Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




The Brains of Rats

There is evidence that Joan of Arc was a man. Accounts of her trial state that she did not suffer the infirmity of women. When examined by the prelates prior to her incarceration, it was found that she lacked the characteristic escutcheon of women. Her pubic area, in fact, was as smooth and hairless as a child’s.1

There is a condition of men, of males, called testicular feminization. The infants are born without a penis, and the testicles are hidden. The external genitalia are those of a female. Raised as women, these men at puberty develop breasts. Their voices do not deepen. They do not menstruate, because they lack a uterus. They have no pubic hair.

These people carry a normal complement of chromosomes. The twenty-third pair, the so-called sex chromosome pair, is unmistakably male. XY. Declared a witch in 1431 and burned at the stake at the age of nineteen, Joan of Arc was quite likely one of these.

Herculine Barbin was born in 1838 in France; she was reared as a female. She spent her childhood in a convent and in boarding schools for girls and later became a schoolmistress. Despite her rearing, she had the sexual inclination of a male. She had already taken a female lover, when, on account of severe pain in her left groin, she sought the advice of a physician. Partly as a result of his examination, her sex was redesignated, and in 1860 she was given the civil status of a male. The transformation brought shame and disgrace upon her. Her existence as a male was wretched, and in 1868 she took her own life.2

• • • •

I have a daughter. I am married to a blond-haired, muscular woman. We live in enlightened times. But daily I wonder who is who and what is what. I am baffled by our choices; my mind is unclear. Especially now that I have the means to ensure that every child born on this earth is male.

• • • •

A patient once came to me, a man with a painful drip from the end of his penis. He had had it for several days; neither excessive bathing nor drugstore remedies had proven helpful. About a week and a half before, on a business trip, he had spent time with a prostitute. I asked if he had enjoyed himself. In a roundabout way he said it was natural for a man.

Several days later, at home, his daughter tucked safely in bed, he had made love to his wife. He said that she got very excited. The way he said it made me think she was the only one in the room.

The two of them were both rather young. While he was in the examining room, she sat quietly in the waiting room. She stared ahead, fatigue and ignorance making her face impassive. In her lap, her daughter was curled asleep.

In the room the man milked his penis, squeezing out a large amount of creamy material, which I smeared on a glass slide. In an hour the laboratory told me he had gonorrhea. When I conveyed the news to him, he was surprised and worried.

“What is that?” he asked.

“An infection,” I said. “A venereal disease. It’s spread through sexual contact.”

He nodded slowly. “My wife, she got too excited.”

“Most likely you got it from the prostitute.”

He looked at me blankly and said it again. “She got too excited.”

I was fascinated that he could hold such a notion and calmly repeated what I had said. I recommended treatment for both him and his wife. How he would explain the situation to her was up to him. A man with his beliefs would probably not have too hard a time.

• • • •

I admit that I have conflicting thoughts. I am intrigued by hypnotism and relations of power. For years I have wanted to be a woman, with small, firm breasts held even firmer by a brassiere. My hair would be shoulder-length and soft. It would pick up highlights and sweep down over one ear. The other side of my head would be bare, save for some wisps of hair at the nape and around my ear. I would have a smooth cheek.

I used to brush it this way, posing before my closet mirror in dark tights and high-heeled boots. The velveteen dress I wore was designed for a small person, and I split the seams the first time I pulled it over my head. My arms and shoulders are large; they were choked by the narrow sleeves. I could barely move, the dress was so tight. But I was pretty. A very pretty thing.

I never dream of having men. I dream of women. I am a woman and I want women. I think of being simultaneously on the top and on the bottom. I want the power and I want it taken from me.

• • • •

I should mention that I also have the means to make every conceptus a female. The thought is as disturbing as making them all male. But I think it shall have to be one or the other.

• • • •

The genes that determine sex lie on the twenty-third pair of chromosomes. They are composed of a finite and relatively short sequence of nucleic acids on the X chromosome and one on the Y. For the most part these sequences have been mapped. Comparisons have been made between species. The sex-determining gene is remarkably similar in animals as diverse as the wasp, the turtle and the cow. Recently it has been found that the male banded krait, a poisonous snake of India separated evolutionarily from man by many millions of years, has a genetic sequence nearly identical to that of the human male.

The Y gene turns on other genes. A molecule is produced, a complex protein, which is present on the surface of virtually all cells in the male. It is absent in the female. Its presence makes cells and environments of cells develop in particular ways. These ways have not changed much in millions of years.

Certain regions of the brain in rats show marked sexual specificity. Cell density, dendritic formation, synaptic configuration of the male are different from the female. When presented with two solutions of water, one pure, the other heavily sweetened with saccharin, the female rat consistently chooses the latter. The male does just the opposite. Female chimpanzee infants exposed to high levels of male hormones in utero exhibit patterns of play different from their sisters. They initiate more, are rougher and more threatening. They tend to snarl a lot.

Sexual differences of the human brain exist, but they have been obscured by the profound evolution of this organ in the past half-million years. We have speech and foresight, consciousness and self-consciousness. We have art, physics, and religion. In a language whose meaning men and women seem to share, we say we are different, but equal.

The struggles between the sexes, the battles for power, are a reflection of the schism between thought and function, between the power of our minds and powerlessness in the face of our design. Sexual equality, an idea present for hundreds of years, is subverted by instincts present for millions. The genes determining mental capacity have evolved rapidly; those determining sex have been stable for eons. Humankind suffers the consequences of this disparity, the ambiguities of identity, the violence between the sexes. This can be changed. It can be ended. I have the means to do it.

• • • •

All my life I have watched men fight with women. Women with men. Women come to the clinic with bruised and swollen cheeks, where they have been slapped and beaten by their lovers. Not long ago, an attractive middle-aged lady came in with a bloody nose, bruises on her arms and a cut beneath her eye, where the cheekbone rises up in a ridge. She was shaking uncontrollably, sobbing in spasms so that it was impossible to understand what she was saying. Her sister had to speak for her.

Her boss had beat her up. He had thrown her against the filing cabinets and kicked her on the floor. She had cried for him to stop, but he had kept on kicking. She had worked for him for ten years. Nothing like this had ever happened before.

Another time, a young man came in. He wore a tank top and had big muscles in his shoulders and arms. On one biceps was a tattoo of the upper torso and head of a woman, her huge breasts bursting out of a ragged garment. On his forearm beneath this picture were three long and deep tracks in the skin, oozing blood. I imagined the swipe of a large cat, a lynx or a mountain lion. He told he had hurt himself working on his car.

I cleaned the scratches, cut off the dead pieces of skin bunched up at the end of the tracks. I asked again how this had happened. It was his girlfriend, he said, smiling a little now, gazing proudly at the marks on his arm. They had had a fight, she had scratched him with her nails. He looked at me, turning more serious, trying to act like a man but sounding like a boy, and asked, “You think I should have a shot for rabies?”

• • • •

Sexual differentiation in humans occurs at about the fifth week of gestation. Prior to this time, the fetus is sexless, or more precisely, it has the potential to become either (or both) sex. Around the fifth week a single gene turns on, initiating a cascade of events that ultimately gives rise to testicle or ovary. In the male, this gene is associated with the Y chromosome; in the female, with the X. An XY pair normally gives rise to a male; an XX pair, to a female.

The two genes have been identified and produced by artificial means. Despite a general reluctance in the scientific community as a whole, our laboratory has taken this research further. Recently, we have devised a method to attach either gene to a common rhinovirus. The virus is ubiquitous; among humans it is highly contagious. It is spread primarily through water droplets (sneezing, coughing), but also through other bodily fluids (sweat, urine, saliva, semen). We have attenuated the virus so that it is harmless to mammalian tissue. It incites little, if any, immune response, resting dormantly inside cells. It causes no apparent disruption of function.

When an infected female becomes pregnant, the virus rapidly crosses the placenta, infecting cells of the developing fetus. If the virus carries the X gene, the fetus will become a female; if it carries the Y, a male. In mice and rabbits, we have been able to produce entire litters of male or female. Experiments in simians have been similarly successful. It is not premature to conclude that we have the capability to do the same for humans.

Imagine whole families of male or female. Districts, towns, even countries. So simple, it is as though it was always meant to be.

• • • •

My daughter is a beautiful girl. She knows enough about sex, I think, to satisfy her for the present. She plays with herself often at night, sometimes during the day. She is very happy not to have to wear diapers anymore. She used to look at my penis a lot, and once in a while she would touch it. Now she doesn’t seem to care.

Once maybe every three or four months, she’ll put on a pair of pants. The rest of the time she wears skirts or dresses. My wife, a laborer, wears only pants. She drives a truck.

One of our daughter’s schoolteachers, a Church woman, told her that Christian girls don’t wear pants. I had a dream last night that our next child is a boy.

• • • •

I admit I am confused. In the ninth century, there was a German woman with a name no one remembers. Call her Katrin. She met and fell in love with a man, a scholar. Presumably, the love was mutual. The man traveled to Athens to study, and Katrin went with him. She disguised herself as a man so that they could live together.

In Athens, the man died. Katrin stayed on. She had learned much from him, had become something of a scholar herself. She continued her studies and over time gained renown for her learning. She kept her disguise as a man.

Some time later, she was called to Rome to study and teach at the offices of Pope Leo IV. Her reputation grew, and when Leo died in 855, Katrin was elected Pope.

Her reign ended abruptly two and a half years later. In the midst of a papal procession through the streets of Rome, her cloak hanging loose, obscuring the contours of her body, Katrin squatted on the ground, uttered a series of cries and delivered a baby. Soon after, she was thrown in a dungeon, and later banished to an impoverished land to the north. From that time on, all popes, prior to confirmation, have been examined by two reliable clerics. Before an assembled audience, they feel under the candidate’s robes.

“Testiculous habet,” they declare, at which point the congregation heaves a sigh of relief.

“Deo gratis,” it chants back. “Deo gratis.”3

• • • •

I was at a benefit luncheon the other day, a celebration of regional women writers. Of five hundred people, I was one of a handful of men. I went at the invitation of a friend because I like the friend and I like the writers who were being honored. I wore a sports coat and slacks and had a neatly trimmed four-day growth of beard. I waited in a long line at the door, surrounded by women. Some were taller than me, but I was taller than most. All were dressed fashionably; most wore jewelry and makeup. I was uncomfortable in the crowd, not profoundly, but enough that my manner turned meek. I was ready to be accosted and singled out.

A loud woman butted in front of me, and I said nothing. At the registration desk I spoke softly, demurely. The woman at the desk smiled and said something nice. I felt a little better, took my card and went in.

It was a large and fancy room, packed with tables draped with white cloths. The luncheon was being catered by a culinary school located in the same building. There was a kitchen on the ground floor, to the left of the large room. Another was at the mezzanine level above the stage at the front of the room. This one was enclosed in glass, and during the luncheon there was a class going on. Students in white coats and a chef with a tall white hat passed back and forth in front of the glass. Their lips moved, but from below we didn’t hear any sounds.

Midway through the luncheon, the program started. The main organizer spoke about the foundation for which the luncheon was a benefit. It is an organization dedicated to the empowerment of women, to the rights of women and girls. My mind drifted.

I have been a feminist for years. I was in the room next door when my first wife formed a coven. I gave her my encouragement. I celebrated with her the publication of Valerie Solanas’ The S.C.U.M. Manifesto. The sisters made a slide show, using some of Valerie’s words. It was shown around the East Coast. I helped them out by providing a man’s voice. I am a turd, the man said. A lowly, abject turd.

My daughter is four. She is as precious as any four-year-old can be. I want her to be able to choose. I want her to feel her power. I will tear down the door that is slammed in her face because she is a woman.

The first honoree came to the podium, reading a story about the bond between a wealthy woman traveler and a poor Mexican room-maid. After two paragraphs, a noise interrupted her. It was a dull, beating sound, went on for half a minute, stopped, started up again. It came from the glassed-in teaching kitchen above the stage. The white-capped chef was pounding a piece of meat, oblivious to the scene below. Obviously he couldn’t hear.

The woman tried to keep reading but eventually stopped. She made one or two frivolous comments to the audience. We were all a little nervous, and there were scattered titters while we waited for something to be done. The chef kept pounding the meat. Behind me a woman whispered loudly, male chauvinist.

I was not surprised, had, in fact, been waiting from the beginning for someone to say something like that. It made me mad. The man was innocent. The woman was a fool. An automaton. I wanted to shake her, shake her up and make her pay the price.

• • • •

I have a friend, a man with a narrow face and cheeks that always look unshaven. His eyes are quick; when he is with me, they always seem to be looking someplace else. He is facile with speech and quite particular about the words he chooses. He is not unattractive.

I like this man for the same reasons I dislike him. He is opportunistic and assertive. He is clever, in the way that being detached allows one to be. And fiercely competitive. He values those who rise to his challenges.

I think of him as a predator, as a man looking for an advantage. This would surprise, even bewilder him, for he carries the innocence of self-absorption. When he laughs at himself, he is so proud to be able to do so.

He has a peculiar attitude toward women. He does not like those who are his intellectual equal. He does not respect those who are not. And yet he loves women. He loves to make them. Especially he loves the ones who need to be convinced. I sometimes play tennis with him. I apologize if I hit a bad shot. I apologize if I am not adequate competition. I want to please him, and I lose every time we play. I am afraid to win, afraid that he might get angry, even violent. He could explode.

I want to win. I want to win bad. I want to drive him into the net, into the concrete itself and beneath it with the force of my victory.

• • • •

I admit I am perplexed. A man can be aggressive, tender, strong, compassionate, hostile, moody, loyal, competent, funny, generous, searching, selfish, powerful, self-destructive, shy, shameful, hard, soft, duplicitous, faithful, honest, bold, foolhardy, vain, vulnerable, and proud. Struggling to keep his instincts in check, he is both abused and blessed by his maleness.

Dr. P, a biologist, husband, father, and subject of a widely cited study, never knew how much of his behavior to attribute to the involuntary release of chemicals, to the flow of electricity through synapses stamped male as early as sixty days after conception, and how much was under his control. He did not want to dilute his potency as a scientist, as a man, by struggling too hard against his impulses, and yet the glimpses he had of another way of life were often too compelling to disregard. The bond between his wife and daughter sometimes brought tears to his eyes. The thought of his wife carrying the child in her belly for nine months and then pushing her out through the tight gap between her legs sometimes settled in his mind like a hypnotic suggestion, like something so sweet and pure he would wither without it.4

• • • •

I asked another friend what it was to him to be a man. He laughed nervously and said the question was too hard. Okay, I said, what is it you like best? He shied away, but I pressed him. Having a penis, he said. I nodded. Having it sucked, putting it in a warm place. Coming. He smiled and looked beatific. Oh God, he said, it’s so good to come.

Later on, he said, I like the authority I have, the subtle edge. I like the respect. A man, just by being a man, gets respect. When I get an erection, when I get very hard, I feel strong. I take on power that at other times is hidden to me. Impossibilities seem to melt away.

(A world like that, I think. A world of men. How wondrous! The Y virus, then. I think it must be the Y.)

• • • •

In the summer of our marriage, I was sitting with my first wife in the mountains. She was on one side of a dirt road that wound up to a pass and I was on the other. Scattered on the mountain slope were big chunks of granite, and around them stands of aspen and a few solitary pines. The sky was a deep blue, the kind that takes your breath away. The air was crisp.

She was throwing rocks at me, and arguing. Some of the rocks were quite big, as big as you could hold in a palm. They landed close, throwing up clouds of dust in the roadbed. She was telling me why we should get married.

“I’ll get more respect,” she said. “Once we get married, then we can get divorced. A divorced woman gets respect.”

I asked her to stop throwing rocks. She was mad because she wasn’t getting her way. Because I was being truculent. Because she was working a man’s job cleaning out the insides of ships, scaling off the plaque and grime, and she was being treated like a woman. She wanted to be treated like a man, be tough like a man, dirty and tough. She wanted to smoke in bars, get drunk, shoot pool. In the bars, she wanted to act like a man, be loud, not take shit. She wanted to do this and also she wanted to look sharp, she wanted to dress sexy, in tight blouses and pants. She wanted men to come on to her, she wanted them to fawn a little. She wanted that power.

“A woman who’s been married once, they know she knows something. She’s not innocent. She’s gotten rid of one, she can get rid of another. They show respect.”

She stopped throwing rocks and came over to me. I was a little cowed. She said if I loved her, I would marry her so she could divorce me. She was tender and insistent. I did love her, and I understood the importance of respect. But I was torn. I couldn’t make up my mind.

“You see,” she said, angry again. “You’re the one who gets to decide. It’s always you who’s in control.”

“I am a turd,” I replied. “A lowly, abject turd.”

• • • •

A woman came to me the other day. She knew my name, was aware of the thrust of my research but not the particulars. She did not know that in the blink of an eye, her kind, or mine, could be gone from the face of the earth. She did not know, but it did not seem to matter.

She was dressed simply; her face was plain. She seemed at ease when she spoke, though she could not conceal (nor did she try) a certain intensity of feeling. She said that as a woman she could not trust a man to make decisions about her future. To my surprise, I told her that I am not a man at all.

“I am a mother,” I said. “When my daughter was an infant, I let her suckle my breast.”

“You have no breasts,” she said scornfully.

“Only no milk.” I unbuttoned my shirt and pulled it to the side. I squeezed a nipple. “She wouldn’t stay on because it was dry.”

“You are a man,” she said, unaffected. “You look like one. I’ve seen you walk, you walk like one.”

“How does a man walk?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

“I am courteous. I step aside in crowds, wait for others to pass.”

“Courtesy is the manner the strong adopt toward the weak. It is the recognition of their dominance.”

“Sometimes I am meek,” I said. “Sometimes I’m as shy as a kitten.”

She gave me an exasperated look, as though I were a child who had strained the limits of her patience. “You are a man, and men are outcasts. You are outcasts from the very world you made. The world you built on the bodies of other species. Of women.”

I did not want to argue with her. In a way, she was right. Men have tamed the world.

“You think you rise above,” she went on, less stridently. “It is the folly of comparison. There’s no one below. No one but yourselves.”

“I don’t look down,” I said.

“Men don’t look at all. If you did, you’d see that certain parts of your bodies are missing.”

“What does that mean?”

She looked at me quietly. “Don’t you think it’s time women had a chance?”

“Let me tell you something,” I said. “I have always wanted to be a woman. I used to dress like one whenever I had the chance. I was too frightened to keep women’s clothes in my own apartment, and I used to borrow my neighbor’s. She was a tall woman, bigger than me, and she worked evenings. I had the key to her apartment, and at night after work, before she came home, I would sneak into her place and go through her drawers. Because of her size, most of her clothes fit. She had a pair of boots, knee-high soft leather boots which I especially liked.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Why are you telling me this?”

“I want to. It’s important that you understand.”

“Listen, no man wants to be a woman. Not really. Not deep down.”

“Men are beautiful.” I made a fist. “Our bodies are powerful, like the ocean, and strong. Our muscles swell and tuck into each other like waves.

“There is nothing so pure as a man. Nothing like the face of a boy. The smooth and innocent cheek. The promise in the eyes.

“I love men. I love to trace our hard parts, our soft ones, with my eyes, my imagination. I love to see us naked, but I am not aroused. I never have thoughts of having men.

“One night, though, I did. I was coming from my neighbor’s apartment, where I had dressed up in dark tights, those high boots of hers, and a short, belted dress. I had stuffed socks in the cups of her bra and was a very stacked lady. Very shapely indeed. When I was done, I took everything off, folded it and put it neatly back in her drawers. I got dressed in my own pants and shirt, a leather jacket on top, and left. I was going to spend the night with my wife, who at the time lived separately from me a few blocks away.

“On the street I still felt aroused. I had not relieved the tension and needed some release. As I walked, I alternated between feeling like a man on the prowl and a woman wanting to grab something between her legs. I think I felt more the latter, because I wanted something to be done to me. I wanted someone else to be boss.

“I reached the top of the hill and started down the other side. It was late and the street was dark. A solitary car, a Cadillac, crept down the hill. When it came alongside me, it slowed. The driver motioned me over, and I took half a step back. My heart was pounding. He motioned again. I took a deep breath, swallowed heavily, and went to him.

“He was a burly black man, smelled of alcohol. I sat far away from him, against the door, and stared out the windshield. He asked where my place was. I said I had none. He grunted and drove up a steep hill, then several more. He pulled his big car into the basement lot of an apartment complex. ‘A ladyfriend’s,’ he said, and I followed him up some flights of stairs and down a corridor to the door of an apartment. I was aroused, frightened, determined. I don’t think he touched me that whole time.

“He opened the door and we went in. The living room was bare, except for a record player on the floor and a scattered bunch of LPs. One was playing and was close to being done. I expected to see someone else in the apartment. But it was empty.

“The man went into another room, maybe the kitchen, and fixed himself a drink. He wasn’t friendly to me, wasn’t cruel. I think he was a little nervous to have me there, but otherwise acted as if I were a piece of something to deal with in his own way, in his own time. I did not feel that I needed to be treated any differently than that.

“He took me into the bedroom, put me on the bed. That was in the beginning; later, I remember only the floor. He took off his shirt and his pants and pulled my pants down. He settled on me, his front to my front. He was barrel-chested, big and heavy. I wrapped my legs around him and he began to rub up and down on me. His lips were fat, and he kissed me hard and tongued me. He smelled very strong, full of drugs and liquor. His beard was rough on my cheek. I liked the way it felt but not the way it scratched. He began to talk to himself.

“‘The swimmin’ gates. Let me in the swimmin’ gates. The swimmin’ gates.’

“He muttered these words over and over, drunkenly getting more and more turned on. He rolled me over, made me squat on my knees with my butt in the air. He grabbed me with his arms, tried to enter me. I was very dry and it hurt. I let him do it despite the pain because I wanted to feel it, I wanted to know what it was like, I didn’t want to let him down.

“Even before then, before the pain, I had withdrawn. I was no longer aroused, or not much. I liked his being strong because I wanted to be dominated, but as he got more and more excited, I lost the sense that I was anything at all. I was a man, but I might just as easily have been a woman, or a dog, or even a tube lined with something from the butcher. I felt like nothing; I was out of my body and growing cold. I did not even feel the power of having brought him to his climax. If it wasn’t me, it would have been something else . . .”

I stopped. The woman was quiet for a while.

“So what’s your point?” she asked at length.

“I’m wrong to think he didn’t need me. Or someone to do what he wanted. To take it without question.”

“He hurt you.”

“In a way, I pity him. But also, I admire his determination.”

She was upset. “So you think you know what it’s like to be a woman? Because of that story, even if it did happen like you said, you think you know?”

“I don’t know anything,” I said. “Except that when I think about it, I always seem to know more about what it is to be a woman than what it is to be a man.”

• • • •

Having a penis, my friend said. That’s what I like best. It reminds me of a patient I once had, a middle-aged man with diabetes. He took insulin injections twice a day, was careful with his diet, and still he suffered the consequences of that disease. Most debilitating to him was the loss of his sex life.

“I can’t get it up,” he told me. “Not for more than a minute or two.”

I asked if he came. Diabetes can be quite selective in which nerves it destroys.

“Sometimes. But it’s not the same. It feels all right, it feels good, but it’s not the same. A man should get hard.”

I nodded, thinking that he should be grateful, it could be worse. “At least you can come. Some people can’t even do that.”

“Don’t you have a shot, Doctor? Something so I can get it up.”

I said no, I didn’t, it wasn’t a question of some shot, it was a question of his diabetes. We agreed to work harder at keeping it under control, and we did, but his inability to get an erection remained. He didn’t become depressed, as many do, nor did he get angry. He was matter-of-fact, candid, even funny at times. He told me that his wife liked him better the way he was.

“I don’t run around,” he explained. “It’s not that I can’t . . . the ladies, they don’t seem to mind the way I am. In fact, they seem to like it. I just don’t want to, it doesn’t feel right, I don’t feel like a man.”

“So the marriage is better?”

He shrugged. “She’s a prude. She’d rather not have sex anyway. So how about a hormone shot, Doc? What do we got to lose?”

His optimism was infectious, and I gave him a shot of testosterone. And another a few weeks later. It didn’t change anything. The next time I saw him he was carrying a newspaper clipping.

“I heard about this operation.” He handed me the article. “They got something they put in your penis to make it hard. A metal rod, something like that. They also got this tube they can put in. With a pump, so you can pump it up when you’re ready and let it down when you’re finished. What do you think, Doc?”

I knew a little about the implants. The rods were okay, except the penis stayed stiff all the time. It was a nuisance, and sometimes it hurt if it got bent the wrong way. The inflatable tubes were unreliable, sometimes breaking open, other times not deflating when they were supposed to. I told him this.

“It’s worth a try,” he said. “What do we got to lose?”

It was four or five months before I saw him again. He couldn’t wait to get me in the examining room, pulling down his pants almost as soon as I shut the door. Through the slit in his underwear his penis pointed at me like a finger. His face beamed.

“I can go for hours now, Doc,” he said proudly. “Six, eight, all night if I want. And look at this . . .” He bent it to the right, where it stayed, nearly touching his leg. Then to the left. Then straight up, then down. “Any position, for as long as I want. The women, they love it.”

I sat there, marveling. “That’s great.”

“You should see them,” he said, bending it down in the shape of a question mark and stuffing it back in his pants. “They go crazy. I’m like a kid, Doc. They can’t keep up with me.”

I thought of him, sixty-two years old, happy, stiff, humping away on an old mattress, stopping every so often to ask his companion that night which way she wanted it. Did she like it better left or right, curved or straight, up or down? He was a man now, and he loved women. I asked about his wife.

“She wants to divorce me,” he said. “I got too many women now.”

• • • •

The question, I think, is not so much what I have in common with the banded krait of India, him slithering through the mud of that ancient country’s monsoon-swollen rivers, me sitting pensively in a cardigan at my desk. We share that certain sequence of nucleic acids, that gene on the Y chromosome that makes us male. The snake is aggressive; I am loyal and dependable. He is territorial; I am a faithful family man. He dominates the female of his species; I am strong, reliable, a good lover.

The question really is how I differ from my wife. We lie in bed, our long bodies pressed together as though each of us were trying to become the other. We talk, sometimes of love, mostly of problems. She says, my job, it’s so hard, I’m so tired, my body aches. And I think, that’s too bad, I’m so sorry, where is the money to come from, be tough, buck up. I say, I am insecure at work, worried about being a good father, a proper husband. And she says, you are good, I love you, which rolls off of me like water. She strokes my head, and I feel trapped; I stroke hers and she purrs like a cat. What is this? I ask, nervous, frightened. Love, she says. Kiss me.

• • • •

I am still so baffled. It is not as simple as the brains of rats. As a claw, a fang, a battlefield scarred with bodies. I want to possess, and be possessed.

One night she said to me, “I think men and women are two different species.”

It was late. We were close, not quite touching.

“Maybe soon,” I said. “Not quite yet.”

She yawned. “It might be better. It would certainly be easier.”

I took her hand and squeezed it. “That’s why we cling so hard to one another.”

She snuggled up to me. “We like it.”

I sighed. “It’s because we know someday we might not want to cling at all.”


1. Wachtel, Stephen: H-Y Antigen and the Biology of Sex Determination, New York, Grune & Stratton, 1983, p. 170.

2. Ibid, p. 172.

3. Gordon, H., in Vallet, HL & Porter, IH (eds): Genetic Mechanisms of Sexual Development, New York, Academic Press, 1979, p. 18.

4. Rudolf, IE, et al.: Whither the Male?: Studies in Functionally Split Identities, Philadelphia, Ova Press, 1982.

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Michael Blumlein

Michael BlumleinMichael Blumlein is the author of The Movement Of Mountains, X,Y, The Healer, and The Roberts, as well as two story collections, The Brains Of Rats and What The Doctor Ordered. He has been nominated twice for the World Fantasy Award and twice for the Bram Stoker Award. He has written for the stage and for film. His novel X,Y was made into a feature length movie. In addition to writing, Dr. Blumlein is a practicing physician. You can find out more about him at