In Neil Gaiman’s short story collection “Smoke and Mirrors” (which I recommend), there is a disturbing story called “Changes” set in a not-too-distant future where the jet-set drug of choice is one that can cause a person to change their gender. Despite dangerous side effects, the rich are illegally using it so they can bed whomever they want from whichever side of the plate they’d like. Hilarity ensues. Well, not really.
The reason this crossed my mind today was a report that I saw in the journal Endocrinology about a species of sex-changing gobies (fish). As it turns out, the goby species Trimma Okinawae is one of the few species that can change from male to female and back serially, depending on population and environmental conditions. The fish have both fully functioning ovaries and testes, and have the capacity to turn one “off” and the other “on” interchangeably – pretty funky.
But then I started thinking about the gobies and about the story. And people. Of all the things about people (even more than skin color), gender has to be the first thing we notice and the one that makes the deepest impression. From the moment we’re conceived – XX or XY – it defines who we are. Even our language – he, she, him, her – is constructed around gender.
Is this something that you’d change if you could? Would you change your gender for a day in that “walk a mile in my shoes” sort of way? Just for the novelty? What if the change had to be longer – a year? Would you do it?
If it were possible, do you think it would be good for society? There’d certainly be no gender gap if gender was as easy to change as a hair-style. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin would have been merely candidates. The institution of marriage would almost certainly have had to be different. There would have been no reason for mad-cap shows like Bosom Buddies. How would Tom Hanks have become famous?
Personally, I sort of like things just the way they are – and I’m glad that such things remain in the realm of science fiction and obscure Pacific fish.
But maybe that’s just because I’m a man.