The Identity Matrix: (Spoilers)


I stumbled upon Jack Chalker’s The Identity Matrix while  browsing at a Dalton Books in the mall back in the 1980s.  This was before the Internet was big, before ebooks existed, and my search for media dealing with sex-change and TG issues involved spending a lot of time in libraries and bookstores just searching and searching through the books, looking for titles and covers and blurbs that hinted I might find some TG content, which at the time seemed rare.

And there it was, right in my hands, a book that seemed like it had come right out of my own imagination, tapping into and adding ideas to the thoughts and dreams I had been having;  a body-swap story, and one that featured a male character that kind of reminded me of myself– bookish, shy, bad with women,Victory Gonser finds himself trapped in a female body and forced to live her life.

The other body-swap media I’d found up to this point always shied away from sex, instead dealing with other gender issues such as clothes, objectification, behavioral challenges like putting on make-up or wearing high-heels.  But the The Identity Matrix delved into the questions of sexual identity, and especially after the mind-wipe scene which seared itself into my memory.

In this scene, Gonsor has been living as a woman for a time, but nefarious forces decide to erase his memory and make him believe he has always been a woman named Misty Ann Carpenter, a stripper and enthusiastically erotic woman.   The idea of him being given such a feminine name thrilled me, and the new life as a stripper, something that was so utterly female, and where he would be displaying his body to men as an object of pleasure–  a total reversal far more radical than say, a businessman becoming a business woman.   The scene went something like this, with the character hooked up to some sort of apparatus and a voice asking him questions:

What is your sex?


What is your sex?


What is your name?

“Victor Gonser.”

What is your name?

“Misty Ann Carpenter.”

It wasn’t working! She thought.  The mind swipe was failing.  She was Misty Ann Carpenter, and she would never forget it!

It was a powerful concept to me, frightening and alluring, that someone could be erased.  They could be turned into someone else.  Frightening because I didn’t like the idea I could be erased, and alluring because I longer to rewrite myself, to become someone different.

Later, the Victory and Misty personalities merge, and that is where I liked the character and the story best, because Victor now has the body language and behaviors of a flirty stripper, something which is noted by the other characters, and which he flaunts as he not only accepts but revels in his new identity that merges his male and female selves.

I know over the years some have criticized Chalker’s writing, the style, skill, maybe even his commitment to craft.  But I leave all of those questions to others.  To me, Chalker’s book was a rare and special document that came along at an important time in my life, and helped to both fuel my own explorations of identity as well as to realize that I was not alone, because someone else was writing the things I was feeling, and other people were reading it as well.

Check It Out On Amazon

NY Times on blurring gender lines


Breaking Free of Boundaries

I dream a dream of fashion anarchy, where people just wear what they want depending on who they feel they are on a given day or a given time of life.

And unisex clothing is not the answer.

Today’s New York Times features an article on the blurring of gender lines in fashion, with more and more designers opting for unisex clothing lines in which all their items are sold without any male/female labeling or identification. The clothes are awesome, and I support and applaud anyone who likes them and wears them, but I long for a more expressive world.

And what would that more expressive world look like?  That world, to me, would include fashions that fell everywhere from the extremely feminine to the extremely butch, and in my world people could wear whatever they felt like on any given day in any given season.  If a woman wanted to dress in “dude” clothes, she could, or unisex, or if she felt like getting all dolled up and showing off all her curves, that would be fine, too on any given day for any reason.  Ditto a man.

What I see in the pictures that accompany the articles are a bunch of gorgeous, rail-thin models with androgynous features, all hints of curves or angularity hidden beneath loose, baggy clothes. The designer Kimberly Wesson, who wears her own unisex fashions, complains that her friends plead with her to wear a “sequined skirt” or to dress like “Joan from Madmen.”  Her designs are great, and she should wear the hell out of them, but why create a new set of restrictions in which unisex is an iron-bound fashion rule just as a inflexible and rigid a code as any other?  In which people are hiding their bodies?  In the name of being gender free, do we have to become gender-less?

I realize my vision for an expressive world that opens up opportunities for expression and includes more rather than less options may well be an unrealistic fantasy.  Even in my own writing I have yet to write a story where it exists, though maybe I will now that I think about it.  I think any trend that involves blurring of gender lines is a good trend.  The article asserts that more and more members of the younger generation are comfortable with gender free clothing, though, predictably, this trend is more female-centric as it has long been more acceptable for women to adopt men’s fashion that the other way around.

The changes are good, and I applaud all of the designers moving away from rigid notions of male and female clothing, but I want more.

I dream a dream of fashion anarchy, where people just wear what they want depending on who they feel they are on a given day or a given time of life.  I want total freedom all the time for everyone.

All Screwed Up (Spoilers!)


Falling solidly in the center of the “Freaky Friday”-style body swap movie, All Screwed Up features a switch between a nerdy African American high-school girl with ADD and a popular white male jock with ambitions of earning a college scholarship.  It’s a walk a mile in my shoes kind of gender swap that offers some interesting wrinkles.

For one thing, the girl is an outcast, a poor dresser and an unwanted female who does not have to put up with any kind of boorish male attention.   So, when the guy becomes her, he doesn’t find himself suffering from unwanted sexual attention as is often the case, but instead, he is either ignored or bullied and ridiculed, especially by his old girlfriend.  He hates his life, and cannot imagine being stuck living as her not so much because he is now female but because as her he is a nobody.  Her body also suffers from ADD, and he struggles as he experiences her inability to focus.

Meanwhile, the nerdy girl finds her new life thrilling as she goes to parties, gets to hang out with the cool kids and even is able to physically bully some of the guys.  She flatly admits that she would rather stay HIM, and seems callous to his despair at being stuck in her body.   She does get to talk to some of his friends about their bullying and tries to get them to stop, but it is clear she would rather be a dude and a protector than go back to being a nerdy girl victim.  Of course, things can’t stay easy for her, and she eventually faces struggles when she tries to play his role as a basketball star and fails, consequently becoming the object of scorn and ridicule.

The boy, facing the reality that he may be stuck as her, eventually starts dressing cute and doing things to be more attractive, and he ultimately offers to remain in her body if it will make her happy.  The two fall in love, and what I ultimately loved about this movie was this message- that it was the empathy they each gained, their understanding of the other’s lives, that let them fall in love and appreciate each other.

This can’t be called a perfect film, but the actors are game and do their best to bring these characters to life as people and not just types, and I felt for the characters as they went through their journeys.  I gotta say I dug it, and if you want to check it out you can see it on Amazon.

All Screwed Up on Amazon

Zerophilia and the Freedom to Choose

Warning:  Spoilerish Material Included!


Image:  Luke in female form with his best buddy.

Do you want to be a guy?  Or a girl? You can be one or the other, but not both. You have to choose.

This message is delivered to Luke, the main character in Zerophilia, who has discovered that he can switch sexes.  His buddy wants to him to stay a dude and can’t understand why anyone would want to be female.  His buddy’s girlfriend, on the other hand, thinks it would be fine if he decided to become a girl full time, and she even buys him a dress.  They all tell him they are fine with whatever choice he makes, but they do want him to make a choice.

What does Luke want?  Luke wants both.  He is attracted to both men and women, and though he rebels against the notion of becoming female, he ultimately goes so far as to put on a dress and make out with a boy he has a crush on.  Luke is not only ambivalent when it comes to his sexual interests, but he is sweet and sensitive while also loving sports and driving around in a big truck.  In other words, he lives in a world where he is both masculine and feminine, and he has never been able to choose just one.  This beautifully blurry existence continues even when he is unwillingly trapped in a female body.

The film has a happy ending for our protagonist and a positive message for those who shift along gender lines.   It turns out that all Luke needs to do is find someone else like him, someone else who kinda sort likes being both masculine and feminine.  When Luke does find his “soul mate” we see their relationship in montage; sometimes Luke is the girl, sometimes he is the guy, sometimes they are both guys, sometimes both girls.

The films message?  Those who don’t care to choose don’t have to choose.  They just have to seek out their tribe and find people who are cool with gender fluidity.

Check out the website, and Zerophilia is currently available on instant video as well!


Turnabout Intruder: Thoughts and Speculations


“She could have had as rich a life as any woman.  If only… If only….”

The last lines of the last episode of the original Star Trek television series, and the first body swap story I remember ever seeing.  I was young– pre-teens, and I loved Star Trek, which was in constant re-runs on the UHF stations that broadcast out of Detroit back in the 1970s.

Growing up without a father, I had chosen Captain James T. Kirk as a hero and role model, so it was a strange and fascinating thing to see this episode in which he found himself trapped in the body of a woman.  My hero?  my role model?  A girl?  Yet, early in the episode, the characters who put Kirk in that body still refer to him as a he, despite the female form.

Aha!  That excited and interested me.  He was still a he, even though he was a girl?

The episode raised a lot of questions that I had never really consider, particularly in the court martial scenes. “You claim to be Captain Kirk?”  Lester asks, smirking and laughing at the red-haired woman wearing some kind of weird mod pantsuit.

“No,”  Kirk answers.  “I claim that whatever makes James Kirk a unique entity is being held in this body.”    What I heard him saying, though I didn’t have the words, was, “I am not my body.  The thing that makes me who I am is not this woman’s shape.”

The essence of a person, their gender, their THEM, was independent of their form.  Being, to borrow philosophical terms later in life, was independent of essence.

The iconic nature of the role reversal that lit up my young mind.  Kirk, in the woman’s body, being carried around effortlessly by the man, like the women on the covers of my mother’s romance novels.  Kirk on his knees after being physically over-powered by his former male body.  Kirk, reaching for and grabbing Spock’s hand.  Placed in a woman’s body, Kirk was forced into a woman’s traditional role, pleading with the men in his life to rescue him.  In the end, of course, he saves himself through action, as men are supposed to do, but it is not as a man that James Kirk saved himself; it was as a woman, and that to me seemed to suggest that biology was not, as some would suggest, destiny.

Though I believe it may have been an attempt at a feminist statement, the episode has since been condemned for being sexist, retrograde.  The woman in Kirk’s body is prone to fits of hysteria, loves to file her nails and proves incapable of commanding a star ship.  At one point when she complains about the lack of opportunity for women,Kirk agrees with her that life is unfair for women, but with the kind of dismissive “Whaddya gonna do?”  attitude that is still far too prevalent.   The last lines of the episode are specific.   She could have lived a life as rich as any woman.  Not, clearly, as rich as any man, which was the real issue.

Still, I feel it holds up well both as an exploration of the cost of gender bias as well as a exploration of a body swapping gender reversal.  In the end, Lester’s ultimate defeat and punishment is to be trapped in a traditional gender role– to be dependent on a man for her care and protection.  What could be a more powerful statement against the notion of domestic bliss as the be all and end all for women than the image of a woman, broken and weeping with despair at the thought of being stuck marrying a doctor who wants her to just stop striving and be his wife?  And that was back when television shows portrayed that every woman on Earth creamed her jeans at the thought of marrying a doctor.

If you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it lately, check it out on Amazon or Netflix,  Sandra Smith is great as Captain Kirk: