Funny Women #116: The Lady Writer’s Guide to a Successful Sex Change


Lady Writers: Did you make the novice authoress’s mistake of having a male protagonist, or—yikes!—writing a male character in first person? Has your manuscript been rejected as a result? Are you feeling weepy, frustrated, and despondent? Well, drain the bubble bath and prepare to transform the novel you’ve been toiling over for so long into a publishable, marketable piece of Women’s Fiction! Just follow these simple—and fun!—steps.

Step 1. Light a scented candle (something feminine; not, like, pine). Close your eyes and imagine your protagonist’s penis and testicles falling off. In their place, imagine a vagina. Easy!

Step 2. Rename your protagonist. This is the fun part. Maybe give her the name you always wished you’d had when you were a child. This way, when people ask you if the book is autobiographical you can smile coyly and say “I don’t know, what do you think?” (So author-y!) Or, just add an “i” to your previously male protagonist’s name—Bobbi, Toni, Jami, Running Deeri, Vladi, etc. Helpful Hint: This works extra well if your new heroine is spunky and outspoken to a fault (see step 3).

Step 3. Give your protagonist some insecurities. Perhaps she doesn’t feel thin or freckled enough. Maybe she thinks she’s too opinionated or outspoken or inspoken or medium-spoken. Maybe she secretly or openly feels like a failure because she chose motherhood instead of a career, or vice versa. Or maybe she has a sneaking feeling she just doesn’t look good in yoga pants. It’s your creative call!


Step 4. If your protagonist does, says, or thinks about anything having to do with politics, major league sports, business, war, hunting, technology, or financial matters, cut out those parts. Replace them with quilting, knitting, cooking, seashell collecting, genealogy, gynecology, or scrapbooking. Outdoorsy and athletic activities you can keep; just don’t go overboard. And definitely no squash, the sport of businessmen.

Step 5. If your protagonist drinks at any point in the book, then make sure that it’s wine or some sort of fun fluorescent cocktail. Beer is acceptable if it’s during a scene at a barbecue or a cozy little pub. Your protagonist should drink only in moderation, or, like, just enough to get a little tipsy (“tingly” is a good word to use here). Unless, of course, she’s an alcoholic, and that’s part of the plot. But it probably shouldn’t be. (Too dark and unattractive.)

Step 6. Give your protagonist some friends. (Something your male protagonist probably didn’t have.) A sixty-something, scone-making neighbor, a gay man at work, an old college roommate who has “issues” with [quirky but ultimately dangerous habit here]. This friend should, if possible, teach your protagonist a valuable lesson. Note: This is an excellent way to bring a person of color into the book if your protagonist is white. Which she should be.


Step 7. BONUS PLOT TIP: Have your protagonist, at some point, stumble upon a stash of old letters or a long-lost journal. These should reveal a family secret whose revelation will call into question everything your protagonist thought was true. This is easy enough to work in; you might just have to move a few things around.

Of course, if you insist on keeping the male protagonist(s) you’ve developed, there’s another, simpler solution: Submit your book under a male pseudonym. Just be forewarned: if you choose this route, then the cover of your book won’t be nearly as pretty. Your back cover blurbs might say your prose is “muscular” (ew!!) instead of “luminous.” And you might get reviewed, which is probably more feedback than you’re really looking for. On the upside, you might be taken more seriously as a writer. If you care about that kind of thing.


Rumpus original art by Annie Daly.


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Jane Roper is the author of the memoir Double Time and a novel with two male protagonists, Eden Lake, which has never been read by a book club. Her website is More from this author →