‘exception’, whereas the ‘individual’ is an ‘everyday phenomenon’.[18] Foucault places two ‘opposite’ binaries together in effort to explain these ‘abnormalities’ as ‘monstrous’,[19] emphasising the connection between the ‘monster’ and the binary-togetherness of conjoined twins (person and person), ‘hermaphrodites’ (man and woman), or ‘animal-humans’. However, not only is the existence of the ‘hermaphrodite’ merely a form of ‘third gender’, to put it mildly, but also: if ‘monstrosity’ is the amalgamation of these ‘opposites’, then it is grounded on the idea that things show themselves for what they are (monstrari) in their lack-of-distance from the ‘opposite’ of what they are ‘supposed to be’. Therefore, the lack-of-distance between these ‘opposites’ (normal and abnormal) brings this confusion of ‘humanity’, or rather, what is ‘natural’. This would imply that the ‘monstrous’ system, where identity is grounded in the amalgamation oppositions, need not only be categorised as ‘the Other’ (‘unnatural’), but also the ‘monstrous’ union of the ‘human’ (what is ‘natural’) and ‘the Other’ (what is ‘unnatural’). The ‘monster’ therefore has at least a form of ‘normality’, but in this ‘normality’ it is neither ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’: neither ‘human’ nor ‘non-human’. And still, Foucault does not explore this confusion of normal and abnormal, and nor does he make any categorical distinction between these ‘monsters’ – the ‘hermaphrodite’, the conjoined twin, and the ‘dog-man’.

One terribly misinformed area of the lecture is Foucault’s belief that le Marcis was given a four-year time period of presenting as a woman, until the age of 25, and from here on lived as a man with his wife.[20] Foucault, on this, lectures that the Rouen court released Marin, ordered “her to wear women’s clothes”, and prohibited “her from living with anyone of either sex.”[21] Hence, Foucault’s conclusion to the le Marcis case was that the law came to the conclusion that he was, in fact, a woman – but the recorded outcome appears to be much more complicated. Complicated, as the fact that le Marcis was permitted to live as a man after he turned 25 – and beyond that live with, and marry, his wife (Jean le Febvre) – lends itself more to the argument that the law (though still, perhaps, not knowing how to judge le Marcis) did not dictate him a ‘monster’ in the eyes of itself, or to God. To permit him to marry would be to accept his ‘masculinity’, and to state that he, in laying with le Febvre, would not be ‘committing sodomy’. For le Marcis to fit into the ‘monstrous’ category, he would have to be seen as ‘sub-human’, a ‘monster’ as we have defined: though one could argue that the sentencing of four years’ exile is a violent response from the law, this does not deem le Marcis as ‘animalistic’ or ‘non-human’ in his existence. Le Marcis is still permitted to marry and be a citizen of society, that which would not be permitted to those who are seen as inhuman. Furthermore, on le Marcis’ sentencing, Foucault appears to equate gender non-normativity with being sexually non-normative. As we have analysed, le Marcis was accused of committing ‘sodomy’, not of being a ‘hermaphrodite’[22] – this second category was a consequence of le Marcis’ gender being different from their pre-recorded gender, and was only brought forth as le Marcis wished for permission to marry his wife, as homosexual marriage was illegal. This ‘monstrosity’ that Foucault attempts to equate le Marcis to, in the eyes of the law, would indeed be based upon the ‘sexuality’ that the law attempted to prove. However, as we have said, Foucault equates le Marcis’ gender to his sexuality. Though it may be true that this issue of sexuality was exacerbated by the issue of gender non-normativity – as, if Marin was assigned ‘male’ at birth, this issue of ‘sodomy’ would not have arisen – the issue is not reducible to just his sexuality, but also his gendered history, it is contingent upon this history and ‘material reality’.

The second category, the ‘individual to be corrected’, stands as a person who, purposefully or not, denies the family of its power – the family itself being a form of institution – or the “institutions adjoining or supporting it.”[23] This issue on power of the family may be brought into question where Foucault utilises the le Marin case to explain the way law reacts to ‘hermaphroditic’ existence. His neglect to mention the involvement in this case of le Marin’s ‘lawful’ family, his soon-to-be wife, her relatives, and his own parents,[24] could perhaps be seen as a flaw in Foucault’s categorisation: it is recorded that le Marin’s wife and her parents supported le Marin’s gender transition, or in the very least his ‘natural’ male gender.[25] If le Marin does not fit into this ‘individual to be corrected’, if the ‘individual’ must be defined only by the family and its related institutions, how does the family then relate to these institutions? What is the separation of family from the law, especially within the instance of le Marcis, who was only accosted for his want to extend his family? If le Marin’s lawful family is supportive, and yet the familial institutions (the Church, to marry le Marin and his fiancee: the legal system, to marry le Marin and his fiancee) that would enact this ‘to-be’ family are in disagreement - what, then, separates the two, of the family and familial institutions? Foucault does state that these categories (the ‘monster’, the ‘individual to be corrected’, etc.) are not entirely separate[26], but in this lack of separation, he does not analyse the areas where the categories he has put forth blend together.

Further, in relation to the law, Foucault explains that the ‘monster’ is problematic for society precisely because they do exist: that their existence then requires a response from the law, from societal powers, as it must decide where to put them in society. What Foucault implies is that the ‘response’ from the law unto the ‘abnormal’ is the creation of laws that include them, or the enaction of these laws. To elaborate, Foucault bases the differences of these abnormalities on the ways that they are reflected in social institutions or ‘powers’, such as judicial powers, political powers, religious powers, and so on. Foucault states, the ‘monster’ “contradicts the law,” the conservation, or the state of what is ‘natural’ for the human being,[27] the “system of the laws of the world.”[28] In other words, the ‘abnormal’, or perhaps just the ‘monster’, must be subsumed into law, by its categorisation as a reflection of the ‘normal’, or the ‘human’. In le Marcis’ case, this ‘response’ occurs as he wishes to marry a person who is of his own ‘legally recognised sex’: the law feels it must respond with its established rules and consequence. The ‘apparition’ of le Marcis – to whom the law did not regard as previously-existing, or even existing at all (in his own gender) – creates a need for legal legislature to categorise this new ‘apparition’. When introducing the ‘monster’, however, Foucault states an unclear opposite in his lecture. He dictates that ‘monsters’ do not in fact entice the law into ‘legal response’ – instead, the law responds with “either violence, the will for pure and simple suppression, or medical care or pity.”[29] The indication that a legal response from the law is not itself violent, as one might assume – what with the legal response to le Marcis being for him to wait four years to join his wife, which is surely itself violent – provides further questions.[30] Of course, the concept of ‘abnormality’ requires a definition of what is ‘normal’. This ‘normality’ may be arbitrary, as it is never an a priori materiality – the existence of what is labelled ‘abnormal’ may not, in actual fact, require a ‘response’ from the law, as the law itself is part of what categorises ‘abnormal’, it may instead be that the ‘abnormal’ ‘responds’ to the law, or that the law already has pre-responded to the ‘abnormal’ by labelling them as ‘abnormal’ before their relation to the law is even uncovered. The ‘abnormal’ then responds to this labelling of ‘abnormality’ by simply existing – the law may pretend that it is forced to respond to this existence, placing the blame on the ‘abnormal’ instead of its own pre-dictions of its own categorisations on ‘normality’. One might argue that this forcing of the ‘abnormal’ to give the law the ability to ‘respond’ is violent in itself, in the same way that the response the law might give to the ‘abnormal’ could be violent. However, the first response – as required from the ‘abnormal’ for existing – is an imposition of a person who does not have a role in the dictating of the laws in which they are required to respond. One may then propose that this forcing of the ‘abnormal’ to conform to laws despite then being forced to be ‘abnormal’ within them strips the ‘abnormal’ of their autonomy. It is this that I propose Foucault echoes again, by forcing the ‘abnormal’ to his narrative of ‘abnormality’ – as he ignores, for example, these issues (and the issues we will go on to discuss) in le Marcis case, that for le Marcis were of grand importance to his own narrative. The list of the law’s responses to the ‘monster’s apparition’ (violence, suppression, medical care, or pity)[31] would indicate the inclusion of the ‘individual to be corrected’, as one could apply ‘medical care’ under the list of ways to ‘correct’ an individual: for example, conversion therapy. One could also pose the idea that ‘suppression’ is a form of ‘correction’ dealt unto the world, as it stands to ‘right a wrong’. Further, violence, medical care, and pity may also be categorised under ‘suppression’ – again, the idea that the law ‘responds’ after the ‘abnormal’ appears (rather than the ‘normal’ appearing first and being the first ‘response’ the law has unto the ‘abnormal’) may itself be a form of ‘suppression’: insofar as it insinuates blame onto the ‘victim’ of ‘normality’, silencing the ‘abnormal’ of the chance to speak first, suppressing the voice of the ‘abnormal’. Of course, the distinguishment between these categories of response from the law may not be intended by Foucault to be taken in such a differential way. Whatever regard we may take this quote in, Foucault yet again blurs the lines between the ‘individual to be corrected’ and the ‘monster’; since, we have noted, the difference between the two categories is that the ‘individual’ is ‘to be corrected’, and this suggests that the ‘monster’ cannot be changed. What, then, categorises this ‘correction’ as possible, if not the same idea that denies the ‘monster’ of its ability to speak before the law speaks?

It may be important to note that Foucault names the ‘individual to be corrected’ an ‘individual’, and not a ‘monster to be corrected’. We might ask, if the rigidity of these categories is not defined, then why is one an ‘individual’ – implying humanity – and the other a ‘monster’? The ‘monster’ that Foucault refers to is not, to all of us, ‘monstrous’, and therefore ‘non-human’ – so what separates the ‘monster’, as a being that is Othered, from those ‘to be corrected’? On this question, one can point out that Foucault, in areas of this lecture, refers to the ‘monster’ as an ‘abnormal individual’.[32] This could imply that the difference between the ‘monster’ and the ‘individual to be corrected’ is ‘abnormality’, or that the ‘monster’, as an ‘abnormal individual’, cannot be ‘corrected’. Yet, they are both categories under Foucault’s ‘abnormality’ – which would dismiss the first proposal – therefore, the ‘abnormal individual’ must differ from the ‘individual to be corrected’ on the terms that they cannot be ‘corrected’. This leads us to one area of the comparative ‘human’ versus ‘non-human’ analysis in this lecture: the ‘monster’ as ‘degenerative human’, too ‘degenerated’ to be ‘corrected’. For example, Foucault speaks of how these ‘monsters’ are ‘monsters’ because they signify a form of ‘transgression’,[33] for example the ‘man with the head of a dog’ – as if we drifted off from dogs at a point of evolution, or on the other hand, that the people with ‘the head of a dog’ drifted off from homo sapiens, and by chance happened to evolve with dogs’ heads. This is, of course, not a logical issue with Foucault, but an issue with the concept of ‘transgression’. It still stands, however, that in Creationist belief these ‘monsters’ would not have ‘transgressed’ from humans, but have been created by God. We might still apply the difference of the monster as ‘human-but-not-human-enough’ to the ‘individual to be corrected’: what categorises this difference of the ‘individual to be corrected’, as ‘human-enough’?

The ‘masturbator’ on the other hand, denies the rules of “the bedroom […] the body,” parents, doctors, and others. Foucault emphasises that the ‘masturbator’ is “an almost universal individual.”[34] One question is brought to mind in this definition of the ‘masturbator’ – what, precisely, is the difference between the ‘parents’ for the ‘masturbator’, and the ‘family’ for the ‘individual to be corrected’? What is the difference between the ‘doctor’ for the ‘masturbator’, and the ‘family institution’ for the ‘individual to be corrected’? Perhaps one could say that the ‘masturbator’ is also related to the ‘school’ or ‘academia’ as an individual-institutional relation, as the very fact of ‘sexuality’ is often an educative process – even wherein academia neglects to teach it, it is still a thing to be taught. In Foucault’s focus on powers, or institutions – with relation to the categorisations of ‘abnormality’ in the le Marcis case – he neglects to mention that the case was not dealt within one singular institution, but included several institutions (the Church, the familial institution, and the local judiciary).[35] Since he references institutions’ relations to the three categories of ‘abnormality’, an issue could rise in the neglect to state how they blur together, or how they may not. Therefore, in this essay, we must attempt to contemplate what the differences in these institutions are. The relation of knowledge and ideological influences may not be entirely separate in any of these institutions. We may see this in how the legal and medical powers attempted to determine le Marcis’ gender and engage punitive measures. Duval appeals to ‘nature’, le Marcis’ ‘natural’ reality, a religious concept that idealises the ‘reality of things’ as ‘given’.[36] Duval, a doctor,[37] reflects (at least in part) the institutional power of science – and yet requires this religious application to justify le Marcis’ existence, as he must appeal to historical ideas to prove Marcis’ ‘naturality’.[38] Foucault does note that Duval was the only medical expert in the group who performed a ‘clinical examination’ of his body.[39] However, Foucault did not mention that Duval successfully gathered other doctors to perform yet more ‘examinations’, upon which another doctor agreed with the conclusion that le Marcis was truly a man.[40] As Long writes, “Duval represented Marin’s actions in a way that demonstrated his agency in the case,” whereas “Foucault’s account takes that agency away,” by misrepresenting the case, and ‘deadnaming’ (using a person’s old, ‘dead’, name) Marin as ‘Marie’ and calling him ‘Martin’ interchangeably, alongside using interchangeable pronouns for him – all such things that Duval himself does not do.[41] The issue of Marin le Marcis’ gender may appear to be somewhat obscure to Foucault, though this hypothesis would merely be based upon his struggle to use any singular pronouns for le Marcis. First, Foucault calls him Marie (implying femininity), then referring to his wife as ‘his wife’ (implying masculinity), then quickly following with “the woman who lived with him or her” (implying either, or neither), then calling him ‘her [his wife’s] husband’ (implying masculinity), then stating that the Rouen court “releases the woman [Marin], orders her to wear women’s clothes, and prohibits her from living with anyone of either sex.”[42] Foucault, in denying Marin’s appropriate pronouns, practices the precise thing that he wishes to name – he abnormalises Marin’s gender by confusing Marin’s own agency in determining his own gender – and again, in the face of Marin’s contemporaries who state the ‘naturality’ of his masculinity. This is one reference to Foucault’s promotion of abnormality within his own characterisations, of those he uses to prove his categorisations and historicisations of ‘abnormality’.

An issue that we may analyse is Foucault’s meaning of the term ‘natural’. When speaking of the ‘monster’, Foucault describes them as the “spontaneous, brutal, but consequently natural form of the unnatural”.[43] This would not go against the aforementioned arguments that the ‘monster’ is both ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ in the eyes of Foucault’s law, but it does not analyse the difference between ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ either. Foucault does not go into defining what is ‘natural’ and what is not in this lecture, but in analysing contemporary texts regarding the ‘monsters’ of which he writes, such as Marin le Marcis, we might assume that ‘naturality’ refers to the socially-established ‘rules’ of ‘what is right’ in the world and ‘what is not’. This is a chief concern where Foucault speaks of le Marcis’ story: the case was heavily impacted by determining ‘which one of their genders’ was ‘natural’ (Marin’s ‘actual’ gender), so as to determine whether they were committing ‘sodomy’, which was socially-established as an ‘unnatural’ act – therein ‘sodomy’ was the true debate of le Marcis’ case.[44] On this concept of ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’, Foucault ignores the possibility of applying the le Marcis case to Duval’s determination of what is truly ‘natural’ in gender. This would be an important point of analysis, as it contests Foucault’s notation that “it seems that the hermaphrodite’s [le Marcis’] dominant sex was that of a woman.”[45] It is interesting that Foucault states ‘it seems’ that le Marcis’ ‘dominant sex’ was ‘female’, as – contemporarily – Duval determined le Marcis’ ‘natural’ gender to be ‘male’. It is true, however, that Duval argued this point over several individuals involved in determining le Marcis’ ‘natural’ gender, and that le Marcis was ‘determined’ to be a ‘female’ at birth.[46] Even le Marcis’ existence as an ‘hermaphrodite’ was debated, for example, contemporaries such as Riolan denied the existence of ‘hermaphrodites’.[47] Indeed, if it were culturally accepted that le Marcis had existed as he said he had, then perhaps the case would not have taken place. This does not argue for the inability of le Marcis to have been a ‘hermaphrodite’, however - as the court wished to determine which gender, of the binary genders, le Marcis was at the time of laying with his fiancée. It should also be noted that, in the case of Antide Collas, whom Foucault also uses to justify his philosophies on the ‘abnormal’, Foucault again neglects to mention that Collas was recorded as having been convicted for sorcery, and not ‘hermaphroditism’, as he states.[48] Despite this assertion of ‘femininity’ onto le Marcis, Foucault does point out that Duval noted le Marcis’ ‘virility’ – which in this case describes his ‘masculinity’, but Foucault then neglects to mention any other records of Duval other than his ideas on women – such as Duval’s arguments on the ‘naturality’ of le Marcis’ ‘masculinity’.[49] To define this ‘virility’, as aforementioned, medieval texts such as Liber Monstrorum define gender in terms of the relation bodies have to cultural ideas of ‘strength’ and ‘work’. A figure featured in Monstrorum depicts a ‘hermaphrodite’, defining the figure’s gender with half the body of a ‘man’ and half the body of a ‘woman’. The text reads, “a right breast like a man for performing work, and a left breast like a woman for nourishing children.”[50] The ‘virility’ to which le Marcis is applied to is similar to the ‘labour-oriented’ ‘right breast of a man’, as it permits him the ability to ‘perform work’, though this ‘virility’ may not necessarily be applied to the idea of ‘performing insemination’. However, as Long states, by ignoring the aspects of the le Marcis case that Duval uses to disprove the rigidity of gender, Foucault may “represent both the medical and legal systems as systems focused on the monstrosity of people who do not conform to gender or sexual norms”.[51] Yet, Duval and the parliamentary court of Rouen may offer an alternative view of these systems, that which again accept le Marcis’ strong ‘virility’, and accept le Marcis’ gender – though only on specific terms. For example, Duval analyses how ‘hermaphrodites’ have “unlimited variety in nature: “I would say that we can perceive in the generation of Hermaphrodites, that there are very few who resemble each other, since nature takes no intermission in this variation, in which she takes a singular pleasure.””[52] In this sense, Duval does not deny the Foucauldian idea that what is ‘natural’ is something that applies itself to the ‘laws of the universe’ or ‘universal laws’ – and the law does not necessarily see le Marcis as a ‘monster’, nor as an ‘individual to be corrected’. In stead of this idea that le Marcis’ ‘hermaphroditism’ is ‘unnatural’, Duval denies that ‘nature’ creates rigid appearances of ‘sexes’ – rather ‘nature’ creates ‘sexes’ which cannot be categorised in a way that forces a ‘resemblance’ within themselves. It is therefore important to note that, despite the terms of the Rouen court, this acceptation of le Marcis’ gender emphasises the fact that Duval, the Rouen court, and others (Pliny, Aristotle, le Marcis, his family) ‘naturalise’ the existence of le Marcis’ ‘masculinity’.[53] And, if le Marcis is indeed ‘natural’, then on what grounds can one categorise him as a ‘monster’ – if the categorisation of ‘monster’ requires ‘unnaturality’? Duval, like many others, uses the history, and theories of ‘hermaphroditism’ to naturalise both le Marcis’ body and his choice. It can also be seen through records that the case that Duval was not the first to claim that gender was more intricate than contemporaries stated. For one example, Ambroise Pare recorded and wrote of ‘hermaphrodites’ “and women who ‘degenerate into men’.”[54] Other writings made by such people as Augustine, Pliny, Cicero, and we may see again depictions of ‘hermaphrodites’ in the Liber Monstrorum – all of which, implied that ‘hermaphrodites’ exist.[55] This archive of material on the existence of ‘hermaphrodites’ would lend support to the idea that le Marcis’ gender was indeed ‘natural’, and would further prove the ‘naturality’ of le Marcis’ existence to the judiciary institutions, as individuals such as Duval used this form of archival material to prove a history of evidence in order to ‘naturalise’ ‘hermaphrodites’.[56]

It is clear that Foucault utilises le Marcis’ story to argue for the suppression of sexuality – a theme that he uses to categorise those ‘abnormalities’ that he wishes to distinguish. However, as Long argues, it appears more noteworthy here that Foucault declines the divide between sexuality and gender.[57] The categorisation of ‘sexual deviancy’ and ‘monster’ and ‘individual to be corrected’ can be brought into question with this argument – what, truly, is the difference between these categories – if there is any difference at all? It remains that Foucault ignored a great many aspects of le Marcis’ history, the overarching narrative that the law deprived le Marcis of his personhood – instead of recognising the intricate ways in which medical professionals communicated with the judiciary in order to free le Marcis of persecution, including Duval’s efforts to naturalise le Marcis’ gendered body – renders Foucault’s analysis of this case somewhat dehumanising.



[1] Michel Foucault, Abnormal: Lectures at the College de France, 1974-1975, ed. by Valerio Marchetti and Antonella Salomoni, translated by Graham Burchell, (New York: Picador, 2003), p. 55. [2] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 57. [3] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 57. [4] Kathleen Perry Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, in Trans Historical: Gender Plurality Before the Modern, ed. by Greta LaFLeur, Masha Raskolnikov, and Anna Klosowska (London: Cornell University Press, 2021) pp. 68-94 (pp. 68-9). [5] Leah DeVun, ‘Mapping the Borders of Sex’, Trans Historical, ed. by Greta LaFLeur, Masha Raskolnikov, and Anna Klosowska (London: Cornell University Press, 2021), pp. 27-41 (p. 32). [6] DeVun, ‘Mapping the Borders of Sex’, p. 30. [7] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 67 [8] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 55. [9] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 57. [10] Igor H. De Souza, ‘Elenx de Céspedes: Indeterminate Genders in the Spanish Inquisition’, in Trans Historical, ed. by Greta LaFLeur, Masha Raskolnikov, and Anna Klosowska (London: Cornell University Press, 2021), pp. 42-67, (p. 53). [11] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 66. [12] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 65. [13] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 66. [14] Blake Gutt, ‘Medieval Trans Lives in Anamorphosis: Looking Back and Seeing Differently, Pregnant Men and Backward Birth’, in Medieval Feminist Forum, 55. 1 (2019), pp. 174–206 (p. 176). [15] Gutt, ‘Medieval Trans Lives’, p.183. [16] Gutt, ‘Medieval Trans Lives’, pp. 178–179. [17] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 66. [18] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 58. [19] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 66. [20] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 69. [21] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 68. [22] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 87. [23] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 57. [24] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 57. [25] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 71. [26] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 61. [27] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 56. [28] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 57. [29] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 56. [30] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 69. [31] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 56. [32] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 57. [33] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 63. [34] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 59. [35] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 59. [36] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 86 [37] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 87. [38] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 86. [39] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 69. [40] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 69. [41] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 85. [42] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 68. [43] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 56. [44] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 87. [45] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 68. [46] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p.69. [47] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, pp. 69-70 [48] Foucault, Abnormal, p. 67. [49] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 86. [50] Mapping the Borders of Sex by Leah DeVun, 27-41, p.30. [51] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 86. [52] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 86. [53] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 86. [54] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 70. [55] De Souza, ‘Elenx de Cespedes’, pp. 53-4. [56] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 72. [57] Long, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, p. 87.



1.) De Souza, Igor H., ‘Elenx de Céspedes: Indeterminate Genders in the Spanish Inquisition’, in Trans Historical: Gender Plurality Before the Modern, ed. by Greta LaFLeur, Masha Raskolnikov, and Anna Klosowska (London: Cornell University Press, 2021), pp. 42-67.

2.) DeVun, Leah, ‘Mapping the Borders of Sex’, Trans Historical: Gender Plurality Before the Modern, ed. by Greta LaFLeur, Masha Raskolnikov, and Anna Klosowska (London: Cornell University Press, 2021), pp. 27-41.

3.) Foucault, Michel, Abnormal: Lectures at the College de France, 1974-1975, ed. by Valerio Marchetti and Antonella Salomoni, translated by Graham Burchell, (New York: Picador, 2003).

4.) Gutt, Blake, ‘Medieval Trans Lives in Anamorphosis: Looking Back and Seeing Differently, Pregnant Men and Backward Birth’, in Medieval Feminist Forum,55. 1 (2019), pp. 174–206.

5.) Long, Kathleen Perry, ‘The Case of Marin le Marcis’, in Trans Historical: Gender Plurality Before the Modern, ed. by Greta LaFLeur, Masha Raskolnikov, and Anna Klosowska (London: Cornell University Press, 2021) pp. 68-94.


Suggested citation: McHale, Emil-Dorian, 'How do Foucault's Lectures on Abnormality Further 'Abnormalise' Marin le Marcis, or 'Hermaphrodites'?' (Trans_Muted, 2022). <>

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