Paper # 2

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Paper # 2

Kelsey G

Kelsey G
Gender and Sexualities Paper #2

In presenting a biologically intersexed character in his novel, who also articulates very "intersexed" or mixed emotions concerning both sexual attraction and gender identity, Eugenides constructively complicates his reader's pre-conceptions of "Man vs. Woman" and "Feminine vs. Masculine," but more specifically, "Sex vs. Gender." However, Calliope's language remains consciously gendered as either female or male depending on which gender this character chooses to be. As the creator of Calliope's fluctuating gendered language, Eugenides complicates the dichotomy both between and within "being gendered" and "self-gendering." Michelle Rosaldo and Diana Fuss analyze the density behind creating gendered language, and how this in turn, affects both people's personal gender identification and the gendered image they choose present to others. Drawing upon their analysis of gender construction, I believe that Calliope both self-defines, and allows himself to be placed into, a gender category that others create for him based on their assumption of his biological identity; and thus, does not fully transcend male and female categorizations because he still communicates within them. By analyzing the language that Eugenides creates for Calliope, I hope to use Middlesex as a tool for exposing the complexity behind both presenting and being an intersexed person.
Calliope Stephananides is not just male or female, neither is this character strictly masculine or feminine; instead, as an embodiment all of these categorizations, Calliope physically and mentally is presented to transcend these categorical simplifications. However, as a biologically intersexed person, does Calliope really transcend both of them? Or, does he transcend from to gender to another? Eugenides introduces Calliope's gender crossing as both a physical and mental re-birth:

"I was born twice: First as a baby girl...and then again as a teenage boy. Like Tiresias, I was first one thing and then another. I've left my body in order to occupy others—and all this happened before I turned sixteen."

The fact that Eugenides articulated through Calliope the need to be re-born from a girl to a boy indicates that Cal's social environment did not allow him to be both. Also, since he personally felt the need to "occupy" other bodies (male) in order to experience being male , it may be inferred that this social pressure to be either male or female creates a conscious need for him to self-gender his actions, behavior, and aesthetic appearance when identifying as either a man or a girl.

As a child, Calliope seems to embrace his femininity:

"Still pretty, Calliope soon finds herself the shortest girls in the room. She drops her eraser. No boy brings it back...and Calliope feels gypped, cheated. Remember me? I'm waiting? She says to nature. I'm waiting. I'm still here."

It isn't until puberty that Calliope beings to question his gender:

"Until I reached puberty and androngens flooded my bloodstream, the ways in which I differed from girls were hard to detect."

Thus, it is only after puberty, when he physically appears more male and is defined a hermaphrodite , that Calliope decides to become "Cal," but still accepts a "once female" identity:

"A word on penises. What was Cal's official position on penises? Among them, surrounded by them, his feelings were the same as they had been as a girl: by equal measures fascinated and horrified. Penises have never really done that much for me."

Although Cal is conscious of his intersexed identity, he does not seem to be comfortable with it. Calliope allows himself to be either placed into a female or male gender, but yet, does not allow himself to be intersexed.

What is the main indicator to a person's gender? It is their perceived biological sex, which is usually assumed to be either male or female. In her article "The Use and Abuse of Anthropology," Michelle Rosaldo clearly states this universal fact:

"Every social system used facts of biological sex to organize and explain the roles and opportunities men and women may enjoy, just as all known human social groups appeal to biologically based ties in the construction of "familiar" groups and social bonds."

However, she also believes that this "universal fact" of male and female gender division is also self-defining:

"My alternative is to insist that sexual asymmetry is a political and social fact, much less concerned with individual resources and skills than with relationships and claims that guide the ways that people act and shape their understandings"

Although Rosaldo addresses the complexity behind placing biological men and women into sexual preference categories, and not the complexity behind gendering biologically intersexed people as male or female, her argument is still productive to Calliope's predicament. By gendering people, we assume them to be something that perhaps they are not. However, since we can not seem to get past this simplified perception of biology and its constructs, we should work within it to see how and why gender is so often created by a male or female biological image.

Eugenides hints in an interview with Bram van Moorheim that both he and his character are working within Rolsaldo's "universal" fact and its biological limitations; however, he contradicts Calliope's self-proclaimed gender male identity by referring to him as female:

"...My narrator is determined by her genes, she has this genetic mutation there's no escaping of. But the mutation does not make her who she is, does not determine everything about her life, and that's one of the things the book is strongly determine in."

In defending the Calliope against being gendered, Eugenides himself chooses to define his character as a female. This is problematic because Calliope does not wish to be seen as a female:

"Its amazing what you can get used to. After I returned to San Francisco and started living as a male, my family found that, contrary to popular opinion, gender was not all that important. My change from girl to boy was far less dramatic than the distance anybody travels from infancy to adulthood. In most ways I remained the person I'd always been. Even now, though I live as a man, I remain in essential ways Tessie's daughter."

Calliope presents a consciously gendered narrative within his complex biological identity. However, in creating an intersexed character free from a concrete "male" or "female" gender, Eugenides himself does not address Calliope without a gendered bias. Calliope concludes his story by embracing a male gender identity ; yet, his creator identifies him as female.

In her article "Inside/Out," Diana Fuss urges a deconstruction of homosexual and heterosexual boundaries. Since Calliope is a hermaphrodite, he can not be defined as either homosexual or heterosexual because he is biologically intersexed. However, Fuss' critique of the "sexing" of homosexuals and heterosexuals is applicable to perhaps why Eugenides "sexes" his male character female:

"The issue is the old standoff between confrontation and assimilation: Does one compromise oneself by working on the inside, or does one shortchange oneself by holding tenaciously to the outside?"

In same interview with Moorheim, Eugenides claims his purpose to presenting a female inter sexed character is to humanize and make rational the identity of hermaphrodites:

"I use the hermaphrodite in this book not to soley talk about intersex conditions, but more. The hermaphrodite is a correlative to adolescence, to illustrate a period where everyone goes through. Adolescence implies being confused about identity and being confused about sexuality to a certain extent. When people read it, they find that they're sympathizing with Callie as she goes through the metamorphosis far more than they expect, because many of the things that take up the occupations and the anxieties are what one shares and what one has."

The majority of academia prefers to define gender in biological terms limited to male and female. Although we embrace variations of sexuality that include bisexuality, homosexuality, and transexuality, our intuition remains focused on constructing gender on either a male or female biological platform. Although Eugenides presents the complexity behind assembling gender and sexuality identities based on one's aesthetic biological sex, his intersexed character remains read as either "female" or "male" although he is physically neither one. Calliope is aware that his gender and sexual desire differences oppose conventional heterosexual biological women; however, this person's gender is still defined in terms of his biological appearance. Calliope interprets himself as female when he looks "female," and "male" when he looks "male." All human beings are biologically gendered within the context of their social environment, so to focus on whether or not sex and gender categories are a biological or cultural phenomenon is irrelevant. What is more important is to look at how we categorize people based on our own ingrained assumptions, and then, seek to delineate these innate preconceptions. It is only when we complicate the ideas that we automatically contain concerning both sex and gender that we become more open to alternative constructions of human gender identity; and thus, grow to accept people as "people" and not gendered biological beings.


1. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middle Sex. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002

2. Michelle Rosaldo. "The Use and Abuse of Anthropology: Reflections of Feminism and Cross-Cultural Understanding." 389-417.

3. Diana Fuss. "Inside/Out." Critical Encounters: Reference and Responsibility in Deconstructive Writing. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995. 233-240.

4. 3 A.M. Magazine, and interview with Jeffrey Eugenides by Bram van Morrison 2003

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