Chapter 22 Summary

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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 sexually attracted to the Object. In her narrative, she writes fictional accounts of sex play. When discussing her feelings for the Object, she explains that the object of her affections is Jerome. When Luce shows her pornography, Callie claims to be turned on by the man in the film. This convinces Dr. Luce that although Callie is a “male pseudohermaphrodite—genetically male but appearing otherwise, with 5-alpha-reductase deficiency syndrome,” her rearing has overridden Callie’s genes. He takes naked photos of Callie, which will later appear in textbooks with Callie’s face blacked out.

Milton decides to leave the girls to themselves and travels to Florida on business. At night, Tessie has nightmares of “the germs of infants bubbling, dividing. Of hideous creatures growing up from pale foam.” Although Tessie tries not to allow herself to think of these things—Desdemona’s nightmares—they come to her at night nonetheless.

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Chapter 23 Summary