My favorite argument is that Western colonists taught Native Americans about binary sex ( a social construct!!). Apparently, the Native tribes hadn’t figured that out. My question: how did they reproduce? They must have recognized the difference between “boys and girls” and known what to do with each other. Sometimes all the insanity makes me tired.

It’s their racism again, clearly the natives were too stupid enlightened to understand the difference between men and women. That’s why they had uwu two spirit people and that’s totally not a role only SOME tribes used to punish effeminate men that the white bois appropriated for themselves.

That's why only men were citizens of Athens, because no one had invented binary sex . . .

This is so stupid I can't even. I find flat Earthers more credible

At least flat Earthers come up with all sorts of interesting and imaginative conspiracy theories and half-baked physics to back up their weird ideas. They’re entertaining.

And at least their ideas sound intuitive based on what people can observe with their own eyes. Sex denialism doesn't only contradict science but also common sense

[–] Icannotdeal 16 points Edited

I actually just started cracking up. Sure, “gender norms” were created, but sex?💀 LMFAO don’t tell me people just realized sex differences were a thing in the late 18th century HAHGVJAVSJ give our ancestors more credit

From what I understand, the one-sex model/two-sex model (two-sex model being invented by Western scientists in the 18th century), as proposed by Thomas W. Laqueur, is quite a controversial interpretation of history. Yet SciAm is choosing to present it as something that has reached consensus among "historians". I'm not a historian myself so I don't know how prevalent his theory is in his field, but I haven't heard of it before this SciAm video.

[–] ProxyMusic 6 points Edited

This paper - "Let Go of Laqueur: Towards New Histories of the Sexed Body" will give you some context. I am a big reader of history, and have written some works as an amateur, hobbyist or independent historian working outside of academia in the tradition of writers like Barbara Tuchman. From my admittedly limited perspective, Laquer's theory only has currency in the particular areas of academia and policy where history is viewed through the lens of gender theory-gender studies. Unfortunately, in the past 30 years, gender theory- gender studies have mushroomed into major industries and influences on campuses and off, and the batshit ideas that gender theorists embrace have infected many other areas of thought.

For nearly thirty years, historians and theorists of gender, sex, sexuality, and the body working in a wide range of disciplines have labored under the tenacious influence of a premodern “one-sex” body that has served as the historical Other to what is posited as our familiar two-sex body, grounded in a bedrock of biological difference. The powerful historical narrative of the one-sex/two-sex body owes its creation to Thomas Laqueur’s Making Sex: Body and Gender From the Greeks to Freud, published in 1990.

Laqueur claims that the very idea of the body as sexed emerges in the eighteenth century, before which time men and women were thought to share the same basic body. “For thousands of years” prior to the eighteenth century, Laqueur writes, “it had been a commonplace that women had the same genitals as men except that, as Nemesius, bishop of Emesa in the fourth century, put it, ‘theirs are inside the body and not outside it’”. The flesh offers only a continuum of qualities – wet and dry and, especially after Aristotle, hot and cold – that can change and, in changing, flip the sex of a body, making the body too unstable to ground sex. It is not that in premodern Europe there were no men and women. Rather, the difference between male and female was stabilized by principles at once metaphysical and social.

These principles are mapped by Laqueur onto the terrain occupied by gender in the late 1980s and 1990s. What we end up with, then, is a reversal of modern expectations. Whereas “the moderns” hold that the biological body secures sexual difference, “the ancients” locate the difference between male and female elsewhere – namely, in “gender”. Laqueur’s narrative of historical rupture, dividing the premodern “one-sex” body, deliriously fluid and anatomically inverted, from the modern “two-sex” body, where difference is secured by a biology that goes all the way down, continues to structure many of the stories that are being told about sex, gender, the body, and embodiment in the past as well as the ways in which we imagine the relationship between bodies and identities in the present.

What makes the durable impact of Laqueur’s narrative so remarkable is that it is riddled with problems, distortions, and consequential omissions. The arguments of Making Sex have been thoroughly criticized by specialists in each of the historical periods that it covers and especially by those historians working on material (ancient Greco-Roman, medieval, Renaissance, early modern) supposedly structured by the “one-sex” model on Laqueur’s analysis.

The year after the book appeared, Katharine Park and Robert Nye published an unflinchingly critical review in the New Republic: “a more complete reading of the sources shows that there never was a one-sex model in Laqueur’s sense – not in Aristotle, not in Galen, not in Paré”; they go on to say that “the argument that it was only in the eighteenth century that medical theorists began to conceive of a two-sex model is simply false”. The challenges have continued to come surely and steadily. A few years later, the medieval historian Joan Cadden published a book-length study entitled Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture that quietly set itself against

Laqueur by offering a more variegated picture of the medieval evidence and by tracking models that could not be reduced to those Laqueur had offered. Park has gone on in subsequent publications to emphasize the dependence of Laqueur’s claims for the “one-sex body” on a single text of Galen’s, On the Usefulness of Parts. Like the majority of Galen’s works, On the Usefulness of Parts was in very limited circulation in the Latin West prior to 1500, when the epicenters of engagement with the Greek medical tradition were in Alexandria and, after the eighth century, the newly built capital of ’Abbasid dynasty, Baghdad, home of a revolutionary, state-sponsored Greco-Arabic translation movement which devoted particular energy to Greek medical texts, and Galen, in particular. The block of time between late antiquity and early modern Europe spanning more than a millennium thus turns out to offer little to support Laqueur’s thesis of a premodern one-sex body and much to controvert it...

Yet, despite the barrage of criticism, the premodern one-sex body keeps going. It stalks the scholarship on the history of sex, bodies, sexuality, and gender like a zombie. The one-sex premodern body has continued to be a starting assumption for many historians working on later periods8. Even more problematically, it has become a bedrock of gender and sexuality studies, compromising the theorization of the sexed body with a blinkered and simplistic myth of historical difference at a moment when such a project has become one of the field’s great challenges9. The irony that the reception of Making Sex has enacted one of its central premises – that models and worldviews have a way of enduring despite evidence to the contrary, especially when they conform to widely held hopes and expectations – has not been lost on Laqueur’s critics. The history of scholarship is not so unlike the history of medicine.


Back in the early 90s after Laquer's book came out, pretty much everyone in the field of history with an interest in sex and sexuality whom I knew thought Laquer's theory was utterly daft. I had the pleasure to speak at length about Laquer's book with Yale history professor John Boswell, whose speciality was (male) homosexuality in the ancient West and especially in Christendom and Christianity. I believe that if Boswell had not become so ill due to AIDS and died in 1994, he would have written another excellent takedown of Laquer's BS theory.

Ah, thank you for this essay! Makes me more amazed that SciAm is choosing to present it as a widely accepted theory.

And it's cool that you got to discuss it with professor John Boswell back around the time when Laqueur's book was fairly freshly printed! 🙂

It's worth noting that Brooke Holmes looks to be a queer theorist and her critique of Laqueur is rooted in a rejection of there being a sex(biology)/gender(culture) split, which she accuses him of reinforcing.

[In Laqueur's model] What we end up with, then, is a reversal of modern expectations. Whereas “the moderns” hold that the biological body secures sexual difference, “the ancients” locate the difference between male and female elsewhere – namely, in “gender”.

...In the case of Making Sex, the problem goes even deeper due to the narrative’s dependence on, and reaffirmation of, two entrenched and enormously powerful binaries: one that divides history into a monolithic modern, on the one hand, and what comes before (“premodern”), on the other; and one that partitions difference into (embodied) sex and (cultural) gender. Each of these analytic structures has been tenacious in its own right.

She writes favorably of his work resulting in questioning the category of sex.

To the extent that it has helped destabilize the notion of biological sex, the story’s impact has been undoubtedly positive.

Holmes regards Laqueur's work as having "constrained the imagination of the sexed body today, most notably -but not only- through its entrenchment of the sex/gender binary. "

On this model, sex is located in bodies largely cordoned off from the vagaries of culture and history within a space identified with biology. By contrast, gender, however easily naturalized as given, is malleable and can be claimed as a site of personal and political transformation. ...Beyond reinforcing the distinction between constructions of the body and its reality, however, Laqueur fortifies the sex/gender binary in an even more effective way. By aligning the opposition between sex and gender with the opposition between premodern and modern, he elevates the sex/gender binary to a transhistorical category that organizes historical difference rather than being produced historically. In the past, he argues, sex and gender were exactly the opposite of what they come to be in the eighteenth century. Before the eighteenth century, on this analysis, it is gender that is fixed and unchallenged in the form of principles of masculine and feminine that are at once social and metaphysical. The difference between the genders is not grounded, however, in a radical difference between bodies. All bodies, rather, exist on a spectrum that presumes the same basic stuff and structures. There is, then, only a “one-sex” body, whose different but unstable inflections produce men and women. The concept so counter-intuitive to contemporary readers of a fluidly sexed body generates the story whereby the alterity of the premodern past is read as the mirror image of a modern period that we are still imagined to inhabit.

I want to highlight that part about gender being fixed and innate, and sex being variable and not binary because this seems to be pretty much exactly what TRAs are arguing today. That there is no sexual dimorphism in humans but there is a distinct difference between a "woman brain/soul/feeling" and a "man brain/soul/feeling".

She makes what I think is a good point about his model flipping the "sex=stable while gender=social & changeable" contemporary view and positioning his ancient model as being rooted in a stable gender that is part of a cosmic order with a body that is malleable and vulnerable to change (but only from female to male). He simply switches the sex/gender framework around.

In any case, the strict binary between “sex” and “gender” that is used to organize the evidence from the ancient world so that a fluid one-sex body can be opposed neatly to the modern, stable two-sex body is, instead, a product of the framework that Laqueur takes for granted and imposes on the premodern material from outside.

But beyond that she seems to be critical of Laqueur for not doing enough to emphasize the body as being socially constructed alongside gender, and for reinforcing the idea of a cultural split of "past" and "present"

By challenging the transhistorical validity of the sex/gender binary as it is implicitly affirmed by the structure of Laqueur’s model and, more specifically, by discounting its applicability to the premodern evidence, I am in an important respect endorsing Laqueur’s historicizing position and taking it one step further, by historicizing his categories.

Over the past decade or so, a number of historians and theorists active in the affective turn in queer history have been shifting attention away from the difference between past and present and towards identifications with the dead, transhistorical forms of queer kinship, and melancholic attachments...In exploring the twists and turns of queer temporality, these historians and theorists have compellingly articulated the value of identifying with figures from the past, both historical and fictional, and of articulating commonalities, rather than adhering rigorously to a discourse of alterity. ...By problematizing the logic of symmetrical alterity, the energies of queer historicism have generated alternative models and experiments for trying to make sense of the premodern past in its wild complexity as part of the work of creating conditions for the flourishing of queer subjects and queer communities in the present. ...the critiques of rupture and alterity feel particularly apt when applied to Making Sex and its reification of the sex/gender binary as a lens for organizing material from the past as symmetrically Other.

the claim to fame of Making Sex is a narrative of radical historical rupture that makes the idea of biologically sanctioned sexual difference contingent, thereby undermining its status as a scientific fact immune to contestation and helping displace sex together with gender. Who wouldn’t be on board with such a project?...

the very concept of “the body” works as a false universal, rather than as a concept which is itself historical and, thus, contingent in important ways....

Some other articles on the debate:

Cadden, Laqueur, and the "one-sex body", Catherine Park. 7 pages. https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/4774909/Park_OneSexBody.pdf?sequence=5&isAllowed=y

A Woman Down to Her Bones: the anatomy of sexual difference in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Michael Stolberg. 26 pages https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8410265_A_woman_down_to_her_bones

And one of the papers by Laqueur where he makes his argument. 35 pages Orgasm, Generation, and the Politics of Reproductive Biology

The shift in the interpretation of the male and female body, however, cannot have been due, even in principle, primarily to scientific progress. In the first place the "oppositions and contrasts" between the female and the male have been self-evident since the beginning of time: the one gives birth and the other does not, to state the obvious. Set against such momentous truths, the discovery, for example that the ovarian artery is not, as Galen would have it, the homologue of the vas deferens is of relatively minor significance. Thus, the fact that at one time male and female bodies were regarded as hierarchically, that is vertically, ordered and that at another time they came to be regarded as horizontally ordered, as opposites, as incommensurable, must depend on something other than one or even a set of real or supposed "discoveries."

His conclusion seems to be that the dominant model of understanding anatomical difference between men and women at any time period is based on politics and ideology.

I have read greek classical works were they talk about the two sexes and wathever. It has been quite common.