William Blair-Bell and Gynaecology

  • Chiara Beccalossi
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


Almost twenty years after the publication of Ellis’s Sexual Inversion, the prominent English gynaecologist, William Blair-Bell, revealed in The Sex Complex (1916) that femininity was determined by internal secretions. The body of the higher type of woman was naturally suited to — and geared towards — perpetuating the race. Deviations from the procreative norm occurred whenever there was an imbalance in the internal secretions; the sexual invert, a freak of nature, was affected by such an irregularity, which explained her typically masculine physiognomy. Bell’s work thus belongs to the British tradition of explaining same-sex desires by reference to the body, only instead of doing so in the ‘old’ languages of anatomy, he privileged the new vocabulary of endocrinology. In contrast to Ellis’s progressive stance, Bell exemplifies British medicine’s more conventional view on female sexual inversion as a diseased condition. Further, the analysis of his work on sexual dysfunctions makes it possible to chart the emergence of same-sex desires as a major gynaecological concern that now deserved full chapters in the discipline’s treatises.


Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome Internal Secretion True Hermaphrodite Sexual Inversion Sexual Instinct 
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Copyright information

© Chiara Beccalossi 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chiara Beccalossi
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for the History of European DiscoursesUniversity of QueenslandAustralia

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