I recently had to give one of my characters a sex change; a forty-something man I’d been writing for the better part of five years suddenly needed to become a woman. I don’t mind revision, but this seemed like an epic pain in the ass, hunting through the whole manuscript changing all the relevant pronouns. Of course, the real question was: How much do I have to change aside from the pronouns?
My knee-jerk answer was: nothing. A woman can say and do whatever a man can. Then I came across this little bit of dialogue uttered by the character in question:
“Freeport’s still cold enough to freeze your prick to your balls.”
This was a stumper. I tried to imagine the words coming from my newly female character and they sounded false, forced. Was this really an example to which the (newly remade) woman would immediately leap? Probably not. Of course, The character is speaking to an all-male group, and so, even as a woman, she could be trying to make a point that they would understand, but that reasoning struck me as unconvincing. Try to imagine it: a woman speaking to a group of men: “Chicago’s still cold enough to freeze your prick to your balls.” Nope.
Thus ensued a great deal of hair pulling in which I tried to come up with an equivalent statement, something equally ribald but translated into a female idiom. First, for some of the ideas that didn’t work:
“Freeport’s still cold enough to turn a woman’s nipples to ice.” (Boring)
“Freeport’s still cold enough to freeze your pussy shut.” (A favorite with my wife)
“Freeport’s still cold enough to cool ice cubes in your cunt.” (Has the benefit of alliteration, but not sure it actually makes sense)
So those sucked. As my wife pointed out, a female character who says any of the above is a very different type of person from the male character who makes the prick/balls crack, the latter being more acceptable in polite company than either “pussy” or “cunt,” though these provide the relevant anatomical analogy. In other words, a character who says “cunt” is quite a bit edgier than a character who says “prick.” And vagina was a non-starter. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that word in a fantasy novel. At any rate, I ultimately settled on the following:
“Freeport’s still cold enough that you’ve got to fuck in your furs.”
Of course, the male version of the character didn’t say anything about fucking, so I ended up with a slightly more sexual character. Still, I decided this was better than a line like, “Freeport’s so cold that your labia goes numb.” Oh wait. Labia is plural. Labia go numb.
I’m very curious to hear from readers on this one, especially female readers. What do you think is the best “translation” (from male to female) of the line above? Does it need to be translated? Is the whole concept of gendered idiom just old-fashioned bullshit?