I’ve been stumbling upon the most fabulous books this year. I had only a working (limited) knowledge of the backdrop of the book Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, but when I found myself knee deep in the life of Calliope Stephanides, I was enthralled.
The Pulitzer-winning novel details the family saga of three generations of Greeks who flee to America when their land is invaded, and how inbreeding, that is common in isolated populations across the world, cause Calliope to be born with a genetic deficiency. Due to the 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, Calliope has increased amounts of testosterone but is born with both female and male genitalia, albeit deformed. The lack of understanding of such cases, hesitation to seek information and ignoring the issue altogether present a skewed perspective. The book truly brings out the emotions of Calliope, who was born as a girl, falls in love with her best friend, a girl, and when hitting puberty, comes to face a confused reality.
Having grown up as a girl, she associates with the feminine gender without question, of playing with dolls and waiting to menstruate like the other girls in her class. However, when puberty hits, she develops a baritone, a prominent Adam’s apple, development of her clitoris into a penis (deformed), and broadening of muscles. It is no surprise that she fails to understand her situation. Her mother is often fretting over her lack of periods, but Calliope ‘pretends’ in hope of nature to take its own course, and peace in the house. A freak accident gets her in the emergency room where her ‘true’ nature is revealed to her parents. She’s taken to New York for consultation with a renowned doctor and researcher in the field, and this is where she is confronted with the term – hermaphrodite. It is heartbreaking to see the Calliope read the meaning in the dictionary, and come across the word ‘monster’ in connection with it. She is anything but a monster.
The narrative is extremely well layered, and various themes run through the course of the story; from references to Greek mythical allusions to views on gender identity, racial discrimination to even incest.
The need for acceptance in our society is imperative. Many homophobes argue that ‘nature’ may leave some people changed, and thus their ‘abnormal’ feelings and characteristics are no fault of theirs. But what about the others? Whether by nature or being nurtured, whether gay or lesbian or even transsexual, no one has the right to point a finger at any one.
A friend’s relative recently spent over an hour trying to make me seen reason as to how ‘they’ were violating the law of nature, that ‘women’ are only meant to procreate and that such ‘abnormal’ men and women have no right to be a part of general society. I was aghast. This earth is as much theirs as ours. Whether by stroke of nature or their own choice, no one should force others to live in accordance to them.
Gender and sexuality is a very wide field, and one can’t even begin to fathom the intricacies within it. I try my best to understand, but often get warped in the many technicalities.