Summary: Chapter 21: The Gun on the Wall

Callie wakes up at the house feeling sick and dirty. During breakfast, the Object asks if Callie is sore. The Object accuses Callie of acting like a slut and looks like she might cry. Callie regrets everything. She gets back into bed and hides herself with a pillow. Later, Jerome gets in bed next to her. He promises he still respects her, climbs on top of her, and starts kissing her. Callie tells him to stop because she’s not interested in him. He leaves.

The Object doesn’t return to the house until later that night. She curls up in bed on her side. Callie crawls next to her and begins kissing her. The Object lifts her hips to allow Callie to remove her underwear.

Neither girl mentions what happened the next day. When Rex calls that night, the Object tells him she’s too tired to see him. That night, the same thing happens, with Callie touching the Object as the Object pretends to sleep.

One day, while the two girls sit together, the Object says she wishes Callie were a boy. Callie begins touching the Object for the first time in daylight. Jerome shows up and calls them lesbians. Jerome assures Callie he won’t tell anyone, but he orders her to leave and stay away from his sister. Callie attacks him, but Jerome throws her off. Callie flees with Jerome in hot pursuit. She doesn’t watch where she’s going and is hit by a tractor driven by a farmer.

When Callie awakens, she’s on her way to the hospital in the farmer’s car. The Object rides with her; she’s overjoyed to see Callie wake up and kisses her. As the orderlies bring Callie into the hospital, Callie and the Object hold hands as long for as they can before Callie is taken into an examining room. When the doctor examines Callie, he notices her androgynous genitals and notifies Milton and Tessie. A week later, Callie and her parents travel to see a famous doctor in New York City.

Summary: Chapter 22: The Oracular Vulva

In New York, Callie, Tessie, and Milton stay in a hotel called the Lochmoor. Callie doesn’t understand what’s happening, but she knows it’s a crisis. The next day, they go to see the specialist. Milton and Tessie pretend not to notice the sign that reads “Sexual Disorders and Gender Identity Clinic.” The clinic has orientalist etchings depicting sex, mortifying Milton and Tessie.

Dr. Luce arrives, eager to meet Callie because he sees her as a living experiment. He is a world authority on intersex conditions. He has written a book called The Oracular Vulva and wrote a column with the same title for Playboy in which he took on the voice of a vulva and answered men’s questions. He believes that gender identity gets established by the age of two and depends heavily on how a child is raised.

Callie lies on the exam table and watches Dr. Luce examine her with curiosity and awe. He uses a speculum to examine Callie’s vagina, and it hurts, but he continues. Dr. Luce isn’t sure what to tell Callie’s parents because he believes he can’t tell them their child has an ambiguous gender. Callie’s blood work appears male, but he believes that her female upbringing is more important. He tells Tessie and Milton that he needs to do more tests and perform a psychological evaluation.

Throughout her evaluation, Callie believes that if Dr. Luce decides she’s normal, she’ll get to go home. When Dr. Luce asks Callie if she is attracted to girls, she doesn’t tell him about the Object but mentions having sex with Jerome. She calls the Object her best friend. Dr. Luce has Callie write a psychological narrative of her life, and Callie lies about herself, trying to appear as a “normal” girl. One day, Dr. Luce makes Callie watch a porn video to discern her sexuality. She finds neither actor attractive, but she tells Dr. Luce she is attracted to the man.

Dr. Luce introduces Callie proudly to all of his colleagues. Callie feels like she’s no longer in the room as the doctors stare at her genitals. Callie realizes that Dr. Luce is using her for grant money. A doctor’s assistant takes photos of Callie’s genitals for a textbook. Milton and Tessie are unaware of everything that happens when Callie is with Dr. Luce. Callie asks Milton when they can leave. Milton says that they can go home when she’s better. Callie doesn’t know what “better” would mean.

Analysis: Chapters 21 & 22

Jerome’s attack on the Object and Callie highlights the real physical danger that behaving in a way considered to be abnormal creates. Through figures like the minotaur and Zizmo, the novel shows that people who do not easily fit into a clear category are often met with fear and considered dangerous. However, throughout Callie’s pubescence, she’s learned the opposite: being ambiguous more often causes danger than makes someone dangerous. Callie knows from experience that women thought to be gay are socially ostracized at school. Jerome’s violence only raises the stakes of this already existing prejudice. In addition, Jerome’s attack evokes Zizmo’s jealous rage over his gay wife in Chapter 6, continuing the idea that the Stephanides family repeats and experiences patterns. Although Zizmo’s anger at Lefty is unfounded, understanding Sourmelina’s sexuality would merely have redirected his anger toward her, as he implies to Desdemona the last time he sees her. Here, Jerome experiences both jealousy and homophobic panic. Because he does not want to view his sister as a rival, he humiliates the Objects and then takes his anger out on Callie because of his feelings of rejection and because he views her as deviant.Ironically, as he shouts homophobic slurs, Jerome still claims to be “open-minded” and promises Callie that he won’t tell anyone what happened, highlighting the absurdity of his behavior.

Callie’s sexual relationship with the Object further develops the theme of secrets. The ruse of the Object pretending to sleep mirrors the way sexual relations between Cal’s parents and grandparents required elaborate pretenses, such as Milton and Tessie’s clarinet game or Desdemona’s corset, to express physical desire. This inability to engage in sex openly and frankly shows how the Stephanides family views bodies and sexuality as shameful, something that must be kept secret. In this sense, Callie and the Object’s relationship follows yet another time-honored Stephanides tradition. Callie’s sexual encounters with the Object also evoke Cal’s comment in Chapter 18 about the intimacy between a writer and a reader. The Object accepts Callie’s physical affection as a reader, without comment or active response, merely allowing her to continue, like a reader turning the pages. While what the girls share is ostensibly deeply intimate, it can only occur in the dark and can’t be discussed. In fact, the first time Callie touches the Object in the daylight, they are discovered and shamed. Because Callie understands the danger of expressing her feelings for the Object and additionally believes that sexuality must be kept secret, she refuses to reveal her relationship with the Object to Dr. Luce.

Despite Dr. Luce’s credentials, Cal depicts him as a rather shady character, casting doubt on the validity of his expertise. For example, in his column for Playboy, he takes on the voice of female genitalia, something he only has a clinical understanding of, in order to help men understand women, ultimately talking over the people who have an actual understanding of womanhood. This behavior suggests that although Dr. Luce does have medical knowledge of sexuality, he overestimates how much this knowledge makes him an expert on lived experiences. Despite the time he takes on Callie’s psychological evaluation, he approaches her already believing her socialization trumps her biology, an unscientific approach. Furthermore, Dr. Luce’s behavior toward Callie blurs professional boundaries, such as when he tries to determine Callie’s sexuality by showing her pornography. Even if his intent is not predatory, which the book leaves ambiguous, his authority over Callie and her vulnerability, which she is acutely aware of, make the situation clinically useless and unnecessarily invasive and traumatizing.

The behavior of Dr. Luce and his colleagues demonstrates the dehumanizing attitude of doctors toward patients with unusual conditions. Cal describes the way Dr. Luce looks at Callie with words like “awe” and “curiosity,” words generally used to describe an object or natural phenomenon, not a person. Dr. Luce further ignores Callie’s discomfort when conducting her pelvic exam, focusing entirely on collecting data without taking into account how frightening and painful a first gynecological exam can be for a young teenager. When Dr. Luce brings his colleagues in to see Callie, she feels as if she’s not present while they look at her because they have come to see not her but her genitals. The photograph for the textbook that reveals Callie’s genitals but not her face visually represents the extent to which Callie herself doesn’t matter in this process. Callie takes advantage of her understanding that her truth doesn’t matter in this process by lying in her psychological report. Because the doctors care more about her body and what she potentially could mean for gender theory, she can literally take her actual lived experience out of the process without Dr. Luce noticing.