This Pulitzer Prize winning novel explores the family history and life of a female-reared protagonist who has an intersex condition doctors call 5-alpha reductase deficiency. Born with an XY karotype and sex anatomy that didn’t raise suspicion in doctors or family at the time, the protagonist is named Calliope and raised as a girl into her teen years, until an accident with a tractor leads to an emergency room trip where Calliope and her parents first hear that she has an intersex condition. After being sent to the “Sexual Disorders and Gender Identity Clinic,” Calliope is subjected to innumerable physical exams and psychological tests while she and her parents are told very little about her condition. When her medical file is accidentally left open on her doctor’s desk, Calliope, for the first time, reads about her diagnosis, her XY karotype, and her doctor’s conclusion that she is a girl. After leaving a note for her parents explaining that she is a boy, Calliope changes her name to Cal and begins living as a male.
Although the novel has some questionable moments (for example, that Calliope/Cal is born with an intersex condition due to a history of incest in the family) and has been criticized by intersex activists for a variety of reasons, the story of Cal’s life, and especially the details of the visits to the gender clinic, provides realistic and sensitive glimpses into life with an intersex condition.