Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In Between by Jane Hoppen

Book:  In Between
Author:  Jane Hoppen
Publisher:  Bold Strokes Books

Yin and Yang—Fire and Ice—Wet and Dry—Right and Wrong—Us and Them—God and Man—Male and Female. 


Coincidentia oppositorum . . . the simultaneous occurrence of opposites.

Things aren’t always black and white, and it isn’t a new concept.

“Being and non-being produce one another.
Hard depends on easy,
Long is tested by short,
High is determined by low.”
Tào Té Chīng, Laozi,

“The way up and the way down are one and the same.”
- Heraclitus

“For I am knowledge and ignorance.

I am shame and boldness.

I am shameless; I am ashamed.

I am strength and I am fear.

I am war and peace.”
- The Thunder, Perfect Mind

Reaching back to Ancient Greece, we are introduced to Hermaphroditus, a mythological figure who was the son of the gods Hermes and Aphrodite. While he bathed in a fountain, the nymph Salmacis fell in love with him and wished to be united with him. The gods heard her desire and fulfilled it by joining the two together forever.

Plato saw the hermaphroditic nature as the one and true origin of our race. In The Symposium he states that “First of all, the races of human beings were three, not as now, male and female; for there was also a third race that shared in both, a race whose name still remains, though it itself has vanished. For at that time one race was androgynous, and in looks and name it combined both, the male as well as the female; but now it does not exist except for the name that is reserved for reproach.”

Questions about the nature of humanity began to drift in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. In particular, during the late 15th century, scholastic natural philosophers began to construct theories in which sexual difference played a key role in religious and cultural norms. These scholars identified the absence of distinct sex as a key characteristic of nonhumans—plants, animals, and demons. It was argued that humans who displayed multiple sexes, or the attributes of multiple sexes, bordered on “beasts,” and therefore lost the subjectivity and dignity relegated to humanity.

Still, prior to the 19th century, most intersexed individuals led largely unremarkable lives. Their genital and reproductive peculiarities were, for the most part, accepted as a variation which occured throughout nature—including other mammals, reptiles, birds, plants, and insects.

But, as medicine and psychology became more “scientific,” intersex morphed into a medical issue, and intersexed individuals were suddenly classified as “abnormal” and “diseased.” The thrust of medicine in the last century has been on “curing” intersexed individuals by using surgical, hormonal, and psychological therapies to make them unequivocally male or female.  Usually at or near birth, and almost always before the individual has a chance to figure out who and what they inherently are.

As a result, many intersexed individuals have suffered severe psychological and physical damage from modern medicine’s attempts to make them distinctly male or female, instead of heeding strong empirical evidence that, through history, intersexed individuals have lived normal, happy lives without intervening medical treatment.

In Between, the debut novel by author, Jane Hoppen, tells the sordid coming of age story of a child born into a world that has lost it’s capability to understand just how normal different can really be. The year was 1963, and Mary and Max Schmidt had just welcomed their second child into the world when Dr. Willit said “Your baby is healthy, but . . .” The “but” came in the form of male and female parts, neither of which were well developed. Against instinct, the young parents followed the advice of the doctors, and allowed their new baby to go through a series of medical procedures to be rendered more female.

A smart and precocious tomboy, Sophie, at the age of fourteen, discovers the truth of how she was really born. Hurt, angry, and confused, she begins a journey to discover more about who she is, and find others born like her. From high school to college and the working world, Sophie begins to understand the science. But when she finally meets a woman she can love, she has to find a way to move beyond her issue of self-acceptance.  

With all deference to The Birdcage, Jane Hoppen’s In Between is “an epic piece full of mythic themes.” And, make no mistake, In Between is Sophie Schmidt’s story—only she would have likely preferred it be titled Sophie’s Choice. But, Sophie wasn’t given a choice to figure out who she really was, because that decision was made for her shortly after birth. Her anger, hurt, and self-pity come directly as a result of her confusion. What, if any, parts of me are male? What, if any, parts of me are female? Am I both? Am I neither?

She understands that she is normal in so many ways, but being normal doesn’t change the fact that she is different. Sophie is smart and rational, and she knows there have to be other people out there like her. But where are they and how do you find them?

And as she grows from angry teen into self-sheltered adult, she begins to learn that there really is a world full of other people who are normal but different, too. And not just because they are intersexed like her, but because they are gay, lesbian, transgender, and transsexual. She wakes up to her own depth of involuntary prejudice, and begins to understand how hard her path to self-acceptance really is.

Sophie has a built-in support network in the Schmidts, the classic corn-fed, god-fearing, hard-working All-American family. Mary and Max are steadfast in their love and support of their two children. Grandma Evelyn is a bitter divorcée who clings to her religion, but who finally comes to peace with her youngest granddaughter when she admits she wants her to have a happy life and sexual satisfaction. Older sister Holly is both friend and foe to the enigmatic young Sophie, but becomes one of her fiercest and most loyal supporters as Sophie begins her uncertain journey to enlightenment. Farmhand, Cal, is an unlikely beacon of light to Sophie as he lives his life as a cautious gay man who takes a chance on love, and finds a place he belongs.

The family dynamic pitches and rolls with each tempest in Sophie’s journey, and each character shows strength and weakness, and eventually a peace that passes all understanding.

Author Jane Hoppen
Jane Hoppen’s In Between is more than the tale of one person’s search for personal truth—it is a story about what it means to occupy the complex middle ground between male and female, living with the choices made by others, and trusting yourself enough to trust others. For Sophie, the journey to adulthood is fraught with anger, confusion, and self-pity, but tempered and strengthened by love.

Jane Hoppen's heroic portrayal of Sophie's struggle is classic in its structure, and contemporary in its content—it is a tender and honest examination of a battle that is increasingly relevant to each and every one of us.