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An early 19th-century case of intersexuality, gender and sex

Updated: Apr 5

Jaqueline Foroni was born in a small hamlet near Mantua, Italy, in 1779. Although Foroni possessed both male and female characteristics, she was raised as a girl and believed herself to be one. In 1802, when she was just under 23 years old, she was examined by an Italian scientific committee from the Accademia nazionale virgiliana, authorized by the government.

The committee issued a report on the case titled Relazione, riflessioni e giudizio sul sesso di un individuo umano vivente chiamato e conosciuto sotto il nome di Giacoma Foroni, which was translated into French in the same year. Interestingly, the committee deemed Foroni’s sex to be male, much to her own surprise. Today Foroni’s sex would probably be described as ‘intersex’, to which the translator seems to hint in his foreword (“individus qui n'appartiennent ni à la classe des hommes, ni à la classe des femmes”).

One of Foroni's arguments for being female was the fact that she felt sexually attracted to men. Surprisingly, the committee didn't consider this to be homosexuality, apparently recognizing the distinction between sex and gender.

The text gives a remarkably detailed description of Fornoni’s body; the plates show her dressed as a peasant, her body at full length, as well as her private parts. This French edition is expanded and includes an account by Joseph Sonsis, first published in the Journal de physique de Brugnatelli, of the case of Marie-Christine Zanneboni, illustrated with a full-page plate.

Cf. Seth, 'Sexing the body. The case of Giacoma Foroni', in: Eighteenth-Century Archives of the Body (2013), pp. 67-81.

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