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Middlesex Reviewed

Published on February 27th, 2016 at 03:23 am

By Dante Moreno

Middlesex, written by Jeffrey Eugenides, is a coming of age story that chronicles the life of a hermaphroditic child. The main character is a hermaphroditic person, who was pronounced a girl at birth, and named Callie, but then is told that she is actually a boy, and goes by Cal for the remainder of the book. The story begins with the immigration of Cal’s grandparents from Greece to America, following occupation and desolation. Cal stresses the importance of his genetic history and fate in creating circumstances that surround his birth. A brother and sister marry, his grandparents, and then second cousins marry, his parents, making the mutated gene that sits on the fifth chromosome of his family tree come to life. The story follows the life of a young girl trying to navigate life, realizing she’s different than other girls, but is okay with this realization, until the fateful day she is hit by a car and introduced to the doctor that understands that she really is different than other girls. Doctor after doctor examines her. Her parents, without Callie’s knowledge or consent, decide on her behalf that Callie should be permanently changed into a girl. Callie decides herself, once she finds out that she is really a boy, to stay a boy, and runs away to San Francisco where he fully transforms into his true self. Eugenides normalizes a hermaphrodite’s life, changing the perception of hermaphrodites from freak to real human being.

Eugenides wrote a story that allowed the reader to more fully understand the journey of a hermaphrodite in the late 20th century. The story focuses on a succession of different people that contributed to Cal’s life, showing how each person had their own personal struggles and demons, not just Cal. By writing a coming of age story, like the myriad of other coming of age stories, it normalizes the situation that Cal is placed in, it’s another obstacle that he has to overcome in his life. By allowing Callie to have a fairly normal childhood, it makes the reader feel a connection with her, which extends to the part of the book some people, may not be comfortable with. This connection with the character allows you to sympathize with the young girl who feels that she’s different, with the young girl that doesn’t want to change in front of other people, and with the young girl that grapples with her first love. The normalization of the hermaphroditic life, which is introduced slowly and sympathetically, enables the reader to change their perception of hermaphrodites. In the book, Cal is treated by an outcast by his parents, his community, and his girlfriends. Eugenides describes the experiencing Cal’s realization of his true identity, including the fear, the anger, the loss of identity, and the gaining of a new identity. Eugenides grapples with the emotions of a young girl that thinks she’s a lesbian, and a young boy that realizes the scientists and his parents are trying to permanently take away his right to his true self. He works in a burlesque show and is displayed in science books, which depersonalizes Cal in his world, but furthers our sympathy and compassion for this young man trying to make it in a world that doesn’t accept him.

I thought this book was remarkable. Although the book had a hefty page count, it was a delightful read and I would, without a doubt, recommend it to everybody. I enjoyed how normal everything felt in the book. Following Cal through his life made me realize the struggles that he had to endure in order to truly figure himself out. Realize that Cal had to make the difficult decision to leave his life as a girl behind. Understand the demoralization Cal faced while working at a place where strangers ogled his genitals. Eugenides highlighted the difficulties of being a hermaphrodite, while simultaneously making Cal a character that is relatable and normal. This book has contributed to the global community by normalizing a group of people who are normally discriminated against, objectified, and has a multitude of biases against them. The discourse that is being prompted by this book could create a world that is safer and more accepting to hermaphrodites, and all people in general, by realizing that we all have fears and demons.