Books

Between XX and XY by Gerald N. Callahan

Gender is not a dichotomy of male and female, but a continuum in which male and female are the hypothetical poles, and that we all occupy a space somewhere between these points.


Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the Myth of Two Sexes

Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Length: 208 pages
Author: Gerald N. Callahan
Price: $24.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2009-07
Amazon

Lisa May Stevens was known as Michael until the age of 22. It was only then that she discovered that she was born intersex, and that this was concealed from her by her parents and doctors. Having been brought up as a boy, she decided to live as a woman, and then later on as a man.

Suffering persecution that extended to shootings and rape, and after three failed marriages, she discovered that neither gender was right for her. Lisa May has the most remarkable story of the intersex people profiled in Gerald Callahan’s book. Having lived unhappily as both male and female, she has now settled on staying the way she naturally is, and proudly declares herself a hermaphrodite.

As such, she is also the best example for Callahan’s hypothesis – that gender is not a dichotomy of male and female, but a continuum in which male and female are the hypothetical poles, and that we all occupy a space somewhere between these points. The question raised by this, then, is how our genders are assigned.

The most obvious method is outward appearance, but there are sometimes ambiguities. Examining one’s chromosomes might seem to be more accurate – are they XX or XY? But this does not account for outcomes such as XXY, XO and XXXYY, nor for cases where the appearance of a person’s genitalia does not correlate with their chromosomes.

We are left with upbringing. Some believe our gender is informed by the way we are raised, and therefore that it is acceptable to assign a gender to an intersex child. The case of Lisa May Stevens suggests otherwise.

About the first third of Between XX and XY is dedicated to a history of sexuality and how gender has been perceived. This is necessary background, but things only get really interesting once intersexuality itself is examined in depth.

There are revealing asides on intersex animals: we learn of fish that change from being male to female at different points in their lives – some of these are even capable of changing from female to male and back again. Even more fascinating is the case of the spotted hyena. The females are the dominant gender of the species, and female spotted hyenas have ambiguous genitalia, with extended clitorises that hang down like phalluses. These appendages also function as the opening to the hyena’s vagina, meaning that mating and giving birth is difficult.

A brief investigation into examples of human cultures in which there are people who live as neither male nor female is also interesting. The berdache people of some Native American tribes are one example. They take on some of the social roles of the gender they were not born into, and hold a place between male and female.

Fascinating though this is, it does not illuminate the argument of this book any further, as the berdache method of gender identity seems to focus more on cross-dressing (social matters) than intersexuality (biological matters). The berdache are neither hermaphrodites nor transvestites, Callahan tells us, adding that ‘Our words cannot easily hold this world’. This is a pertinent point, reminding us that there are many people throughout history and societies that defy simple male/female gender identifications.

Callahan attempts to make his book a piece of creative writing as well as a study into intersexuality. His language is at times unnecessarily flowery: ‘It might have been one of those Los Angeles days when the soup rolled in off the sea and sopped up the sky’ he says, describing the day when one of his case studies was born. This is a shame, because his subject matter is interesting enough not to need such accoutrements; and although there are sections that delve into the heavily scientific discourses of foetal development and the makeup of cells and chromosomes, it is fully accessible to unscientific readers such as myself.

According to Between XX and XY there are 65,000 children born each year who are, according to our societal conventions, apparently neither male nor female; and when they grow up, like Lisa May Stevens, many are happiest living as neither of the two genders -- but something inbetween. One of Callahan’s interviewees effectively sums this up for the binary gender-inclined:

We are placed into a world that has the openness and understanding to accept an intersexed person as a perfectly normal human being, and it is the fault of the medical community that has shunned, shamed, hidden, tortured, humiliated, traumatized, and continually discriminated against us because of how we were born, to the point that there are people who remain ignorant about people born with ambiguous genitalia, chromosome disorders, and hormonal variations that make us the unique people we are.
6
Music
Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Books
Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Film
Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Recent
Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.