[Previous Ophiuchi post.]
I will review The Ophiuchi Hotline soon, for people who want something other than a catalog of references to gender, but this post is mostly quotes from the book and minimal explanatory context. Assume everything that follows will contain spoilers.
There were a handful more blatantly gender-related quotes in the second half of the book, and I’m going to get those down, with some initial thoughts, before I make any sweeping statements about gender in the Eight Worlds books.
Chapter 13, Pg 124:
The struggle left its mark on Lunarians. They tended to be conservative in politics and morals. They clung to a ghost of representative democracy while the colonies were trying Ordeal-Selectivism. Neutersex had never caught on. Current fashions of Mars and Mercury sold poorly on Luna. With the modesty taboo an almost forgotten aberration, the average Lunarian usually wore a vest-of-pockets, carried a shoulder purse, or went nude. It was almost a uniform, and the rest of humanity made endless jokes about it.
A creative surgeon could go broke in Luna. Few were interested in extra legs in odd places, reversed heads, new nose designs, or prehensile tails. They changed their sex an average of once every eight years, a system-wide low.The ratio of maintenance to cosmetic surgery was nine to one. Most Lunarians who wanted a face change did it at home as a hobby.
NOTES: All, or nearly all, of the principal cast of The Ophiuchi Hotline are from Luna — the moon — and, noticing that the rest of the Eight Worlds are significantly more liberal in their interpretations of sex, gender, and physiology, I remembered Kameron Hurley’s comment on The Left Hand of Darkness:
On the feminist SF list I belong to, one list member asked if perhaps Le Guin’s book was so popular because it wasn’t actually as radical as we might think. It was very safe. The hetero male protagonist doesn’t have sex with any of the planet’s inhabitants, no matter their current gender. We go off on a boys’ own adventure story, on a planet entirely populated by people referred to as “he,” no matter their gender.
Now, the events in The Ophiuchi Hotline don’t really hit any of those markers — Lilo is a bisexual woman who has sex with, off the top of my head, at least six other characters in the book, not counting different clones of the same character — but the primarily Lunarian cast does allow Varley to tell a story in which most of the characters stay the same gender the whole time, and have a more-or-less completely conventionally human shape, in a world where most people would change sex multiple times throughout the timescale of the book and might at various points have their head on backwards, more than two breasts, or illuminated testicles.
Chapter 13, Pg 124:
Lilo and Vaffa sat and watched the people go by.
“Breasts seem popular this year,” Vaffa observed after a while. ”Nearly everybody has at least two. Hey, what do you call that?”
“Electric testicles. I read about them.”
“Kind of pretty,” Vaffa mused. ”Like lanterns.”
“It’s supposed to be the quickest way to assure a copping partner that you’re sterile. Look, do you have any idea where we’re going? I need another bath, and a quiet place.”
By the way, I think I forgot to explain in the last post: Copping, or ‘to cop,’ is short for ‘copulation,’ and refers to recreational casual sex. It is, at one point, contrasted with the act of ‘love,’ suggesting that the term copping specifically refers to sex without a major emotional investment.
It’s a long jump to the next one:
Chapter 19, Pg. 186:
When he finally looked up, his sense of purpose restored, he was a different person. He had shed thirty years of apparent age, along with the subtle gestalt of lines and protrusions that had marked his face as that of a male human being. He was androgynous now; his huge paunch could not conceal the fact that he had no genital organs. Two swellings on his chest could have belonged to a woman or a very fat man.
He heaved himself erect. With a wet slithering sound, twenty-five kilos of rubbery plastiflesh fell from his belly, his arms and legs, and his buttocks. The breasts remained, jutting out over a flat stomach he had not seen in fifty years.
Tweed was now outwardly a female, but a close examination of the labial folds hidden under the triangle of pubic hair would have revealed no vaginal opening. No hormones raged through Tweed’s body, nothing that could divert him from his purpose. He had decided on neutrality long ago, and had never regretted it. Now, it was going to help save his life. The first step in adopting a new identity was radical cosmetic surgery, usually involving a sex change. That alone would never be enough to turn the trick, but it was an essential first step. He had just accomplished it in record time, as he had planned long ago if it ever came to this.
I’m not going to type it all out, but this scene continues for another 14 paragraphs before a line of white space marks a cut to a different group. In that time, for six paragraphs, Tweed is still given male pronouns in the narration. Then, Tweed is referred to as his/her, she/he, and he/she, in sequence, then with male pronouns again for another paragraph — but at that point narrating a point in his past, when he would still have been wearing all that fake flesh and presenting as a nineteenth-century robber-baron — then, for the rest of the section, another five paragraphs, Tweed is given female pronouns.
I’ll come back to this later, when it’s not the middle of the night, but Tweed is the leader of the Free Earth party, who seek to reclaim Earth from the invaders who scattered humanity to the rest of the solar system. The Free Earthers remind me of no one so much as the militant breed of Libertarians that have been popular in the last decade or so, and the fact that Tweed performs the role of a corrupt male politician from before the Great Depression is a theme I think is worth attention, especially, for the purposes of this project, for its patriarchal implications.
Chapter 20, Pg. 193:
Javelin was no alternative. I copped with her once — which was a great surprise to me, since I had thought she was actually neuter. Her solution to the problem of female genitals without a crotch to put them in was ingenious, functional, and fascinating, but ultimately disappointing.
I don’t have much comment on this one. I can explain more about Javelin if I decide I’m going to use it in my presentation or paper, but right now it’s just here out of a sense of completionism — it references the existence of neuter people and the fact that people make choices about their sex and gender, so I thought I should have it written down. There are few enough in the book that it seems I can get all of them.
Chapter 22, Pg. 200:
They seemed to be quite ordinary men and women, dressed in a style that was perhaps two centuries out of date.
In this scene, Lilo has just met the Ophiuchites, and they’re impersonating humans. I thought it was worth noting that they’re conforming to a binary gender system for the purposes of their performance.
The book goes on for another 34 pages after that, but that’s the last gender-related note I have highlighted.
Now, I’m very tired, and I’m going to go to bed. Next up, I will be reading The Female Man by Joanna Russ, and I’ll let you know what the books I’ll be reading after that are once I’ve ordered them. Also, I’ll probably write a review of The Ophiuchi Hotline soon, for people who care less about a catalog of the references to gender in it and more about whether it was any good. (It was.) Also, I’m going to scroll up and mention that at the top of the post, too, so people who might be inclined to skip this whole post won’t miss out on the only piece of information in it that might be worthwhile to them.