I read the novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides because, as I often do on various forums I visit, I had put a few facts down about intersex people in a discussion. I am not an expert on intersex conditions though I have friends with different intersex conditions, have read a few books, some articles and talked online in various specific intersex condition websites. But intersex, one of the most hidden and stigmatized medical conditions often gets people saying very odd and outlandish things, usually because the idea that gender identity might be separate from chromosomes is radical to them.
So when the topic gets to the point of calling intersex women “he/she’s” or “it” or “50/50 people” I step in an give a little rundown of what intersex is, what ambiguous genitalia is and what gender identity is. In this particular thread the immediate response was, “Have you read the book Middlesex, it is all about intersex?” I told them no, in the same way that I don’t go to Transamerica to find out accurate information about Transsexuals or to Wild Things to find out about bisexuals.
But then I saw the book at the library and thought, “Why not?” My opinion: greatest disappointment since “Muppets Take Manhattan.” Okay for those not up on medical understanding of gender here is a quick tour: gender identity seems to be pretty much hardwired for most people, and that might have to do with hormonal washes in fetal stage, no one really knows. What we do know is that, after about 30 years of saying “Environment produces gender” (and assigning people gender based on how a doctor felt that moment) that a large number of public suicides and gender reassignments have blown up that theory. Some intersex conditions require doctors to wait and see what gender identity emerges before doing “corrective” surgery. A few people with intersex conditions prefer to identify AS intersex but most view themselves as male or female; some conditions are only displayed at puberty, some might be found even later (CAIS is the most famous) when a woman finds that she is infertile because, she actually doesn’t have a uterus, just a vagina (and undeveloped recessed testes which are usually removed), and that she is an XY chromosome female. In a few cases doctors intervened but actually mixed up the conditions (so the more estrogen appeared the more androgen they gave the patient because they were sure the person was a male intersex person only to find out at 18 that oops! It was a female intersex condition.).
The book starts with the announcement that the narrator, Calliope was born as a girl but reborn as a boy and that they are intersex (though actually Eugenides uses the phrase Hermaphrodite which he later agreed not to use in book promotion AFTER the book was published and after the Intersex Society talked to him). That’s the last we see of Calliope for a few hundred pages. When Callie emerges it is as a very femme girl. Indeed, the author tends to overwrite the girl parts, so instead of “Callie picked up the phone” is it “I picked up my pink princess phone.” Which gave me the impression of the “wink, wink” form of journalism that is given when you read interviews of transitioned transsexual women where the interview might be about the person as a filmmaker but starts with two paragraphs of their shoes, their clothes, their voice, their feminine appearance, the whole: she seems very female doesn’t she (wink, wink).
I kept reading and after a few dress up and girl trip scenes I thought, “Well, if the author plans to make an assertion for male gender identity, I hope it comes soon.” Actually, it never came. Indeed, Callie later says (page 479), “Unlike other so-called male pseudo-hermaphrodites…I never felt out of place being a girl.” Okay? Then why the fuck is this book asserting Callie is a guy? That word: fuck. Continuing: “Desire made me cross over to the other side,” So yes, what we get are a bunch of girl on girl crushes from the young Callie. Which at first I thought, “Cool!” But later realized that the author was setting up the old lesbian line, “What she really wants to be is a man.” Indeed the author’s entire reasoning of Callie as a male is that she likes females. That and the fact her genitals are different (but appearing female for 14 years). The clincher is when she has sex at 15 with the brother of the girl she has a crush with and IT HURTS. She looks back as the narrator and is amazed at her naivety that she didn’t realize at the time she was a man. Sorry every female who had teenage sex for the first time and it hurt, you are officially now a GUY, double that if you are attracted to girls.
I found out that the author Eugenides didn’t talk to any intersex people or organizations before writing the book (no shit!). But, partially on the back of the intersex narrator, the book won the Pulitzer Prize. In the book, with about 40 pages of 500+ to go Callie goes to a doctor and her intersex condition is found. A week long evaluation is done on her gender behaviour, her speech patterns, her mannerism, interests, friends, etc and it is decided that Callie is gender identity female and corrective surgery is planned. Callie is left in a room with the report and find she has an undersized penis with urethra at the base. Suddenly all becomes clear: Penis+loving women=gender identity of male. Though as Cal states while a “male”, (page 492) “She thought I was okay. Not a real man at all. Which I felt was pretty much right.” In contrast to the over the top femme descriptions of Callie, what we get from Cal is that he bought a suit. With Callie we get descriptions of girlfriend interactions, range of emotions, facial and hand gestures, clothing likes and dislikes, with Cal: bought a suit, wore it. I concluded that the author was male assumptive, in that they were so used to the male condition it needed no description. I was interested in this because on a lesbian forum we had recently discussed why some lesbians get mistaken as men; so we examined appearance, gait, speech pattern, word, body space, hand guestures, space usage, posture, distance from person of the same and opposite sex and other aspects. None of these appeared in this book. Indeed one of the comments which indicated the author knew, as far as I could tell, NOTHING about gender identity in North American society was the statement on returning home that, (page 520), “contrary to popular opinion, gender was not that important.” What a comfort that must be to the dozen to 25+ transsexuals murdered each year in North America, or the lesbian who had to leave Alaska because her gender presentation caused her such antagonism and hassle in something as simple as using the public restroom.
But the book won the Pulitzer prize. Maybe it wasn’t for the bad representation of intersex but for the Greek American family who was openly racist against blacks and practiced incest. I am sure that was a positive boost for understanding of Greek culture. Though, Middlesex follows in the steps of those who dare speak (in total ignorance) about LGBT people and win awards, like the film Monster, whose actress was praised for how horrid she had made herself look in order for people to recognize her as a lesbian (there seems to be some Hollywood acting rule that if you have to suffer in a film by NOT being one of the super beautiful people, you deserve an award for it). Anyway, I am pretty glad that Monster taught the world all about lesbians; we’re ugly and we kill people who look at our girlfriend. Or the awards given regarding Transamerica for Felicity Huffman for teaching us that transsexuals are ugly and kinda dysfunctional. Gays do slightly better; they are just having secret love affairs in Brokeback Mountain or dying in a kind, peaceful and out of sight way in Philadelphia (Seriously, you want to see what AIDS lesions look like, watch Silverlake Life).
I did it, I read it, I was left feeling robbed: Give me my time back. Let an intersex woman be a lesbian for goodness sakes. At the CAIS site I found that intersex women with CAIS are lesbians in the same percentage: 6-10%. Sorry, I took up all that time just to tell you a book sucks, but on the bright side, this is two pages long, and Middlesex is 529 pages long. Ug!
10 hours ago