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Week 3--Finding Ariadne's Thread

Anne Dalke's picture
You are by now, I hope, deep into Eugenides' novel Middlesex, awash in Henry Ford's melting pot, Lefty's gambling, Desdemona's adventures with the Nation of Islam, Milton's military service, Judge Roth's desegregation order, Chapter 11 (why on earth is the kid called Chapter 11?)'s rebellion...

and you might be wondering, at this point, why you are reading this novel for a course called Critical Feminist Studies. What elements in the novel point you to some feminist questions? (What is a feminist question?) What threads are you finding, Ariadne, that are helping you make sense of the story? What threads would you like pulled out and attended to, as we continue our discussion?
lrperry's picture

The Wasteland

It's been a while since I've read The Wasteland, so I didn't pick up on this while we were reading Middlesex, but rereading the poem over Fall Break I noticed that Mr. Eugenides and Tiresias are suspiciously close to each other in the poem.... Another reason the metaphor of Tiresias appears in Middlesex, perhaps?
The excerpt below is from the second half of section III. The Fire Sermon, from the hypertext version of The Wasteland
Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants
C.i.f. London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.
  At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea
rchauhan's picture

Milton buys a house in

Milton buys a house in Grosse Point and few weeks later the entire family moves over. The house was on Middlesex Boulevard. I found it interesting that house had the name Middlesex. The word middlesex and intersex could be synonyms. Intersex is having both male and female sexual characteristics, which is like being in the middle of both sexes. It is in this house where Callie learns of her intersex characteristics. On page 273 Callie says "The architecture of Middlesex was an attempt to rediscover pure origins." It's almost like her moving into the house was meant to be. The house gives off the vibe of finding the truth, and Callie learns, in that house, of her mutated gene and the effects of it. 


In the beginning of Book 3, when Callie is born, she mentions "It was all around me from the beginning, the weight of female suffering" when she describes the females, all ages, in the hospital going through pain. This sentence struck my mind because throughout the book she explains her frustration with her female body. She is annoyed with the fact that her body has not gone through puberty like the other girls around her. Also, when her and Clementine are swimming in the pool and she believes that what she was doing with Clementine caused her grandfather's stroke. It's like when she was a female, she suffered through some things, and her identifying herself as a female might not be the right choice. I'm interested to see how her life changes after she finds about being intersex.  

Dawn's picture

"Themes of My Life - Chance and Sex"

Cal generally brigns up the idea that he may have learned something from his experience being raised as a girl. If this were not true, it would have been far more frustrating for the reader at the beginning of Book 3 when we find out that there may have been a chance for the discovery of the fact that Cal was intersex much earlier.

The circumstance of what happened in the delivery room is so ironic, because it reflects the theme that became a central one in Cal's life. Dr. Philobosian's sexual interest in Nurse Rosalie distracts him enough that he does not examine Cal as well as he could have. "Five minutes old, and already the themes of my life - chance and sex - announce themselves," (p. 216)

Then, Callie pees in the priest's face during her baptism. This is a comical moment, yet also a somewhat revealing one. The adults just laugh and joke about Father Mike's reaction. Only Chapter Eleven notices anything out of the ordinary, "'That went really far,' marveled Chapter Eleven," (p. 222), but he doesn't exactly know what's going on. Everyone remained oblivious. "In all the commotion, no one wondered about the engineering involved," (p. 222).

Later on it is suggested that it would have taken more than just a simple exam to figure out that Cal was a hermaphrodite before he hit puberty. His pediatrician wasn't entirely sure until then. However, there was always that chance that someone could have picked up on earlier moments in Cal's life and pieced them together in order to figure somehting out. The themes play out completely...chance and sex.

aaclh's picture

eugenides' middlesex threads:


I immediately thought of this when someone talked about the human vs machine thread:

At one point Callie says: “it's possible for me to chart my life in relation of the styling features of his long line of Cadillacs. When tail fins disappeared, I was nine; when power antennas arrived, eleven. My emotional life accords with the designs too. In the sixties, when Cadillacs were futuristically self-assured, I was also self-confident and forward-looking. In the gas-short seventies, however, when the manufacturer came out with the unfortunate Seville – a car that looked as though it had been rear-ended – I also felt misshapen.” p 253

Also, taking threads more literally: I love the part when Eugenides uses thread to tie bits of the story together starting on page 63. He starts with the Chinese legend of the princess who discovers how long a silkworm's cocoon is, then compares Cal's story to a thread and finally describes the boat leaving the dock with all of the threads of yarn trailing behind it. I think something Eugenides does well is tie everything together, even seemingly unrelated little things like thread.

The importance of gender (p 118) in Callie's family shows when trying to determine the sex of Lina's baby: Theodora (Tessie, Tess).
“Tell me it's a girl.”  “You don't want a girl. Girls are too much trouble. You have to worry about them going with the boys. You have to get a dowry and find a husband - “ ... “A daugher you'll fight with.” “A daughter I can talk to.' “A son you with love” ... “Start saving money ... Lock the windows... Get ready to fight... Yes. A girl.”

I think this part is important but I can't say why really. When Desdemona starts work for the church and is being interviewed. “But what you is? Greek, Turkish, or what? Again Desdemona hesitated. She thought about her children. She imagined coming home to them without any food. And then she swallowed hard. 'Everybody mixed. Turks, Greeks, same same.'” I couldn't believe Desdemona said this because it seemed so unlike her – she was normally so stubborn. Yet somehow the thought of her children got her to say this. I think she had to be really brave to say this. Yet maybe she was a coward for giving in and saying what the woman wanted to hear. But really, I think it took a lot for her to say this. I think this is one of those tricky areas that feminism has to deal with.
skumar's picture


A major thread throughout Middlesex is identity experimentation and intersexism. This fact makes me question why such a novel is read in a feminist studies course. (I thought we would be reading something like “The Yellow Wallpaper,” discussing the unearned privileges of a man and undeserved harm of a woman). I always considered and still consider feminism an issue pertaining to women; when I think of feminist studies I think of women’s studies. By women, I mean to say ‘living organisms’ that biologically and socially identify as women. I do not understand how a trans-man (one who stopped being a woman) or trans-woman (one who joined the realm of womanhood) can be distinguished as a feminist or coincide with issues of feminism. I am not quite sure how Middlesex makes way for discussion of feminism and I express such hesitation because of the way Cal straddles the line between male and female:

“It was unquestionably a male face, but the feelings inside that boy were still a girl’s (445).”

“Now and then I fell out of character. Felling something stuck to the bottom of my show, I kicked up my heel and looked back over my shoulder to see what it was, rather than crossing my leg in front of me and twisting up my shoe (449).”

“I picked out a man’s wallet, too. At the register, I couldn’t look at the cashier in the face, as embarrassed as if I were buying condoms (451).”

“I squeeze my legs together, the girlish fears still operating me (475).”


In my opinion, a feminist is someone who celebrates having the body of a woman or in the words of Cal: “… [Understanding] difficulties and frailties, its glories and pleasures [of a female body] (452).” I think Callie was the most comfortable being a woman (it seems like he is forcing himself to be a man), but fascinated by the idea of becoming a man. Cal even says that he is “fascinated and horrified by penises (452),” just as a girl would be. I think the experience of reading her medical file, realizing that she was biologically an “XY” chromosome, led her to the psychologically transformation from Callie to Cal. I think Callie interpreted the file as: Callie is a woman morphing out of what should originally be a man’s body. We see that Cal runs away from home, leaving behind her family and a concerned Luce just to start a new life as a new person, regenerate herself in unfamiliar environment. In other words, Cal attempts to separate herself from the “Monster” identity. Cal was irriatated that she was a biological test case, a subject for intense analysis, but it is Cal herself who continues on the route of self experimentation. In San Fran, I was frustrated that Bob Presto initially assumed Cal was either gay or a transvestite. Later, Cal gets tagged as a freak. Clearly, the “monster” identity clouds over Cal regardless of his geographic location. I understand that such a transformation is not an easy one to make, yet Cal made the mistake of not fully deciding between a man and a woman. I do not sympathize with Cal’s distress; I think that he led to his own demise.

As we continue our discussion of feminism and of Middlesex, I look forward to discussion on the way others explain how feminimsm corresponds with Cal’s biological and psychological transformation from woman to man. Additionally, I would be curious to know whether others make a distinction between women’s studies and gender & sexuality studies.

lrperry's picture

re: Relapse

I worry about this definition of feminism because it seems like it leaves alot of people out - particularly allies. Can men never be feminists?

The position of an ally seems important to me in any political movement, where someone who has the power (whether because of their race, class, or gender) works with the people who don't have the power - not in a patronizing "i'll lead you out to freedom" way, but in the way of "here i am, how can i help with what you are doing?".

I remember the story of the political science major at BMC (Caitlin, she graduated two years ago), who walked into her local WAWA in Philly and saw that they had a sign that said "No Head Scarves Allowed". She asked them if she came in wearing a head scarf, if they would refuse to serve her. They said yes. Caitlin was a white woman, of no religion or culture which involved head scarves, (so she would, analogously, not have a woman's body if this issue were about feminism), but she went to her local mosque anyway. And she said "I'm here, this issue really upsets me, how can i help?".

And I think any version of feminism that doesn't allow for people like Caitlin, people who are committed to working with the movement's goals despite the fact that they do not share all of the attributes of the core group of the movement, is one that leaves too many people out.

 Don't we need all the help we can get?


jzarate's picture

Active and Passive Roles

First, I wanted to rewind back to the in class discussion concerning incest and the social, biological, and other reasons why it is taboo. I discovered a biological study that could offer an explanation of why Cal/lie’s grandparents were attracted to one another. “In laboratory studies, women who sniff men's sweaty T-shirts find them more attractive when they come from men whose MHC genes don't match theirs. It's not that certain MHC genes smell better to women -- it's the difference that counts.”( Why is being attracted to a male with a different MHC gene important? “That difference is actually a survival benefit: The combination of two individuals' different MHC (major histocompatibility locus) genes gives their offspring an advantage in beating back disease organisms.” ( So usually women are attracted to the gene that is different from the one they have inherited.  Desdemona may have been attracted to Lefty because of a different hormonal balance, because studies showed that women picked men with a similar gene after taking oral contraceptives. Another thing suggested by some studies is that this differentiation also applies to queer relationships. Why is it that we discussed the taboo of heterosexual incest but not queer incest? Is it because this kind of incest is much less common?

            Alright, back to this week’s reading. I noticed Eugenides uses “Calliope” (Cal referring to his/her self in the third person) to allow Cal to create distance between some of his female experiences. “Calliope appeared poolside, that first day and every day thereafter, in an old-fashioned one-piece with a skit…I found it in an old trunk” (342). The sexual encounters in the shack are very effectively contrasted through Cal/lie’s first person experience of both. Cal/lie’s passive female interaction is extremely different from Cal/lie’s and Rex’s active male experience. I found it interesting that we don’t find out Cal/lie’s lover’s name. In some ways it protects Cal/lie’s private experiences from our prying eyes. But it also objectifies the Object, which echoes the separation of Cal/lie’s friendship with the Object and their sexual relationship. 

kgbrown's picture

Guilt in Middlesex

I think that one of the major threads of Middlesex is the feeling of guilt. Perhaps this is because of the unorthodox and somewhat taboo situations that arise in the novel, but I also think that religion, and specifically in this case, Greek Orthodox, plays a major role in causing the characters to become guilt-ridden individuals. The first example of course is Desdemona, who, because of her incestuous relationship with her brother, believes that every negative event is a direct result of her "sin." When Milton is sent off to war, Desdemona blames her marriage and she prays. When Milton is saved from the war, it is because her prayers were answered. However, this happy outcome does result in Milton and Tessie marrying, something that Desdemona has been working against. Perhaps the guilt is also genetic because after her Grandfather undergoes another stroke in the bathhouse, because she believes that she and Clementine have caused her grandfather's downfall: "...a seven-year-old girl is also praying for forgiveness, because it was clear to me that I was responsible. It was what I did... what Lefty saw... And I am promising never to do anything like that again..." (267). As was the result with her grandmother, Like her granddaughter, Desdemona feels guilty for all of her actions: "There were times when the guilt she felt for marrying Lefty conflicted with the guilt she felt for not satisfying him" (134). Clearly, the ideas of guilt, sex, and satisfaction are all linter-inked in the spiderweb of this story. Though Callie's "improper" sexual act with Clementine did not cause her grandfather's stroke, ultimately, Desdemona and Lefty's insestuous relationship leads to an improbable and, perhaps, negative result: the intersex of Cal. In this instance, not even prayer, with its mixed results, can help to process the guilt.
anorton's picture

Patriarchal language

My first post on Middlesex concerned the seemingly un-gendered voice of the narrator. Having read further, I still have difficultly pinning down obviously masculine or feminine parts of the narration; however, there have been several parts in which language is directly related to gender.

Cal writes, "Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling" (217). At first, I fully accepted this statement. I am bothered, though, by Cal's automatic assumption that feelings are part of the women's sphere. On the one hand, it is great to recognize that the (English) language excludes or makes difficult to express what supposedly makes up a large part of a woman's world; on the other, the statement perpetuates the cultural stereotype that men don't have, or at least shouldn't express, feelings. It further implies, by the word "oversimplifies," that men are incapable of understanding feelings on the level that women can and do. It is exactly this sort of notion that encourages men to persist in this stereotype.

Just pages later, Cal recalls, "Chapter Eleven's apparatus was called a 'pitzi.' But for what I had there was no word at all" (226). I am curious to know whether there was truly no word in the Greek language by which to name female genitalia to a young child, or whether there was simply no talk of female sexuality in Callie's home. This example is more demonstrative of "patriarchal language" in that it deliberately and effectively prohibits young Callie from describing a part of herself. It is akin to 1984's Newspeak: if people are prevented from talking about politically-undesirable topics, they eventually are unable to conceive of them at all.

The whole notion of patriarchal language is called into question by Lefty's inability to speak: "The only person who didn't say something was Lefty, because in all the confusion he couldn't find his chalkboard" (238). What does it mean when the oldest male figure in the house, in the family, who is generally thought to be the patriarch, literally loses his voice? In weaving this story, has Cal/Eugenides tried to attenuate the patriarchal language by narrating in a relatively un-gendered manner and by calling into question the power of men to use the language that ostensibly belongs to them?

lrperry's picture

re: patriarchal language

I agree with you, Ally, that Cal's description of why the language is patriarchal is somewhat troublesome, as it focus solely on emotion, but i think an important distinction to make is between "patriarchal" and "masculine". Cal did not say that the language was masculine, and that he wished to express his feminine concerns. The word "patriarchal" refers (at least in my mind) instead to the whole structure in society which serves primarily masculine interests, but which women and minorities can act within as well. (As bell hooks said once, and I'm paraphrasing, it doesn't take a penis to be in the patriarchy, just phallic interests... but she said it much more eloquently than that...)

I think that's why it does not invalidate Cal's claim about the patriarchy of language when Lefty becomes unable to speak, because Lefty is an individual, and the patriarchy is a system. Lefty's situation also brings up the issues of disability in our society and how we treat people who are differently abled and their power.

I like your closing question, about how men may not be able to use the power of the language that ostensibly belongs to them. Power that society gives or doesn't give you is a big theme in this story, I think, because it is all wrapped up in the notion of 'passing', whether as a man or as an American.



ebock's picture

race in middlesex

I've been thinking about the signifcance of race in Middlesex, mostly trying to place it in a context to the narrator or some of the other themes we've been discussing in class. It seems like we see "race" first in Book Two when Desdemona begins working at the mosque, and then again, featuring prominently in the beginning of Book Three (unfortunately, so far I've only made it to page 252, so if there are more prominent appearances in the rest of the book feel free to chime in) with the change in condition of Pingree Street and the Detroit race riots.

It seems like the presence of race in the story of Cal/lie thus far is signifcant enough, but I really can't put my finger on what exactly it could be. Could it have something to do with an "outsider" status theme in the book? Might it tie in with the "rebirth" theme (seeing as the riots were referred to as a "revolution?" [250]? I guess I shouldn't be limiting it to Cal/lie, because it seems to affect all the other members of the family in some way or another.

Also, I'm thinking of how Cal/lie made friends with Marius Grimes; could this say something about how Cal/lie views the world? Could it be that Cal/lie had yet to form social/racial/gender/etc. classifications for other individuals in the world or just didn't acknowledge them/let them affect her relationships?

Milt's interaction with Morrison during the riots is also interesting: "The matter with you." (246) Cal/lie goes on to explain how from there on, her father uses this phrase in so many contexts, for every group of marginalized people who are struggling against the grain: "applicable not only to African Americans but to feminists and homosexuals..." (246) Could this play a part in Cal/lie's identity formation? 

Does any one else have an opinion/take on race in the book? 

ssherman's picture

This first part is

This first part is unrelated to the rest of my post, but on Monday night it was bothering me that her brother was called Chapter 11 and since I knew Chapter 11 is the bankruptcy law in the US, I looked up the connection and I found out that he is called Chapter 11 because he is bankrupt most of his adult life.

This section of the book really interested me with its lesbian narrative.   It kind of reminds me of the Kinsey scale- the idea that no one is exclusively hetero or homo-sexual.  It was also very interesting- the idea that some of the actions that girls show to each other in school, only surronded by girls, would not be appropriate outside of school.  The holding hands and being very physically intimate, I feel like in my opinion it should be acceptable for friends to do that in public.  Callie seems to suggest that the girls at her school would think that if you did that in public, that you were a lesbian and supposed to be shunned.  I don't understand what this country's fear is with showing intimancy of any kind in public.  I love being able to walk around holding hands with my best friends, male or female, and I don't think that just because we're holding hands we should automatically be considered in a relationship. 

The relationship between Callie and the Obscure Object is so interesting to me because of the OO's clear participation in it, but at the same time trying to hide that she's going along with it.   She's so curious, but by pretending she's asleep she can experience it without saying she did it willingly, which I feel like is very important in her opinion for her life.

sarina's picture

The idea of gender

The idea of gender transition replacing lesbianism in thebook caught my attention. Callie is so ashamed of her desire for women, andpublically humiliated by the Object’s brother for her sexual experimentation.Yet we have not seen humiliation of Cal/Callie for not fitting completely intohis/her gender (at least through book three). As an adult male narrator, Caltells how people don’t notice he was once a woman, and he hasn’t mentioned anyhumiliation. She and the Object’s brother have sex, and he doesn’t notice heranatomical differences. The Object notices, and sexually enjoys Callie’sunusual body parts. She doesn’t say anything to Callie, or recoil. Thiscontrasts with the reactions to lesbianism. Lina had to leave her villagebecause of it, and Callie is shamed.


At the end of book three, I would compare the Object’sdesire for Callie to Callie’s intersexism. Both were secrets, kept inside (literallyfor Callie, given her internal testicles). Both are surprising when revealed.  People assume others are straight andnot intersex. I was surprised about the physical and emotional relationship thatdeveloped between the Object and Callie. Definitely not something I predicted.


I have also wondered why the brother is called Chapter 11.Maybe we learn about him in a chapter 11 in the novel somewhere?

hpolak's picture

sexual orientation

The story of Callie and her relationship with the Obscure Object illustrates the concept of sexual orientation in this book. During the school year, Callie had developed strong feelings for her classmate but didn't feel as though they were reciprocated. The two girls began spending time together when they were both cast in a school play. They became close, and Callie was very happy about this. In the summer, the Obscure Object invites Callie to her summer home. After the Object's short fling with Rex Reese and Callie's with Jerome, their own relationship begins to develop. They begin to experiment with each other's bodies. When they are caught in this act by Jerome, the Object becomes very upset. Jerome accuses them of being "carpet munchers," and uses the term very negatively like they are doing something extremely wrong. Callie becomes defensive and initiates a fight with Jerome.

I think this situation shows the low tolerance level of the Object's family for exploration of sexual orientation, and indirectly refers to the majority of people at the time.  The Object seems to feel helpless like a small child when Jerome accuses her of being a lesbian. It seems as though her traditional family had pushed her into a certain role her whole life (with heterosexuality being one of the necessary requirements) and when she attempted to break free she did not know how to defend herself. Callie, on the other hand, seemed to feel very sure of her sexual orientation and was not ashamed or unable to handle the situation. 

jlustick's picture

Fluid Sexuality

                In addition to questioning the scientific and cultural beliefs surrounding gender, Middlesex complicates the concept of sexuality. Through his various characters, Eugenides demonstrates that sexual desire is not as straightforward or consistent as most of society believes. Instead, we see that although characters may have certain sexual tendencies or exhibit specific patterns, nothing is definite or complete. In other words, it seems that Eugenides would resist classifying any individual as entirely homosexual or heterosexual; rather, each individual fits somewhere along a bisexual scale. This theme becomes apparent in each of young Callie’s relationship with other girls. For example, though Clementine is presented as a fairly feminine, heterosexual character, her desire to kiss Callie clarifies her additional possession of homosexual cravings. Though Clementine attempts to remove the sexuality from her actions by saying that she and Callie are simply practicing, the fact remains clear that she initiates the act and thus is not turned off or repulsed by the idea of kissing another female. Similarly, Cal describes the effect that she had on her peers and their desire to establish a physical intimacy with her. Though one could argue that such girls were subconsciously responding to Cal’s masculinity, it is more important to focus on the fact that these teenagers felt comfortable developing a physical intimacy with someone of the same sex. In addition, on page 327, Cal describes the emotional content of female-female relationships, remarking how closely it resembles heterosexual relationships.  In general, Eugenides seems to be highlighting the fact that people, women in particular, have desires to be physically intimate with both men and women.  The balance of these two desires and the level to which we act upon each depends upon the individual.  Being heterosexual may largely derive from our tendency to listen to our culture and establish normative relationships that reflect “appropriate” levels of intimacy with each gender. Another possibility is that in order for a woman, let’s say, to satisfy her desire for physical intimacy with both men and women, she must become heterosexual.  After all, it is appropriate for women to have limited physical relationships with other women while still being involved with men. (For example, female friends may kiss, hold hands, hug, sleep side by side, etc.) On the other hand, if a woman defines herself as homosexual, it is very difficult for her to have a physical relationship with men. In other words, physical intimacy is highly unusual in platonic male-female relationships. Finally, Eugenides propels what Paul Grobstein referred to as the story of sexuality; people frequently ignore some of their physical so as to create a coherent story about their sexual identity. Our human reluctance to deal with psychological inconsistencies may cause us to bury the truth and design a more consistent narrative.

lrperry's picture

Cal's Personal as Political

“Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. […] I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever. I can’t just sit back and watch from a distance anymore. […] Already the world feels heavier, now I’m a part of it” (217).


Cal’s engagement with the language in the first quotation expresses an explicitly political, explicitly feminist, stance toward language and toward expanding the definitions of traditional words. He connects his own lack of words, the deficiency of the English language to express his experiences, with the pre-supposed notion that it is a “patriarchal” language. In the same paragraph, he also describes how this lack of words means he must become more engaged in creating his own story. This sounds like a political move to me – the realization that the world as it is right now is not enough for you, does not include you, or does not allow you to fully tell your own story, and then to become more engaged. His description of himself as “part” of the world after he becomes more involved in telling his own story is exactly how I think feminist political activism works on the level of literature. To tell your own story in a way that works against or avoids the patriarchal structure (of language or of society) is a way to interact with the world, to change the world, through literature.

Sarah Kaufman's picture

(Inconsistent?) Imagery in Middlesex

Something that stuck out to me in Middlesex was the use of the imagery of the "maze" to describe behaviors attributed to different genders. On the one hand, Cal describes his dating patterns as "wandering in the maze for these many years, shut away from sight. And from love too." This kind of maze, to me, meant a masculine retreat from intimacy with women because of insecurity with his body. However, turn the page three times, and you get Jimmy describing pregnant women as being "shut up in a maze," and Desdemona's actual pregnancy being described as that maze. What makes pregnancy full of "dark corridors" is the "bones of women who had passed this way before her." Therefore, her experience of the maze of pregnancy is a highly feminine one. Why does Eugenides describe behaviors that are exclusively and distinctly gendered in separate paragraphs with the same metaphor? Is it because he wants to blur the images we associate with different genders, thus bending the lines of the gender binary?

Add to this question the fact that the pregnancies of Desdemona and Lina were at first empowering "mazes." "Pregnancy humbled the husbands" because "they quickly recognized the minor role that nature had assigned them in the drama of reproduction."

It is possible that Jimmy's use of the term "maze" to describe pregnancy had good intentions because to "men" a maze meant a "retreat" from intimacy, or a positive, comfortable environment. However, to Desdemona, this maze made her feel like an "animal," and embarrassed.

Another thing I found interesting was the reverse Freudian situation of Lefty being jealous of his son because of his son's increased intimacy with his mother. If Eugenides is, in fact, going for a consistency of imagery with the "maze" being the symbol of a confused state of retreat from intimacy, then when Desdemona's retreat from intimacy is over, Lefty becomes outraged with jealousy and counterattacks with his "traditions" of sex segregation.

stephanie2's picture

Intersex as a Replacement for Lesbianism

I do not think that intersex is a replacement for lesbianism in Middlesex or in general because I believe that they are two separate ideas. Intersex is a term used to describe a person who has secondary sex characteristics of both a male and a female. Whereas, lesbianism, to my knowledge, is the practice of women who love women. I once was told that there is a difference between being gay and being lesbian; however, I am unsure as to the difference. Nevertheless, intersex is "sex" and lesbianism is a sexual preference. Therefore, how can one replace the other in any way? If society were to choose to "accept" intersex, lesbianism just wouldn't go away. Intersex and lesbianism are both complex forms of identity.

mpottash's picture


In class, we discussed Cal's apolitical stance.  At one point in the book, he asks, "Is it really my apolitical temperament that makes me keep my distance from the intersexual rights movement?  Couldn't it also be fear?  Of standing up.  Of becoming one of them" (319).  Cal's questions relate both to his notions of himself both as a man, and as an intersexxual.  As the narrator, Cal writes as the man that he has become.  What is his gender identity?  Is it male?  Is it interesxual?  What would it mean for his gender identity if he were to become an active member of the intersexual rights movement?  Perhaps Cal feels that standing up for intersexual rights would make him less of a male, would confuse his already complicated gender identity.

Cal's statement about taking a political stance can also pertain to the feminist movement.  As we have discussed in class, many people have negative associations with the feminist movement.  It is often these negative associations which prevents women from identifying with the movement, or from calling themselves feminists.  What would it mean for feminism if we got rid of these associations?  Could people create their own feminist identities, outside of the feminist movement.

Another element that stands out at me from the book is a kind of in-between quality in the ways in which Cal talks about ideas of gender.  After having sex for the first time, Callie says "for the first time [she] clearly understood that [she] wasn't a girl but something in between"( 375).  Why did Callie feel in between, as opposed to feeling completely male?  Perhaps this speaks to the idea that even though Callie eventually becomes male, all of the experiences that she had as a female give her this in-between status.