The issue of sex (besides being a national obsession) is reasonably interesting from a psycoanalytic and existential perspective. A lot of what drives us is sexual energy (in line with what Freud told us). This so-called energy isn't explicit, but if you stop to think about questions like "Why am I here?" the "I" refers to you as a being and your sexuality is intimately tied with that. That "I" differs quite radically based on whether you are male or female.
From a purely reductionist perspective, we are simply "ugly bags of mostly water" (to use a phrase from Star Trek) for our genes. The main reason we have sex is so our genes can last. The reason that there's sexual dimorphism (as opposed to having only females reproducing asexually) is so the gene pool can be enriched and it is thus capable of withstanding sudden changes in environment. This is actually the reason why there is sex in the first place, but having dimorphism means having a gene pool (thereby phenotype) that's more varied.
The sociological perspective is somewhat interesting, but I think it's very irrelevant. In the end, the psychological (perhaps biological) dominates and therefore it it is the one I will consider.
I have always wondered what it would be like to be female. I have wondered what it feels like to experience the menstrual cycle each month, to give birth, etc. My perception of what "I" consitutes would be radically different, I assume, notwithstanding the sociological consequences of becoming female. Human males and females are pretty different in their genetic makeup, given that an entire chromosome present in males is not present in females (and this doesn't even address the issue of expression). This brings us to the interesting fact that a lot of textbooks quote: chimpanzees and humans have DNA which is more than 99% identical. I wonder what the basis of their comparison is, but I digress...
A few decades ago, the above sort of thinking would've been mere speculation. Existentially speaking, we are prisoners of our bodies and this sucks. But we humans, being the creatures with superior intellect (yeah, right), have taken control of our environments and now it is possible to reasonably answer some of the questions I ask above in a physical sense.
I read an article (parts of which are reproduced here without permission) about this dude who underwent a sex-change operation to be female because he wanted to be a lesbian.
He was considered a womaniser, but he really identified with girls and expressed his sexuality by cross-dressing, etc. But after a while he began the process of change. He took females hormones---the most effective blend being premarin, derived from the urine of a pregnant mare----to produce breasts, greater sub-surface fat, diminished muscle mass and less skin oil than a man normallly secretes. However, hormone treatments cannot shrink the Adam's apple, alter the hips, or raise the voice; male vocal chords are irreversibly developed by adolescence. He also underwent a lot of sartorial changes as well. Finally the irreversible operation known as "neo-colporrhaphy", or "new vagina", was performed on him.
Contrary to popular myth, this two-and-a-half-hour surgery does not involve the penis being cut off. It is instead emptied of its spongy tissue and, like the finger of a rubber glove, turned inside out. The skin of the penis is gently pushed into a cavity formed by separating the lower abdominal muscle fibres, and this inside-out formation becomes the vaginal lining. The scrotum is used to create the frontal lips of the vagina; some of the skin at the base of the inverted penis can be surgically sculpted to look like a clitoris. Enough of the urethra is preserved from the penis to tunnel it under the tissue and place it in the female position. (There was a reasonable discussion during the Beer Social here regarding the logistics of such an operation---in particular the issue of providing lubrication was thought important.)
According to John Money, a professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who's an expert on this procedure (I can see a lot of demand for it): "The majority of transsexuals no longer have the spasmodic sensation that comes from squirting out semen. They have, instead, more of a spreading glow that is very satisfactory indeed."
This dude (now dudette) is also married with kids and they still call her "daddy". She and her wife get along very well and they find the relationship physically very satisfying.
While I share a lot of the philosophy that prompted him to become a transvestite, I doubt if I would undergo such an operation. Perhaps if technology advances so that it can be done in a "perfect" way, but approaches like this somehow don't grab me. This isn't the only way to go. If you're female, you might contemplate becoming male. I read a while ago about how a female had an operation to have a penis implant.
Such physical moves seem very drastic to me, even given what I said earlier about sexual energy driving us. Is the artificial physical change necessary in order to experience a female (or male) existence? While the reason for contemplating what it is to be female is mostly curiousity, it might have to do with my nurture as well. It is said that transsexuals are unhappy with their identities and that they seek an out, but will a physical transformation help them? Shouldn't reconcilation of one's identity with one's self, and transcendence of that identity beyond societal norms, be enough? If you are Cartesian (and to some extent I am), it should be. Maybe Freud was completely off about the Oedipus complex---maybe it's something akin to the Penis Envy thing he proposed---there's some sort of a Vagina Envy among males. Thanks to modern science, this envy can be sated.
The surgery costs about $11,000. If you include other plastic surgery such as a nose job and breast implants, the total cost is about $25,000.
Now to raise some money...
It may be possible through extensive genetic reengineering that one can circumvent the irreversible physical process described above, and undergo a "perfect" transformation to being female and back again.