To avoid confusion, the narrator and main character in Middlesex is referred to here as "Cal" and by the pronoun "she." The novel opens noting two birthdates, the first when Cal was born as a baby girl in Detroit in 1960 and the second when she was born again as a teenage boy in a hospital in Michigan in 1974. She notes that she was written up in a gender study in 1975 and discussed in a medical journal, and she gives a brief history of her life, listing her various jobs and experiences. The novel's title refers to the name of the street where she lives in Grosse Point, a suburb of Detroit, and it is also an allusion to her sexual location between the polarities of male and female and incorporating some traits of each.
Cal, who is now forty-one, says that she feels "another birth coming on." As a result, she has determined to write down the history of "the recessive mutation on [her] fifth chromosome" that "polluted" her family's genetic pool and eventually caused her to be born a hermaphrodite.
Cal notes that three months before she was born, her grandmother, Desdemona, tried to divine her gender by dangling a spoon over her mother's pregnant belly. She predicted a boy, which turns out was only half right. On the night Cal was born, her grandfather, Lefty, had the first of his thirteen strokes and lost the ability to speak.
Cal's narrative turns to the story of her grandparents' union, which...
(The entire section is 2665 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Middlesex Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Chapter 1 Summary
Editor's Note: To avoid confusion, the narrator and main character in Middlesex is referred to by the pronoun "she" in chapter summaries 1-23.
Jeffery Eugenides’s Middlesex begins with “The Silver Spoon,” a chapter in which the narrator, Cal, explains how she was
born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.
Cal was born “Calliope Helen Stephanides” but her driver’s license names her “Cal.” Cal, at forty-one years old, is writing a memoir about her life, which she describes as a “roller coaster ride of a single gene through time.” Recalling The Odyssey, she invokes the muse, apologizing if she gets “a little Homeric at times. That’s genetic, too.”
The story begins three months before Cal is born. It is 1959, and Cal’s grandmother, Desdemona, relies on a silver spoon for predictions. She dangles the spoon above the belly of Cal’s mother, Tessie. By this method, Cal’s grandmother has correctly predicted the sex of the previous 23 children born to the family. When she finishes, she proclaims that the child will be a boy, and the family celebrates. However, the news is a disappointment to Cal’s parents.
Milton and Tessie, Cal’s parents, had wanted a daughter. Their first-born son, “Chapter Eleven,” has turned five. The narrator explains how Tessie felt left out in such a “masculine household” and how she envisions “a daughter as a counterinsurgent: a fellow lover of lapdogs, a seconder of proposals to attend the Ice Capades.” Every week, the family would join together in Milton and Tessie’s living room to talk, and one week Peter Tatakis, “Uncle Pete,” explains that science has recently shown that male sperms move faster than female sperms. So, taking the timing of ovulation into account, a couple can plan to have sex after a certain time has passed, allowing the speedy male sperms to go to waste and ensuring that the “good old, slow, reliable female sperm” fertilize the egg. Milton even goes so far as to buy a thermometer for his wife, which Tessie reluctantly uses to help track her ovulation.
When Calliope, a girl, is born, the family celebrates, though Uncle...
(The entire section is 446 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
As the second chapter, “Matchmaker,” begins, Cal suggests that she might end up the most “famous hermaphrodite in history.” Cal explains how other hermaphrodites in history made money showing themselves to physicians. Cal’s own case was quite lucrative because “to the extent that fetal hormones affect brain chemistry and histology, I’ve got a male brain. But I was raised as a girl.” In spite of Cal’s “androgenized brain, there’s an innate feminine circularity in the story I have to tell.” To tell the story, she will have to take her reader back in time. It is Greece, 1922, and Desdemona Stephanides is in her silkworm cocoonery, which is “high on the slope of Mount Olympus.” Desdemona has lost her parents in a recent war with the Turks, and now only she and her brother, Eleutherios, or “Lefty,” remain.
Desdemona spends her days tending the cocoons. Her brother takes the cocoons down the mountain to Bursa, because women are not allowed in the market. However, instead of returning home, he spends his nights in Bursa. When Desdemona confronts him, she realizes that he gambles and smokes hashish now that their parents are dead. And as he rubs palmaid into his hair, Desdemona forces him to admit that he wants a woman. Desdemona warns him against Turkish girls, asking him instead to find a good Greek girl from their village, Bithynios. Lefty explains that there are no girls left in their village. Desdemona counters that Lucille Kafkalis and Victoria Pappas still remain. Lefty rejects them both, explaining that Lucille smells and Victoria has a thicker moustache than he does. He then leaves for Bursa where he sells cocoons, prays over his unnatural urges, gambles, smokes hashish, and then sleeps with women who inform him the next morning that they are not named Desdemona.
That night, Desdemona decides to become a matchmaker for her brother. She finds her father’s tattered catalogue, “Lingerie Parisienne,” summons Lucille and Victoria to her, and advises them on how to become more attractive. In Lucille’s case, she proposes that the young woman use vinegar as an antiperspirant. She points this out to Lefty one day, who still finds both girls unattractive but has given in to the idea that he must become domesticated. However, when he goes to pay court to the young ladies, he rejects both. It turns out that he too was aware of the women in “Lingerie Parisienne,” and when he sees how Lucille...
(The entire section is 517 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
The third chapter, “An Immodest Proposal,” opens with Cal discussing her life today. Though born an American, Cal works in the Foreign Service in Germany; her department is in charge of “readings, lectures, and concerts.” Cal lives as a man and she explains how she uses the men’s washroom, though not the urinal, and wears a double-breasted suit, gleaming wing tips, and he smokes cigars. Though she acknowledges that this might seem excessive, she maintains that she feels the need the need for it. This is particularly true considering that Calliope still sometimes returns to the surface, noticeably in Cal’s walk or other gestures like checking her nails. However, she reflects:
just as suddenly she is leaving, shrinking and melting away inside me, and when I turn to see my reflection in a window there’s this: a forty-one-year-old-man with longish, wavy hair, a thin mustache, and a goatee.
Cal returns to the story of Desdemona and Lefty. She explains that “the Turks had captured Afyon. The Greek Army, beaten, was fleeing toward the sea. In retreat, it was setting fire to everything in its path.” Seeing the devastation, Lefty proposes that they travel to America. They decide to go to Smyrna in search of a boat, and leave by foot on August 21, 1922. Before they go, Desdemona puts a silkworm cocoon in her pocket. They arrive only to discover that they do not have enough money to hire passage aboard a ship. Further, within a month, the refugee population has grown to 180,000 people.
The romance between Lefty and Desdemona continues. Though Desdemona is ashamed of her feelings for Lefty, her brother, she has begun to notice that no one objects when they sit near each other: there is no one left that knows they are brother and sister. Lefty, on the other hand, is less concerned with what others think and tries to calm his sister by explaining an escape route: he will get them out of Greece by traveling from Smyrna to Athens to America.
Lefty actually succeeds in obtaining funds by injuring his hand. He sees a Dr. Philobosian, who heals him, takes pity on him, and gives him some money. Seasoned gambler that he is, Lefty is able to double the money assiduously. Though he has only ever played backgammon, he sits down at a poker table and slowly works out the rules. Before long, he finds himself winning, but when he tries to leave the table, the other men insist...
(The entire section is 597 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
The fourth chapter, “The Silk Road,” opens with a description of Princess Si-Ling Chi, a figure from Chinese legend. A silkworm cocoon falls into her teacup and she has one of her maids unravel it. Cal discusses how she feels this story is like a long role of silk that she is unwinding: if she follows it back far enough, she will find Lefty and Desdemona on the Jean Bart. However, the two switch ships and leave Athens for America aboard the Giulia. Cal remembers a tradition where people leaving for America unravel a ball of string that is held by someone on the shore.
Lefty and Desdemona have devised a secret plan that they carry out aboard the Giulia. Desdemona goes below and Lefty stays on the deck in order to give everyone the impression that they are strangers. Over time, they begin smiling at each other, and they are eventually even talking to each other. This sets off a round of gossip aboard the ship. Is Lefty sincere, or is he just passing time? Others claim to have introduced Lefty and Desdemona to each other. Ultimately, they get married and spend their wedding night aboard a lifeboat.
On their first night together as husband and wife, as Desdemona takes off her clothes. Beneath, she is wearing a corset, and “in the lingerie Desdemona saw herself through new eyes, her thin waist, her plump thighs; she felt beautiful, desirable, most of all: not herself.” It is at this point that she overcomes the uncertainty she feels about her new relationship with Lefty. They make love in the lifeboat and the captain watching it rocking in the ocean says “oh, to be young again.”
As they continue on their journey, they begin to expand their plans. They invent background stories that are based loosely on their own lives, forcing them to make deals over who gets to claim which relative. They plan to go to Detroit, though they do not agree on what to do when they arrive. Lefty wants to open a casino, whereas Desdemona thinks that he should go to school to become a professor. For herself, Desdemona is eager to continue working with silk moths. One night, it is too cold in the lifeboat for them to make love and they fall asleep in each other’s arms trying to keep warm. When they wake up, the captain is hovering. He asks them to look up and they see New York. Gazing at the Statue of Liberty, Lefty reflects that he has seen enough torches in his time. Desdemona, on the other hand, is...
(The entire section is 457 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
The fifth chapter, “Henry Ford’s English-Language Melting Pot,” begins with Lefty and Desdemona on their way to Detroit. They first must pass through Ellis Island, where the immigrants have letters, such as “Pg” for “pregnant,” chalked onto their clothing. Dr. Philobosian has an “X” chalked on him when a doctor notices that his eyes are inflamed. There are many letters to denote diseases, such as “C” for conjunctivitis. Desdemona’s immigrant braids, which are still tied with ribbons of mourning, are cut off at the YWCA. Lefty thinks it makes her look like an American woman, but Desdemona replies that she does not want to look like an American. She puts her braids into her silkworm box, which is now empty since silkworm eggs are included on a list of parasites at Ellis Island.
They journey to Detroit where they meet their first cousin, twice removed, Sourmelina ("Lina") Zizmo. Lina used to live in Bithynios until she was caught with two other lesbians. After that, her parents tried to marry her off, but found no suitors. They ended up looking for a suitor in America and found one in Jimmy Zizmo (whose last name is shortened from Zisimopoulis). They exchange letters and photos across the Atlantic as they negotiate over the dowry, which concludes with Lina in Detroit with her new husband. Lefty and Desdemona confess to Lina that they have married, and Lina complains that she left Bithynios just when things were getting “interesting.” They swear her to secrecy.
Jimmy’s house is kept tidy and without alcohol because Jimmy, who is an “importer,” does not want trouble with the police. Cal describes him as “so many things I don’t know where to begin. Amateur herbalist; antisuffragist; big-game hunter; ex-con; drug pusher; teetotaler.” When Jimmy meets Lefty, he is surprised to find out that the latter did not get a dowry when he married Desdemona and suggests that “if you don’t get paid, don’t get married.” Lefty and Desdemona will live with Jimmy and Lina, and they will pay rent. Although Jimmy does not take Lefty into his import business, he manages to get the new immigrant a job working for Ford.
At Ford, Lefty finds work grinding bearings—one every fourteen seconds. Cal explains that “people stopped being human in 1913. That was the year Henry Ford put his cars on rollers and made his workers adopt the speed of the assembly line ... In 1922 it was still a new thing...
(The entire section is 679 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
At the start of sixth chapter, “Minotaur,” Cal explains that she will never be able to have children. Over the years, she has not carefully chosen the people in whom she confides that she is a hermaphrodite. Her romantic relationships have consequently been superficial. Cal explains that after she takes off her first layer of armor, the double-breasted suit, and reveals her muscular frame, the second layer of armor, she usually leaves before removing her underpants. Now, she has set up a date with Julie Kikuchi, the Asian-American girl with the bicycle whom Cal espied earlier in the book.
Cal then tells the story of the “Simultaneous Fertilization.” Before Lefty realized that he would be laid off, he had purchased tickets to see a play, “The Minotaur.” The play contains sexual content, which Desdemona disapproves of. Nevertheless, she is aroused by it, as is Lina, though she explains that she was thinking of a woman, “Third one from the right. With the red hair.” Regardless, by the end of the night, both women are pregnant.
Jimmy decides to bring Lefty into his bootlegging business. He takes Lefty out one night and explains that he used to work for the railroad, but “now I run a railroad of my own.” Lefty is at first dismayed that these illegal activities could cost him his citizenship, but knowing that he has a child on the way, he gives in. He quickly learns the slang of the bootleggers, “increasing his English vocabulary fourfold.”
Dr. Philobosian arrives one day, and when he sees the two pregnant women, he declares that he has arrived just in time. He explains that although he did have the eye disease favus, his medical license prevented the Americans from deporting him. Instead, he was kept in a hospital and ultimately allowed to enter the country. After working for a year grinding lenses for an optometrist, he came to Detroit and was pleased to find Lefty and Desdemona still living at the address they had left with the doctor.
Desdemona is uneasy when Dr. Philobosian begins discussing unusual birth defects. He explains that science has now revealed that these defects, such as children being born covered in hair like animals, is caused by “consanguinity,” or families intermarrying. Desdemona performs her first silver spoon prognostication on Lina and proclaims that the child will be a girl, much to the latter’s relief. Desdemona's own child is shortly born...
(The entire section is 543 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
The seventh chapter, “Marriage on Ice,” begins with Jimmy’s funeral. His body has not yet been recovered from inside the lake, though the authorities explain that bodies recovered from a winter lake are often preserved very well. Regardless, the family is able to have a funeral, at which Lina cries out against Jimmy and against God for leaving her a widow and alone with a child to support. After forty days of mourning, Lina emerges from her room in an orange dress, which shocks Desdemona since widows should wear black for life. However, Lina maintains that forty days is long enough.
Desdemona raises both Milton and Lina’s daughter, Theodora. The two are brought up so close that their shadows touch each other wherever they go. However, Cal explains, Detroit is not a remote mountain village and before long, Milton takes interest in his slingshot and spends time with other boys his age. Though Desdemona is devoted to the children, she is terrified of having another. She asks Lina how to keep from having children and learns that she can continue breastfeeding Milton and refraining from having sex with Lefty. In spite of this advice, they sometimes have sex, and Zoë Helen Stephanides is born in spite of Desdemona’s fears over birth defects. When Milton begins to spend time with other boys, Theodora devotes her time to Desdemona’s second child. After Zoë is born, Lina leaves the house and mortgage to Lefty and Desdemona and begins work as a florist.
Desdemona does not explain her thoughts and fears to her husband, but she does begin to turn away from him. Cal explains that
with the birth of his son, Eleutherios Stephanides saw his future and continuing diminishment in the eyes of his wife, and as he buried his face in his pillow, he understood the complaint of fathers everywhere who lived like boarders in their own homes.
Lefty begins to resent Desdemona, and consequently he begins to insist that traditional gender roles be observed in the house, including that Desdemona stay in the kitchen when he is entertaining guests.
Although Lefty is not happy in his marriage, he does his best to provide for the family. He feels that bootlegging is too dangerous and attempts to obtain work as a translator or as a professor at a university, but no one will hire him. He ultimately ends up emptying one room of the house, building a bar, and eventually opening a...
(The entire section is 804 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
In the eighth chapter, “Tricknology,” Desdemona has begun to work for the Nation of Islam, which is led by Minister Fard. In the midst of the Great Depression, “Ford was closing factories, but at 3408 Hastings Street, Fard was open for business.” Desdemona has begun to get used to life in the temple and she is shocked to learn that the insides of the mavros’ (black peoples) hands are white. She converts an outhouse to store the silkworms, but the first group dies. Sister Wanda says that more are on the way and Desdemona likes that Minister Fard has trained his followers to be humble and modest.
Though she never sees Minister Fard directly, Desdemona does manage to overhear him speaking to his followers through the heating vents. According to Minister Fard, a “GOD-SCIENTIST” blew the earth into two pieces, thus creating the moon sixty trillion years ago. He goes on to explain that another God-scientist, Yucub, created white people by taking blacks and allowing only their most lightly skinned children to live. This process continues, until the black children become “PALER AND WEAKER, DILUTING HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS AND MORALITY, TURNING HIM INTO THE PATHS OF EVIL.” Yucub had created a race of “BLUE-EYED DEVILS.” Desdemona dismisses these ideas, but every day she returns to the heating vent to listen to Minister Fard.
While Desdemona is at work, Lefty begins to expand his business. As Desdemona becomes colder and colder towards Lefty, he begins to focus more on making money. He does not tell Desdemona, but during the day he sometimes closes the speakeasy, goes outside, and meets with Maurice Plantagent for a ride in his car. One day, the two pick up a woman, drive to an isolated place, and Lefty cleans the car. The woman, who is wearing a corset, poses for erotic photographs. Cal explains that Lefty got the idea when remembering his father’s catalogue of harem girls in lingerie. Thinking that inside a car, every man is the sultan of the road, Lefty began to ask women that come into the speakeasy whether they would like to make extra money. The side business allows Lefty to save money and makes a name for Plantagent. Even today, Cal is able to find Plantagent's photographs for sale.
Desdemona’s work comes to an end when one of Fard’s followers, Robert Harris, kills another man, James J. Smith. Cal explains that Harris might have heard one of Fard’s teachings, “ALL MUSLIMS WILL...
(The entire section is 654 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
The ninth chapter, “Clarinet Serenade,” opens on Cal’s first date with Julie Kikuchi. Cal takes her out to a restaurant called “Austria” and translates the menu for her. Julie is 36, though she looks ten years younger. She is a photographer, but she does not want Cal to look at her work. She has arthritis in her right hand, which means that she cannot hold a camera for very long. She likes the restaurant, and though she briefly mentions a boyfriend, she does not allow the conversation to turn to former partners. This decision is good for Cal since she has a short list of partners to complain about, which she knows can make women suspicious. Looking at Julie, Cal admits to the reader, “I like her. I like her a lot.”
Cal turns the story back to another romance. It is the romance between his parents, Milton and Theodora, or "Tessie" as everyone calls her, in 1944. Cal has advanced the story eleven years, explaining that a great deal has changed during that time. Prohibition has been lifted and Lefty has closed the speakeasy in his basement. Using the money he saved from the auto-erotica, he opened a legal bar that is patronized by Ford’s workers. When the Second World War begins, Detroit returns to work. And even before the work day begins, they come to the Zebra Room to dull their senses against the day’s routine. Milton has grown up into a thin man, and Cal explains that even recalling Milton’s face with Calliope’s forgiving eyes, his father was never attractive. Tessie, meanwhile, grew up different from her mother, Lina, who used to compare the two of them to “Chinese food. Sweet and sour.”
The romance begins one day when Milton comes home with his clarinet and finds only Tessie at home watching a roast for Desdemona. Up until this point, Milton would have described Tessie to his friends as “honey from the icebox” because “cold sweets don’t spread.” However, on this day, Milton discovers that Tessie paints her toenails red and realizes that his entire opinion about her has changed. He plays her a note on his clarinet and as he does so, he touches the end of the instrument against her naked knee. Following this initial serenade, Milton and Tessie continue to explore how the clarinet will “fill her body with music” using different body parts.
Sensing and dreading the romance between her son and his cousin, Desdemona once more takes on the role of “matchmaker.” She brings...
(The entire section is 538 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
The tenth chapter, “News of the World,” begins with Cal’s relationship with Julie. Cal sees Julie's work and admires it. Julie photographs factories, and Cal professes a natural appreciation of factories because she is from Detroit. Julie shoots factories used in the Holocaust and worries that her work will be seen as cliché. Cal reassures Julie that her work is good and a natural extension of her body of work. They kiss, and Julie asks if Cal is a gay man. Julie explains that she has been approached by five closeted homosexuals. Cal reassures Julie that she is not gay, and they kiss again.
Meanwhile, Milton’s life in the navy is not what he had expected. He hoped to get away from his memories of Tessie but instead finds himself thinking of her all the time because of the routines of the military. He is constantly standing in line, waiting, and remembering Tessie. The army is preparing for invasion and Milton begins to ponder ways to get out of the line of fire. He takes a test to be admitted to college, but does not get the results back. Instead, he is told that he will work as a signalman, a job with a life expectancy of less than a minute.
Back in Detroit, Desdemona reads her son’s letters, which he tries to write in Greek. The military censors them and most of the letters have many holes in them. Still, she knows that Milton is about to be sent to war. Desdemona goes to the church and prays to St. Christopher to protect her son. If he does, she will force him to return to Greece to rebuild the church in Bithynios.
Tessie, meanwhile, spends much of her time at the movies. She and Mike are engaged, and they exchange letters now that Mike is in seminary. He scolds Tessie for not volunteering more time at the Red Cross to help with the war effort. Tessie begins lying in her letters, claiming to volunteer. To keep from seeming boisterous, she always praises Zoë for the latter’s humanitarian efforts. In reality, Tessie continues to go to the movies and as she watches the “News of the World,” she looks for Milton’s face. Eventually, she realizes that she loves him, not Mike. She obtains Desdemona's blessing because the latter does not believe that her son will survive the war.
Milton does not make the “News of the World,” but he is sent to war. Before he arrives with the invading fleet, however, he receives orders to return to America. His scored a ninety-eight on his test and...
(The entire section is 496 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
The eleventh chapter, “Ex Ovo Omnia,” describes the circumstances of Cal’s birth. The title is Latin for “everything comes out of an egg.” It is from Calliope’s perspective that we learn this saying; she explains to her high school class that it is taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This expression can be used to illustrate the theory of Preformation, where a family can be traced back to a common egg, like a Russian nesting doll. Cal sometimes imagines herself and her older brother, “Chapter Eleven,” sitting together like dolls before their birth. In 1954, Chapter Eleven leaves Cal; he “raised his arms and traveled down the waterslide into the world.”
Thinking over the birth of his first son, Milton decides to take over his father’s business. Milton was drafted to fight in the Korean War, but, as Desdemona explains, St. Christopher once again looked after Milton and kept him out of the line of fire. Although Milton did not see battle, the U.S. Navy nevertheless has a powerful influence on him. His fashion choices, his hobbies, and his aversion for waiting in lines (Cal recalls having to synchronize watches every time his family went to a mall because of this aversion) all stem from his time in the navy. When Milton leaves the navy and returns to Detroit, he informs his father that he wants to take over the Zebra Room.
Lefty tries to dissuade his son from the notion, pointing out that business, despite his best efforts, has slowed down. Cal explains that the neighborhood, which had been “white and middle-class” in 1933, has become poorer. Detroit has changed. The Black Bottom ghetto has been bulldozed to make space for a freeway. Malcolm X now leads the Nation of Islam from Chicago. Cal explains that “in the inevitable chain of cause and effect, as soon as the first black family had moved onto the block, the white neighbors immediately put their houses up for sale.” This decision leads to an abundance of houses on the market causing property values to fall, more poor people moving in, and more rich people leaving town. However, Milton will not be dissuaded and he proceeds to turn the Zebra Room into a diner. Milton realizes his father makes many bad business decisions (for example, he pays premiums on three different insurance policies, though he agrees to continue these policies to humor Lefty), and he suggests that Lefty...
(The entire section is 718 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
The twelfth chapter, “Home Movies,” tells the story of Cal's birth and early childhood. Cal’s birth coincides with a moment of near death for Lefty. Desdemona finds Lefty on the kitchen floor and thinks he died. Although her “wail echoed off the kitchen’s hard surfaces,” she soon discovers that she feels happiness because “The worst had happened. This was it: the worst thing. For the first time in her life my grandmother had nothing to worry about.” Cal goes on to explain that she would prefer to replace the oversimplified representations of emotion, such as “joy,” with “hybrid emotions,” such as “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” or “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” Lefty survives and regains consciousness after two days, but he loses the power to speak.
After Calliope is born, she can “sense the happiness of couples holding first babies and the fortitude of Catholics accepting their ninth.” Dr. Nishan Philobosian is seventy-four at this point and notices nothing unusual about Calliope’s sex, though perhaps because he is too busy noticing the Appalachian eyes of his middle-aged assistant. Cal shares Julie Kikuchi’s theory that “beauty is always freakish” and goes on to explain that he possessed an “awkward extravagant beauty” that explains why no one took the time to notice that he was born intersex. Desdemona is disappointed when Milton does not plan to baptize Calliope. She takes out one of her fans of “Turkish Atrocities” and begins to fan herself. Cal explains that “to anyone who never personally experienced it, it’s difficult to describe the ominous, storm-gathering quality of my grandmother’s fanning.” Regardless, it works, and Milton eventually agrees to have Calliope baptized. They take her to the church and Father Mike dips Cal into the “green, scummy, holy water.” After the third submersion, Calliope emerges and “from between my cherubic legs a stream of crystalline liquid shot into the air.” It hits Father Mike in the face, causing the congregation to laugh, but no one “wondered about the engineering involved.” Though no one notices or wonders about the child’s unusual sex, Cal admits that “5-alpha-reductasedeficiency syndrome is a skillful counterfeiter.”
Milton shoots home movies in which Cal notices how Chapter Eleven has the “tyrannical, self-absorbed look of American children,” but which would later...
(The entire section is 713 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
“Opa!” begins with an update on how Cal and Julie’s relationship is progressing. Cal has traditionally taken things slowly with women. Cal knows that they interpret this as a sign that Cal is a gentleman. However, Cal has learned not to wait too long. Now, he asks Julie to travel together to Pomerania, stressing that they will stay in separate rooms. As they look out across an October beach, Cal feels content with Julie. However, Cal notes that they sleep in separate bedrooms on both the first and second night of the trip.
It was April when Milton told his daughter to stay way from Marius Grimes. By summer, it has gotten extremely hot in Detroit. Business at the Zebra Room is awful, and Milton is beginning to run out of options. To save money, he only allows the family to use one light bulb at a time, which he moves from room to room. He begins to close the Zebra Room on Mondays and Tuesdays to cut expenses, and during that time he does not shave. Instead, he just sits “on the patio as the beard, like a stain, like a fungus, spreads.” At night, he sleeps with a loaded revolver beneath his pillow.
It is the summer of 1967, and Cal explains that the all-white police are preparing for race riots. On July 23, the police raid Twelfth Street, which Cal explains is “open” all night, and by the next morning, Calliope picks up the phone and hears “the coloreds are rioting!” She tells her father, who leaps out of bed, naked and aroused from his dreams. He picks up his gun and rushes off to defend the Zebra Room. As he leaves, Desdemona shouts that she predicted this would happen and blames her son for not rebuilding the church in Bithynios to repay his debt to St. Christopher.
The family spends three days and two nights in the attic of their house, but they do not receive word from Milton. Finally, Calliope decides to take matters into her own hands. She steals a bicycle and follows a tank through town to her father. Milton is in the Zebra Room, armed with a revolver and a ham sandwich. He has not slept since the riots started. Just as he is about to fall asleep, he hears the front door open. It is Morrison, the black man from across the street, who is surprised to see Milton. He explains that he has come inside to buy a pack of cigarettes. When Milton asks him “what is the matter with you people,” Morrison explains that the “matter with us is you.” Cal explains that this will become Milton’s...
(The entire section is 747 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
In the fourteenth chapter, “Middlesex,” Milton collects his insurance policy, which does not pay quite as much as he had hoped, but is nevertheless quite lucrative. One day, Milton returns home in a 1967 Fleetwood, his first Cadillac. Cal recalls thinking that it looked like a spaceship. Milton takes the family inside and shows them the “Air-Ride” feature, a hydraulic system that lifts the seats to make the ride smoother. Cal recalls that the family was “headed east, out of Detroit, literally floating on air.”
They begin to search for houses at Grosse Pointe, the “affluent lakeside district of the auto-magnates.” Milton at first struggles to find a house; every time that he completes an application, the house is taken off the market or sold to someone else. It turns out that “Milton wasn’t the only one who worried about the neighborhood going to hell.” The Stephanides family, the realtor quickly learns, amasses five points because they are “Southern Mediterranean. One point. Not in one of the professions. One point. Religion? Greek church. That’s some kind of Catholic, isn’t it? So there’s another point there. And he has his parents living with him! Two more points!” However, before she learns this, Miss Marsh takes Milton to the least desirable house on the market, “Middlesex.” Milton offers to buy it, and when Marsh defers, suggesting that they will have to see if the loan is approved, Milton offers to pay cash. Milton, Cal explains, was aware of the Point System, but he managed to outsmart it.
Unfortunately, his strategy does not allow him to show the house to his wife and family. It was designed by Hudson Clark of the Prairie School. The house is extremely strange because it has stairs, but they do not lead anywhere, reflecting the contemporary realization that the universe does not conform to a teleological worldview. There are no doors. Instead, “we had long, accordion-like barriers, made from sisal, that worked by a pneumatic pump located down in the basement.” (Calliope gets her head stuck in the door when they move in.) There are outbuildings, and Desdemona and Lefty move into the guesthouse.
Calliope spends much of her time with Lefty, who secretly has another stroke. Although he has long believed in a soul, the effect that the stroke has on his vision makes him realize that “the brain was just an organ like any other and that when it failed he would...
(The entire section is 584 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
The fifteenth chapter, “The Mediterranean Diet,” begins with Desdemona deciding to stay in bed now that Lefty has passed. Cal recalls how she believes that Lefty has secured a place for them in heaven and that it is up to her to join him. She summons Dr. Philobosian, and when he pronounces her healthy, she demands that Milton and Tessie find another doctor. Unfortunately, they all pronounce Desdemona, who is seventy-one years old, healthy. Dr. Müller is impressed by Desdemona’s longevity (he thinks that Desdemona is ninety-one, but Cal explains that her grandmother always confused 7 with 9), and he studies her in support of a theory that her longevity is due to her Mediterranean diet. Regardless, Desdemona, who spends her time planning her death, her burial, and her funeral, is happy to have someone to talk to about her Greek heritage. Otherwise, she is concerned with securing the "Presidential" funeral package, and she explains to Milton that the “Imperial” package is the most expensive. She is content to settle for the “Presidential” package.
Milton cannot likely afford it. He no longer runs the Zebra Room, and now tries to find a way to make money that is less sensitive to location and to fluctuating property values. He starts Hercules Hot Dogs, a chain of small hot dog stands that have simple picnic tables for seating. Milton places these stands near busy highways that connect poorer neighborhoods with wealthier ones. Milton is glad to have left Detroit for Grosse Point, especially since Judge Roth has decided that Detroit’s schools are segregated. He has ordered that children ride buses to force integration, and Milton, whose children now live outside of Detroit, brags that he got out just in time.
Callie’s life at school is going well. Cal recalls being exceptionally beautiful. When Callie drops an eraser, boys hurry to pick it up, stammering as they returned it to her. However, when Callie’s peers begin to reach puberty, Calliope finds that she is the only person that is not developing. She knows very little about her body. Tessie is very modest and frowns upon movies with nudity, leaving Callie to learn about her body by observing others. At a summer camp, one girl has her first period while singing on stage and Callie decides to stop singing as a result. Eventually, she decides that her Mediterranean diet is to blame and refuses to eat.
One night, a fight breaks out over supper....
(The entire section is 556 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
The sixteenth chapter, "Wolverette," begins with Callie playing goalie for her field hockey team. Milton refuses to bus his children to Detroit and enrolls Callie in the Baker & Inglis School for Girls. Cal explains that she was an awful player and lacked coordination. In fact, Callie is the worst player on the team, though this was in part because the other girls "didn't have, as I did, two testicles squatting illegally in their inguinal canals." After the game, Callie looks at all of the other girls around her. They have begun to physically develop, and though Cal does not recall being attracted to them, she does recall their charm bracelets and her feelings of confusion from that age. She explains the elaborate strategies that she used to keep from having to change in front of others. Callie eventually does begin to grow taller. In fact, she is thrilled when she notices that she has begun to grow body hair. However, these changes also begin to change her features. Her nose develops a "satyrical" hook and her eyebrows become thicker. Her voice begins to drop, though Tessie thinks that Callie's just fighting a cold.
Callie is beginning to exhibit early signs of masculinity. The way that she would toss her eraser into the air and then catch it, the way that she would so aggressively debate her classmates, or the way that her girlfriends seemed always to lean against her all now seem like early signs of "Cal." Cal recalls how Milton, in spite of his daughter being five foot ten inches tall, would still invite her to dance. However, Callie, who had once had such "Appolonian" beauty is ashamed of the "Dionysian element [that] stole over" her features. Consequently, Callie lets her hair grow long, though Cal recalls that it seemed to get into everything, even the hairballs of the neighbor's cat. Tessie encourages Callie to cut her hair or at least pull it back into a ball, but Cal explains that "I was still growing it out. My dream was to some day live in it." To some extent, Callie's androgynous features were in fashion during the early 1970s, but as time goes on, she feels more insecure about her appearance.
Life begins to change for the family. Chapter Eleven is accepted into the University of Michigan, but he also receives notice of his eligibility for the draft. Consequently, he begins to follow the Vietnam War very closely. When Chapter Eleven's number is called, he and Callie embrace, which Cal explains is unusual...
(The entire section is 463 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
The seventeenth chapter, "Waxing Lyrical," begins with Callie learning that she has started to develop a moustache. Cal explains that there is a "hair belt" that stretches from Spain, across southern Europe, and through Turkey. The women within that belt are prone to unwanted hair, and now Callie has joined them. Tessie sets up an appointment for Callie with Sophie Sassoon, whose salon is frequented by women who want their bodies waxed. During one such session, Tessie explains that Chapter Eleven will be bringing a girlfriend with him when he returns home from college for Christmas.
After his first visit, the family discovered that Chapter Eleven had begun to change. Cal points out that her family has a special gift for transformation. When he left for college, Chapter Eleven had been a science geek with plans of majoring in engineering, which Milton approved of. When Chapter Eleven returns, he looks like John Lennon. Cal explains that up until this point, neither Callie nor Chapter Eleven had ever been able to beat Milton at ping-pong. However, Chapter Eleven finally manages it, and he afterwards explains that he is high on LSD, which makes everything seem slow. When he next returns, he has changed his major from engineering to anthropology and he studies the family's "rituals of kin bonding." He even claims to understand the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Chapter Eleven's girlfriend is Meg Zemka, who is short, thin, and a Marxist who is majoring in political science. She is also a vegetarian. When she meets Milton, she refuses to try a Hercules Hot Dog and she argues that he is exploiting his workers. It does not take long before all of Chapter Eleven's lifestyle changes lead to a conflict with Milton. When Milton suggests that the family travel to Greece during the summer, Chapter Eleven rejects the idea because travel is just a form of "colonialism." Father and son begin to argue, and Chapter Eleven finally admits that he disagrees with his father's materialism and explains that he does not want to live like Milton. Both men are furious, and Chapter Eleven leaves with Meg on his motorcycle.
When Cal considers this fight, she suggests that Chapter Eleven's decisions may have had more to do with his hopes that he might escape the "lottery." Cal explains:
It appeared that Chapter Eleven, taking chemical trips of his own, was trying to escape what he had dimly perceived...
(The entire section is 434 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
The eighteenth chapter, “The Obscure Object,” begins with Cal recounting her romances. One of his first partners was Oliva, who had been raped at thirteen. Both of them were intellectual enough to succeed in college, but they were immature emotionally. Cal explains that her unusual anatomy was a sort of “starter kit” for Oliva. Cal has other romances, but each of them becomes harder and harder since she knows they will always have to face the “great fact of my condition.” It was different with the "Obscure Object," because they met in “blissful ignorance.”
Callie is in eighth grade at Baker & Inglis School for Girls, and one of her favorite teachers is Mr. da Silva. Though Mr. da Silva is from Brazil, Cal explains that it is difficult to see his Latin American origin. He loves European literature and he is still “keyed up” over a trip to Greece that took place six years prior. Callie loves Mr. da Silva’s English class, in which she and several other girls are reading Homer’s The Iliad. Though the other girls find the constant deaths monotonous, Callie loves it. The class changes one day when a new girl is transferred into class. To protect her identity, Cal refers to her as the "Obscure Object," an allusion to the film That Obscure Object of Desire. Cal explains that the hero of the film literally carries a sack for unknown reasons, and that Callie feels as though her feelings for the Obscure Object are like a sack that she carries. Cal recalls that it was not uncommon for the girls to have a “crush” on one another at Baker & Inglis School for Girls, but that even in the eighth grade, Callie understood that her feelings were different.
Mr. da Silva decides to have the class perform Antigone, and he casts the Obscure Object in the title role. In spite of her ambivalence toward class, the Obscure Object is a natural star, and she insists that the girls memorize all of their lines. Callie, who is cast as Tiresias because of her hair, volunteers to help the Obscure Object memorize lines. Callie meets the Obscure Object at the latter’s house and the two girls hit it off. The Obscure Object admits to Callie that she is glad that they are studying lines together because they would never have interacted together otherwise.
The night of the play is a disaster. One of the girls, Maxine Grossinger, has an aneurysm while on stage. The Obscure Object turns to...
(The entire section is 483 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
At the start of the nineteenth chapter, “Tiresias in Love,” Tessie informs her daughter that she has made an appointment her with Dr. Bauer, a gynecologist. Callie is concerned, but she is primarily focused on her next day with the Obscure Object. Callie has been invited to go to the Grosse Point Club, or the “Little Club,” as the Obscure Object’s family calls it. While they are there, Callie meets the Object’s brother, Jerome, who has been kicked out of two boarding schools. He is planning to make a movie, Vampire in Prep School, and the vampire will be the headmaster. Jerome explains that it is a metaphor. The day turns into a slumber party and as Callie rubs the Object’s back, she asks whether the Object knows anything about gynecologists. The Object explains that being examined by a gynecologist “kills.” If Callie had her way, she would spend the entire summer with the Object. However, Milton is planning a trip to Greece to paint a church as repayment to St. Christopher. It is the summer of 1974, and Callie is too focused on the Object to follow the news of heightening tensions around the Mediterranean.
Worried about her appointment with Dr. Bauer, Callie begins going to church again. She worries over “the metal things that would spread my legs and of the metal doohickey that would spread something else” and she dreads “what all this spreading might reveal.” At church, Callie prays for her period to begin, while Tessie prays for Chapter Eleven, who has dropped out of college to “live off the land” and return to his studies. They sit near Zoë, who has four children: Aristotle, Socrates, Cleopatra, and Plato. Callie is always struck by the way that Aunt Zoë and Father Mike change when they are at church. Father Mike “appeared and disappeared with the capriciousness of a divinity,” whereas outside the church he seems like a diminutive man who does not make enough money to provide his children with fine church clothes.
Zoë, meanwhile, is subdued at church, but when she comes over to the house for Sunday dinners, she is more charismatic and she is always able to make Tessie laugh. Callie explains that Zoë is happier in America, but that the best period of Father Mike’s priesthood was his several years in Greece, perhaps because “nobody pitied him for being a priest, whereas later on in America his parishioners always treated him with a slight but unmistakable condescension,...
(The entire section is 787 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
When the twentieth chapter, “Flesh and Blood,” begins, Cal explains that she never did end up menstruating. Instead, she faked it and maintained a cycle, claiming to do “cramps the way Meryl Streep did accents.” Cal admits that this deception was a relief to Tessie and even to Callie herself, who was no longer “at the mercy of nature.” The summer trip has been canceled, as has the appointment with Dr. Bauer.
In the living room at Middlesex, the Stephanides family and their friends continue to discuss the Turks’ invasion of Cyprus. All of the guests are furious about the invasion. Milton, however, sympathizes with Nixon, and he detests the liberals and the left-wing media that is so focused on Watergate. When the guests begin to criticize Nixon over his foreign policy, Milton argues that the Americans need to look after their own interests and finally declares “to hell with the Greeks.” All of the guests, except Father Mike and Zoë, leave with great indignation. Tessie is distraught and Father Mike takes her out to the deck. Zoë and Callie go outside and observe the way Father Mike is looking at Tessie as he comforts her. Zoë proceeds to get drunk.
Callie drives to the Object’s summer cottage with “Mr. Object.” When she arrives, Jerome shows her around and informs her that she will be sharing a bed with the Object. But when she walks downstairs, Callie is surprised to discover Rex Reese and the Object: it appears they have been spending time together. Jerome, meanwhile, appears to be just as interested in Callie as Rex is in the Object. That night, the four of them hike through the woods to a hunting cabin. They break in, smoke a joint, and drink some beer before Rex and the Object begin making out. Jerome and Callie soon follow suit. Callie keeps one eye on the Object throughout and she soon becomes "ecstatic" like the Oracle at Delphi. Cal explains that "ecstasy" actually refers to an out of body experience, and once she finds herself out of body, she puts herself into Rex’s body. She can sense what it is like to kiss the Object, though occasionally "checks in" to see what Jerome is doing to her.
On one of these glances, she realizes that Jerome is inside of her. It feels wrong, and Callie realizes that being inside of Rex had felt right. Callie pushes Jerome off of her and thinks that “it’s all over now.” Jerome will tell Rex, who will tell the Object, and before long...
(The entire section is 490 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
The twenty-first chapter, “The Gun on the Wall,” begins the next morning when Callie wakes up and showers thoroughly. When she goes downstairs, the Object is angry at her for sleeping with Jerome. Callie returns upstairs and cries into her pillow. Jerome enters and begins to kiss her, but Callie stops him. Jerome and the Object spend the rest of the day out of the house and Callie is forced to spend time with Mr. and Mrs. Object until she finally retires and cries herself to sleep. When the Object comes home, she lies down on the bed and falls asleep. Callie shifts over the bed until she is on top of the Object. When she slips off the Object’s underpants, the latter lifts her hips “very slightly, to make it easier for me. This was her only contribution.” The next morning, they act as though nothing has changed between them, though the Object is no longer interested in Rex’s advances.
Cal explains that “through all this I made no lasting conclusions about myself.” He goes on to say:
what I saw looking down at myself was only the dark triangular badge of puberty. When I touched the corsus it expanded, swelling until with a kind of pop it slid free of the pouch it was in. It poked its head up into the air. Not too far, though. No more than an inch past the tree line. What did this mean? I knew from personal experience that the Object had a crocus of her own. It swelled, too, when touched … The crucial feature was this: the crocus didn’t have a hole at the tip. This was certainly not what a boy had. Put yourself in my shoes, reader, and ask yourself what conclusion you would have come to about your own sex, if you had what I had, if you looked the way I looked.
Each night, Callie and the Object continue to press against each other, with Callie on top. Cal points out that their lesbian relationship “was happening more than ever in 1974. It was becoming a national pastime.”
Eventually, however, their relationship is revealed. Though the Object initially seems to be asleep during the girls’ embraces, one day while on the porch swing, the Object rests atop Callie. Callie slips her thumb into the Object’s pants. They are interrupted by Jerome, who is dressed as a vampire for his film. He calls them “carpet munchers,” and he slowly reduces his sister to tears. Jerome promises Callie that he will not tell anyone since “most guys wouldn’t be so...
(The entire section is 692 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
At the start of the twenty-second chapter, “The Oracular Vulva,” Milton and Tessie do not believe the emergency room doctor about Callie’s ambiguous sex. They send her to Doctor Philobosian, who is now eighty-four years old. He examines her, but Cal notes that it is no surprise that he did not notice her unusual genitals when she was born since “even now, alerted to the possibility, he didn’t seem to want to know.” Callie has no idea what is happening, though she overhears at one point Tessie telling Milton that Dr. Philobosian should have noticed Callie’s ambiguous sex when she was born.
Now, the family travels to New York to see Dr. Luce at New York Hospital. They stay at the Lochmoor, where Milton stayed decades ago, because of the low rates. The hotel is a dump. However, in some ways it is more comfortable than Dr. Luce’s office in the Pyschohormonal Unit on the fourth floor. The “Sexual Disorder and Gender Identity Clinic” is decorated with a variety of sculptures and paintings of “Hindu women bent over double, offering up orifices like prayers to the well-endowed men who answered them.” Thankfully, Dr. Luce at first seems very charming.
Dr. Luce is the world’s leading authority on human hermaphroditism. His major work, The Oracular Vulva, later led to a column of the same name in Playboy. (He was offered the column when he announced to the media that he was “in favor of orgies wherever they happen.”) Luce’s work is the most significant contribution to the field since pathologist Edwin Klebs in 1876, who argued that sex was determined “according to the kind of sex which doth prevail.” Luce maintains that there are many things that contribute to gender identity, including “chromosomal sex; gonadal sex; hormones; internal genital structures; external genitals; and, most important, the sex of rearing.” He would later come to argue that gender identity was established by the time children grew to be toddlers. His work has earned him funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and others. However, he is in need of funding now, and he will soon exhibit Callie to others.
Dr. Luce asks Callie to begin writing a “Psychological Narrative.” However, Cal explains that much of what she wrote was false. Despite Dr. Luce’s promises that whatever she said would stay between them, Callie did not believe him. She refuses to admit that she is...
(The entire section is 559 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
In the twenty-third chapter “Looking Myself Up in Webster’s,” Dr. Luce concludes his experiments and invites Tessie and Milton to meet with him. Milton wears his lucky Greek drama cuff links. He has just returned from a business trip and when he sees his daughter again, he “came face-to-face with the essence of tragedy, which is something determined before you’re born, something you can’t escape or do anything about, no matter how hard you try.” When they arrive at the office, things are light and comedic, particularly in the way Tessie “found herself reading about the juvenile sexual rehearsal play of the rhesus monkeys.” Finally, they are admitted to see the doctor.
Up to this point, Dr. Luce has always referred to Callie using gender-neutral pronouns. Now, however, he is confident that they have a “daughter.” Dr. Luce explains that “a penis is just a very large clitoris. They grow from the same root.” Callie’s body does not produce dihudrotestosterone, which means that
in utero, she followed a primarily female line of development. Especially in terms of the external genitalia. That, coupled with her being brought up as a girl, resulted in her thinking, acting, and looking like a girl.
However, now that Callie is a teenager, her body is producing too much testosterone. This makes Callie “a girl who has a little too much male hormone. We want to correct that.” Dr. Luce prescribes hormone injections and cosmetic surgery before asking to know whether there are any others in the family that exhibit these unusual mutations. He is disappointed to learn that Callie is the only one.
Callie is not present during this meeting; Milton drops her off at the New York Public Library. However, while Callie does not hear Dr. Luce’s diagnosis, she looks up some of the words that she has overheard him mentioning to other doctors. With her background in Latin and a dictionary, she is able to discover the meaning of “hypospadias,” a word she has overheard Dr. Luce say while trying to secure funding. “Hypospadias” takes her to “eunuch,” which takes her to “hermaphrodite.” The dictionary also informs Callie that “hermaphrodite” is a synonym for “monster.” Callie closes the dictionary and looks around, but no one is looking at her like she is a monster. In fact, when her parents come to pick her up, they seem as kind and as loving...
(The entire section is 677 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
Editor's Note: To avoid confusion, the narrator and main character in Middlesex is referred to by the pronoun "he" in chapter summaries 24-28.
In the twenty-fourth chapter, “Go West, Young Man,” Cal begins his journey away from home. He buys a suit from the Salvation Army and has his hair cut. He practices walking like a man, which, Cal concludes, requires the shoulders to sway rather than the hips. Cal only has so much money, but he is determined to go West. He does not have enough money to travel by bus to California, so he decides to start hitchhiking. As he stands on the road with his thumb in the air, Cal realizes that he had
miscalculated with Luce. I thought that after talking to me he would decide that I was normal and leave me alone. But I was beginning to understand something about normality. Normality wasn’t normal. It couldn’t be. If normality were normality, everybody could leave it alone. They could sit back and let normality manifest itself. But people—and especially doctors—had doubts about normality. They weren’t sure normality was up to the job. And so they felt inclined to give it a boost.
Cal has complex feelings toward Dr. Luce, but she feels no resentment toward her parents. Nevertheless, it takes little more than the thought of what her classmates might say to urge her on her journey.
At night, Cal sleeps in hotels. He spends his time doing push-ups and sit-ups, feeling as though he is finally freed from expectations that came along with his body when he was a woman. Cal is struck by how differently men and women view their bodies. In the men’s bathrooms, which are shockingly dirty compared to women's, men may be shameless while locked away in their stalls, but in front of their urinals they “look straight ahead like horses with blinders.” Cal realizes that he is leaving behind a
shared biology. Women know what it means to have a body. They understand its difficulties and its frailties, it glories and pleasures. Men think their bodies are theirs alone. They tend them in private, even in public.
Though Cal initially feels uneasy in the men’s room, he notices that no one ever objects to his presence there.
During the day, he continues to hitchhike. One elderly couple, Myron and Sylvia, are...
(The entire section is 628 words.)
Chapter 25 Summary
The twenty-fifth chapter, “Gender Dysphoria in San Francisco,” begins with Cal on the road in another car. His driver, Bob Presto, used to work for the radio (he does not mention what he does now), and he prides himself on his voice. He questions Cal, who still claims to be headed to Stanford. When Presto asks where Stanford is, Cal dodges the question. Presto also mentions that he had thought Cal might be a woman based on his stance on the side of the road. When Cal asks to be let out, Presto stops asking questions. However, when they arrive in San Francisco, Presto admits that he knows Cal is not a college student and asks whether Cal is a transvestite. Cal prepares to leave, but Presto tells him to at least take his number because he might be able to help.
Back in New York, Cal explains, Tessie and Milton are furious with Dr. Luce, and they blame him for Cal’s running away. Milton demands to see the file that Cal read. At first, Dr. Luce refuses and suggests that they have more important things to worry about, such as depression and dysphoria. However, they eventually do see the file and learn that Dr. Luce has not told them about Cal’s chromosomes either. They return to Detroit, where others are aware that Cal has run away, but no one knows why. When people call, Tessie is brief, trying to keep the line free. She claims to be able to feel Callie through a spiritual umbilical cord, which gives her hope. Milton, meanwhile, calls the police and posts pictures of Callie at all of his hot dog stands. He soon begins to give Tessie money to buy candles to light at church. Cal’s running away does bring Chapter Eleven back to the family, and though he refuses to eat meat, he has broken up with Meg and does not immediately reject Milton’s offer that he take over the family business.
Cal begins to eat a lot of sweets to cover up the emotional confusion that he is feeling over having run away from home. Up to this point, he has focused on getting to California, but now that he has arrived, he does not know what to do. The sweets soon lose their ability to cheer him up. One day, he is interrupted by a boy who tells Cal that he will show him a place in the park to sleep in exchange for a hamburger. Cal agrees and he meets a group of Deadheads in the park. They read Siddhartha and speculate as to whether Jerry Garcia is the Buddha. The vibe is mellow and peaceful, but there are other groups in the park that are...
(The entire section is 523 words.)
Chapter 26 Summary
The twenty-sixth chapter, "Hermaphroditus," begins with a discussion of Luce's theory of gender identity. Cal explains that Luce's theory was popular in the early 1970s because "the consensus was that personality was primarily determined by environment, each child a blank slate to be written on." However, evolutionary biology began to explain that "male" and "female" tendencies could be traced to hunter-gatherer tendencies that live in cells. In fact, Cal explains that these discoveries are "the Ancient Greek notion of fate into our very cells." For Dr. Luce, Cal's disappearance was convenient because Cal's decision to live as a male would undermine Luce's theory. However, Cal argues that his case is unusual because he never felt out of place as a woman. Regardless, Cal notes that
contrary to all expectations, the code underlying our being is woefully inadequate. Instead of the expected 200, 000 genes, we have only 30, 000. Not many more than a mouse. And so a strange new possibility is arising. Comprised, indefinite, sketchy, but not entirely obliterated: free will is making a comeback. Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.
In 1974, Bob Presto was running a night club called "San Francisco's Sixty-Niners." Patrons that bought entry to the second floor could go to "Octopussy's Garden," where, through a peephole, they can see the god Hermaphroditus, neither male nor female. Patrons can also see Carmen, a pre-op male-to-female transsexual. Finally, there was Zora, who dressed as a mermaid. Cal explains that Zora has "Androgen Insensitivity. Her body was immune to male hormones. Though XY like me, she had developed along female lines." Unlike Cal, she is stunning. Zora points out that many fashion models look like her because "how many chicks are six two, skinny, but with big boobs? Not many. That's normal for someone like me." Cal and his new friends get high before every show, but Cal nevertheless concludes that "I could have done worse." Cal learns a lot from Zora, who is writing a book about hermaphrodites. She explains that gender is a cultural identity and that sex is a biological identity. She points out that the Navajo allowed people to switch gender and honored them for it. When Cal asks why Zora does not just live as a woman, she explains that "we are the future."
In Detroit, Tessie and Milton's grief over Cal is in "harmony." They find themselves having...
(The entire section is 545 words.)
Chapter 27 Summary
The twenty-seventh chapter, “Air-Ride,” begins with Cal attending the Warhol opening at the Neue Nationalgallerie. There are no artists at the opening, and Cal eventually sits down to light a cigar. He is joined by Julie Kikuchi, who also smokes cigars. They do not talk, but afterward, they lean toward each other until “our foreheads were almost touching.” Finally Cal asks Julie to let him explain why he did not call her, saying “there’s something you should know about me.”
Cal then returns to Milton’s story. Milton once again answers the phone on a Sunday morning. The caller is able to answer questions like where Lefty and Desdemona were born, and Milton agrees to pay money to the kidnapper. He asks for $25,000, and when Milton agrees, the caller insists that Milton negotiate. Eventually, he tells Milton that he will take the $25,000. Milton leaves in the middle of the night, and though Tessie hears him dress, she does not ask where he is going. Their daily routines have fallen apart, and besides, Tessie thinks that her husband must be leaving her in the same way that her father and daughter did.
Milton drives his 1975 Cadillac Eldorado to a train station. Milton is to drop off the money in a garbage bag that is marked with chalk. As he drops the briefcase in the bag, his hand does not want to let go since he has no assurance that Callie will be returned to him. He ultimately forces himself to part with the money, but quickly returns to take out half of the money and keep it as leverage to ensure Callie’s safe return. When he arrives on the platform, he finds Father Mike withdrawing the briefcase.
Cal explains that marrying Zoë
sentenced him to a life of invidious comparisons, of Zoë always asking why he hadn’t invested in the stock market when Milton had, or bought gold when Milton had, or stashed money away in the Cayman Islands as Milton had … it was a great shock for Milton to discover his brother-in-law on the train platform. But it also made sense.
Cal allows himself to “enter Father Mike’s head” and he discovers no attachment to God. Instead, Mike’s silent smile was his way of coping with his overbearing wife.
Mike runs away from Milton and gets into his Gremlin. The two of them engage in an absurd car chase that never goes more than ten miles past the speed limit. However, when Milton realizes that Mike...
(The entire section is 637 words.)
Chapter 28 Summary
In the twenty-eighth chapter, “The Last Stop,” Julie continues her relationship with Cal, though she asks whether she might be his last stop. He says that she is more like his first stop. When they return to his apartment and enter the bedroom, Cal asks whether he is her last stop, and Julie admits that he might be.
Chapter Eleven meanwhile flies Cal back to Detroit. The charges are removed from Cal’s record and they do not prevent him from getting a job with the State Department. The two brothers drive through the city once more, and Cal notices that black people look at him as though he is “the Man,” which he supposes is a part of the male experience. Chapter Eleven accepts Cal as his “bro,” and they begin teasing each other. When Tessie asks whether it would have been easier to stay how he was, a girl, Cal replies that “this is the way I was.”
Cal goes to see his grandmother, Desdemona. He explains that she has not been present recently in the story because “in the dramatic years of my transformation, she slipped out of my attention most of the time.” At first, Desdemona does not remember Cal, or even Callie, at all, but she eventually realizes, crying out “Calliope.” She explains to Cal that her mother had once told her about children that were born girls, but when they became teenagers they no longer looked like girls. Desdemona confesses that the church and later Dr. Philobosian warned her against marrying anyone closer than a second cousin (and even marriages between second cousins should be approved by the archbishop), but she married Lefty anyhow. She says that Cal resembles Lefty, and then notes that her spoon was right after all. Cal promises not to tell anyone the truth about her and Lefty until after she passes away.
Milton is buried and is given a full Orthodox funeral, which is no doubt against his wishes. None of the people from Hercules Hot Dogs show up, and the family realizes that Milton never had friends—only family and business associates. Cal does not attend so that he will not have to explain how he has changed to the family. However, he does stand guard at the house, an old Greek tradition that no one remembers but one that only a man can perform, so that Milton’s spirit cannot reenter the house. Father Mike is charged with grand larceny and Zoë divorces him. She and Desdemona move to New Smyrna Beach, where they will later be joined by Tessie. As...
(The entire section is 462 words.)