The Hidden Sex: Representations of Intersex People in Circus and Sideshow Novels

  • Naomi Frisby Sheffield Hallam University
Keywords: Intersex, Gender, Performativity, Sexuality, Literature


Despite being the hidden sex in society, intersex people with ambiguous genitalia are visible in a number of circus and sideshow novels. These characters are often used as plot devices, performing a stable gender identity whilst concealing their intersex status for the sake of the plot. They are portrayed as deceptive and licentious, their identities placing them outside of the sex and gender binaries and leaving them dehumanised. It is only in Pantomime by Laura Lam that the possibility of an alternative portrayal is glimpsed, although questions regarding the sex and gender binaries and non-normative sexuality remain.

Author Biography

Naomi Frisby, Sheffield Hallam University

Naomi Frisby is PhD candidate in creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University. She is writing a speculative fiction novel set around a sideshow. Her thesis, Female Freaks and Feminism: Gender and Representation in Circus and Sideshow Literature, considers the portrayal of bodies read as female in the context of the sideshow and the impact this has on wider society. Her short stories have been shortlisted for The White Review Short Story Prize and longlisted for the Manchester Fiction Prize. She blogs about female writers at and has also written for Fiction Uncovered, Waterstones

October 17, 2017
How to Cite
Frisby, N. (2017). The Hidden Sex: Representations of Intersex People in Circus and Sideshow Novels. Networking Knowledge: Journal of the MeCCSA Postgraduate Network, 10(3), 44–56.