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STOP! Take Me Out the Box!

Apocalipsis's picture

 Apocalipsis Rosario, ENGL 257: Gender & Technology, WebPaper 1, February 11, 2011


STOP! Take Me Out the Box!

Please watch the video before reading on as it purports to prepare you with what you will read in this paper. I have aimed to provide you with an audio/ visual description to what will be argued below. 

“Social categories rest within society not biological categories.” 

(Roughgarden on Sex vs. Gender, pg. 23)

            According to Joan Roughgarden in "Animal Rainbows" as found in Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People academic and medical spaces discriminate against diversity and should take refresher courses to relearn primary data. (Roughgarden, 3) I am interested in drawing the parallels between category making and addressing Roughgarden’s policy recommendation that we re-teach the medical field. I will argue that in addition to our human need to embrace and re-learn empathy and sensitivity, doctors should promote judgment free medical advice. judgment free medical advice is advice that represents medically necessary procedures and not cosmetic changes purely for the aesthetics/ attaining culturally deemed beauty. In order to argue both Roughgarden’s and my argument I will analyze Jackie Kay’s novel Trumpet and explain it according to the perspectives on category making by Andrew Clark in “Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence,” and Donna Haraway "The Cyborg Manifesto."

“By definition, we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human.”

(Erving Goffman, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, 1963)

            By definition people are not born with stigma but are raised into it through the process of socialization. Jackie Kay’s novel, Trumpet presents the stigma of Josephine Moody. Moody was born as a female, but after he moved out of his mother’s house, and throughout his upbringing he identified more with and fulfilled the role of the male identity. Joss Moody’s character is a famous trumpet player from Britain who married a woman named Millicent (Millie) MacFarlane in the 1950’s. The impact of Moody’s stigma in his after-death relationships with Doctor Krishnamurty, the registrar Mohammad Nassar Sharif, and the funeral parlor mortician Albert Holding is extremely disturbing and insensitive. Regardless of the character with whom he interacted, Moody was disenfranchised because of his inability to get the basic human right of medical care, regardless of his intent.

            The doctor and the mortician did not allow for Moody to be buried with his lived gender identity as they fought to ensure that his documentation listed his sex as female. Throughout Moody’s life, he always avoided seeking medical help even if it was needed for this reason. By averting medical attention, he deprived himself of a fundamental human right. He was afraid of what would happen to him if other people (other than his wife obviously) discovered his secret. However, Moody died because he refused to seek proper medical attention. Moody’s first dead encounter was with Doctor Krishnamurty.

Doctor Krishnamurty got out her medical certificate and started filling in the obvious, prior to her own examination. Time of death: 1.12. Date: 21 July 1997. Sex: Male… She undid the pyjamas to examine the body. There were many bandages wrapped around the chest of the deceased which she had to undo…. The doctor became quite apprehensive about what kind of injury the bandages could be hiding. When she first saw the breasts (and she thought of them again driving home, how strange they looked, how preserved they looked) she thought that they weren’t real breasts at all. At least not women’s breasts. She thought Mr Moody must be one of those men that had extra flab on top – male breasts…. It took her pulling down the pyjama bottoms for her to be quite certain…. She got her red pen out from her doctor’s bag. What she thought of as her emergency red pen. She crosses out ‘male’ and wrote ‘female’ in her rather bad doctor’s handwriting. She looked at the word ‘female’ and thought it wasn’t clear enough. She crossed that out, tutting to herself, and printed ‘female’ in large childish letters. Then she put the medical certificate in the envelope, wondered what the registrar would make of it…. She drove off in her car at quite a considerable speed. (Kay, 43-44)

             The shocked doctor tried to consider Moody’s condition a medical abnormality and then progressed to using her “emergency red pen,” to female, in big red childlike letters, which implicates the necessary processing of that double meaning. The double meaning here is the metaphor of the red pen. It not only represents the violence, whether physical or mental, that is attached to the way that society reacts to people who do not fit the boxes that we put them. Even in death Moody could not be in peace. He could only be seen as a person whose biological sex did not match his gender identity rather than a person who crossed boundaries. The mortician Albert Holding reacts in a similar manner.

“What if the doctor never properly examined the body? What if the medical certificate read ‘male’. What if the wife turned up with the death certificate which said male too? Holding pulled open his special drawer to check that his red pen was still there. If there was anything untoward in the death certificate, he would be duty bound to correct it with this very pen? He picked it up and rolled it between his thumb and forefinger. This pen would need to do the deed. He almost wished it would happen. If he could have the satisfaction of brutally and violently obliterating ‘male’ and inserting ‘female’ in bold, unequivocal red, then at least he would have something to do. The idea of having nothing to do in such an unusual business, nothing official, was horrifying. Then, of course, there was the press to consider….The body might be refused a burial. If the registrar did not provide the suitable death certificate then the body could not be buried. What if he spent nights where she appeared to him as a man?”(Kay, 112-113)

             Holding was ready to “correct” the medical certificate regardless of being aware of the impact the change would make. Holding, just like Doctor Krishnamurty represent the larger conservative closed minded society who are not “comfortable” with binary trespassers. Holding even said, “If there was anything untoward in the death certificate, he would be duty bound to correct it with this very pen.” Who was Holding duty bound to? Was he bound to upholding the norms and categories created by society. Was he really “doing the best for everybody” as he claimed? (Kay, 116) Did he mean only in terms of making them look presentable, or also in the term of allowing them to rest in peace. Did he do his best to ensure the interests of the people who knew Moody? Like Holding stated on page 115-116, he could have waited to show Colman (Moody and Millie’s adopted son) his father until after he dressed him, he could have followed his “regular” business procedures.


            After Moody’s body was passed from the hands of Doctor Krishnamurty into the hands of the undertaker, Millie went to the registry to meet with Mohammad Nassar Sharif to register Moody’s death and to get a proper death certificate. When Millie was in the office with Sharif, she gave him all of the necessary documents, and even extra, for him to prepare the paperwork. During his revision of those documents, something stood out to Sharif.

 “Mohammad Nassar Sharif had never in his life seen a medical certificate where male was crossed out and female entered in red. On the grounds of pure aesthetics, Mohammad found the last minute change hurtful. The use of the red pen seemed so unnecessarily violent. He knew of coroners and doctors who were overfond of the red pen. Compared to his beautiful black Indian ink, the red biro was a brash, loudmouthed, insensitive cousin who ought not to have received anything in the family fortune. Nassar would go further; the red biro should have never been born. It was a cheap impostor, an embarrassment to the fine quality paper used on such certificates.” (Kay, 77)

         After looking at the medical certificate, the registrar Mohammad asked Millie if she knew that the doctor had crossed out male and put in female. When Millie stated that she was unaware, she asked Mohammad if he would be able to put male on the death certificate because, “this would have been important for her husband, to be registered in death as he was in life.” (Kay, 79) Even though Sharif did not change Moody’s gender on the certificate, he was very kind and understanding because he chose to put the name Joss Moody on the death certificate instead of Josephine Moore. Sharif compromised with Millie, because he understood how stigmatizing and unnecessary the effect of the red pen was. He understood how complicated and stigmatizing this process was regardless of the recipient. Sharif proved himself to be as different and understanding as he claimed to be. He knew that he could not interfere with the law and his job by lying on the death certificate about Moody’s sex. Since he did not change the sex, even though he was even hesitant to do so in the manner in which he, “paused before he tickled ‘female’ on the death certificate.” (Kay, 81) Sharif was compassionate, unlike Holding and Krishnamurty who made use of the brash red ink.

            Through the analysis of Joss Moody, Trumpet establishes the cycle of stigma that becomes attached to people who live beyond the binary deemed by our education whether gained academically, culturally, and/or socially. According to the story of Trumpet I know that Donna Haraway (renowned Professor and scholar of feminism and cyborg studies) from the Cyborg Manifesto would argue that people need to stop categorizing and that we must blur the lines. What does it matter if Moody was born a woman? If he lived his life happily without ever hurting anyone or breaking any laws, why could he not be who he wanted to?

             I think it is common for people, especially those in positions of power (such as doctors and medical representatives) to forget or consciously discriminate or rebel against diversity. We ALL need to embrace ourselves without having to constantly question who we are. If we are good people, don’t break laws, are respectful to each other than why should it matter how we identify and who we are attracted to? In the fight for the American Dream, sometimes we as humans, capable of mistakes, forget to be sensitive towards each other’s needs. As humans, we are also habitual category makers. However, regardless of making categories, it is important that we not only understand the categories impact, but also the differences in their definitions.  Although we need to treat each other with a little less judgment, medical professionals especially need to promote judgment free medical advice as they do permeate social standards as to what becomes normal, beautiful and acceptable. 

 “Bodies don’t conform to binaries. Genders don’t conform to binaries.”

(Roughgarden, p. 169)


Clark, Andy. Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.

Haraway, Donna "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature: New York; Routledge, 1991. pp.149-181.

Kay, Jackie. Trumpet: Vintage Books, A Division Of Random House, Inc., 2000. Print.

Roughgarden, Joan. Introduction and Part One: Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. pp. 1-181.


IMAGES (According to order presented)

Image of trumpet player

Image of Thomas Beatie

Image of Doctor “Think Outside the Stigma”


Liz McCormack's picture

hidden women

With these two vivid examples, you make a good case for addressing the need to train those in the medical profession to be more accepting of blurred gender identities.  I was curious to know more about how the two men were treated in their lives.  Beatie was sensationalized by the media and very much "out".  Might he have actually benefited from his very public (and visible!) disclosure?  Moody on the other hand hid his true sex, which after his death caused his family pain. Of course they lived in different times.  What similar and different cultural influences would have shaped their experiences? 


The media presentation, a video, and the historical text are also such different modes of description of these two cases.  For each I suspect the authors had some vested interest in the story they were telling.  It made me want to know more about who was telling these two stories and if their different agendas might have been in play.  Finally, you got me asking just what kind of training could be done and when would it have to start to have an impact? 


Even being persuaded by Haraway of the advantages of blurring boundaries--it still shocks the senses to see a pregnant "man"!