Monday, January 27, 2014

Cali by Deborah Frazier

"Cali" by Deborah Frazier is a very enjoyable book that moves relentlessly toward a devastating conclusion, one that the reader can anticipate, but nevertheless, is still quite shocking. This is a novel that makes a big statement about the arbitrary sex assignment of babies born with ambiguous genitalia, a condition that is not as rare as one might think. For example, in the real world, one out of 1000 males is born with "hypospadias," an anomaly where the urethra does not open at the tip of the glans. And this is just one example of an at-birth genital concern.

This novel makes the point that if your child happens to be born with ambiguous genitalia, you might not want to rush headlong to "correct" the problem. For as much as a parent is no doubt trying to act in a child's best interest, a rushed decision may result in a horribly tragic mistake for all concerned. The author presents a dramatic and moving case that it is much better to let things sort themselves out and determine which way the child is leaning before taking any irreversible steps. Most importantly, the person most directly affected must be the major part of the decision-making process. While eloquently presenting her point, the author eviscerates those in the medical community who would push parents to immediately "make things right."

On another level, this story proves that even a highly trained psychotherapist can be the victim of severe emotional problems and still function in the world. This is particularly true if she is forced to utilize sanity-preserving defense mechanisms to cope with her demons, particularly if their source is cloaked by a riddle surrounded in a mystery. From the onset of this book, it is quite apparent that young Cali, our brave protagonist born with ambiguous genitalia, has a male genotype. As she develops, and without her knowledge, under the guise of being in need of iron supplements, Cali receives female hormone injections to promote the development of female secondary sex characteristics. Strongly inclined toward the "tomboyish" side and filled with guilt about her parents' broken relationship, she eventually meets a new and supportive friend who nurtures and encourages her feminine side to emerge.

The story goes on to describe Cali's maturation and emotional development as a young adult woman, complete with a burgeoning romance with a young male physician, but still carrying a sack full of emotional issues. In Cali's case, given that she has been kept completely in the dark about the nefarious events surrounding her birth, a poor prognosis for emotional health and successful relationships can be expected. That she was surgically assigned to a female gender role at birth and never told about her history, it would certainly account for her angst-filled adjustment difficulties.

Although "Cali" is a very good novel, it is certainly not perfect. Although well-written and extremely readable, like other self-published books it has a certain amount of typos, grammar issues and bares a few inconsistencies. Some such blips I found slightly vexing were that as a young adult, Cali decides to go off her "iron" shots. This is all well and good, but there is nothing ever noted as to what happens to her emotional and physical well-being during her long hiatus off estrogen. What about the "dilation" of the neo-vagina? I didn't need the specific details of such a process, but apparently her surgeon created one heck of a magical vagina for baby Cali, whereby she never ever had to bother with dilator stents or lubrication prior to intercourse.

I also think we need to suspend disbelief a bit because Cali, quite understandably, never experiences a menstrual period. But at the age of 26 and holding a doctorate in counseling psychology, with a romantic commitment looming on the horizon, she never has this problem checked out? Even with all her avoidance, I find it slightly strange how a professional person can possibly demonstrate such denial. But, oh well, to me these issues were secondary and in no way major detractors from this otherwise fine and memorable work.

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