Middlesex

I’ve been reading “Middlesex” by Jeffery Eugenides this summer.  There are many things I love about this book.  It is the kind of book I would like to read again, and that is a rare sentiment on my part.  The way in which it handles the fluid identity of the main character, though, is perhaps my favorite part of the novel.

The character, Calliope, is labeled as a hermaphrodite.  To be exact, a male pseudohermaphrodite – genetically male but appearing otherwise.  Calliope was raised as a female, but upon entering puberty, discovered that she was strongly attracted to females.  When her parents took her to see a specialist on “sexual disorders” in New York,  the doctor in charge of her case suggested surgery to “correct” her anatomy.  Calliope decided that she did not want to be changed and so she ran away.  As she hitchhiked across America, she began changing into the male she felt herself to be.  By the time she reached California she had become Cal – a boy with short hair, boy clothes, boyish mannerisms – the whole bit.  However, in some ways she remained a girl.  Cal did not cast aside everything it meant to be female.  Yes, gender ambiguity.  Something many of us seem to be petrified of.

Why are we so afraid of ambiguity?  Do I offer an evolutionary explanation, and argue that our ancestors had to be able to quickly classify each other in order to survive their brutish life in the wild?  Or do I reference the psycho-social theories about gender identity and how we relate to others based on our gender assumptions?  Whatever sophisticated explanation is given, I confess, I still don’t get it.  “Being without gender has the makings of madness,” says commentator, Coline Covington.   Why does no gender = madness?  I’m not making the connection.  Maybe it’s because I’m used to a certain degree of ambiguity in myself?  I don’t know.  I’m not being facetious either.  I really don’t understand the logic.

Eugenides does play on the notion that Cal is a result of immoral/sinful behavior, but even if you are a religious type who buys into that kind of thinking, should Cal, or any transgender, transexual or intersex person be made to feel guilty for their difference?  Why does it often turn out that way?  Why do we classify them as freaks or monsters?  I much prefer the way many tribal cultures dealt with difference by honoring it.  When individuals were born with some physical trait that made them unique, they were revered for their ability to heal and communicate with other worlds.  They were the shamans and the priests of their tribe.  Is it so far-fetched to hope that we could do the same – exalting difference instead of denouncing it?  And, what would that look like in our culture?  We don’t traditionally combine psychology and religion the way tribal cultures have in the past, but we might exalt differences in other ways.  Could those who are gender ambiguous become the clergy, musicians, poets, artists, teachers, and healers in our own society?  If we can imagine it, maybe it will happen.

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If Jesus were a Lesbian…

Before you read any further, if the title of this post offends you, stop reading.  Now.  Stop staring at your computer screen in disbelief; just walk away.  Kay?

I’m not particularly religious myself although, Jesus, as a historical/mythical figure has always held my interest.  He was the quintessential rebel.  He constantly questioned authority.  He called those in power out for their hypocrisy.  He had much to say about love, acceptance, kindness, humility.  He hung out with all kinds of riffraff: prostitutes, sinners, beggars, tax collectors.  He was the one that said: But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6: 27-28) He’s my kinda guy, and if he had been a Lesbian, he would look something like this:

In fact, I think he briefly appeared on this earth again in the form of Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen, the Norwegian Lesbian couple who, risking their own lives, saved forty teenagers from certain death.  Yes, these kids would have died, either at the hands of a deranged “religious” fanatic, or from drowning in the waters off the coast of the island of Utøya while trying to escape.  Hege and Toril could have ignored the shots and screams.  They could have gone for help instead of riding straight into a hail of bullets in their tiny boat.  They could have said – we’ll just leave the heroics for the big tough guys with guns.  But they didn’t, did they?

Now Jesus never attempted this kind of rescue – at least according to written record.  But, if you think about all those things he had to say about humility, mercy, peace and love, it’s not such a stretch to imagine him acting to save those forty lives.  It was Jesus that said things like: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted.   Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth…Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”  I like the way he turns everything on its head just like the Lesbian superheroes, Hege and Toril did.  They chose to act in humility and love with no thought for their own safety, and their heroics turned an act of hateful violence on its figurative head.

Maniacal zealot?  Meet Hege and Toril, the Lesbians who did what Jesus would do.  They just answered your violence with peace.  They just vanquished you with the awesome power of love.