An „androgino“ in Mexico, 1758/59

The Mexican case Martínez 2016 has studied (and Enrique has brought to attention) is a welcome addition to the corpus of primary sources on early modern hermaphrodites, all the more as scholarship traditionally has time and again studied a number of French but overlook almost all others. In this post, I would like to highlight a few aspects that are particularly interesting in the context of this blog.

The archival sources Martínez has analyzed revolve around the petition of a certain Mariano Aguilera, living as a man but raised as a girl in 18th c. Mexico, to be declared male in order to marry his_her fiancée called Clara. Apparently, this was supsemaily life. It is also clear that Mariano had a strong interest in presenting him_herself as normal, law-abiding and, above all, male citizen. This one has to bear in mind when reading his_her account of his childhood and youth (ed. and tr. Martínez 2016, 431):

Having been since he was born Androgynous, his parents dressed him in women’s clothes, and it [the feminine attire] being so repugnant to him because he had no inclination toward that sex, he always performed men’s work, until when he grew up he consulted with the priest of [the parish of] San Fernando, who told him to dress as a man to avoid the solicitations or harassment [importunaciones] that he was subject to as a woman and which perturbed him. In order to be able to wear it [masculine clothing] and be able to select the [masculine] sex when he decides to get married, he pleads that Your Honor see fit to order that he be examined by expert surgeons, and having their assessment, grant him the license [to wed] that he requests [and for which] he will be grateful.

Que siendo desde su nacimiento Androgino sus Padres le traian en trage de Muger y repugnandole a el por no tener a este sexo inclinacion, siempre se exercitaba en el trabajo de Varon hasta que creciendo consulto con el Padre de San Fernando que le dixo se pusiera el traje de varon para obviar las importunaciones que como a muger merced le hacían y a él le molestaban. Por lo que para poder usarlo como para hacer elección del sexo para cuando quiera tomar estado suplica a V.S. se sirva mandar los [sic] inspeccionen peritos cirujanos, y con su respuesta darle la licencia que pide que recibirá merced.

Interestingly, while the sources sometimes use the male and sometimes the female gender, the term used is androgino – not the more common el hermafrodita (see The request is presented as a mere confirmation of a change of gender that already been approved of, and indeed advised by a local priest. Yet ultimate approval was sought from medical experts – again suggesting that Mariano was familiar with the procedure, as the church indeed relied on surgeons in cases of doubtful sex or changes of gender (have a look here for some 17th/18th c. Roman cases:

The only mention of distinctive signs of feminitiy is the female garb imposed by the parents – while male attributed are highlighted much more prominently. Mariano presents him_herself by a male name (significantly, we never learn the baptismal name! ‚Maria‘, perhaps?), grammaticaly male, always having preferred male occupations, wearing (now) male garb and proposing to marry as a man. Again, this to me sounds like Mariano was at least indirectly familiar with the relavant canon law (Huguccio comes to mind:

Yet Mariano’s main claim to manliness was to have had sex with Clara, having ‚corrupted her maidenhood‘. Premarital sexual relations, especially with virgins, were perhaps not what all men voluntarily reported to the authorities, but on the other hand, it was not a grave sin either for most ecclesiastical courts. (Admittedly, I am more familiar with medieval church courts; they at least were very mild, if not to say bored, with fornicatio simplex between young people.) In any case, confessing this sin must have been a small risk compared to what Mariano could potentially win – s_he could only have deflowered Clara if s_he was male.

Or so Mariano thought. The doctor and the surgeon in the end came to a diferent conclusion: Mariano, while indeed being hermaphrodite as s_he claimed, was unfit to marry in either sex, because s_he was (as far as they could judge) unable to procreate. Interestingly, they declared Mariano to be more female than male – but the court in the end ordered Marino to continue to wear the male garb apparently as to avoid scandal. Finally, they banned Mariano from his_her hometown as to avoid further contact with Clara.

So, no happy end this time. What I find revealing is that the court was not overly concerned with a specific model of sex and gender; a predominantly female hermaphrodite was not seen as a problem, and if s_he continued to wear male clothes (and a male name), so be it. Yet as for the definition of marriage, the approach was much less flexible. The partners had to be able to procreate, and in doubt, medical experts had the last say in these matters. This is quite different from the medieval cases like the woman-turned-man in Bologna around 1300 or the hermaphrodite from Rottweil who both were able to marry as men – without having to proove or even argue that they could father a child.


María Elena Martínez, Sex and the Colonial Archive: The Case of “Mariano” Aguilera, Hispanic American Historical Review 96 (2016), 421-443.

Suggested citation: Christof Rolker, An „androgino“ in Mexico, 1758/59, in Männlich-weiblich-zwischen, 16/08/2016, Lizenz: CC BY-SA 4.0 []. Letzter Aufruf: 28/03/2017.

Christof Rolker

PD Christof Rolker, MSt PhD, Historiker an den Universitäten Konstanz und Zürich.

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Christof Rolker

PD Christof Rolker, MSt PhD, Historiker an den Universitäten Konstanz und Zürich.

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