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Emphasizing the physical

FrigginSushi's picture

Being that this is a story that displays hermaphoditism through the eyes of a teenager, it's no surprise that a lot of the book is centered around the physical body. Most of the scenes with Dr. Luce really emphasized what had already been the present throughout most of the book about the importancy of physical attributes as well as physical attraction.

The scene where Luce shows porn to Callie to see what sex she was attracted to really bothered me. Being physically attracted to someone, to me, doesn't necessarily mean you're more male or more female (especially thinking about the controversy surrounding the idea that changing your gender is a way to escape homosexuality). Judging Callie's dominent gender based on sexual attraction wouldn't show the type of attraction that Callie has for the Object which to me is a better indicator of her gender than anything. Of course Luce wouldn't know Callie's feelings about the Object because Callie is hiding that from him, but I felt like a lot of his questions were only surface level questions since most of what he's basing his diagnostics off of is in fact gender sterreotypes. 

It just makes me think about how sex can never determine your gender in the way that Callie's physical appearance (the way she carries herself, speaks, write, ects) can never determine which of her genders is more prominent. I've felt throughout this book that Callie's hermaphoditism doesn't affect her as much as it affects people around her (her parents, friends, etc) which makes me believe that it's not so important to her.


colleenaryanne's picture

Sexuality explaining Gender and Cal's bias

I agree, one thing that bothered me a lot about the book is how often Cal as the narrator "explained away" his attraction to The Object with the fact that he was actually male.  Being male and being attracted to women are two completely different concepts. One line in particular, on page 166, bothered me. "Breasts have the same effect on me as on anyone with my testosterone level." This isn't the only example of Cal using his gender to explain his attraction to women. He emphasizes heteronormativity in a way that I didn't expect from this book.  It was pointed out to me that perhaps he focuses so much on how his being male explained his attraction to women because the narrator, Cal, IS a heterosexual male, and that he speaks for himself when he uses gender to explain sexuality.  I had a hard time telling the difference between Cal's narrator bias or Eugenides's ignorance on the difference between gender and sexual attraction.  Dr. Luce, as a character, also used Callie's alleged attraction to men to diagnose Callie's "real gender," but that may have a lot to do with the fact that Dr. Luce was doing research in the 70's, when gender binaries and heteronormativity still seeped its way into the minds of most people (not that it still doesn't today.)  I don't know. Again, I wasn't sure if the seemingly blatant heteronormative overtones to the narrative was Cal's fault or Eugenides's. 

Cal's bias as a narrator also probably had a lot to do with why we don't seem to really get Callie's feelings.  For example, when Callie suddenly decided that she was male based on a report from the doctor; this seemed so sudden and Callie seemed so sure of her gender based on one doctor's written opinion.  I was surprised that any 14 year old could make a decision that fast on something that big - I can't make a decision about what to eat for lunch that quickly.  Especially since, as said on page 479, Cal "...never felt out of place being a girl."  Callie didn't seem to have much of a sense of anything being very wrong besides the lack of a period and her underdeveloped chest.  However, this sudden decision of Callie's may not have been that sudden - it may have been Cal's narrative making it seem so.  Callie seems to be almost misrepresented by Cal, because looking back at a memory makes seemingly unrelated events seem like "signs" or make an event seem "fated" even though at the time no one thought twice about it.  So, I feel like Cal's retelling of Callie's transformation is probably inaccurate and does not reflect what Callie's real feelings were at the time.  And this is only one example of Callie being "misrepresented" in Cal's tale.

meowwalex's picture

I agree with your comment

I agree with your comment that Callie's situation didn't seem to affect her until her environment began to change -- and she saw the changes happening in the bodies of everyone else and was quickly being left behind to compare herself and notice how different she was from them. I think it is important here to recognize that there is a transition around puberty, I think, where you begin to care about what others think and your entire personhood in comparison to the people around you. This sudden caring, even worry, of what others think is something that all adolescents go through and it is a stark contrast from the ease of childhood. I don't think that the book's focus on Callie's responses to the people around her and their own worries about her body means that it isn't as important to her as to is, maybe even more so after other people begin to notice, and she senses other people's worry.