A few weeks ago, I finished Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “Middlesex.” For those who haven’t read it, it’s about a hermaphrodite named Calliope, then Cal.
The book’s merits have been sung far and wide, so I won’t repeat them here. I did want to share a passage from the novel that I loved though.
Two sections are highlighted above. The first stuck me because of the phrase “the facticity of my body.” Granted the speaker is a hermaphrodite, so facticity here matters a lot. But, each of us has a certain facticity to our bodies that nevertheless determines a great deal about who we are.
My husband insists that had he been born taller, with a better nose and a better name he would not have done as well in life. Without the challenge of his height, his nose and his name, he wouldn’t have cultured the tenacity that today gets him what he wants.
Plus, “facticity” is just a great word to have around.
From Brain to Mind
The second section that is marked does a great job of summarizing the nature vs. nurture debate. Since science proved that we humans are not as genetically fabulous as we had once thought, the notion of self-determination is “making a come-back,” as Eugenides puts it. Something must account for our apparent superiority within the animal kingdom. So if genetics can’t explain it, then what?
That question is a very personal one. One that is linked to heavy words such as “god,” “history,” “evolution.”
But, on a daily basis, the question of who we are is also linked to gender. By no means does gender make humans remarkable, but it plays a role in how we go about being remarkable in our individual ways.
Gender on the Mind
Gender has been popping up in my reading lately, unintentionally so. A philosophy course I took recently addressed the question of gender as an opportunity for self-expression. The piece I wrote about it lives here.
Then I came across this video about an amazing woman who accepted her six-year-old boy as the girl her son insisted she was. And this article about a highly trained woman in the Army who allowed herself to be mistaken for the man she felt she was. As a result, the Army kicked this woman out.
Finally, I finished Eugenides’ book, which I’d been reading slowly over several months.
After all this reading, there is no question in my mind that gender is imposed. Normally, girls identify with being girls, and boys with boys. But this is not always the case and it isn’t always absolutely true.
For example, there are “girlish” practices I’ve incorporated into my routine because I was born a girl. High heels, for one. I can recognize the fun in make-up, but unless I am confronted with it, the thought never crosses my mind. I have to make a conscious and constant effort to sit with my knees together. Nothing I envy more than the emotional practicality linked to many a guy.
Nevertheless, I am fully a woman. Maternal in a universal sense, but not in a feel-happiest-when-I-am-pregnant one.
What’s more is that many people feel this way about one thing or another linked to their gender. They are absolutely girl or boy, but certain things supposedly linked to being girl or boy remain foreign. So why is accepting and respecting some people’s choice to switch genders such a big deal?
If a man wants to walk around in heels, he should be able to. Yes, as uncomfortable as they are, they can also be damn pretty.