Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Week 2--Sex and Gender, Biology and Literature

Anne Dalke's picture
This week we'll dig further into our exploration of critical feminism from two different angles: on Tuesday, Paul Grobstein of the Bryn Mawr biology department will lead us in a conversation about what biology has to teach us about sex and gender; on Thursday, we'll begin reading Jeffrey Eugenides' novel Middlesex, a literary exploration of some of the complexities of gender identity. Post here your reactions to these two perspectives: how are biology and literature speaking together or differently to you this week? What is either or both teaching you about the various possibilities for feminist politics?
EG's picture

sex, gender, icecream and septa

The discussion of biology and literature has muddled what I thought were pretty clear-cut ideas about the relationship between biology and sex and especially their impact feminist politics.  I have in the past given an impatient eye-roll to those who insist that sex (not gender) is a social construct.  I have maintained a sort of "softserve" idea of sex; you are one, or the other, or a mix of both.  And then your gender is for you to challenge, discover, embrace.  Middlesex may be shifting this for me.  Cal is the softserve "swirl" and can never truly reach an understanding of their gender.  I wonder to what extent our sex influences our gender; perhaps with more flexiblity of sex, we can more easily understand our gender.  

I came close to arguing last class that maybe Septa asks customers to specify gender for their own sake -- for future marketing, advertising, statistics of where men are going and where women are going.  Assuming this IS the case, why is THAT alone not nearly as offensive as the idea of putting down your race for the same purpose?  Should it be?     

Steph's picture

Science as a Story / Gender and Sex

The idea that science is a 'story or a collection of unassailable observations' as opposed to a concrete set of facts does not have a profound effect on me. Maybe this is so because I am an English major and pre med. In other words, I realize the dual nature of science as a long, ageless,constantly evolving, occasionally refined, yet strictly adhered to tale and a continuum of hard facts. As for gender and sex, the two are easily distinct in my mind. Gender is a social construct and identity, whereas sex is biologically and physiologically pre-determined. Sex is important because it is a way of categorization: male/female. Fear of the 'unknown' or 'in between,' for the most part, is human(and animal) nature, which categorization attempts to absolve. Personally, I identify as female and woman, so its easy for someone like me to accept the categorization of male/female and man/woman. However, I do wonder, along with Professor Dalke, why sex is a necessary detail on a SEPTA pass. I wonder how a president or chairman of SEPTA would address that question.

ebock's picture

Middlesex/ Biology Conversation

My apologies for the late posting for the week, but I did feel like our class today had some significant conversation that I'm glad I got to hear before I posted.

I've been thinking a lot about our ideas surrounding the development/naming of third wave feminism. The idea that the words "feminist" and "feminism" have a lot of "baggage," as we said in class, or a negative connotation, feels disappointing to me; at the same time, I can see people's reactions to the word and it doesn't seem like it's reversible, unfortunately. However, it also doesn't feel right to be trying to create another word to make "feminism" more inclusive. It feels like it devalues all of the efforts preceding the third wave, especially the strides made during the second wave (at least in my opinion). On the other hand (I feel like I'm jumping back and forth, haha), it does seem like with the advent of scientific/sociological/etc. evidence pointing towards a spectrum/mulitiplicity of sexes and genders, there needs to be some serious efforts towards broadening the space within "feminism."

The only obstacle I find myself facing is trying to imagine what happens to the identity of those who really embraced being a "woman" and the efforts that went towards creating equal opportunities, fair legislation for women, and dislodging misogynist double standards? I know that that was the focus of much of the second wave, but is it really already completely defunct? Has the feminist movement already recreated itself or is there still room to be inclusive of those who are womanist/woman-identified? I really enjoy the idea of creating a feminism that works towards breaking down the strict male/female dichotomy that exists in our culture.

As for Middlesex, reflecting on our conversation in class today about the gender of the tone of the narrator's voice, if the narrator hadn't expressed early on that their gender changed from female to male, I wouldn't have been able to assign a gender to it. It didn't feel like there were any "give-aways;" I honestly didn't pick up on any gendered nuances (but that could also just be me being oblivious, I guess).


rfindlay's picture

This is going to be all over

This is going to be all over the place, but oh well! So. I admit that usually I do the readings about two hours before class, but not in this case. I started it last night, and had to force myself to stop reading and go to bed at two. I read it on the van to Swarthmore, which is pretty hazardous with the hills and sharp turns. I want to read more now!

As for my actual response, I want to go deeper in what Sarah Sherman was saying. Rather than simply explaining that yes, his (I'll be referring to Cal as the speaker) grandparents committed incest, and that was the reason for his hermaphroditism, he feels the need to tell the story of how his grandparents came to do just this. Although I squirm at the idea of incest, having a brother myself, I found that I understood, and indeed, hoped that Desdemona and Lefty would "get together." They belonged together in my mind, almost from the beginning. This 'crime or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude' (page 74), an unspeakable taboo in many societies, was talked about at length, and placed in a more benign light. Perhaps the discomfort that many feel about incest, myself included, relates to the discomfort that some feel about trans issues. They can't understand the psyches of transgendered individuals firsthand, so they decide that it's unnatural or simply strange. Transgendered people become the "other." By eliciting our pathos with the grandparents, Cal (and the author by extension) has his audience on its way to understanding the seemingly incomprehensible: changing your outward gender to fit your inner.

I wonder what everyone's impression of Cal could be. Some have said they see Cal as neutral, some already as a man. Personally I think of him as a transman; that is, perhaps never fully in the category of "man" simply because of his past experiences as a woman.

By the way, I fully understand why I was so confused in the beginning as to who is related to whom, in what way. And why on earth is the kid called Chapter 11?

Paul Grobstein's picture


Thanks all for contributions to helping me think more about biology/sex/gender. For some of my own post-discussion thoughts, see Biology/Sex/Gender-PG thoughts.
kscire's picture

Biology, Sex, and Gender

I have always felt that sex and gender are two distinct things and this was confirmed by Paul's lecture. I do not agree however that the notion of two sexes is a social construction. Biologically speaking, the majority of people are born either male or female. Socially, the majority of people identify themselves as being either male or female. I do not see how such an innate difference can be attributed to social conditioning. Men and women are both hardwired and built differently. There are some parts of gender in a society that can be seen in the "story" of gender but are these differences really more socially than biologically based? Just because an individual falls under the category male or female does not necessarily tie them to a particular "story" in their existence. 

Reading Middlesex also confirms my ideas about there being two distinct sexes. Desdemona doesn't predict the birth of an individual but of a boy or a girl. If I was asked "who are you?" I would not immediately identify myself as a girl. I would identify myself as a person. This identification comes from my mind but biologically I would identify myself as being female.

Also on a side note, I found it pretty ironic that Desdemona's husband would lose his capacity for speech when Cal was born. One man lost his voice as a girl gained hers?  

skumar's picture

The Mind-Body problem and Feminist Politics

I thought I was confident with my interpretation of the mind-body problem; there is no mind-body distinction because the two function as a single unit. The mind is part of the brain—an organ responsible for conscious thought—which of course, means it is part of the body. I considered the brain to be compartmentalized of which one tiny part can be attributed to the mind. While Professor Grobstein made the same argument, that there exists no mind-body problem, it was unusual that his talk made me think about more about distinction between the mind and the body as two different, separate entities. “Sex is influenced by your genes, but it is not determined by your genes.” Grobstein argued for the difference between the sex of our body and the sex of our mind. Although I assumed his argument would solidify my solution to Descartes’ mind-body problem, the argument made me think, then, that the mind and body are two different entities with two different thought processes. One may have the body of a female, but have in her mind a different sexual identity. If the mind and the brain (essentially, the body) can have different thoughts, how is it that the two are one and the same? I think Cal’s narrative in Book One of “Middlesex” makes clear that a mind and brain do not engage in the same thought processes.

“When Calliope surfaces, she does so like a childhood speech impediment. Suddenly, there she is again, doing a hair flip, or check her nails. It’s a little like being possessed. Callie rises up inside me, wearing my skin like a loose robe. She sticks her little hands into baggy sleeves of my arms… (Eugendies 41).” This quote from Middle really resonated with me, especially after Grobstein’s talk on the biology of sex/gender. In saying this, one can make the distinction between the character’s body as Callie and mind as Cal. The “possession” that Cal makes reference to here indicates that the mind and the body/brain function as two pieces of an individual. Despite the fact that the two are distinct substances, the mind and the body still causally interact. At this point, I would like to say that I do not mean to start an argument against Grobstein’s view; instead, I mean to reveal the sort of mental transformation I made about issues of sex/gender since reading Middlesex.

It is clear to me that there exist more than two genders. It is also clear to me that Biology not only teaches us about evolution, but is itself an evolution, a story to be told. I just worry, though, how many people in society—particularly those with standard societal standpoints of there existing no more than two sexes— will listen to the story of biology or come to accept biology as ever-changing. There is a world that exists beyond the accepting atmosphere of the Bryn Mawr “bubble” and I just don’t think that world, the real world, will accept such a change. Personally, I respect and accept everyone who is male, female, in between, or undecided. I think that society cannot stray from the idea that more than two genders exist because it is, of course, more convenient to accept that only two sexes exist. For example, I do not think there will, maybe because I have never seen, more than two public restrooms. I believe that there can be 2, 4, 12, or 36 genders; people may identify and accept themselves as whatever and whoever he or she wishes to do so. But then, who is to decide how many there are? Who will decide the “maximum” number of genders possible? To a certain extent, I can understand the difficulties society will face. At the same time, I believe that society/societal norms should make everyone feel comfortable and included. I do not know, and cannot predict what is to happen in terms of issues surfacing in feminist politics, yet I can say that it will be a complex and challenging transformation.

jzarate's picture

Distinction between Gender and Sex

When Professor Grobstein asked us about the difference between sex and gender, I have to admit that my mind went straight to the gutter and had I been brave enough to blurt out my answer it would have been something like, “Well sex is an action, you know the dirty deed, and gender is a personal distinction between male and female.”  Thankfully, I avoided this embarrassment.  I appreciate the idea that science can be explained with stories. It seems that the theories on the cutting edge are really just stories based on observations. Professor Grobstein wanted to warm us up by breaking down our differentiations between biology and literature in order to prepare us mentally for the larger leap of breaking down gender/sex distinctions. Although Professor Grobstein portrayed a biological perspective on gender/sex in nonconventional terms, I failed to necessarily make a literary connection.  His mathematical diction led me to jot down an equation calculating sex/gender based on the integration of cultural, genetic, and mental variables over time. I’ll spare you the complete details of my nerdy-ness, but the fact that given the same information I, again, ended up on a tangent leads me to a greater consideration of the idea that there are no genders/sexes. Because given similar environments people do not develop in the same way rather they can be refreshingly unique. It does not seem fair to limit our self definitions to constrictive and stereotypical terms like male or female when we can better do justice to our individuality through more flexible terms.  

I have felt a greater connection between literature and biology in Middlesex. Cal’s poetic descriptions of genetics and hereditary development draw literature and biology together. (I would love to be able to quote the text here, but I have been listening to the audio recording until my book arrives.) It is interesting that some of the readers are not necessarily distinguishing the narrator as male or female, because the voice narration is male, which I feel may limit the intensity of Cal’s transformation. 

At this point I’m not sure how my reevaluation of the terms and concepts of gender/sex impact my view on feminine politics, because I’m no longer sure how to define feminism or what qualities constitute a feminist.

kgbrown's picture

Biology, Gender, and Literature

In his lecture on Tuesday, Paul Grobstein explained that science, in this case biology, is not about facts and truths, but instead is a story used to understand observations. While reading the first book of Eugenides Middlesex, I was thinking about the similarities and differences between literature and science, if, as Grobstein said, science is, like literature a story. What I discovered (though, as Grobstein said, "We never know anything for certain.") was that while biology may tell a story, it seems to be a depersonalized version. Biology is about individuals, but only as far as they are subjects to be studied. Literature, on the other hand, focuses on the individual people and what actually happens to them, not on diagrams that represent individuals and their "environment." This point is even seen in the narration of Middlesex. When Cal explains the biology behind the mutation on his fifth chromosome, it becomes about heredity and genetics. But when he describes how it affected his life or how his grandparents' decisions brought this mutation into being, it is about people; it becomes literature. I think that there is something to be said for the difference between these two stories and, in the case of Middlesex, these two different types of stories seem to compliment each other: the biological explanation highlights the literaryness of the novel. An example of this is when Cal explains the biology of his genetic mutation and then uses this as a platform to explain how the mutation has affected his life as a person: "I'm not androgynous in the least. 5-alpha-redustase deficiency syndrome allows for noral biosynthesis and peripheral action of testosterone, in utero, neonatally, and at puberty. In other words, I operate in society as a man. I use the men's room. Never the urinals, always the stalls" (Eugenides 41). Though I do find the biology and the literature to be complimentary, I do wonder whether the use of biology (which I have already stated I find impersonal) discredits the notion that gender is something that people can choose.

Dawn's picture

Gender and Science as Stories

There are two particular passages at the very beginning of Middlesex that really struck me because of their connections to gender/sexuality as a story and biology/science as a story. After the discussion on Tuesday, they held more significant meaning for me. Due to the fact that they were so prominent right at the start of the novel, I believe that they will be just as important throughout.

The first is right on the second page of the bok where Cal is making references to the Greeks and Greek mythology. I love the fact that this theme is presented here, because it provides a very good background for the idea that gender and sexuality are stories. This one has a basis in literature. Greek mythology is perhaps the best collection of stories that presents gender in a way that is very fluid with a minimal amount of modern social construction. For example, men and women both pretend to be the opposite sex, there are strong warrior goddesses like Athena, men can give birth (though not conventionally...Athena was born out of Zeus's head), and there are transformations like that of Tiresiasthat is mentioned in the book. There are so many possible stories and versions of these stories that can be connected in many different ways to produce a story to mirror your own. Also, many times I have noticed writers referring to gender and sexuality confusion in relation to the Greeks: (Ex. "the unspeakable vice of the Greeks," Maurice E. M. Forster p. 51).

The second passage that caught my attention is a perfect example that shows science as a story rather than a set of facts. Science is the story created by individuals to interpret observations and data with which which they have been presented. The opening passage about Cal's personal story mention the fact that people have written about him in scientific journals. Those are versions of his story that people have written based on observaiotns of his body that have made their contribution to his collective life stoyr.However, the part of the book that showed the different interpretations of science is the part about figuring out how to make sure the child will be a girl. Cal's fahter is convinced that fertilization has to happen at a specific time because of the speed of the sperm. His mohter never believed it to be true at all. His father's belief was skewed because of his strong desire to do anthing to make sure. His "facts"were also not firshand. They were from Uncle Pete who could have a questionable interpretation of the article in his montly subscription to Scientific American. There is also no way to know whether the article covered a reliable interpretation of conception statistics and methods. The garbled story at the end results form a process that could be likened to playing telephone with scientific ideas. It results in conversations like these, "'How does Uncle Pete know about having babies?' 'He read this particular article in Scientific American. He's a subscriber.' ... 'Go on. Malign the male sperms all you want. Feel free. We don't want a male sperm. What we want is a good old, slow, reliable female sperm.'"

sarina's picture

Biology, Literature, Sex and Gender

Biology and literature are speaking differently to me thisweek. From the literature, I see an individual’s (fictional?) experience, whilethe biology perspective from class is an academic perspective.


I actually did not see much of a scientific perspective fromthe talk in class. I know we had a biologist speaking, but one person cannotspeak for the entire group, and what he said just doesn’t line up with whatI’ve seen from more mainstream scientific places.


The talk certainly captured my attention. However, Idisagree with the idea that science is nothing more than stories. Perhaps thereare no absolutely, forever-true facts, but science does produce facts andtheories that are definitely sound enough to consider true for a lifetime andmore.  I also believe in genetics,and in two sexes. Yes, due to biological issues, some people don’t fit into themale or female sexes. Maybe they are just inbetween, perhaps in transition(some intersexed people choose one sex to identify with, others don’t), perhapsnot. This doesn’t mean there are no sexes at all.


In Middlesex, I see glimpses of how being intersex plays outin real-life. Although I’m about half-way through the book, mostly I have seenthe lives of the narrator’s family. There are other stories about gender in thebook though. The grandparents certainly have distinct gender roles in theirlives and their relationship.

Hilary Polak's picture

thoughts on sex and gender, biology and literature

Professor Grobstein's lecture on Tuesday was very interesting. I think I have always defined biology as something that is fact and truth, with no room for interpretation. However, Grobstein's perspective really made me reconsider this idea. He described biology as ever-changing. It depends on different conversations, and those conversations depend on the narrator discussing the information. This concept reminded me of literature very much. After all, literature is a narrator telling a story, and the reader or other participants reading it and interpreting certain elements in different ways. This new parallel I have discovered between science and English is fascinating to me and I am so glad I was exposed to it.
On Middlesex, I strongly agree with ANorton (the first post). I noticed that as I was reading, despite the fact that the author mentioned his gender situation, I could not specifically point out features of a specific gender. The narrative was surprisingly neutral. As I read further, I am curious to see how his gender identity develops because his attitude (at least in book one) does not suggest a particular gender.

ssherman's picture

middlesex book 1

I know many people have mentioned this, but one of the things that Professor Grobstein said that struck me was that biology is a story.  I have heard about the idea of stories being relevant beforehand, but this idea made me step back and look at this book differently.

In this book, Cal is telling about his biology through a story- as in how he ended up being who he is, with the chromosome mutation and what-not, he tells that through a story.  

As well, Lefty and Desdemona made up many stories, about their real relationship to each other, about their new relationship and how they "met", about their new histories.

So far, this book has revolved around stories, which just has cemented in my mind the idea that biology is a story.

rchauhan's picture


I read this book last year for pleasure since I've heard great things about it. Last year I just read it and soaked it in, but after attending this class I have some new feelings towards it. After Tuesday's discussion about sex and gender and the difference between them, I was left confused because I had never really thought about the many different genders and the idea of sex meaning biological and gender meaning mind. So when I read book 1 for the second time, I could better understand Cal. When I first the book, I couldn't really understand the concept of him starting out to be a girl and then half way switching to indentify as a man. I'm still learning/understanding the notion of there being tons of different genders, and I could only imagine that it is a very hard thing to go through when deciding/are aware of the fact that one thinks he/she is not the way he/she was born. Plus, I really agree with the fact that culture/society influences individuals. Cal mentions that after he identified himself as a he, he would do what other males did in society to blend in. He would go to male restrooms and dress like a man. Also, both Desdemona and Lefty know they are not doing the right thing by getting married because it is almost shunned in society for siblings to marry. But when they are on the ship, the society they grew in is not with them on that ship; instead, there is a new group of people who do not know  Desdemona and Lefty's past, so it gives them a chance to make a new past that would allow them to marry and for them to feel somewhat satifisfied with them marrying each other. 

lrperry's picture

No more universals

Isaiah Berlin in his essay “The Sense of Reality” claims that novelists are better able than scientists to delve beneath the surface of human consciousness and private feelings. Because novelists seek understanding rather than knowledge, they are able to deal with particulars instead of searching for universals and larger systems. I think Grobstein’s lecture walked this line carefully, between avoiding generalizations and attempting to share facts with our class. Rather than stating a definition of sex and gender (as many former professors and high school teachers have done to us – “sex is the bits. Gender is everything else”),he problematized the two terms, by having us discuss our own assumptions while simultaneously imparting specific knowledge about hormones and chromosomes.What makes science and biology a dangerous weapon is that it can be used to supposedlyd iscover “the answer”, or “the facts of life”. No one looks to fictional literature to provide “the facts” – it is understood that these are stories to make us think, not to tell us the right answer. Literature has come to be used in our culture in such a way that allows for a multiplicity of interpretations. Science, on the other hand, often functions as “the objective”, as a genre of “facts”and “right answers”. What we are discovering, however, is that science can provide for a multiplicity of interpretation as well. As for the implications for feminist politics, I think any science that allows for shades of grey, and does not attempt to answer the particulars with a universal (“someone who is born with an XX is a girl”), is a feminist science. I remember that someone in class defined feminism as respecting others choices, i.e. allowing for a multiplicity of right answers. A feminist science is a science that helps us do that. 

jlustick's picture

Middlesex Book 1

Professor Grobstein’s suggestion that biology, like literature, is composed of a complex network of stories relates to the novel Middlesex, in which the author Jeffrey Eugenides uses the lack of biological fact or certainty to create a compelling literary narrative. Although Book One does not really develop the sexual/gender complications that yesterday’s class discussion focused on, it does expose the way in which individual identity is simply a kind of story. For example, Desdemona and Lefty create a fictional history which then shapes their interactions and allows them to build a relationship accepted by their culture. What does it mean that this relationship is not one grounded in truth or fact? According to Professor Grobstein, such is an irrelevant point, for truth and fact do not actually exist. While, I can accept the fact that there is not such thing as an absolute, objective statement, I think that there can still be lies or clear evasions of the truth. It is this sense of lying or hiding that causes people to feel guilt. Despite her love for Lefty, Desdemona still feels guilty at the thought of marrying her brother and rejecting her cultural norms. At the same time, however, Desdemona’s intimate involvement with Lefty is unbelievably honest for it gets at the heart of their most basic human desires. Thus, we have a bit of a catch-22 situation: if Desdemona marries Lefty, she must lie about her historic relationship to him as a sister; if Desdemona refuses to marry Lefty, she conceals or burries her passion for her brother. Determining which lie is of greater consequence often influences gender/sexuality conversations. Individuals who are cemented in the idea of a pure gender binary may believe that individuals who are transgender are “lying” to society about their gender. Are they? Why does society care about such lies?

aaclh's picture

Eugenides' Middlesex

I think the idea of having three births is an interesting way to view major changes in your life. I want to know if other people have had that feeling, of being born another time. I have never felt like that, no matter how much my life has changed; I wonder if it is a scary feeling or perhaps it is refreshing.

To skip way ahead, I find the last sentence of this book intriguing, especially in light of Woolf's Three Guineas. “'At least it's a woman,' she said. 'Maybe here people won't be killing each other every single day.'” (p 76) [This is Desdemona remarking on the Statue of Liberty in the US.] Are women more peaceful than men? I suppose mostly men fight in wars. Maybe this means women encourage peace more.

I like how this book mixes the serious with the light hearted. For example, on page 63: “great discoveries, whether of silk or of gravity, are always windfalls. They happen to people loafing under trees.”

I think it very much makes sense for Desdemona and Lefty to make up a courtship on the boat instead of just pretending they were newly married. I'm not sure why, but I found thinking about Desdemona and Lefty very difficult and disturbing. It was easier for me, just reading it, to pretend they met on the boat. To pretend they were simply husband and wife and not also brother and sister. I guess this particular social taboo is – for some reason I can't think of – particularly engrained in me.

Tuesday's conversation left me feeling confused, like we don't know anything. I think to some degree this is desirable, but I would like a few more concrete ideas about gender/sex. I guess what I wonder the most after that class is, if the old story of a dichotomous sexed society is inaccurate in terms of genes (there are XXY and X genes), cannot explain why people of XY genes call themselves female or people of XX genes call themselves male and in general is not very satisfying, then what should the new story be? Infinitely many sexes/genders does not quite make sense and I think denies any commonality between people.

I'm not sure what this says about feminist politics. I think something will have to change though since previously feminism dealt with exactly two sexes/genders.

mpottash's picture


In reading Middlesex, I began to think more about Paul Grobstein's argument that biology is a story.  In the first paragraph of the book, Cal writes that you can see him on the pages of medical and genetic journals and books.  Until he wrote this book, his story had been told primarily in a biological way.  This made me think of the question that Professor Grobstein asked in the beginning of class - what is the opposite of biology.  We decided as a class that the opposite of biology was not literature.  Instead, literature and biology, at least at times, can be related.  Both tell a story.  Knowing this, how should we look at Eugenides' book?  What are the implications of combining biology and literature.  The fact that in this first paragraph Cal is contrasting the way in which his story had been told, and they way in which he is about to tell it, implies that biology and literature tell two different types of stories.  Yet in this case, they are both tightly linked.  If it were not for biology, perhaps Cal would not be able to tell his story.  However, it also seems that literature is allowing Cal to tell his story in a way which he had not previously been able to do.

 In relation to our conversation on the ways in which genes effect sex and gender, Cal seems to believe that genes significantly affect how we live in the world, as he writes that "we know we carry this map of ourselves around.  Even as we stand on the street corner, it dictates our destiny" (37).  It seems that in writing this book, Cal (or Eugenides), will explore the roles that genes play in culture, in sex and gender, and in our own stories.

anorton's picture

Construction of gender in Middlesex

I've never read Middlesex before, though I take it that the narrator turns from female Calliope into male Cal. Despite Cal's admittance to being a male in society, with his female inclinations surfacing only occasionally, I'm finding it difficult to place the gender of the narrator in the first section of the book. I know that it is a male relating the story, but I cannot gender him as such; instead, I imagine the narrator as a child, whose gender is perhaps not so consequential because its implications have not yet been discovered. I think what creates this difficulty is the structure of the narrative: so far, Cal has almost only related a family history; he has not come into his own voice, so to speak. In other words, there is nothing specific about the narration that suggests gender.

This ties in with Professor Grobstein's argument that sex and gender are influenced, not determined, by genetics. They are, he argued, further influenced by social constructions and individual perceptions of the self. This plays into Middlesex in that Cal, who in his life occupied both of the traditional genders, has not yet provided the reader with the perceptions and social structure that contributed to his identifying as male. As such, I can only accept that he is male, but I find no proof to that effect.