Off with their heads

A mass e-mail I recently received (you might have, too) offered an interesting alternative to killing or imprisoning Osama bin Laden. It suggested that, when found, he be whisked off for a sex-change operation. "Then we return her to Afghanistan to live under the Taliban," the e-mail said. If only justice could be so poetic.

Actually I can think of a few guys who would benefit from walking a mile in someone else's vagina. I'd like some conservative religious men to wake up with one, and then be told the world would be better if they'd stay out of the workplace and at home with the kids. I'd like to vaginize every pinhead who has ever pulled his car up next to me and leered, "Need a ride?" Then they would know what it's like to feel menaced walking down their own street.

There is a group of guys who indulged in this metamorphic male-to-female fantasy voluntarily. Editor Fiona Giles asked several male writers to imagine finding, instead of their usual penis winking up at them, a vagina comfortably resting there. The result is "Chick for a Day," a followup book to Giles' "Dick for a Day," wherein she asked women writers to consider their own sexual reversal. I recall reading it and imagining that, if I had a penis, it would be the size of an oxygen tank.

Wayne's world

The thoughts of the "Chick" boys on the subject of coochification were wildly varied, alternately funny, ponderously poetic or so bizarre they make David Lynch look like John Hughes.

Consider Kevin Downs, who chose to speak from the perspective of macho icon John Wayne. In Downs' essay, the Duke is secretly in love with director John Ford and jumps at the chance to get a sex-change operation courtesy of the U.S. Defense Department, only to have the surgeons implant his new yoni in the wrong place. Jonathan Ames imagines not himself but his friend as having the vagina, and it's not even real, just a well-done prosthetic, a "Mangina." Some are obviously uneasy with the thought of imagining girliness for themselves, such as Gerald Locklin, whose poem "No offense intended" says simply, "Actually, I'd probably kill myself." But for most the approach is light-hearted, exploratory and sensual rather than suicidal.

Edward Fields, for example, imagines that, along with his girl parts, he "also won a dinner at the Waldorf with a television star." (They all come with that, didn't you know?) John Vanderslice is the only writer who envisions himself still having to go to work on the day he transforms (he spends a lot of time crying in the bathroom). Almost all imagine themselves to be breathtakingly pretty. In Andi and Lance Olsen's "Uncle Billy in a Dress, Daydreaming," the praise for the female genitalia is practically musical: "You can feel it under your smart dress and you know it's always there ... its existence proves that everything will be absolutely scrumptious."

Alfred Vitale describes his new equipment as "layers of activity and sensitivity ... like one of those Russian dolls that when you open them up they reveal something new." He imagines flashing his new breasts on camera outside the "Today" show studios and ends up becoming president.

Naturally they all wonder about sex, and their descriptions of their explorations thunder with enthusiasm. (Jeremy Reed initially envisions going out with his new stuff and "making a killing," but after being ogled by men decides to go home with a girl.) They also consider periods, pregnancy, miscarriage and old age. Ian Kirkhof imagines heinous rape and sexual abuse, as Giles says, "in the context of the South African race wars." This one is so harsh it's sometimes hard to read in the way slasher films are sometimes hard to watch.

My personal favorite, though, is Alexander Theroux's essay, "Spelunking." He is the first, but not the only writer, to discuss the interesting idea of "the presence of absence," a careful consideration of a space more full than he thought, and filled mainly with surprises.

'C' ya real soon

"Chick" is not for those who can't handle hearing the "C" word repeated more often than a "Zoolander" ad. But for those of us who appreciate a graphic exploration, an intimate exchange with people you never actually touch, it's a fascinating read. These aren't just guys dressing up as girls; they're really trying to get it and doing a weirdly intriguing and sometimes shockingly good job.

Unlike "Dick for a Day," after which most women were glad to go back to womanhood, Giles found that many men didn't find their day to be long enough. It always improves the situation for both the imagineer and the imaginee to ponder what life is like for the other guy (or girl). Plus, for women, hearing their bodies so lovingly considered is pretty satisfying. Isn't it always when they spend that kind of time down there?

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