Summary: Chapter 23: Looking Myself Up in Webster's

After two weeks, Dr. Luce calls in Milton and Tessie to discuss his findings. Dr. Luce explains that Callie is a girl who has too much male hormone. He proposes giving Callie hormone injections and performing cosmetic surgery on her genitals. Tessie and Milton agree to Dr. Luce’s proposed course of action because he assures them it will give Callie a chance at a “normal” life.

Meanwhile, Callie sits at the New York Public Library doing research on the words she heard the doctors say. The word “hypospadias” leads her to “eunuch” and finally to “hermaphrodite.” “Hermaphrodite” suggests “monster” as a synonym. The dictionary offers her not just definitions but evidence of social conditions.

Dr. Luce tells Callie that she’s a girl whose clitoris is larger than other girls’, which can be fixed with surgery. Callie wants everything to go back to normal and feels relieved that Dr. Luce can make this happen. A receptionist calls Dr. Luce out of the room. Callie finds her file on Dr. Luce’s desk. The file clinically describes Callie’s biological gender as a male and examines all of the factors of her life and family on her gender. The file concludes that the surgery is the only way for Callie to fit in as a woman, but it will result in a loss of sexual pleasure.

That night, Tessie and Milton want to take Callie to a Broadway musical, but she claims she’s too tired. Callie packs a suitcase and leaves a note for her parents telling them that Dr. Luce lied: Callie’s a boy. He intends to go where no one knows him.

Summary: Chapter 24: Go West, Young Man

Callie, now going by Cal, arrives by bus in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He buys a suit at a Salvation Army to start presenting himself as a boy.

Cal goes to a barbershop to get his hair cut. The barber jokes that girls will like him better with short hair. Cal sees Callie in the mirror for the last time. He worries that Dr. Luce was right and closes his eyes. When he opens them, he notices how his long hair had hidden the masculine nature of his face. However, he still feels feminine inside. He knows he’ll never see the Object again.

Cal wants to go to California, but he doesn’t have enough money to pay the bus fare. He decides to hitchhike and tells drivers he’s on his way to college. Cal thought that if he lied to Dr. Luce everything would go back to normal. However, he’s realized that normality can’t actually be normal because everyone is always trying to cultivate normal. Cal starts masturbating and enjoys himself. He knows he made the right choice in avoiding surgery.

One day, a man named Ben Scheer offers Cal a ride. He brings Cal to a steakhouse for dinner and orders Cal a beer. Cal notices another man smiling knowingly as he watches them. Ben gets Cal a motel room for the night. Cal collapses on the bed, drunk and exhausted. Ben starts to kiss Cal, but Cal pushes him off. Ben crumples beside him on the bed. Cal sneaks out the next morning. The first car that stops belongs to the man from the restaurant the day before, and Cal feels like he has no choice but to accept a ride.

Analysis: Chapters 23 & 24

Callie learns from looking up words in Webster’s Dictionary that monstrosity is both shrouded in secrecy and culturally determined. Callie has grown up with the belief that shameful or dirty things must be kept secret. The secrecy with which the doctors treat her case when added to the definition she reads now solidifies her belief in her own monstrosity. The doctors have used jargon that she cannot understand to describe her condition, which makes her feel that it is not something that can be spoken about openly. However, Callie recognizes that culture, not etymology, determines “hermaphrodite” and “monster” to be synonyms. She has already seen that looking and behaving differently have social consequences, like Jerome’s homophobia or her parents’ worry. Therefore, regardless of how she feels about her body, the people around her find it monstrous. Frighteningly, the old age of the dictionary she reads means that this idea of monstrosity, too, is an inherited thing, rendered traditional by its age. Callie knows first-hand from her family how difficult traditional wisdom is to break. Therefore, even if she is not inherently a monster, she is still doomed.

Cal’s observation about how doctors cultivate normalcy furthers the idea that a society constructs its ideas of normal. Dr. Luce recommends Callie have surgery to prevent social ridicule at the expense of sexual pleasure, valuing something constructed over something entirely natural. Similarly, Dr. Luce himself has constructed a theory of gender that Callie could disprove. He wants Callie to adhere to his theory for purely selfish reasons. This value system makes it clear that what society considers normal or accepted is artificially created, not something that naturally occurs. These ideas about cultivating normal evoke the ways in which the Stephanides family has had to change fundamental things about who they are in order to recreate themselves as “normal” Americans. Sourmelina for years had to hide in the guise of heterosexuality for survival even though she was comfortable with her sexuality. Furthermore, ideas about what normal is change over time and from culture to culture, as we see from Desdemona’s culture shock in America or the increasing acceptance of homosexuality as the years go on. What Dr. Luce insists will make Callie normal at this moment in time may not hold in later years.

Even though living as Callie involved hiding his face, body, and sexuality, Cal quickly realizes that living as a man carries its own set of learned behaviors and attitudes that he does not yet understand. The men he meets on the road give him pointers on how to attract girls, implying that he still seems insufficiently masculine to do so. Cal also describes his days as a kind of performance. He studies how men walk, talk, and move. The way he changes how he walks and holds himself echoes how Callie once modified how she walked to play Tiresias in Antigone . Far from being natural for him, Cal must cultivate the normal of living as a man. Cal doesn’t find inherent liberation in living as a man because he does not fit neatly into the gender binary. The most authentic moment Cal finds in his journey to San Francisco involves his masturbation sessions, which put him in touch with the physical truth of his body. Because his genitals are a physical manifestation of his intersex self, Cal feels the most honest in these moments because he is literally in touch with his true identity.