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From early on, the validity of binomial sexuality was contested by alternative modes of sexual distribution. As has been shown by Thomas Laqueur, the one-sex model, proposed by Galen of Pergamum and reassumed by Renaissance anatomists, posited the existence of a unique male sexuality with a bi-polar structure in which females were assigned the status of a deficiently developed masculinity. In connection with the emergence of German sexology and the homosexual emancipation movement, the third-sex model achieved its most elaborate articulation.

The paper contends that, in contrast with these closed schemes of sexual distribution, the German Jewish sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) postulated an open-ended system of sexualities. As a close reading of Hirschfeld's texts shows, his "doctrine of sexual intermediaries" (sexuelle Zwischenstufenlehre) entails the deconstruction of the traditional sexual binary and its hetero- and homosexual combinatory not because it presupposes the existence of a third sexual alternative, but because it posits a potentially infinite variety of sexes. On the assumption that all individuals are without exception intersexual variants combining in diverse proportions male and female components at the different levels of sexual description, Hirschfeld effectuates a radical de-hierarchization of sexual difference and introduces an understanding of sexual individuality beyond the strictures of categorial subsumptions.

Against the backdrop of a hermeneutical assessment of Hirschfeld's oeuvre, the paper presents a critical analysis of Otto Weininger and Sigmund Freud as recipients of the Zwischenstufenlehre, whose main tenets Hirschfeld sketched out for the first time in his treatise Sappho und Sokrates oder Wie erklärt sich die Liebe der Männer und Frauen zu Personen des eigenen Geschlechts? (1896). Well aware of the deranging consequences of Hirschfeld's insights for their respective intellectual projects, Weininger and Freud avoided to deal openly with the sexologist's actual premises. They rather contented themselves with cursory mentions of Hirschfeld that focused mainly on his advocacy of sexual minority rights. Contrasting with the derogatory tendency of their explicit estimates of Hirschfeld, key passages in Geschlecht und Charakter and in the Freudian corpus allow to elicit the powerful influence that Hirschfeld exerted on both authors with regard to their conceptualization of sexuality. From this perspective, Hirschfeld's doctrine of sexual intermediaries emerges as the great obstacle Weininger and Freud had to overcome in order to re-enforce the already crumbling scheme of binary sexuality and the phallic regime it implies.

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