Chapter 26 Summary

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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 sex on a regular basis. However, when Tessie realizes that she can no longer feel Callie through the spiritual umbilical cord, their grief develops into discord. Milton continues to hope for news of Callie, though both parents begin to dread answering the phone out of fear that they will be told of their daughter's death. One Sunday when Milton does answer the phone, a voice on the other end asks whether he would like to see his daughter again and hangs up. Milton thinks it is a prank, but the next time he hears the voice on the other end, he says "I'm listening." The voice on the other end hangs up again.

In San Francisco, the police raid Presto's club, and they give Cal, who is underage, one phone call. He calls home and Chapter Eleven answers the phone. Chapter Eleven tells Cal that Milton is dead.

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