Middlesex

3 May 2011

Opens thus:

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. Specialized readers may have come across me in Dr. Peter Luce’s study, “Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites,” published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology in 1975. Or maybe you’ve seen my photograph in chapter sixteen of the now sadly outdated Genetics and Heredity. That’s me on page 578, standing naked beside a height chart with a black box covering my eyes.

My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license (from the Federal Republic of Germany) records my first name simply as Cal. I’m a former field hockey goalie, longstanding member of the Save-the-Manatee Foundation, rare attendant at the Greek Orthodox liturgy, and, for most of my adult life, an employee of the U.S. State Department. Like Tiresias, I was first one thing and then the other. I’ve been ridiculed by classmates, guinea-pigged by doctors, palpated by specialists, and researched by the March of Dimes. A redheaded girl from Grosse Pointe fell in love with me, not knowing what I was. (Her brother liked me, too.) An army tank led me into urban battle once; a swimming pool turned me into myth; I’ve left my body in order to occupy others — and all this happened before I turned sixteen.

– from the first page of Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

And also:

Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness”, “joy”, or “regret”. Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have a my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say,”the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by again family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins with middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a mini-bar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.

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