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The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
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Through Camille's Eyes: Prancing In and Out Time, Consciousness and Space

Nada Ali

From the moment of conception, gender is determined by the science, religion and literature that encourage it. We are born, as male or female, boy or girl and become man or woman, heterosexual or homosexual. The boxes man has created for himself lay the basis for the formation of our identity, social, economic and political roles and our inescapable future. No aspect of life escapes the gender we embody. From prehistory to religion, to science and technology, literature and poetry and the infamous legal and moral codes that pervade our life in so many countless ways, they all help determine and classify our gender. Ever fill out a form and one of the first questions asks you to categorize yourself as male or female. I would think that one has done that mindlessly more times that one can count or imagine. Many would argue that distinct categories are essential and a part of life and questioning their existence only means that we are questioning for the sake of doing so. Hence, the question becomes, who am I? Do I not exist if the categories don't apply? Am I invisible or just simply an anomaly that need not be accounted for? This is the story of my life, these are questions that perplex me and these are the people that tried to make sense of who and what I was.

It was a warm and sunny day. The light breeze hit my pale skin as I walked along the side of a beautiful and rigid cliff. The ocean sparkled in endless scorn as the sun glistened its calm exterior. Underneath the calmness of the ocean laid a quiet storm of fault lines and tectonic plates, pressing up against each other, only to erupt into the calmness in a moments notice. I liked the sea. I liked the way it smelt, the way it deceived and the way it spoke to me. I was a quiet storm, a soul with no place, yet with so much to say. Beneath my silence was a tumultuous bottomless pit of whirlpools of emotion and pain. I was the ocean in so many ways. Bottled up inside me lay the secrets, the fault lines, the insecurities, the homelessness and the engulfing emotions of nature's treachery. I was a woman and yet a man. But there is no names for me, for only freaks understand me because I know and they know that I am nothing if not one of them.

In many ways, the only thing I do have is a name. A beautiful name, which captures every memory I have of my past life and every moment I have to cherish. My name is Camille and that is who I am. Like the ocean, I too live in the vastness of obscurity and delusion. That's why I like coming to the seaside cliff that is one day going to be my fate. As I sit on the cliff's edge and think about what would happen if I were to slip. But I haven't slipped just yet and so I really don't know or perhaps I do and just don't want to commit the sin that will compel me to greater hell. Would it be better or worse? Have I not been punished enough, I wonder. As I stare into the ocean, I lapse into my slumber sanctuary. I lose myself in the enormity of the blue ocean and I remember my suffering and fate and I accept again and again.

I was born in the eighteenth century in a small village in France. I was an ambitious young individual and legally pronounced a woman at birth. I was neither pretty nor ugly but I was loved. Loved by my hardworking mother and my best friend and lover, Sara. It was more love than I needed or wanted, enough to last me through the annals of time and space. The tenderness of Sara's touch invoked only the greatest memories. I could not have asked for anything more. For her and my gracious mother, I am eternally thankful and hateful. While I was born a girl and became a someone I was met with a surprise that didn't necessarily astound me. At the unsettled age of 19, the courts and science pronounced me a man because I had the hidden genitals of a man and the traditional desires for women in the ways only men can. I suppose I am a man by body and desire, and a woman by mind and spirit. I guess I am what they call, a hermaphrodite. I may not like the description but for you out there it is the closest you will get to understanding me. I tried to avoid telling you but society made me tell. You made me tell. I could hear the voices in your head, wondering and trying to identify where I would fit and belong, as though I'm a part of a puzzle, you do not have the piece for. Fear not though, I have been here before. It is not your fault, it is what you have been taught. You don't know better, nor do you understand and I don't expect much of you. After all even, "science does not have the gift of miracles, and even less does it have the gift of prophecy," (Barbin; 39) so how can I blame you.

I thought science had all the answers. I had worked in a school before I turned into a man. Science was taught there with an authority of religion. They both were the truth and hence, had the answers to the questions that have troubled our minds since the beginning of time and space. I met one such man among many others. He was different and not in the most admirable way. But he stays with me. His name was Dr. Ernst Mayr, evolutionary biologist, proudly hailed as the "Darwin" of his century. A proud man he was, filled with the knowledge I did not possess and furthermore the knowledge I did not fit. For him everything was science, God was the fallacy and evolution was a fact. I met him through my doctor. We were all attending a seminar at Harvard University in Boston. What a glorious city it was. History, duck tours, shopping malls, great food and so many young people adorned the streets of this American gem. It was exciting and beautiful until the seminar with Dr. Mayr.

As I walked into the room filled with men and women of all ages, their eyes shifted on to me as if I was a circus freak. I looked around the room uncomfortably, searching for a friendly, unimposing face. But I found no solace, in a room full of scientists and Gods. The plain white walls, the dark brown roundtable with the black leather chairs and the most fluorescent white lights I had ever seen, the room welcomed nobody, especially me. As I struggled with the glances and the whispers, I managed to find a seat near an old man with grayish white hair and the harshest wrinkles I had ever seen. Every line on the man's face had a story, but in a room full of scientists I knew my story would be deemed a folk tale. Wrinkles were a part of our biological transformation into old age and here I knew nothing.

Dr. Mayr was the presiding chair of the seminar. Alongside him, sat another distinguished gentleman, Daniel C. Dennett. Before I forget, I should perhaps mention that the seminar was about the "social and biological place of hermaphrodites." I was their subject of analysis but even here I didn't have a voice. Dr. Mayr began by introducing the some 20 people in the room and then proceeded to lecture. I will not bore you with the details of these lectures and their rebuttals. Science has a way of finding an answer that suits the minds of those who understand it but distances the emotions that it invokes in our hearts and souls. But I will summarize what he said because in many ways it is these views that shaped my external identity. Dr. Mayr, insisted on classifying me as one of the two genders. He kept emphasizing that I was biologically a man and hence, should become a man through hormone therapy. Furthermore my attraction to women fueled the pressure to socially adapt to becoming what biology had intended my body to be. I cannot lie. The very thought of being someone, comforted me at first. I wanted an identity, an answer for the question on all those legal forms; a place to belong that would help me operate in society with some degree of normalcy. This however, didn't last very long for the longer I heard them the more I wanted to be something else. As Mr. Dennett spoke and the memes pervaded my mind, they forever grounded me in my own reality and reminded me that I was different and evolution was stumped and the mutation was to be my downfall.

My memory fails to remember the excruciatingly boring and almost painful details of the biology I had everything to do with, but just one quote, used by Mr. Dennett, forever strikes a cord in my understanding of assimilation into a world that must give me a name to be at peace with itself. Mr. Dennett said, quoting Charles Darwin, "Thus at last man comes to feel, through acquired and perhaps inherited habit, that it is best for him to obey his more persistent impulses. The imperious word ought seems merely to imply the consciousness of the existence of a rule of conduct, however it may have originated." (Dennett; 494) My persistent impulse had been to become one of the two classifications of gender to ease my journey through this life. I was to be one of the two or forever lie in silence. Even with this understanding I was silent as Mr. Dennett discussed the role of memes as the new kind of genes. Memes were ideas and in essence the vehicles of ideas that invaded our brain and took root in it. The memes of Mayr and Dennett invaded my brain as I walked out of the seminar in a state of disarray. Society may have made me a woman, but I was biologically a man and in order to live as a normal human being with a wife and a lover with aspirations and dreams, I had to succumb to the social and biological dictates and the standards set by my genitals. I was a man and Mayr and Dennett had deemed me so. Who am I to fight the authority and classifications of scientists and Gods?

Suddenly, I felt a slight nudge. I was awoken from my slumber. As I looked up, the sun shone brightly into my eyes. I quickly shut them. Drowsy and confused, I opened my eyes, guarding them with my hands. It was Cal! Wearing his signature brown corduroy pants with a cream colored shirt, his eyes met mine in a silent hello. Cal and I had been a part of a support group for hermaphrodites and intersex individuals. As he sat down next to me, at the edge of a cliff, silence consumed us. But it was okay. We never needed to talk, he understood me and I him. As we sat and stared into the horizon, I felt comfortable and secure. My silence didn't derive itself from my pain, but strangely from the comfort of another like me. Cal had once been Callie, just like I had once been Camille.

In many ways, I still was Camille, but Cal was never going to be Callie again. I envied him. I envied his strength, courage and resolve but most of all I envied his Julie. With the onset of my 'condition' came the loss of Sara, but Cal had accepted society, conformed and lived his life as another with the beautiful Julie. He wasn't dramatic or overtly emotional about his past. It didn't haunt him. He just accepted it and never looked back with pain or suffering, he only looked back with acceptance and the appropriate emotions of the time. Perhaps his happy childhood was the cause. I had not had one. I wasn't ever free of the demons that possessed me. Without them, I wasn't me. My demons formed me and were simply a part of me.

Suddenly, without a word, Cal stood up. He looked onto the ocean, probably wondering about his grandparent's journey from Greece, the mutation they had wed in genetic matrimony and his parents. There was calmness around him; his acceptance of himself and his unique situation was reflected in the calm exterior of the ocean. He sighed, not out of sadness or pain, but out of awe for the beauty around. Without looking directly at me, he turned around and slowly walked away. Cal had never understood why I wasn't able to live with myself. He always wondered why I couldn't accept my childhood as it was and my adulthood as it is. He has read my memoirs and was probably disappointed in me or maybe he wished he were able to be emotional and let go of his pretenses about his so called happy life. I honestly didn't think so but hoped in some ways that he too envied me. But then again, in many ways, I wanted to be the only one who felt the pain I felt. I didn't know why I wanted to keep my pain with me. Whether it was because I didn't want anyone else to experience my pain or because I sadistically enjoyed it, I didn't know. All I knew was that I felt like I was an outcast, a stone cast away to the side, left undisturbed with a heaviness that no one saw in all my lifelessness.

Out of the stillness of the picturesque view and warmth of the slight breeze, I felt a presence. I didn't know what or who it was. As I looked around, all I saw were beautiful palm trees and a lush garden filled with the greenest grass I had ever seen. My eyes searched for the presence but saw nothing. As I turned my gaze towards the cliff, I walked towards the edge. As I looked down, I saw the rugged and jagged cliff side. The calmness of the ocean from the viewing point was lost here, as the waves crashed into the side of the cliff, spraying water into the air. I could see myself falling, hitting the bottom with an awful thud, only to be washed away by the pull of the oceans thrust. It would engulf me into its arms and beneath the calmness; I would see its true colors. Its belly filled with a savage world where I too would become prey to the lustful hunger for blood within its soul. I could feel the ocean watching me and as I edged towards the ocean as if I were stepping off a curb, a hand grabbed me.

Startled, I looked below at my dangling foot. All of a sudden, I felt scared as I watched the little rocks underneath my shoes fall towards what looked like a raging ocean. The sun was now setting. The water looked as though it was drenched in the blood, as it devoured the symbol of all life, the sun. Darkness was descending and I seized the arm of the person that had grabbed me. The person helped me to the side and I gasped for air as I realized what I was doing. It suddenly became cold and I felt myself shivering. Slowly I looked up to get a good look at my savior or perhaps interrupter, who was this that cared enough to save me.

Not one word escaped the mouth of this person. I couldn't tell if it was a he or a she. He/she looked like a modern Robin Hood, wearing black tights and a beige oversized shirt, my savior had the face of an angel and the silence of my soul. There was a twinkle in his/her eyes and the slender structure of his/her body allowed me to assume silently that it must be a woman. An awfully strong woman, but definitely a woman. I looked upon her and asked her whom she was and she answered with an air of confidence and the authority of importance. "I am Orlando," she said. Before I could inquire any further, she sprung up, held out her hand and walked. I didn't know where she was taking me or why. As she skipped through the trees, I felt an overwhelming need to run. Hence, my skip became a run and I ran like I had never run before. I wanted to cry, but I couldn't, I wanted to scream, but I had not the voice and I wanted to fly but I had not the wings. And then I stopped. I couldn't breathe, my clothes were torn, my body ached and I was cold. But there she stood, her silhouette was haunting and I couldn't see her face. I sat down, I felt like she knew me, my hurt, my pain, my desires and most of all, my secret.

I gazed up at her; she had such a penetrating gaze. It pierced the very core of my being and everything. I was scared as to what she would find, scared most of all of what she may not find; my soul. She looked upon me and said the words I will never forget; "dear Camille, it is not in our physical state that we live our lives, but rather in our souls and selves that we are alive. Do not think that you are alone, for everybody has a little bit of everything. It is what you feel like being that makes you who you are. That is who you are and you may change your mind tomorrow but let that not deter you from being who you are today. Listen to the ocean roar, embrace the sunlight, run through the meadows and climb up those mountains, because soon we all change. Look at me; I am neither a she nor a he. I wasn't born as one and I will not die or be remembered as one. All I want is who I am in the moment and I have a million selves all searching in time and space for fires that ignite my being. Do not fret, be yourself and may your soul rest in peace." And with these profound words, she vanished into thin air. I searched and I searched, there were so many questions I needed answered. But standing there in the middle of nothingness, I found no other.

As I walked back towards the road, I saw couples holding hands, children playing carelessly, dinners in the patio, cinema lights, cigarette vendors, gas stations, movie posters and wonderful little beach stores. Happiness, joy, sexuality and gender, oh they had it all. As I walked down the most vibrant street in the little beach town, I couldn't help but feel sorry for myself. Orlando may have been right. Perhaps it wasn't that important to have a gender. But then I thought again about all the people I had met in my long life as a wandering soul condemned by the Gods to eternal pain because of the suicide I had committed in the eighteenth century. Oh God, did I forget to mention that. Oh please, don't be surprised; I am as dead as I was when I was alive. Even when science had deemed me to be alive and kicking I was as dead as I am today. I wasn't noticed then and I am not noticed today. I roam the Earth condemned by the universe and God, denied by the scientists that prod and poke my kind and my memory in life. I am hopeless and silences because in this world and the next, I am nobody. Even the worms and the maggots forego my skin, as I rot in the grave that I never inhabited. I am what I am, and no matter how hard I try I find myself at the edge of that cliff time and again, committing the sin whose punishment I cannot escape. It mars my name in death as my condition marred my name in life.

I've thought of the countless times I had witnessed the time of birth and the determination of gender via our physical appearance. In the last fifty years or so, they invented the ultrasound and now they determine gender even before the child is born. Our genitals serve as a marker of who we will become as we pass through the stages of growth and life. From the slap on our bottoms at birth, to the moment we close our eyes in death, our gender remains constant and society demands that it does so. I had tried to see my life differently, but every time I committed the same mortal sin and every time I returned to this wretched life in between the heavens and the Earth only to relive the horror of my past. I cannot escape my pain. I cannot breathe. I wander endlessly and ceaselessly into the darkness. The warmth rejects me, my paleness astounds me and my lack of compassion for myself denies me solace. Denies me into abandonment, loneliness and scorn for all of eternity, until the scientists and the Gods, find an end for us all.

This paper is based on the following books:
Daniel Dennett. Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Ernst Mayr. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic, 2001

Herculine Barbin. Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite. Intro. Michel Foucault. Trans. Richard McDougall. New York: Pantheon, 1980.

Jeffrey Eugenides. Middlesex. New York: St. Martin's, 2002.

Virginia Woolf. Orland: A Biography. 1928; rpt. New York: Harvest.


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