When Carly decided to become a man, most people naturally assumed she was mad. It wasn’t just the totally unnatural idea of someone deciding to just up and swap genders, but more the intensely disconcerting notion that, if she did, something rather fundamental would be destroyed and that hardly ever bodes well for the common man [sic].
Let me state right up front, that I’m just talking about gender, here. Carly had not, not even once, considered hormones or surgery. She had every intention of remaining female, thank you very much. No, it was just the ‘woman’ thing that had to go.
It really wasn’t doing her any good, you see, and to top it off, there was that whole time when everyone was laughing and quoting Steinem’s “We are becoming the men we always wanted to marry”. Somehow that phrase stuck in her head like a Madison Avenue jingle, even though Gloria seemed to go on calling herself a woman, and Carly hadn’t the foggiest idea how one went about becoming a man anyway.
Still, she read enough feminism to know that men had all the power and that men defined women, and so, she reasoned, if women wanted to define themselves, first they had to become men, then they’d have power, then they could re-define what it meant to be a woman. This, it went without saying, needed to include a more even distribution of said power, and after that they could all go back to being women and everything would be OK.
All of this seemed, if a trifle convoluted, still in all, fairly logical. So Carly went off and started reading everything she could about gender, trying to get a handle on precisely what it would take to become a man. (And, I might add, getting pretty irritated in the process.)
Now, Post-Modern theory says (if Post-Modernism can, in fact, be said to say anything) that gender is just a ‘script’ and if we could just step back a bit, we’d see that it could benefit from a little rewriting. Especially since whoever’d come up with the current draft hadn’t done a particularly good job of it. Well at least not with the ‘woman’ part. (Which was clearly just a value judgement of Carly’s part, but — oh, never mind.)
So, over a long weekend, Carly sat down and rewrote the script of her life. Not that Carly knew anything about writing, per se, but having spent more years as a secretary than she really cared to think about, she knew all about correcting the mistakes of others. (Who, she noted wryly, were almost always men.)
So Carly cranked up her word processor and went through her life, doing global replaces: ‘he’ for ‘she’, ‘his’ for ‘hers’, and so on. When s/he was done, s/he set the grammar checker loose on it with everything turned down or off except the ‘gender specific language’ option, and kept writing and rewriting until even the grammar checker got so disgusted it refused to read any more about ‘him’, at which point “Carl” declared Success!
Thus armed, Carl returned to work, only to find himself more dissatisfied than ever. Not only did nobody notice, but the work he’d done so diligently for years was suddenly, well, beneath him! Needless to say, this did not sit well with the goal oriented individual he had become and he began to realize that there was obviously more to this script thing than met the eye.
It seems Carl had missed a crucial point about scripts, which is that, (except for monologues, of course,) they contain lines for a number of characters and he had only re-written his own copy of the script and now everything was all messed up. His lines rammed up against other people’s, like some kind of semantic demolition derby and, well, there were just so many other characters that it became impossible for him to keep her lines straight and, well shit, she was a woman again.
Carly having become, as I said, a very goal oriented individual, refused to admit defeat. It occurred to her that perhaps she had placed an undue burden on others by expecting them to relate to her as a man when, well, to be perfectly honest, she really didn’t look the part. So Carly stepped up to the mirror and took a good long time deciding on a ‘look’.
She was not so big-breasted that a sports bra wouldn’t do to flatten things out a bit, and slim hips ran in her family, so all in all, she didn’t see anything she couldn’t overcome. She was, initially, a bit put off at the sight of herself without makeup, though she knew it was necessary, and her hair (which she didn’t really want to cut) looked pretty good slicked down and tied back in a ponytail. In fact, she decided, the ‘Steven Segal’ look might very well be just what she needed. Which led to another revelation and so she took a quick look through the phone book and signed up for karate lessons. After all, she reasoned, it might be a good idea to know how to defend herself, just in case things went bad.
A new job, a quick move across town and “Carl” became a reality. It was, it appeared, a whole lot easier to play a part when everyone else was going along with it. Carl found the “presumption of competence” thing quite envigorating, amazed at how much easier it is to concentrate on your work when you’re not spending half your time convincing people you can do it in the first place.
The men’s room proved to be a tad challenging, but a quick search of the camping websites turned up something called a “urinary funnel” (don’t ask) which, with a little artistic camoflage, proved most satisfactory at maintaining the illusion, though he may have erred a bit in sizing it, judging by the raised eyebrows he sometimes encountered. Still, a knowing look and sympathetic smile was more than enough to avert suspicion.
What proved harder to deal with were the single women in the office and there was only one solution to that — which was to become a workaholic. Carl took to spending all his waking hours either in his office or at the dojo working out. The women soon gave up, and as a side benefit, Carl advanced rather quickly through the ranks, both at work and in karate.
Karate turned out to be more fun than he’d ever imagined, and what had started out as a practical part of the plan soon became its centerpiece. What’s more, in non-contact competition, speed and flexibility were much more important than physical strength and Carl had those in spades. In less than two years, he’d won several major competitions.
“Da Guys” loved him. He developed a loyal following at work and soon became a power to be reckonned with within the company. In three years, he was CEO, profits were up one hundred and fifty percent, and the Wall Street Journal itself had declared him a genious and was hinting that he would make an excellent candidate for political office. In a typically synchronistic fashion, the universe granted him another moment of glory, when he managed to get a bit part in a Steven Segal action flick, which not only added to his “recognition factor”, but also showcased his obvious acting ability. (No longer considered a drawback in politics…) That part led to others and (practically overnight) he became a superstar with access to all the PR that entails.
A brief stint in Congress gained him his political credentials, and between his obvious manliness and his steadfast support of women’s rights, he garnered the kind of grass roots support that most politicians can only dream of. He was, needless to say, elected president, revived the (by then) virtually impotent United Nations and later, as Secretary General, brought about an era of peace unmatched in human history.
I think one can say, without too great a risk of hyperbole, that Carl Allbright had, at this point, achieved god-like status. Cheers attended his every appearance. At his displeasure, nations trembled. He was desired by almost half the human race and a role model to as many more. One shudders to think what a lesser mind might have done with such power.
But Carl had, throughout it all, never lost hope, never strayed from the ultimate goal of reinventing womanhood. Gathering in the top thinkers in the world, he set them no less a task than complete equality between the sexes. Secluded in a mountain stronghold, with no resource not at their disposal, they meditated, deliberated, channeled, brainstormed and then (with much prayer) delivered their report.
There was, they regretted to say, no cure. It was not that they did not applaud the idea, you understand, nor that they had slacked in any way. They had left no stone unturned, no avenue unexplored. It was, they said, a simple question of magnitude. The problem was so vast, so omnipresent, so ingrained in the culture that no mere social program could make a dent in it.
It was, if memory serves, Dr. Amanda Crichton, who pointed out that, there was a phenomenon in systems theory called ‘mode locking’ which, to put it in simplistic terms, states that complex systems, (such as human culture,) may have many points of equilibrium, some of which, it was true, may be more generally satisfactory (than, say, Patriarchy) but that, generally speaking, once a system had reached a state of equilibrium, it tended to steadfastly resist any attempt to make it leave. The sheer weight of human history, they said, militated against any significant change.
In short, they concluded, only an overwhelming shock could eject culture from its current state and, they pointed out, to add insult to injury there was no real guarantee that the new state of equilibrium, (assuming humankind survived at all,) would be a significant improvement. When Carl asked precisely what kind of shock would be sufficient to put an end to Patriarchy, Dr. Crichton was reported to have said (somewhat sarcastically) that “doomsday might be sufficient.”
Carl withdrew to his mountaintop retreat in the Virgin Islands and contemplated the situation. Was it fair to rest the fate of women, indeed, all of humankind on the roll of the cosmic dice? It was a question with monumental moral implications, but at last he decided that any chance at all was better than none.
In the days that followed, certain preparations were made which beggar the imagination, for it must be acknowledged that even a god might have trouble getting everyone on earth to plop down in front of the TV at the same time. Never the less, as D-Hour approached, the world waited with breathless anticipation for the great news Carl Allbright had promised.
With great pomp and ceremony, Carl ascended the steps to the specially built platform in front of the United Nations Building and, standing alone like a prophet of old, explained that his lifelong quest for equality between men and women was now about to be achieved. Some, it’s true, grumbled. Many admitted to doubt, but something about Carl inspired people. (Nobody seemed to notice that he had his fingers crossed.)
He begged them to forgive him for any pain they might suffer. Asked them to consider the higher good, the superior quality of life that would, inevitably, result. And, having done all this, he stepped out from behind the podium and, with great solemnity, ‘dropped trou’ in full view of the entire human race, revealing that the epitome of manhood, Carl Allbright, was – undeniably — a woman.
Doomsday. The End Of The World As We Know It. The words ‘global systemic shock’ fail to do justice to this enforced paradigm readjustment. Whole economies collapsed. Cities were leveled. Nations simply ceased to exist.
For those who survived, it was like awakening from a prolonged and particularly hideous nightmare, the logic of which escapes them in the daylight. Most, sitting dazed in the aftermath of near total destruction, tried desperately to make sense of what they remembered. In time, the commonly accepted explanation was that some kind of psychological illness had swept the planet, inducing a shared paranoid delusion – this thing called ‘Gender’. History was re-written. How foolish to believe that such a ludicrous system could have lasted for so long.
Unfortunately, there was one person for whom the revelation was not a shock of cataclysmic proportion and, therefore, only one person in the whole world who was not set free.
Note by Dr. Benjamin Schnell: The patient, Carly Allbright, is, it’s sad to say, the only remaining, unrecovered victim of Persistent Gender Syndrome. While the internal logic of the narrative is, to be sure, of remarkable consistency and is, in some points of the delusional history, confirmed by other case histories, it is my sad duty to recommend continued isolation, in the event that some possibility of social contagion still remains.