Summary: Chapter 26: Hermaphroditus

Dr. Luce’s theory that nurture determines a child’s gender remains popular throughout the 1970s when everyone wants to be unisex but eventually gets replaced with the idea of evolutionary biology, which distinctly separates genders. Cal doesn’t fit into either paradigm. He chose to live as a man. Genetics don’t answer as many questions as people thought, opening the door for free will.

Bob Presto’s girlfriend tells Presto to call Cal’s parents, but Presto insists that Cal says he’s eighteen. Presto runs a peep show called Octopussy’s Garden, which displays gender nonconforming bodies swimming in a tank of water. Cal starts working at the peep show under the stage name Hermaphroditus.

The show begins with a person named Zora, using the stage name Melanie the Mermaid, swimming topless through the tank with a mermaid tail. Zora is stunningly beautiful and intersex and has a condition called androgen insensitivity syndrome. Unlike Cal, Zora is agender.Next comes Carmen, under the stage name Ellie and her Electric Eel. She’s a transgender woman with a penis. When it’s Cal’s turn to get into the tank, Presto tells the myth of Hermaphroditus over the speakers. Cal, Zora, and Carmen are always stoned during work to make the voyeurs less noticeable.

Cal stays at Zora’s place. Zora explains that intersex people have always existed, teaching Cal he’s not alone. Cal asks Zora why she tells people about her condition when it’s not obvious and she could easily pass as a woman. Zora explains she wants people to know. She believes intersex people are the next stage of human evolution.

During the day, Cal helps Zora work on her book, The Sacred Hermaphrodite. Cal researches intersex people and learns that many cultures consider them sacred. However, Cal doesn’t have magic powers.

In January, a mysterious man calls Milton claiming to know where Cal is. At first, Milton hangs up, but when the mysterious man calls back, Milton demands information. The man hangs up.