"The unexamined life is not worth living" Socrates

- - scatterings of ideas sent to my younger self, a sensitive girl who was fooled into believing she was a boy because of anatomy - -

Thursday 16 December 2010

Living With Ambiguity

During the past summer, I read Kathleen Winter's book Annabel. In an earlier post I highly recommended the book. Since that time, the book has been nominated for the most prestigious prizes in the Canadian literary world.

There is a passage which touched me so much at the time. I was not really sure why it had so much impact. The whole book had an impact; there are numerous passages that might have got my attention, but this one, in particular, was worth copying out and saving. I did not put it on my 'fridge... too many questions to answer to the uninitiated, you know. I put it away and told myself if someday it 'explained itself' to me, I would blog about it. Guess what??

In the book, Jacinta and her husband Treadway's daughter/son Annabel/Wayne is a true hermaphrodite. In the early days since her/his birth, the ambiguity continues... but for how long?
“Everything Treadway refused to imagine, Jacinta imagined in detail enough for the two of them. Whereas he struck out on his own to decide how to erase the frightening ambiguity in their child, she envisioned living with it as it was. She imagined her daughter beautiful and grown up, in a scarlet satin gown, her male characteristics held secret under the clothing for a time when she might need a warrior's strength and a man's potent aggression. Then she imagined her son as a talented, mythical hunter, his breasts strapped in a concealing vest, his clothes the green of striding forward, his heart the heart of a woman who could secretly direct his path in the ways of intuition and psychological insight. Whenever she imagined her child, grown up without interference from a judgemental world, she imagined its male and female halves as complementing each other, and as being secretly, almost magically powerful. It was the growing up part she did not want to imagine. The social part, the going to school in Labrador part, the jeering part, the what will we tell everyone part, the part that asks how will we give this child so much love it will know no harm from the cruel reactions of people who do not want to understand.”*

Winter captures so much of my struggle for balance and honest expression. For me, it was inevitable that this passage and it's longing for a continued duality Annabel's birth condition made possible would resonate. Recently, my own growing admission of an inner duality brings on a longing to find authentic expression for both sides in a world where ambiguity is unacceptable.

There are no parents to blame here, the real struggle for power goes on between my ears. I am not naturally rebellious, but a voice inside says "Be yourself,". Then it continues, “but just who are you?”.

Is it really about the scarlet gown? Is it about the secret intuition? Is it about the heart and its mythical insight working through a male body? Still more questions than answers.

The voice inside says "Find a way to manifest those magically powerful male and female halves, complementing each other, then you will be true to yourself."

*page 28, Annabel by Kathleen Winter, House of Anansi Press Inc


  1. Hi Halle,
    As always, a great post and now you've intrigued me enough to obtain a copy of Annabel.

    I think you've hit the ambiguity question right-on in your last paragraph, "Find a way to manifest those magically male and female halves, complementing each other, then you will be true to yourself." It's something that I'm trying to work on too.

    Hugs, Elly

  2. Well said, hon. I can't say I liked Annabel (it was a little too coldly emotionless for me), but I absolutely respect what she accomplished with it.

    She made a few interesting comments in her National Post interview a while back that have improved my opinion a bit.

    She said she wasn't writing about gender ambiguity itself, but about how ambiguity is resolved and who gets to make the determination. She also said she wanted to explore whether ambiguity was really a disorder or just a matter of perception.

    With those questions in mind, it does become a bit of a different read.

  3. That's such a beautiful passage in a beautiful book. It was a book that surprised me in many ways, such as the changes that happen in both parents as the story progresses.

    Part of what I sensed in the way the book was written is the uncompromising harshness of life in Labrador. Not a place for the faint of heart (like me). But then St. John's presents its own difficulties.

  4. A lovely post Halle, I will get this book ASAP

  5. We bring our own interpretations to books we read. It often surprises me when an author states what they "thought" they wrote!

    I like your quoted text. As much as we may wish to transition to the other the end result will have to be some kind of hybrid by the nature of the process and time spent in the previous life. this is what I hope makes me an interesting woman!

    Caroline xxx

  6. Hello - I found your blog via Jenny @ Large blooming flower :-) and I love this post. Thank you - ""Find a way to manifest those magically powerful male and female halves, complementing each other, then you will be true to yourself." Yes, yes, exactly.

    I'm in my late 30s and I've been aware of my blend of male/female since I was 19 ... and now, properly exploring. I don't write much about it on my own blog (yet, if at all - we'll see...). Blessings to you on the journey. Thank you for writing.

  7. What struck me was that the perspective, was that of the parent and not the child.

  8. @ Sally; thanks for the National Post article.


    for those interested in a follow-up.

    @Anne; the parent in us does the worrying I suppose. We do have to take on that function for ourselves too, trying to keep that child within from doing things that will get her injured physically or otherwise...

    @Caroline; perhaps even those of us who seek to land on one side of the binary will always be in touch with a portion of ourselves that remains on the other side.

  9. I have not read this book. What I am addressing is that the POV is that of the parent. Why is it NOT of the child. It is the child that KNOWS or PERCIEVES who she/he is. It is the child the confrnts and deals with the dichotomy

  10. @Anne: In most of the book, the POV is that of Wayne, the child. Sometimes you get a shift to the POV of his father, or his mother, or an important family friend (I've forgotten her name -- she's the one who came up with "Annabel").

  11. I really like the last paragraph of this. It speaks to me.

    1. Hmm, me too. I wonder who wrote this stuff? :-)