The Category of the Individual

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Knowing the Body

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The Category of the Individual

Elizabeth Piastra

In The Order of Things, Michel Foucault argues that there is a "pure experience of order and its modes of being" (Foucault xxi), that order exists and that it is necessary. Foucault is concerned with language because it is a mode by which we maintain order in the world, and according to his argument, what we should fear are heterotopias, which "undermine language," "make it impossible to name this and that," "shatter or tangle common names," and "destroy 'syntax' in advance" (Foucault xviii). When Foucault refers to 'syntax,' he is not just talking about our method of constructing sentences but "also that less apparent syntax which causes words and things (next to and also opposite one another) to 'hold together'" (Foucault xviii). In other words, there is need for us to take into account how the things in our world are related to each other. One of the ways in which we do this is through the method of categorization, which allows us to organize our world according to similarities and differences. However, Foucault stresses us to be cautious, to realize that "we shall never succeed in defining a stable relation of contained to container between each of these categories and that which includes them all" (Foucault xvii). An all-inclusive category does not exist; it cannot exist.

Foucault insists on the need to pay attention to what is present in the "empty space, the interstitial blanks separating all these entities from one another" (Foucault xvi). It is not that language is inadequate; it is just that we must be conscious of not only what is stated but also what is not directly stated, what is contained inside language and what is outside language. When we organize the things in the world into different categories, we create the illusion of a black and white world, one where everything can be clearly and neatly separated into these categories. The world becomes divided by a system of binaries, including the socially constructed categories of "normal" and "other." Foucault speaks to this concern regarding the "other:"

The history of madness would be the history of the Other – of that which, for a given culture, is at once interior and foreign, therefore to be excluded (so as to exorcize the interior danger) but by being shut away (in order to reduce its otherness); whereas the history of the Same – of that which, for a given culture, is both dispersed and related, therefore to be distinguished by kinds and to be collected together into identities. (Foucault xxiv)

The exclusion of the "other" is what is represented by the "empty space," and "it is only in the blank spaces of this grid that order manifests itself in depth as though already there, waiting in silence for the moment of its expression" (Foucault xxi). Though language may attempt to refuse the inclusion of the "other," the truth is that the "other" is interior, always present, and a necessary part of the order.

In The Order of Things, Foucault not only defends the significance of categories but also highlights what is problematic about them: categories are defined only by similarities. With categories, the language of the collective always threatens to overwhelm the voice of the individual. It is impossible for categories to accurately represent all of the differences that are contained in individual experiences. However, to interpret categorization using Foucault's arguments about order allows us to resolve this problem. Maybe it is not categories that are the problem. After all, it is necessary to maintain order, and a system of categorization is one of the modes that efficiently allow us to do so. Categories contribute to our identities, collective and individual, but it is important to be aware of the fact that there is something lost in between the two, that the collective identity can never entirely speak to the individual identity. In other words, there is always going to be "empty space" surrounding categories.

Though they may be necessary and useful, categories blur the reality of experience. An individual is unable to experience life only according to one aspect of his/her life. For example, a woman may understand life through her perspective as a woman, but her experience is not defined only by her gender. She must take into account her race, class, geographical location, etc. Categories may contribute to one's identity, but no single category is capable of determining everything about one's experiences, which are entirely one's own and no one else's. In other words, categories are not independent of one another. This understanding of categories is why there can be no "typical" experience, why there is no such thing as "normal." We must realize the value in the individual experience, including those of the so-called "others," in order to establish an appreciation of diversity and of difference. In fact, it is by examining the stories of these "others" that clearly allows us access to the falseness of the social construction of "normal" and the myth of normality. The "others" that this paper examines are the intersexual character of Callie/Cal in Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex and the mixed-blood Cherríe Moraga, whose narratives demonstrate how life and its experiences are not defined by categories.

Middlesex is a novel about the search for origin, and its protagonist is Callie/Cal, who is a 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodite, an intersexual. However, Cal is not androgynous; he possesses all of the secondary sex characteristics of a normal male except for baldness, but his genitalia is ambiguous. Cal's narrative is not just his story; it does not begin with merely his birth but instead traces the history of his family back to his grandparent, Lefty and Desdemona. Cal studies the scientific, his genetic history and the journey of "a recessive mutation on my fifth chromosome" (Eugenides 4). He looks to the marriage of Desdemona and Lefty, third-cousins but also sister and brother, and then to the marriage of his own parents, Milton and Tessie, thinking that maybe here he will discover how it all started and why he is the way he is, but what about Chapter Eleven? His brother shares the same exact genetic background, demonstrating that this cannot be the explanation. Cal returns to the point of his conception, the circumstances that Milton and Tessie created in order to have a girl despite Tessie's moral reservations, "To tamper with something as mysterious and miraculous as the birth of a child was an act of hubris. In the first place, Tessie didn't believe you could do it. Even if you could, she didn't believe you should try" (Eugenides 5), but immorality cannot be the origin since the incest of Milton's parents is also unacceptable, and it has already been demonstrated how that is not the cause. What about the moment that Cal discovers he is not a girl? Where is the origin of his knowledge? One could argue that it was when he practiced kissing with Clementine Stark or when he did not get his period or when he had sex with Jerome or at his visit with Dr. Luce, but Cal's narrative is touched with the gift of hindsight, and even if he says he knew at a certain moment, one can never be positive. Just as his intersexuality had no clear origin, neither does his realization that he is anything other than a girl. Cal's narrative touches on multiple possible origins, each time concluding that it could not be the origin. In the end, the novel seems to conclude that there is no one origin, no single determinate factor. A point of origin, like a single category, does not exist independently of everything surrounding it, and just as origin is denied in Middlesex as determining anything definitively, so are categories.

Cal was raised as a girl and on the birth certificate is the female name Calliope Helen Stephanides. If one was forced to categorize Cal, the result would be that he is an intersexual. However, Cal, as the little girl Callie, was not confused, "I was brought up as a girl and had no doubts about this" (Eugenides 226). Her infant body passed as a girl; her physician Dr. Phil did not notice anything unusual when she was born just like Tessie did not realize that anything out of place when she bathed her daughter. As a young girl, Callie appeared to be a girl; more than that, she was a beautiful girl inhabiting a world of eyes, where everyone stared, attracted by her beauty. Her brother, staring at her with her underwear pulled down and her skirt pulled up, is turned on, "He didn't have much to compare me to, but what he saw didn't misinform him either: pink folds, a cleft. For ten seconds Chapter Eleven studied my documents, detecting no forgery..." (Eugenides 279). No one suspects Callie is not a girl, including Callie herself, because there is nothing about her that contradicts this belief. Callie, like all human beings, experiences life only once and is only able to see it through her own eyes; she would not have been able to identify anything out of the ordinary in her experience as a girl because she would have no way of knowing it was different from that of any other girl. From her perspective, everything was "normal," "How did Calliope feel about her crocus? This is at once the easiest and the hardest thing to explain. On the one hand she liked it...The crocus was part of her body, after all. There was no reason to ask questions" (Eugenides 330).

Even during adolescence, Callie is in the dark about her biological gender, suspecting something but not knowing. She begins to go through the changes of puberty, blaming her failure to get her period on being a late bloomer and anticipating it in the future, "I grew tall. My voice matured. But nothing seemed unnatural. My slight build, my thin waist, the smallness of my head, hands, and feet raised no questions in anybody's mind" (Eugenides 304). Callie's flat-chest does not seem problematic to her, "The early seventies were a good time to be flat-chested. Androgyny was in" (Eugenides 304), and neither does her facial hair, "No, Calliope was not surprised by the appearance of a shadow above her upper lip. My Aunt Zo, my mother, Sourmelina, and even my cousin Cleo all suffered from hair growing where they didn't want it to" (Eugenides 308). She is a girl who defines herself, as we all do, by the times in which she lived and by her culture; in other words, her experience as a girl is not separate from her experiences as an adolescent in the seventies or as a Greek-American. It is all intertwined into one experience, one identity.

In high school, Callie finds herself once again attracted to a girl, the one whom she calls "The Obscure Object." Callie finds herself having sex with Jerome as Rex and the Object simultaneously make-out on the other side of the room. Cal, looking back, is convinced that at this moment, he realized something unusual about himself:

Jerome knew what I was, as suddenly I did, too, for the first time clearly understood that I wasn't a girl but something in between. I knew this from how natural it had felt to enter Rex Reese's body, how right it felt, and I knew this from the shocked expression on Jerome's face."(Eugenides 375)

However, it can be argued that this is a mistaken interjection on Cal's part, that this realization is a result of his reflecting on his past, that even Cal cannot believe he didn't know; he wants to believe he was aware of his own body when the reality is that he could not know it was not as a woman's should be. As Cal proceeds to point out, he did not actually know what he says he did, "Reader, believe this if you can: He hadn't noticed a thing" (Eugenides 376). In fact, Cal could not have been more incorrect; the expression on Jerome's face is a result of his belief that he has just had sex with a girl. Callie's attraction to females does not change when she becomes Cal. Cal's attraction to girls when he was Callie was not a sign that he wasn't what he believed himself to be, that is, a girl; Callie's conclusion was merely what it should have been, that she was a girl who was attracted to girls. Sexuality offered no solutions to the questions that had occasionally surfaced in Callie's mind, "Why should I have thought I was anything other than a girl? Because I was attracted to a girl? That happened all the time. I was happening more than ever in 1974. It was becoming a national pastime" (Eugenides 388). Her attraction to the Object was not a reflection of her true self coming out because gender does not determine sexuality.

Cal's genetics, though they have played a role, have not completely determined who he is, "Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind" (Eugenides 479). Cal's identity is not defined by his intersexuality or by his male brain, and though the name on his most recent driver's license may be Cal, it still isn't, "Unlike the other so-called pseudohermaphrodites who have been written about in the press, I never felt out of place being a girl. I still don't feel entirely at home among men" (Eugenides 479). He is aware that his individual experience cannot represent any pseudohermaphrodite experience, that the category does not encompass all that he has been through. Cal has lived life as a girl, as Callie; he has been able to pass as what he is not just as he now chooses to live pretending to be a man. Biologically, Cal has never been and never will be a male or a female, but his ability to experience life as a man or woman, to be treated as though he is no different, is a unique perspective. It resembles the moment when everyone else is maturing except for Callie, "Only Calliope, in the second row, is motionless, her desk stalled somehow, so that she's the only one who takes in the true extend of the metamorphoses around her" (Eugenides 286); she is the only one who sees everything because of her position as an uninvolved outsider. If we pay attention to his voice, his experiences, to try and categorize Cal only according to gender, or any other category for that matter, becomes impossible.

Cal cannot be thought of only in relation to gender and sexuality. As he demonstrates in his narrative, his identity is shaped by gender, sexuality, race, class, culture, heritage...anything that has affected his experiences. This idea is why he includes descriptions of the time periods through which his grandparents and parents lived and why his Greek-American heritage and cultures are emphasized; the reason why Cal includes his encounters with Marius Wyxzewixard Challouehliczilczese Grimes and his role in the race riots that took place in Detroit in July 1967. Cal is aware of how race issues permeate into all aspects of life, including his own, "Shameful as it is to say, the riots were the best thing that ever happened to us. Overnight we went from being a family desperately trying to stay in the middle class to one with hopes of sneaking into the upper, or at least the upper-middle" (Eugenides 252). It is his position as "other" that allows him to realize the injustices against all "others," the blacks of Detroit, intersexuals, the "ethnic" girls, "Until we came to Baker & Inglis my friends and I had always felt completely American. But now the Bracelets' upturned noses suggested there was another America to which we could never gain admittance" (Eugenides 298). Cal hears the truth in Morrison's words to his father, what Milton never understood, "The matter with us is you" (Eugenides 246). It is not Cal's intersexuality that is the problem, but mainstream society's refusal to accept him as anything but "other" and their denial of the value in his individual experience. It is the fear he feels as a result of being who he is, "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" (Eugenides 319).

In "The Breakdown of the Bicultural Mind," Cherríe Moraga refuses to be defined by categories because they do not speak to her experiences. She claims that "we invent ourselves" (Moraga 232), that our identities are based not on the categories that are imposed on us but instead are shaped by our experiences. Moraga is biracial, the daughter of a Mexican mother and a French and British-Canadian father, but in her case, she denies the categories of 'biracial' and 'bisexual' because she feels as though they do not reflect what her race and sexuality have meant to her:

I think that is why I have always hated the terms 'biracial' and 'bisexual.' They are passive terms, without political bite. They don't choose. They don't make a decision. They are a declaration not of identity but of biology, of sexual practice. They say nothing about where one really stands. And as long as injustice prevails, we do not have the luxury of calling ourselves either. (Moraga 237)

Moraga may be biracial, but others have always seen her in relation to the people around her, regardless of what she is and what she considers herself to be. The biology of being biracial does not affect how Moraga has been treated in reality. What her experience of being biracial has taught her is that she will be judged on her skin color and that she must make a choice in this country where race matters, "But regardless of how the dice were tossed and what series of accidents put our two parents – one white and one colored – together, we, their offspring, have had to choose who we are in racist Amerika" (Moraga 236).

Moraga realizes that no matter what her choice, she will be unable to control how others choose to categorize her, "But people can't read your mind, they read your color, they read your womanhood, they read the women you're with" (Moraga 236). This is part of Moraga's reasoning for why she is able to define herself, why she must invent herself; it is because if she didn't and depended on the categories of others, she would have no identity to which she could truly relate. She is judged by her appearance and not by the life she has lived, what she has experienced, "We smile, sadly. 'She's right,' I say later. 'In her world, I'm just white" (Moraga 234). Moraga understands the unfairness of categories because she is forced to defend her own system of categorization in regards to her identity, "Nobody else has to – prove who they are, prove who they aren't" (Moraga 237). It is because of this that Moraga is destined to not belong to any race; she will never be accepted as one thing but will continue to pass through the worlds of other races, privileged to experience life from many points of view but always aware of who she considers herself to be.

Moraga resembles a chameleon in the sense that how her light-skin is viewed by others is based on and varies with her surroundings. According to Moraga, "My lovers have always been the environment that defined my color" (Moraga 233). She has been viewed as a whitegirl with a Black lover, a Puerto Rican when in Brooklyn, "Spanish" when in Harlem, a Cuban when in México, a brown girl in a family of brown girls sitting on a brownstone, a half-breed who looks like every other breed when among the Native American in the United States, everybody's cousin among Chicanas, Italian, and Jewish (Moraga 233). Moraga's race is somehow constantly changing despite the fact that the reality is that her biological race never does. For her, race always exists, even in her relationships, "In love, color blurs but never wholly disappears" (Moraga 232); not only that, but her relationships have defined her race.

Though Moraga is able to pass as what she is not, she is always aware during these masquerades of her position as "other" and chooses to embrace it, "Call me breed. Call me trash. Call me spic greaser beaner dyke jota bulldagger. Call me something meant to set me apart from you and I will know who I am. Do not call me 'sister.' I am not yours" (Moraga 237).. Here, Moraga considers the possibility that she is speaking to her brother, who has entered the white world, making a choice she does not understand but is natural to him. She sees it as a choice made against her. The category of biracial is a category that encompasses individuals of many different races. It is not its own race; Moraga is not judged by the fact that she is biracial but by the color of her skin. Even her brother, who has the same genetic backgrounds as Moraga, does not understand her position because he can comfortably pass as white.

However, she cannot comfortably embrace the white world, but she cannot totally deny it either, "Still, I push her away from me that night, that white away from me. But she will not let go" (Moraga 236). Moraga's father was white, and it is a part of her. Her reaction to how she resembles her grandmother is uneasy, "She was white, and therefore, foreign. And now, over a generation later, her daughter tells me I was made in her likeness" (Moraga 235). At first, Moraga cannot imagine how she would be able to relate to this woman who is "other" to her. It is the whiteness that Moraga has issues coming to terms with because, for Moraga, white is more distant to her than any other race. White is accepted and presents her with the illusion that there is clarity in being white, an identity that automatically extends power. White is something that she will never be at the same time that it is a part of her. What allows Moraga to finally embrace the white that she fears inside her is the white women she loves:

My aunt's name is Barbara, and I am here to make peach with her in the white women I love, in the white woman I am. All those "Betts," that "trash," that working-class whitegirl I learned to fear on the "other" side of the family, on the "other" side of me. (Moraga 236)

She realizes that if she is to love herself, she must look beyond the categories to what she is, still capable of inventing herself but only if she acknowledges all aspects of her identity. She must be able to know herself so that she will not lose herself in all her experiences. Moraga is also forced to come to terms with the fact that she cannot seamlessly transform herself into a Mexican woman either, "I am a trespasser. I do not need signs to remind me. My immigrant blood is a stain I carry in the fading of my flesh each winter. But I am made of clay" (Moraga 239).

Clay is a part of the earth, and it is this view of herself that allows Moraga to find peace. We all come from the earth, and the earth does not judge us by our skin color. Moraga is never "other" to the earth; it is not a relationship concerned with race like all the others she has been a part of, "I have never had a race-less relationship. Somehow I have always attributed this to being mixed-blood, but I wonder if anyone has" (Moraga 232). Moraga realizes that as a result of the world we live in and its need for a system of categorization in order to maintain order, we are all subject to being judged by our race. White is a race category that denies experiences just as biracial is; neither category embraces the individual's culture, or in Moraga's case, the multiple cultures that she has experienced. To be categorized as white is not a reflection of a world without race as Moraga knows first-hand. However, Moraga realizes that she has lived in a world of color different from most individuals, that she has never been one thing definitively, and that this has allowed her to see beyond skin color once she was able to see past her own, "The first colored woman I slept with wasn't colored at all but darker than me in her anger, in her resolve" (Moraga 234). Color is not about skin but about experience just as race is.

Moraga never able to transcend race; it is too much a part of her and has defined the world in which she lives for too long, but as is apparent in her statement about her lovers, her sexuality and relationships are not separate from her race. Moraga's identity may be entrenched in her race but it is not only her race that has defined her experience. In fact, it could be argued that it is not her race that defined her experience at all because even though she is biracial, she has lived as a woman of many different races; she is white and Mexican but has passed as other races. It is not just because she is biracial that decided this for her but a result of her particular skin color and, as Moraga has stated herself, her relationships with women of other races, in other words, her sexuality. Just as her race and sexuality have equally defined her experience, voice, and identity so has her gender, "...we've known a lot of women. Why is it so hard to write of what we know about women? And much of what I know, I admit, is about race" (Moraga 232). Moraga has indirectly answered her question in her writing. She cannot write only of being a woman because her experience has not been defined only by belonging to the category of woman. It is this inability to speak for the collective that returns us to the voice of the individual, the value in the individual experience.

Moraga is willing to place her hope in the "others," of this world, "Maybe they are the hope of the future, these mixed beings who will bridge a world of opposition, re-unite the human with the natural world" (Moraga 237). Her use of the expression "mixed beings" can be interpreted as one that transcends race. After all, we are all "mixed beings," capable of being placed into multiple categories by those around us seeking to order their worlds. We place ourselves into categories in order to establish a collective identity, to avoid isolation and loneliness. However, our identities are defined by our individual experiences, by the stories that are told by our individual voices, and not by our categories. One individual will never be able to speak for the collective identity, only the individual because there is no "normal" experience contained in a single category. We are all "others;" we just haven't realized it yet, haven't found the value in the individual experience and voice. At the conclusion of "The Breakdown of the Bicultural Mind" Moraga's tone has become hopeful for the future as she writes, "All is familia: ancestor and future generations. The tree branches out, bears fruit...Not violence, but a slow and peaceful return to the river" (Moraga 239). According to Moraga's analogy, we are all connected through the tree of life; we are all family. Categories are the branches linking us to each other. However, we are all individual pieces of fruit, comprised of our own unique combination of categories, our own separate experiences.

Cal has spent his life with others categorizing him and defining him by his gender, "Can you see me? All of me? Probably not. No one ever really has" (Eugenides 218). By only examining Cal's gender and sexuality and Moraga's race, we lost something. We weren't able to understand their experiences because we only concerned ourselves with the categories we believed defined them, ignoring the reality that there is always, as Foucault says, "empty space," the meaning of which is just as significant as the words that are present. The answer is not to be found in language, in the words that stand for categories; categories will never be able to represent the wealth and diversity of experience just as the words for emotions cannot contain the particular detail of how emotions are experienced, "Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in 'sadness,' 'joy,' or 'regret.' Maybe the best proof that language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling" (Eugenides 217). We must realize that the only "normal" that exists is what is "normal" to the individual, to us. Our categories do not define us; we define ourselves. Through our experiences, we create identities that are unique to us, and we, as "others," must learn to value our individual experiences because that is where the answer is, where it always has been.


Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. New York: Picador, 2002.

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New
York: Vintage Books.

Moraga, Cherríe. "The Breakdown of the Bicultural Mind." Names We Call Home:
Autobiography on Racial Identity. Eds. Becky Thompson and Sangeeta Tyagi.
New York: Routledge.

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