Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Middlesex - by Jeffrey Eugenides

For the first time ever I will be using gender neutral pronouns, which I never believed would actually make communication easier, but now I see that in some cases, it does.

Eugenides Pulitzer-Prize winning novel is among one of the best books I've ever read. It tells a story that is rarely treated in fiction (of an individual with intersex genitalia); it is well written and narrated, with a story line that crosses three generations of a Greek-Orthodox family, two continents, and includes an incestuous romance.

The narrator is Calliope (Cal) Stephanides who is raised as a girl, but has a sense that zir genitalia is not quite the same as zir classmates at the all-girl school ze attends. Ze is baffled as to why ze does not develop breasts, and wonders if ze will ever start menstruating. After an accident sends zim to the emergency room, teenage "Callie" learns that ze has XY sex chromosomes, and adopts a new gender identity as Cal.

It is in the New York Public Library that Cal researches zir condition, while zir parents consult with a specialist who recommends sex-normalization surgery, combined with hormone treatments in order for their child to maintain zir identity as a girl. Meanwhile, Cal looks up the meanings of hypospadias, eunuch, and hermaphrodite using the good ol' Webster's Dictionary
...a battered dictionary in a great city library. A venerable, old book, the shape and size of a headstone, with yellowing pages that bore marks of the multitudes  who had consulted them before me. There were pencil scrawls and ink stains, dried blood, snack crumbs; and the leather binding itself was secured to the lectern by a chain. Here was a book that contained the collected knowledge of the past...
You just can't get that connection to others with an online dictionary. As convenient as it is to look things up online, I still sometimes get out of my chair and take out the print dictionary just to thumb through it, so I can stop and learn a word that I didn't know before, and to connect with others before me who have done the same.

In addition to Cal's dictionary work, scattered  throughout this work, are some other library uses, ranging from suggestions to look something up in the history books, and finding phone books from other cities at the Detroit Public Library, to discovering life-changing community announcements, and home libraries as places to work and study.

For more information on individuals with intersex see the Intersex Society of North America website

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