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?
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.
6 thoughts on “The Identity Matrix: (Spoilers)”
That was my favorite moment in the book. I had been reading everything Jack Chalker wrote since I stumbled over the Well of Souls. There was a very hot twist in one of his books in the Four Lords of the Diamonds series, too. Chalker was great in that the transformation angle, including mental transformations, were often quite erotic, yet the plot and the ideas were front and center and much bigger. The transformation angle was just some icing on the cake for those who enjoyed that.
Did you ever read Son of Man, by Robert Silverberg? That had a fun, if unexpected scene in it. I remember having to stop reading it at the time, as I was on a bus. 🙂
I haven’t read the Silverberg. I’ll add it to my list of things to check out! I know the Four Lords of the Diamond scene you are talking about— Ass is short for Assassin…. right?
So many good bits in so many of his novels – like Joe the truck driver becoming a forest (IIRC) nymph in The River of Dancing Gods Series. One day I should list my personal “best” of the mainstream sf/f books I’ve found with TG themes. Typically, though, no sex scenes: the Silverberg is a bit of an exception.
BTW – check your hotmail email, would you? (hint, hint) – feel free to delete this “reply”, it’s just a prod re the proofreading.
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Oops, I meant your aol one. 🙂
I didn’t see a new email, by the way! I’ll check again, but I thank you for the prodding!