Pulitzer prize winning author Jeffery Eugenides brilliantly crafts the character Callopie “Cal” Stephanaites who is an intersexed person of Greek descent in Middlesex: A Novel. As the novel’s narrator, Cal takes readers on a journey of his Greek heritage beginning with the marriage of his grandparents who are also brother and sister up through his own life at age 15 while incorporating snippets of his present day life often at the introduction of new chapters. The introduction of his grandparents began the discussion of the recessive gene, 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, that was passed down through two generations to cause him to be born with the characteristics of a female. The genetic component of the novel traces how Cal ended up with two copies of the recessive gene and faced the knowledge of being a hermaphrodite in his teenage years. Further than just the tracking of genes, Cal illuminates several themes that have been explored in our class Genomics and Social Life. The introduction to the chapter, “Minotaurs” in Book 2, successfully deals with the genetic ideology of the molecular model of the family as presented by Nelkin and Lindee in The DNA Mystique and biotechnological individualism presented by Taussig, Rapp, and Heath in their article Flexible Eugenics. Cal reveals that like most hermaphrodites, he will be unable to have biological children because. Nelkin and Lindee stress that the ideal molecular family bases familial relationships only on shared biological material. Cal will never pass on his genes to a future generation and also feels that without the prospect of having children, he will never succeed in creating a meaningful marriage. This decision has also led him to only want a temporary living situation in each place he visits which made the decision to join the Foreign Service an easy one. Due to these life choices, Cal will not conform to the genetic ideology of the nuclear family based on shared genetic material in adulthood. The result of him being part of a molecular family in the generations of his grandparents, parents, and now Cal and his brother was the inheritance of a recessive mutation that other family members shared but only he expressed. Biotechnological individualism, as Taussig, et al defined it, is the choice of using biotechnology to express an individual interest or personal taste. In the introduction to Minotaurs, Cal reflects on the intersex movement which put an end to infant genital reconfiguration surgery. Prior to the movement, parents had the choice to submit their child to genital reconstructive surgery if they had severely ambiguous genitals. The movement aimed to end this nonconsensual infant surgeries and allow intersex to be considered as an identity and not as an abnormality (JAMA article, Letters from the Intersexed). Cal explains that the struggles is to convince the world that “hermaphroditic genitals are not diseased” (Eugenides 2002:106). In Middlesex, Cal expresses biotechnological individualism by refusing genital reconstruction surgery in his teens and refusing to be reliant on hormone injections to conform to one sex. His choice demonstrates that he feels it is possible for hermaphrodites to assert an identity that is neither male nor female. Previously, mothers and fathers were taking the advice of the physician and making a decision to “correct” the abnormal genitals without the consent of the child. The intersex movement aimed to allow the child to make this decision when the time was appropriate providing that the child was not in any serious medical danger.
Cal’s dialogue about having a family also resonates with Joanna’s story in the movie In the Family. Joanna encounters women and men who feel guilty about the possibility of passing the BRAC genes to their children. Cal’s grandmother Desdemona prays to the Greek Orthodox God’s that she will not have any more children after Milton if Milton is born a normal child because she has been told tales about inter-family marriages resulting in giving birth to monsters. Milton is single sexed but Desdemona proceeds to give birth to Zoe violating her prayer promises. Joanna also faces the decision to have her ovaries removed in order to reduce her odds of getting ovarian cancer which destroys her dream of having a family. Cal as Callopie never mentions the desire to get married and have an ideal molecular family but his infertility is the result of inheriting the recessive genes.
BiDil is a medical therapy that confers identity onto the individual who is prescribed the treatment. Some individuals may consciously choose and have no issue reaffirming a racial identity. Others may be hesitant to choose a therapy for heart failure that requires self-identification as “black” or multiracial. The choice to consume BiDil, cost factors aside, may be interpreted as an expression of biotechnological individualism. Taking the medication allows individuals to connect to others taking the prescription along racial lines as well as differentiate themselves from Caucasian heart failure patients.