Chapter 23 Summary

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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 as ever. They explain to Callie that the doctor has recommend a small surgery, followed by hormone injections. Milton concludes that it is “a hormonal thing,” which is “no big deal.”

When Callie meets with Dr. Luce, he explains the procedure that is about to take place. However, their meeting is interrupted and Dr. Luce leaves the room. Cal spots a paper on his desk entitled “PRELIMINARY STUDY: GENETIC XY (MALE) RAISED AS FEMALE.” Reading the paper, Callie realizes that the lies she has written have influenced Dr. Luce’s diagnosis, but it also seems that Dr. Luce, who interprets Callie’s voice as “whispery,” rather than masculine, hopes to benefit from “an illustrative case [that] indicates that there is no preordained correspondence between genetic and genital structure.” In his conversation with Callie, Dr. Luce does not explain that Callie is chromosomally male, nor has he mentioned hypospadias. He does not even say that the cosmetic surgery he has recommended will likely result in “partial or total loss of erotosensation.” He only suggests that Callie’s clitoris is unusually large for a girl.

That night, Milton and Tessie go to see a Broadway musical. Callie stays in the hotel room, claiming to feel tired. Once they leave, Callie packs all of the masculine clothing, takes Milton’s money, and leaves a note explaining that Dr. Luce is a “big liar” and that “I am not a girl! I am a boy!” She announces her attentions to leave and promises that she will be all right. The note is signed “Callie,” but Cal explains that “it was the last time I was ever their daughter.”

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