Middlesex is an outline of the life of Calliope Stephanides who grew to the age of fourteen believing that she was a girl with unnatural thoughts for the same sex. As puberty takes hold of her friends and classmates, both Calliope and her family begin to worry about the growing gap between her and the average teenage girl; this marks the beginning of a new life for Calliope who finds she is really a he. Under the new name, Cal, this individual struggles with identity management as he traces his transformation from female to male and the genetic condition, beginning with his paternal grandparents that caused it. I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smog less Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974″. (Middlesex, p. 3). The emergence of Calliope’s mutated chromosome that produced both sex organs began long before her arrival. Throughout the Stephanides Ancestral family tree, there are accounts of inter-family marriage. Middlesex describes two specific accounts of incest beginning with Calliope’s grandparents, Lefty and Desdemona.
The family originates from Greece, the grandparents from Bithynios where their lives began as biological brother and sister until tragedy struck their village and they found only each other for comfort and support. The second inter-family marriage is between Calliope’s own parents, Milton and Tessie, who where second cousins at birth, but fell in love at a young age. Despite Desdemona’s efforts to keep the two cousins apart, they married and had two children, one of which became Cal. INFLUENCE OF GREEK/GREEK-AMERICAN CULTURE:
Don’t waste your time!
Order your assignment!
The Greek background and the trauma Calliope’s grandparents faced before coming to America shapes the actions taken that lead to the late discovery of Calliope’s real existence. Desdemona and Lefty faced many challenges during their transition from Greece to the United States and having to adjust to American culture was difficult. It was only natural for the pair to initially want to reside with tradition and not venture. Desdemona found it the hardest to succumb to American culture, and never fully did. . Upon arrival at Ellis Island Desdemona was forced to adopt the style of a typical
American woman by cutting her long silky hair very short and stripped of her shawl and kerchief to be dressed in a dropped waist dress and floppy hat typical of the time. Desdemona was not pleased and resorted back to her traditional long hair for the remainder of her life; she was not quick to accept the differences from Greece. However, Desdemona followed Lefty through his American adventures and activities. Lefty on the other hand was eager to take on the American lifestyle and quickly adjusted to his new home.
In research done by Angela Boukourakis for the book, It’s Greek to Me, she found the variation for males and females in time needed to adjust to be typical for individuals with Greek backgrounds. Both males and females successfully achieve the “third” space of Greek-American identity in contemporary America. However, from a historical perspective, males assimilated more easily, and more often than females…took females much longer than males…because of Greek traditional Gender roles…allows males more freedom for self-definition… (Boukourakis, p. ). After Tessie and Milton had grown and began their family in Detroit, this imbalance of assimilation still occurred between the Greek-American Stephanides family. The family was struggling in Detroit to keep afloat with the surrounding area quickly declining, so Milton made the decision to move his family to Grosse Point, a nice family oriented neighborhood away from the crime erupting around their former residence. Finding a realtor that would honestly work with Milton to attain a new home was difficult.
Even though the Stephanides family was born in America their Greek background presented obstacles when trying to be viewed as respectable in the public eye. Many homes were unavailable to Milton and Tessie simply because of the Anglo centric attitudes of the neighbors, and their assignment of a model minority to Greek individuals that they are corrupt and will bring the neighborhood down.. …back in those days, real estate agents in Grosse point evaluated prospective buyers by something called the Point System. Milton wasn’t the only one who worried about the neighborhood going to hell. )…Realtors only mentioned “community standards” and selling to “the right sort of people. (Middlesex, p. 256). The Greek culture is very focused around the church and the history of the people; tradition is a feature of life that is highly respected. In Middlesex the family doctor, though aging, is from Greece and knows the family well; because of this he is well trusted and respected. However, because of Dr.
Philobosian’s age, for many years he fails to recognize Calliope’s circumstance. Another explanation for Calliope’s untended condition could be because in the Greek culture a woman’s sexuality and related matters are kept quiet. Calliope’s mother never really had a conversation with her about her development; it was just assumed that things would go as normal and sex would come after marriage, in tradition of course. “Ultimately, for Greeks, it is not sexuality in general but women’s sexuality in particular that is feared and must be controlled”. (Schott, p. 23).
The Greek culture’s historical belief that women are the source of evil and their sexuality should be feared is definite carried through the generations. Even though, Tessie is subconsciously avoiding the topic of sexuality with her daughter, it directly reflects her Greek background. It is evident that the once popular thought that women are evil has been cast aside for a majority of the Greek population. However, the conversations or actions that have held symbolic significance throughout history is embedded deep within the Stephanides family and their Greek-American lifestyle.
Calliope’s struggle with her gender identity from a young age may not have been entirely avoided if Dr. Philobosian would have discovered her mutation, or even if Tessie would have spoken more openly about what it means to be a women or a man. However, the understanding of Calliope’s condition could have shielded the family from shock when after fourteen years Calliope became Cal. The family could have raised the child with an open mind and let Cal’s gender come out naturally instead of by influence.
After being confronted with the truth about their child, Callie’s parents, Tessie and Milton, take her to New York to meet with Dr. Luce, the genetics specialist. In Dr. Luce’s study of the mutation, where he found Cal’s true sex, he states, “In speech, mannerisms, and dress, the subject manifests a feminine gender identity and role, despite a contrary chromosomal status. It is clear by this that sex of rearing, rather than genetic determinants, plays a greater role in the establishment of gender identity”. (Middlesex, p. 437). AN INTERPRETIVE DIAGNOSIS: Dr.
Luce concludes that hormone injections and cosmetics surgery will complete Callie’s “female gender identity. ” However, Callie has mixed feelings about the diagnosis and at this point is only thinking of pleasing those around her and to appear normal. In contemplation Callie thinks, …what could I be but a girl? …The Adolescent ego is a hazy thing, amorphous, cloudlike. It wasn’t difficult to pour my identity into different vessels. In a sense, I was able to take whatever form was demanded of me. I only wanted to know the dimensions. Luce was providing them.
My parents supported them…. The prospect of having everything solved was wildly attractive to me…I only wanted it to be over…So I listened quietly and made no objections…With unerring instinct of children, I had surmised what my parents wanted from me. They wanted me to stay the way I was. And this was what Dr. Luce now promised. (Middlesex, p 434). Callie knows that, if changed, her parents would never look at her the same way, and the public would then see her, as she believes herself to be, as a monster. At this point, Callie, age 14, runs away, never to be “Callie” again.
In this sense Callie is taking on a learned characteristic from her grandparents; fleeing from Greece brought them the same irresistible notion, no one will ever know the truth. She leaves a farewell note for her parents explaining, “If you want to know why I am doing this, you should ask Dr. Luce, who is a big liar! I am not a girl. I’m a boy. ” (Middlesex, p. 439). Cal gets the long locks of hair cut off, buys a suit at Goodwill, and hitchhikes across the country, ending up in San Francisco. Here Cal faces the world alone and on his first night his fears of being seen as a monster are verified.
Soon after his unpleasant encounter with the real world, Cal meets another hermaphrodite named Zora. Zora tells Cal of Plato’s theory on hermaphrodites and explains, “…everybody’s always searching for their other half. Except for us. We’ve got both halves already. ” (Middlesex, p. 489). Even though San Francisco was a dark place that only exploited Cal’s form, Zora offered a place of comfort and made Cal want to stay and learn form her experiences and grow into his new lifestyle. THE LAST STOP Cal’s journey to finding himself took an abrupt break when the fateful raiding of his workplace brought him to finally make the call home.
After calling his brother told him that their father had been killed in an accident. After the devastating news Cal returns home to the family he thought would disown him, but instead finds himself welcomed and comforted. Even though the Greek culture is focused around the church and tradition, when you truly stack the priorities family is by far the most important aspect in the lives of the Stephanides family. Cal is still in search of himself and, like most of us, probably will continue to search for the remainder of his life.
There is always an obstacle to overcome, a fork in the road where a person needs to prove him or herself once again through religion, gender, cultural standing, or a number of other aspects. Throughout Middlesex and the lives of the Stephanides family, culture seemed to be the greatest obstacle and presented itself numerous times. However, for Cal as an individual his gender is a battle that he wages with himself and the rest of the world daily. Cal’s gender, unlike most, was learned and adopted after his identity and culture failed to aid his discovery of his true self.
The understanding of an individual’s distinctiveness and its match with their own self-image is important to assimilate him or herself into a culture or society. Culture remains the most influential part of an individual’s experiences and understanding; for a hermaphrodite adoption into a culture is exceptional crucial for the learning and growing process. “In some culture’s we’re considered freaks. But in others it’s just the opposite. The Navajo have a category of persona they call a berdache…someone who adopts a gender other than their biological one. Remember…sex is biological. Gender is cultural. ” (Middlesex, p. 489).