Many people use the terms gender and sex interchangeably. Sociologists have made it clear that these are, in fact, two very different concepts. Sex is the physical difference between men and women. Gender is the sociological difference that society places on male and female based on attributes that have been historically applied to one sex over the other. There is a clear delineation between gender and sex. This distinction is the subject of the novel Annabel by Kathleen Winter. A young person is born without a clear distinction over what his or her physical sex is and thus the physical cannot determine if the begin is man or woman. Therefore, the only way that the person is labeled with regard to these categories is by the gender imposition of his or her mother and father who are clearly physically and sociologically male and female. Annabel artistically describes the conflicting ideas of gender vs. sex and the question of nurture over nurture in which factor determines how a child will create their identity in a world of obstacles.
In her book The Developing Person (2009), psychologist Kathleen Stassen explains the difference between gender and sex. Gender differences are "differences in the roles and behavior of males and females that are prescribed by the culture." However whether the person in question accepts that gender assignment that they have been given based upon their physical body is gender identity or "a person's acceptance of the roles and behaviors that society associates with the biological categories of male and female." An hermaphroditic person is one who does not belong to one sex or the other and consequent interference from other people can affect that person's gender as well.
The birth of hermaphroditic or intersex children is not altogether uncommon. According to the Intersex Society of North America (2008), approximately one in every 1,500 children is born with no clear sex or born with characteristics of both sexes. This number may be slightly exaggerated according to other sources. The term intersex is used to refer to "a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male" (2008). The question of gender vs. sex becomes a vaguer issue when dealing with intersex individuals. It relates social convention with biological differentiation. Often with people born with two sets of genitalia or underdeveloped genitalia, rather than be raised with neither gender bias, the parent or doctor will determine what gender the child will be raised as. The difficultly of these decisions is echoed in the story of Annabel. What happens when a decision has been made that an intersex child will be raised as a certain gender but that the child's nature rejects this gender classification?
The characters in Kathleen Winter's novel are not only compelling in their own right, but symbolic of the trifecta of gender and sex types that they embody. Father Treadway Blake symbolizes the ultra male who is born with a penis and performs stereotypically macho actions like hunting and trapping animals. Mother Jacinta Blake is the feminine one. She is a woman and her introduction to the story is centered upon her vagina and her biological functions as a woman. She is a female and her pursuits are primarily concerned with actions that are more commonly associated with the feminine. Their child however straddles the line between male and female both with regard to gender and to sex.
Set in rural Labrador, Canada in 1968, the novel tells the story of a child born without a clear sex. When first introduced, the characterizations of both parents are defined by their sex and by the sociological gender of those designations. "Treadway had kept the traplines of his father and he was magnetized to the rocks, whereas Jacinta had come from St. John's when she was eighteen to teach in the little school in Croydon Harbor, because she thought, before she met Treadway, that it would be an adventure, and that it would enable her to teach in a St. John's school once she had three or four years behind her" (page 1). Treadway's character becomes defined in this line by familial obligation. He is his father's son and has carried on his father's legacy in name, business, and in his choice of home. Treadway only feels alive when he is allowed to be in nature among other men and pursuing interests which are characteristically masculine. He is initially characterized as a man without emotions, which are stereotypically associated with the female, but instead ruled by the ability to use logic which is stereotypically masculine. Winter (2011) writes "Treadway loved his wife because he had promised he would. But the centre of the wilderness called him, and he loved that centre more than any promise…Treadway left this place at the end of the trapping season and faithfully came back to his house, which he had willingly built when he was twenty, but he considered the house to belong to his wife, while the place where waters changed direction belonged to him, and would belong to any son he had." Even before the birth of his offspring, Treadway as male has decided that his son will follow in his footsteps and carry on the legacy of this male bloodline. Individual choice on the behalf of this unnamed child is irrelevant in the wake of Treadway Blake's determination.
Wife Jacinta on the other hand is a more transient character. Woman traditionally takes the husband's name and the husband's home as her own. Jacinta begins her life as an employed educator. However, once she marries her life becomes linked with her husband's in every way. Her own desires are secondary to her husband's in all things. As the proper wife of the era, it is Jacinta's job to do her husband's will. If that means relinquishing any and all claim to the decision about her child's sex then that goes along with the territory. When the baby is born, the scene is written as a very realistic moment without romanticism. "It was as the baby latched on to Jacinta's breast that Thomasina caught sight of something slight, flower-like; one testicle had not descended, but there was something else" (Winter 2011). Before this, Thomasina removed a "plug of slime out of the baby's mouth." It is both natural and disturbing. In the bathtub while Jacinda gives birth, she is surrounded only by female companionship.
Her husband is in the kitchen getting himself food. Men are not privy to the unpleasant physical realities of childbirth, only to the joy of fatherhood that comes after the event. This is why, when the flower-like object which turns out to be the baby's vagina is discovered, it is only the women who must deal with the initial discovery. After this, Winter explains the difference between women and men in situations similar to these. "It is an instant that men do not use for waiting, an instant that opens a door to life or death. Women look through the opening because something might be alive in there." It is indicated by this line that the man would be too quick to action without thinking of the repercussions of the decision, an idea that would echo later in the story when the decision to raise Wayne as male proves to have been a hasty one. Women on the other hand, Winter alleges, are more prone to think through a crisis situation before they make a determination which would potentially have detrimental effects later one.
Parents Jacinda and Treadway agree to raise the child as a male, going so far as to have surgery to remove any female sexual organs and name the person, now him, Wayne. They keep the child's true nature a secret from all but a trusted neighbor Thomasina. Treadway attempts to overcompensate for his son's unnatural birth by decimating every effeminate characteristic in the child's nature. Everything he teaches his offspring is hypermasculinized. Through his father, Wayne is introduced to hunting and other traditionally male activities which reinforces the stereotype that Treadway wants his son to become.
The female members of Wayne's social circle, his mother and neighbor, confuse Treadway's reinforcement of sex by encouraging his femininity, particularly on the part of Thomasina who had a daughter named Annabel that passed away. Each female therefore has a stake in the growth of Wayne's female side. Jacinta because she is passively rebelling against her station as the proper wife and Thomasina so that she can symbolically regenerate her own child. The conflict leads to guilt and confusion and repression of his or her true underlying self. This repression of his innate femininity leads Wayne to create a second personality within himself, dubbed Annabel.
When Annabel is created in Wayne's mind, he is conflicted. He faces uncertainty about who is vs. who his father and society tell him that he is supposed…