What a culture believes to be normal may agree with the many but not the few. Our minds and how we interpret what we see is shaped by our culture. Are men and women really that much different? A major paradigm shift is required in order for there to be a change in the perception of gender and sex. Neil Hoyer’s Man Into Woman was published in 1993. It demonstrates how gender roles, stereotypes, and criticism greatly affect how a person identifies; male or female. Five years earlier, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando was published and is just the opposite. It is written in a way that makes both genders equal, as well as insignificant. It expresses how a person’s features do not determine their gender while asking the question if one’s gender even really matters. Both of these pieces were written during a time when terms such as transgender, and transexual had not yet been established. This made the writing of them a delicate and precarious process. However, they both describe gender differently, and what it means to be a woman or man.
In Neil Hoyer’s Man Into Woman, Andreas Sparre is a man who believes that he is a woman. He has two personalities within him -Lili who is a female, and Andreas, who is a male. He is in a constant fight with his gender. He wants to be Lili but feels he cannot become Lili if he is still Andreas. In this novel the two genders exist separately, it is either one or the other. Although Andreas and Lili reside within the same body they each have very different personalities. So much so that when Andreas becomes Lili he is unrecognizable. Andreas goes through great lengths in order to become Lili and to fully feel like a woman.
To Andreas, gender is determined by his organs. Although he feels like a female, he will not consider himself a female until he has been castrated, and has had ovaries implanted. Once he had the surgeries to become Lili, the struggle was over. She was able to finally liver her live the way she wanted. On page 81 in Man Into Woman, it says “His ultimate hope was to die in order that Lili might awaken to a new life.”(Woolf) This provides clear evidence that the two genders cannot coexist. For Lili to feel different she needed to change herself voluntarily. Cross-dressing, and acting like a female was not enough for her, it was only a temporary remedy, and she knew that. mentally she was a woman, but that meant nothing if she wasn’t physically a woman as well.
Virginia Wolf’s character Orlando, is much different from Lili. This novel makes gender Interchangeable and puts a lot less emphasis on the importance of gender. Orlando is a man but with feminine features. The narrator describes his appearance having red cheeks, arrow-like nose, his eyes, and beautiful legs. The difference between genders is the main theme in Orlando. Orlando goes through a radical gender transformation. He falls asleep a man and wakes up a woman. Although this change was not what Orlando wanted, he was unphased by it and proceeded with his day as he usually would. This is because Orlando feels no different as a woman than he did when he was a man. Gender is fluid in this novel and is not designated biologically.
Virginia Woolf’s style of writing in this further supports the idea of the difference between genders. During the story, it is obvious that Orlando is a transgender. Yet throughout the book, no reference is made about a change of gender, or transsexuality, except in the scene when Orlando becomes a woman. Even during that scene, which most would think is an important part, little to no attention is given to it. It is brushed over as if nothing happened. This is because of the lack of importance placed on gender in the story.
The narrator in a passage in chapter 4 reads “Different though the sexes are, they intermix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male and female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what it is above.”(Woolf) The narrator suggests that gender is not fixed, and identities can change throughout one’s life, regardless of biological configuration. To Virginia Woolf, genders are intermixed. She believes that despite the fact that a woman might look like a woman, she may really contain qualities of a male and the same is true for men.
While Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Neil Hoyer’s Man Into Woman were published relatively the same time, They each place different viewpoints on the importance of gender, and what it means to actually be a man or woman. Orlando views gender as intermixed, and does not rely on the biological makeup of an individual. While Lili views gender as two separate identities and distinguishing between them relies on biological makeup. At the end of each story both Lili, and Orlando were considered to be female, but how they got there was different. Andreas transformation to Lili was a long emotional process. While Orlando’s transformation was a quick painless process. Both authors place emphasis on what they feel distinguishes gender, and what is important when answering the question are men and women really that much different.