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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 12. 5 August 1970

Myra Breckinridge

Myra Breckinridge

Time calls it "an incoherent tale of sodomy, emasculation, auto-eroticism and plain bad taste". I was merely amused. A novel about a sex-change—Myron becomes Myra and determined to conquer Hollywood and devastate mankind, she claims half of an acting academy owned and run by Myron's uncle Buck Loner and helps teach 'Empathy' and 'Posture'. There Myra meets an attractive pupil named Rusty Godowsky, whom she chooses to be the victim of her personal power struggle which she hopes to pursue through sex. After succeeding in sexually humiliating Rusty she fobs him off to a talent agent, Letitia. Myra then proceeds to fall in love with Rusty's former girlfriend, Mary-Ann, and after an accident which upsets her hormone balance and reverts her to her masculine state. Myra (now Myron) marries Mary-Ann.

The novel is set in the late 1960's against the richly allegorical background of the 1940's film era (a tradition in which "the facts of lunacy, virginity and death, the last a mask for impotence" are inseparable). It interweaves marvellously most of the philosophical ideas of this century concerning power and sex with a simplicity that would hold the interest of the pre-pubescent.

The nature of the subject, sex-change, should permit a re-orientation of values as Myra "switches back and forth with a minimum of nervous wear and tear". But the reversal is only physical. Although Myra claims to be a new woman she retains the old masculine, archetypal idea (brutal, destructive, vagina-centred) of domination and possession. The trans-sexual operation frees him/her from the detested penis—thus destroying the masculine principle—and Myra hopes to shatter it objectively through the person of Rusty. In wanting to tame for all time the archetypal male Myra created something more masculine. Rusty's masculinity increases, enabling him to satisfy the voracious and masochistic sexual appetite of Letitia (another sexual variant). Myra admires Letitia because she believes that Letitia is the New American Woman who uses men as men once used women.

All the ideas advanced in this novel suggest or subvert greater ones. The idea of Woman Triumphant subverts the greater one of Woman Liberated.

Is Myra a liberated woman? No. She certainly realizes the tyranny of sexual stereo-typing but her reaction is the masculine one of revenge, domination and possession. She uses sex to gain power. Myron was not a homosexual, and was never drawn to men. Once a man wished to penetrate him he lost interest because then he would be the thing used, and so lose the power struggle.

Only in her love for Mary-Ann as a woman does Myra ever express the love of a free non-possessive woman. That this feeling goes when her breasts melt and she becomes male again, strengthens the conviction that Myra was at best only aware of the oppression of women. She changes easily into the suburban mate of Mary-Ann and a life of outdoor barbecues, dogs and Christian Science.

The suburban ending could ruin the book; that it doesn't shows the sense of fun, the toying with preposterous ideas, the frothy exaggerations that forbid the reader to take it seriously.

Myra Breckinridge is a lighthearted interpretation of a grave social situation, the power struggle of men over women—a journalistic impression of our present culture and should be read accordingly. A quick skimming through before throwing away.

Upside down book drawing