Categorization: Biology, Society, or Something Else?

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Categorization: Biology, Society, or Something Else?

Samantha Martinez

We are at an interesting point in our ongoing discussion about gender and sex in our class. Reading and dissecting Eugenides' Middlesex has been most illuminating for many reasons, specifically because his character Cal is a conundrum of biology and society, gender roles and gender identity that remains as complicated to me as it has been since the start of our class. I believe Eugenides' intentions were to make us think about categories and how limiting they can be for those who in some way cannot be categorized male or female, but has failed to convince me that there is a way to ever have anything but these limited categories. Much like Foucault who believes the problems we have in society are because our categorizations are too tied to societal rules, he is unable to provide a solution to living in the world where our gender is not somehow defined, constructed, and an inevitable role we must play.

Many in class have praised this book as a wonderful read, one that lyrically imagines the life of an intersexed person coming to terms with their gender misidentification. Eugenides could have taken Cal's character on a journey to self-acceptance as an intersexed person, where Cal would not have had to choose a life and gender identity from the binary of male and female but to bring to light a "third sex" if you will, one that was just as viable as male and female. There is an underlying assumption throughout this book that presumes choices are being made, that the chaos of the world somehow helps people sort themselves out. I do not find this a convincing strain throughout, since Cal's "choice" was not mediated through any free will or act of agency, but from a piece of paper, a statement using "biology" that defined Cal as part male. I firmly believe the individual in a society in interaction with others and through a social process are socialized into gender roles and gender identities, and that Cal's case does not seem feasible because society did not play a role in Cal's choice to become a boy. My main question is, why would Cal, who stated at several points after the discovery of Cal's "intersexed" status that she believed herself to be a girl and felt comfortable in this category, she would so easily choose to change her appearance to the world into a male persona?

Many of the authors we have discussed until this point have questioned where gender is formed, whether it was Ortner's discussion of nature and culture or Foucault's insistence that these categories manifested themselves during the Victorian era, the question has yet to be answered in a way that makes sense to me. Eugenides strings together his ideas on the role of biology and society throughout and seems to contradict or to confuse the point he wants to make. For example, the doctor, Luce, makes statements such as "Gender was like a native tongue; it didn't exist before birth but was imprinted in the brain during childhood, never disappearing. (Middlesex, Pg. 411)" Yet this is the same doctor that wants to fix the "mistake" of biology and make Cal who has been socialized and raised as a girl and who has constructed a self as a female, to have "male" parts. I am not sure which is the most important point Eugenides wants us to leave with. It seems to me that he is advocating for people to stick with the biological and he made the choice for Cal to live as a man, even though Cal's biology was both male and female. Cal on the other hand never "felt" herself to be male except for some external signs that were unlike other females she compared herself to. I do not think, as Talya questions, that biology affects a person greater than the categories and labels placed on us by our cultures and society.

I think these are the problems that Foucault alludes to in his introduction to The Order of Things, the problem being categorizations, and how they come about in society. He speaks of an isomorphism that occurs when a "network of analysis...ignores the extreme diversity of the objects under consideration. (Foucault, xi)" Eugenides has taken on something that is beyond his capabilities to explain, to redefine or deconstruct what we in the Western world define as the "right" sexes, the only ones in which we can use to discuss human beings, in a work of fiction.

Cal's position is perplexing because it lies somewhere in a question I asked in my last paper, that being where do people who decide to bend gender roles learn this? What happens in a person's life that gives them the agency for this? Cal did not make the decision to bend the gender rules/roles imposed upon her but to reject them all together, and yet people do make a choice to live on the borders as Fuss speaks about. I wish we could talk more about these borderlands, the ones that straddle hetero and homo, woman, man, other, everything else. I had hoped that Cal was going to return to her life with some modification and that Eugenides had figured out a way to talk about this "grey space." I agree with Fuss when she ascertains, "[we need] a theory of marginality, subversion, dissidence, and othering. (Fuss, 237)"

I also wonder if Cal found it more feasible to have the excuse of a biological mistake then to deal with her feelings and attraction to girls. How could this be so easily overlooked as being of significance to Cal's decision? We were led to the point of accepting the initial discussion of incest but homosexuality was just too taboo? Or perhaps I am falling into what Foucault keeps warning us about, that we have an obsession with naming things and that it does not really tell us about our interiors. Maybe I would like to talk more about our interiors. I have often mentioned this in class, this need to talk more about how our selves come to be and how this influences the (societal and cultural) gender roles we follow and our sexual identities.

* * * *

At this point, I want to change the conversation a bit to talk about the questions I have about the making and unmaking of categories of sex and gender. Mainly, I am concerned that it is not possible to think about not using categories to describe ourselves in this world because I do not think we can help but make up categories so that we can make sense of the world. To follow a discourse like Foucault's to me would seem like transcending life on earth. I think the questions we have not asked are how we are going to reconstruct ideas of gender roles in our society, how to live in a society that accepts that there are perhaps 16 sexes, as Paul Grobstein would have us believe, and others I am sure I have missed. I also want to consider other points of view regarding the making and un-making of gender that is not so entrenched in the ideas of a dominant [read, white, privileged, educated] ideology. I think there is a discourse out there that could talk about the borderlands that Cal walked through that would explain some of the reasons why he chose to become male. Gloria Anzaldua has spoken at length about being on the border of gender, sex, culture, etc.

In addition, we spent a considerable time asking each other about Foucault's idea of a table and what we thought this meant in our conversations about gender. I think in our class, the table is all of our conceptions of gender and sexuality. It is the grid by which we consider the options to make new categories or not, and the location of our reluctance to change.

Can we unmake cultural and societal definitions of gender and sex? I do not think it is something we can do just yet, because doing so would mean reaching beyond the confines of our minds, our classrooms, theorizing, and confronting people who would react strongly against anything that is considered radical. How do people live on the borders, or go against gender roles? I do not think the answer lies in our genes, or in our minds, but in that part of us that is un-nameable and is influenced by society, our family, and our desires.

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