Thursday, August 05, 2004

john swift

for four years, i wanted to talk about gender. there never seemed to be an adequate enough convergence of time, space, and other interested parties. classes on the subject managed to come off as both flaky and over my head; i never took any.

now i'm reading middlesex -- and i'm rejoicing. where did this book come from? when people recommended it to me in the past, why did they leave it at a casual verbal thing instead of frog-marching me to the nearest store?

in case you haven't heard, or weren't listening, either, middlesex is a pulitzer-prize winning epic novel from jeffrey eugenides. it is not about a town in new jersey or the dark ages. the main character, cal/calliope, wrestles with issues of sex v. gender as he, a chromosonal male, looks back on having been raised female in the 1960's midwest. (caution: spoilers!) when a specialist interviewed cal as a young teenager, he found that the influences of cal's environment and breeding outweighed the influence of undropped testicles: he recommended genital surgery and injections of estrogen to transform cal into a more real girl.

cal had always believed he was, and thought of himself as, a girl. yet the doctor's proclamation set off a panic in him. for reasons he couldn't quite understand, rather than be an improved version of calliope, he ran away from his parents, bought a new set of clothes, got a haircut, and commenced life as cal.

that's as far as i've gotten. mostly i only have time to read at night and while on duty. the latter provides copious opportunities to study the chillun -- after all, technically i'm supposed to "watch" them. makes me wonder. are the boys more obnoxious because they're conditioned to be? if they wore the skirts, would they strut more and talk less in class? that's banal. okay. how about this? could these kids, for their advanced intelligence, be any more receptive to advanced ideas about things like gender?

very little experimentation happens at this site in any visible way. no one seems to be challenging norms, gender- or otherwise. cty doesn't encourage kids to be radical, which i think is a missed opportunity. even if you're not going to end up on the bank with a cigarette impassively watching the mainstream flow by, it can't hurt to be exposed to a glimpse of what's up there.

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