Thoughts on marriage equality and solarpunk

I wrote this today for my solarpunk blog, and wanted to repost it here.


Today the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled in favor of the legality of same-sex marriage, which is a move that I support, as a nonbinary bisexual person and also as a person with a conscience.

On my personal blog, though, so far today, I’ve reblogged basically no celebratory posts. Instead, the posts that have caught my attention to signal-boost are the ones highlighting the importance of sticking to the fight for LGBTQQIAAP+ civil rights, human rights, and protection.

It’s still legal in many states to fire someone, or to refuse to rent to someone, or deny various services to someone, based on their sexuality or gender identity. In 49 out of 50 states it’s legal to fight a murder charge with a defense of “trans panic” – which is to say, you can successfully defend yourself against legal consequences for murdering a person by saying “I only did it because I found out they were trans.”

This is an important and significant (and extremely overdue) step in US civil rights. But a lot of LGBTQQIAAP+ activists have expressed fear that this one issue has become such a visible and central benchmark that many people will feel that there’s no more work to be done; that what was yesterday a gigantic swell of support for the LGBTQQIAAP+ community will tomorrow be a popped bubble; that we’ll face a renewed wave of apathy that will turn into new hostility when we ask for help on these other serious issues.

- - -

When I imagine solarpunk communities for my own writing, more often than not what I’m imagining is a city’s disenfranchised LGBTQQIAAP+ community, especially homeless youth, banding together to protect each other in an environment where they can openly be themselves. To me, solarpunk and LGBTQQIAAP+ activism are inextricably linked.

For the most part, when I talk about what solarpunk is to me, I emphasize that my vision of solarpunk is not the only vision, and that I welcome people to come to it in a different way.

On this topic, though – on LGBTQQIAAP+ activism – I submit that explicit support is an essential solarpunk value. I submit that if your solarpunk is transphobic, queerphobic, homophobic, biphobic, transmisogynistic, gender-binarist, or otherwise exclusionary of LGBTQQIAAP+ people, it’s not real solarpunk. That you’re doing it wrong.

If solarpunk communities are to do better than the civilization they’re combating, they need to be proactively safe spaces for trans, queer, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, aromantic, intersex, gay, pansexual, questioning, and so on…, community members.

I feel the same way about inclusion of race, religion, gender, culture, language, disability, neurodivergence, illlness, and so on – and to be honest I don’t expect this post to be controversial. On these topics I’ve seen almost nothing but open and enthusiastic support for many marginalized groups.

But I did want to say something out loud. None of these oppressions are over.

– T.X. Watson

Trans magic

In the story I'm currently working on, magic is a cultural force -- that is, fields of magical ability grow out of specific cultures and subcultures. I'm doing it this way for two reasons: One, because it's an alternate-present real-world setting, and this way magic can't be an organized, industrialized, capitalized system, so it break the implicit world building of just having most of the real world intact; and two, because this way the use of magical abilities or magic-species things as a metaphor for representation can't ever be done without having actual, real-life representation. So, my protagonist (a trans woman) just met one of the 'earth children' (name possibly to be changed later) -- a subculture of teenage nonbinary people, who mostly know each other through the internet, and who are mostly homeless, having been kicked out of their homes when their magical status became undeniably evident. The earth children, around when they would normally have gone through puberty, grew and matured in a more-or-less androgynous way, and acquired earth or plant-like characteristics.

The earth child my protag, Zooey, met is called Hollyseed, and sie grows a fine, dark, long grass instead of hair. Other earth children I have in mind are a kid with patches of bark on zir arms and chest, a kid with stone-like skin, and a kid with soft bioluminescence.

There are, or are going to be, other kinds of trans, queer, LGBTQIAP+ and MOGAI magics, but apart from the earth children all I've come up with so far is strong disguise magic for kids staying in the closet. Anybody got any other ideas?

The Contemporary Foxwife, by Yoon Ha Lee

I've started listening to short stories again. After a long period where I found myself failing to pay attention to them every time I got in my car, I had given up on audio fiction for a little while. But now I've come back to it, and that's good news, because I want to strongly urge all my followers to go read or listen to "The Contemporary Foxwife," by Yoon Ha Lee, on Clarkesworld. Because it's adorable.

Not that there's nothing in it but adorableness, but it's kind of a platonic-magical-romance story with strong themes of the struggle of retaining cultural identity within a hegemonic culture.[1. Note: I'm white, so I'm very much speaking from outside the realm of experience of clashing with European ethnic identity.] And it takes place in the distant future, and in space.

Also, there's a nonbinary character! Osthen-of-White Falcon (whose name I thought was Austen through the whole story, because it was audio -- I only just discovered it isn't) is the roomate of  Kanseun Ong, the protaganist. They are really well written, and not at all made out to be entirely defined by their gender.

Again, the story is "The Contemporary Foxwife," by Yoon Ha Lee, and it's available for free as text or audio at Clarkesworld Magazine's website.

EGS: Tedd's gender

My favorite character from one of my favorite webcomics just found out that trans identities are a thing. That's significant because he[1. The possibility of changing pronouns hasn't come up yet, but Tedd goes by 'he' as of panel 1 of yesterday's comic.] has, since gaining access to transformation technology very early in the series, routinely switched between masculine and feminine bodies as a matter of course and personal comfort. I've been reading El Goonish Shive since I was in high school, so probably for about 10 years now. Fluidity of gender identity has always been a major theme, but I'm pretty sure this is the first time that transness as an aspect of identity and a part of language has come up.

I haven't got much else to say, except that the last two panels of that strip kinda make me choke up every time I read them.

The Female Man (End-of-book post)

[Previous The Female Man post] This book took me a long time.  Hopefully, none of the other books take me anywhere near this long, because I want to read at least three more books and I don't have three more months in which to do it.

That said: This was a pretty good book. Review portion of the post, no major spoilers:  In this book, Joanna Russ evaluates gender as a class system from every angle I could have thought of, and at least two more.  She does so vividly, and clearly.  This book demands a lot of attention, there was nothing in it that I could glide through the way I could with The Ophiuchi Hotline, but it's not difficult -- everything you need to understand is there in the text.  Russ designed the book so that the readers could understand.[1. I think. I don't have a quote to back me up on this or anything.]

It reminds me of 1984 in that way -- that it explores complicated and subtle forms of oppression by using science fictional plot elements, sometimes to exaggerate, sometimes to provide contrast, and sometimes just to show reality as it actually is. But where Orwell was highlighting the oppression of a government, which plans and organizes and has things written down and spelled out, Russ highlights the oppression of culture, which isn't planned or organized by anyone or any group in particular, but is sustained by handed-down traditions and expectations and prejudices.

(I don't know if I've mentioned it here before, but Russ has a non-fiction book, How to Suppress Women's Writing, that explores that kind of institutional social oppression in a much more organized, point-by-point way.)

That said, there are significant issues with how Russ portrays trans identities later in the book. The context is such that, if you stretch for a benefit-of-the-doubt reading, you can avoid a blatantly transphobic reading, but the fact that, later in her life, Russ said that she had been disabused of past prejudices towards trans people[2. Delany, Samuel R. and Russ, Joanna. "The Legendary Joanna Russ Interviewed by Samuel R. Delany." Broad Universe Broadsheet. Broad Universe. Feb. 2007. Web. March 30, 2014.] damages the credibility of that claim.

Alright, so that's the stuff I wanted to say about the book that doesn't depend on spoilers.  Everything below is for my project, and will make no effort to conceal the content of the book for your enjoyment.

Spoilers start here.

The main thing I want to talk about in The Female Man is trans identities -- or, the sort-of-absence of them.  I wrote in the last post about a character who was dissatisfied with her role as a woman in society, but she didn't seem to be experiencing gender dysphoria, exactly?

The issue of trans people shows up much more vividly later on, in the fourth world.[3. There are four worlds in The Female Man, which I'll refer to in what I think was their order of appearance: 1. the real world, home of the character called Joanna, who calls herself the author (I have complicated and irrelevant thoughts on authorial insertion), 2. Jeannine's world, an alternate present-day ('70s) America in which WWII never happened and the great depression didn't end, 3. Whileaway, an alternate distant future with a past similar to Jeannine's world, in which men have been completely wiped out for hundreds of years, 4. Jael's home world, which features complete gender segregation and a full-scale, guns-and-bombs war between the sexes that spans multiple planes of existence.] I don't remember seeing much of the exclusively-women's civilization in the fourth world, but we see a tour of the exclusively-men's civilization. There, hegemonic masculinity is the most fundamental rule, and here's where the biggest issues emerge with trans identities.

In the men's world, some people are forced to transition.

Part Eight, Chapter VII, Pg. 167:

Manlanders buy infants from the Womanlanders and bring them up in batches, ... keep them in city nurseries until they're five, then out into the country training ground, with the gasping little misfits buried in baby cemeteries along the way. There, in ascetic and healthful settlements in the country, little boys are made into Men -- though some don't quite make it; sex-change surgery begins at sixteen.  One out of seven fails early and makes the full change; one out of seven fails later and (refusing surgery) makes only half a change: artists, illusionists, impressionists of femininity who keep their genitalia but who grow slim, grow languid, grow emotional and feminine, all this the effect f spirit only.  Five out of seven Manlanders make it; these are "real-men." The others are "the changed" or "the half-changed." All real-men like the changed; some real-men like the half-changed; none of the real men like real-men, for that would be abnormal.  Nobody asks the changed or half-changed what they like.

I mentioned above a possible reading giving Russ the benefit of the doubt: that the forced feminization of Manlanders who fail to demonstrate sufficient masculinity is meant as an exaggerated criticism of the way hegemonic masculinity affects men who fail to live up to the ideal of the "real-man." In that reading, Russ is only completely failing to think of trans women while she constructs this world.

The less charitable reading is that Russ bought into the prejudice that trans women are men trying to infiltrate women's spaces or replace women in the social order.

(Now that I flip through my bookmarks, I'm noticing more lines that can be read as transphobic.)

I think this book is important, and I'm glad I read it for this project. I also think it was really good, and I wish I could recommend it without reservation as a fantastic exploration of patriarchy and internalized misogyny.  The transphobic parts make real, strong points about masculinity, but I urge anyone who reads this book on my recommendation to look into the treatment of trans women in second-wave feminism and take care to separate Russ's prejudices from her criticism of hegemonic masculinity.

Next, I'm going to be reading Mission Child by Maureen McHugh, because it's the only other book I've got for this project that's a mass-market paperback and I want a break from carrying a trade paperback, because trade paperbacks suck.[4. Trade paperbacks don't suck.  They just don't fit neatly into my coat pocket.]

EDIT immediately after publication: I just want to add a citation to this article,[B., Stephen. "Joanna Russ 1937-2011." Bad Reputation. Bad Reputation. May 10, 2011. Web. March 30, 2014.] an obituary of Russ, for later reference.  I'm also adding a hyperlink to that interview with Russ that I cited, because citations don't contain hyperlinks.

Gender in SF: The Female Man (midway update)

Alright so I haven't posted here for over a week, and I'm taking a really long time to get through Joanna Russ's The Female Man.[1. Russ, Joanna. The Felmale Man. Boston: Bantam Books, Inc. 1975.]  The problem is basically that I've over-committed to stuff right now, and that means I spend like a third of the time I could be spending working on projects, instead hiding under blankets and hovering on the edge of weeping. Note: This post, like most of the posts in this series, is going to contain spoilers.

I think that The Female Man is an important book for me to read for this series, but I'm not sure how much I'm actually going to be able to use its content in the presentation.  It's not exactly about gender -- it's about patriarchy and misogyny and gender norms, and little to none of the book's content is actually irrelevant, but with the book Russ is making an argument, and that argument isn't "Look how silly the gender binary is," it's "Look how fucked up the way we treat women is."

The biggest sci fi element of The Female Man, so far, is a woman named Janet Evason, who comes from a future in which men have been entirely wiped out by disease, and the whole of civilization on earth is populated entirely by women.  Janet comes from a time hundreds of years since men were a part of culture.

Like The Left Hand of Darkness, The Female Man gives an example of a culture with no gender -- insofar as a culture with one gender is a culture with no gender; it's impossible to construct a concept of 'woman' that means anything other than 'person' without the construct of 'man' to which to contrast it.

I was assigned to the male gender at birth, and the people in my life throughout my childhood attempted to indoctrinate me into the narrative of masculinity.  Part of that indoctrination is actively avoiding understanding how hugely different the narrative of femininity is.  More so, I think, than any other book I've read, The Female Man seems like it was written for people whose frame of reference is the narrative of femininity.

I was aware of this disconnect before now, but it's never not weird and disturbing to face the reality that all the media I've ever consumed is, at best, gender-segregated, and at worst, written for men to the exclusion of women.

There was a pretty big chunk of the book that took place in the head of a character who experienced some pretty substantial dissatisfaction with her gender role, but it's unclear whether what's going on is gender dysphoria or frustration with the limitations put on women.

When I was five I said, "I'm not a girl, I'm a genius," but that doesn't work, possibly because other people don't honor the resolve.  Last year I finally gave up and told my mother I didn't want to be a girl but she said Oh no, being a girl is wonderful. Why? Because you can wear pretty clothes and you don't have to do anything; the men will do it for you. She said that instead of conquering Everest, I could conquer the conqueror of Everest and while he had to go climb the mountain, I could stay home in lazy comfort listening to the radio and eating chocolates.  She was upset, I suppose, but you can't imbibe someone's success by fucking them.  Then she said that in addition to that (the pretty clothes and so forth_ there is a mystical fulfillment in marriage and children that nobody who hasn't done it could ever know. "Sure, washing floors," I said. "I have you," she said, looking mysterious.

It goes on for a couple pages like that, and it's all really good but I have to be somewhere in an hour and can't keep typing.

S&GinSF/F: "Found" by Alex Dally MacFarlane

This one's a short story, and probably won't figure much into my actual project, but since I'm going to be drawing so heavily on Alex Dally MacFarlane's Post-Binary Gender in SF series[1. MacFarlane, Alex Dally. “Post-Binary Gender in SF: Introduction.” Tor. 21 Jan. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.] I've decided to start actually looking into her work a bit more. (I was excited to discover that I actually recognized her from a panel at Readercon last year, Authorial Metanarrative,[2. Saturday, 1 p.m.] in which she talked about the recurrence of foxes in her work.)

So today, I listened to the Clarkesworld audio edition of her short story, "Found," which I'm about to write about.

The paragraphs below are going to contain spoilers.

It becomes clear eventually in the story that the narrator is nongender, and that they'd only met one other person in their life who was, as well -- they live in a series of asteroids, in which they travel and sell spices.  The story does a great job of evoking the overwhelming sense of loneliness and pressure that comes from being in such a small minority, and demonstrates the importance of representation and of story in feeling okay with oneself.

You can read the story here, or listen to the audio here.

Gender in SF: The Ophiuchi Hotline (End-of-book post)

[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[1. Hurley, Kameron. “LeGuin, Boys’ Own Adventure, and the Fine Art of Genderfucking.” The Feminist SF Blog. 2006. Reposted to Kameron Hurley. 8 Dec. 2012. Web. 21 Feb. 2014] 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.

Speaking of:

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.

Moving on,

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.

Gender in SF: The Ophiuchi Hotline (midway update)

I made a terrible mistake earlier tonight, and I'm currently living with the consequences -- I accidentally took my morning pills before bed, which includes 400 mg of caffeine.  So, I'm still awake.  I figured it was a good time to start writing about John Varley's The Ophiuchi Hotline.[1. Varley, John. The Ophiuchi Hotline. New York: Ace. 1977.] Note: This post, like most of the posts in this series, is going to contain spoilers.

The book itself is in the other room, so I don't have any text to quote. [Later, same day, I have the book and am inserting the quotes.]  As it happens, mostly gender doesn't enter into the book much.  There are only two, very solid, quotes, that cover the two major concepts in gender in the book.  (I'm only about halfway through -- for all I know, the next chapter is all about gender.)

In the first quote, the first person narrator whose name I've forgotten [Lilo; 2014.02.24] explains that, though she identifies as a woman, and the man she's talking to identifies as a man, most people are indifferent to gender, and it's normal for people to have many sex changes during their lives.

[Inserted 2014.02.24] Jasmine was talking about having a sex change, which further alienated Cathay since he was a confirmed male with no interest in other men. Lilo, on the other hand, liked them both.  She was a female-stable personality -- though not to the degree that Cathay was male-stable -- and had spent only three of her fifty-seven years as a male.  Jasmine was a member of the no-preference majority.

In the second, and this is where the significant spoilers start, the protagonist [Lilo; 2014.02.24] is stranded on Earth, which has been reverted to stone-age technology, and meets a man who saves her from a cougar.  When he's protecting her, she speculates on the existence of gender roles in his society and whether the man might feel entitled to some kind of [sexual] dominance over her.  She narrates that the majority of meaningful aspects of gender roles have disintegrated as a consequence of widespread, easy, cheap radical surgeries.

[Inserted 2014.02.24] Lilo was wondering what to expect of the man.  Her knowledge of the lives and customs of barbarous peoples was near zero.  She did, however, recall some stories of how women had occupied a social position distinctly different from men, back in the days before routine sex changing had obviated the whole question.  She wondered if he would want to cop, then, with a shock, wondered if he felt it might be his right to do so. He would get a big surprise in that case, she promised herself.

Again, I've got no idea what's coming for the rest of the book.  Maybe the protagonist's [Lilo's; 2014.02.24] time on Earth becomes all about gender.  But so far I'm kind of disappointed that the radical changes in the conception of gender are mainly window-dressing rather than central to the point of the book.

But still, it's significant that Varley conceived of a future in which, when anyone can change their bodies to whatever form they like, almost everyone does.

If Varley doesn't loop back around to gender, I can still dig into it with Glasshouse,[2. Stross, 2006.] which is basically Eight Worlds fanfic, and in which Stross "[takes] the Stanford Prison Study protocol and [applies] it to gender roles among a bunch of posthumans who'd be at home in an Eight Worlds type environment—one in which physiology and gender and biology are mutable[.]"[3. Stross, 2013.]

Gender in Fantasy -- I forgot I had books for this, too!

While I was writing notes on the Left Hand of Darkness, I remembered that the books I came up with when I brainstormed this project weren't all Sci Fi.  I had a couple of fantasy novels, too, and they come at it from a noticeably different angle -- this is a preliminary claim, but from what I can tell, when SF wants to deal with gender, writers add gender-changing technology; when Fantasy wants to deal with gender, writers have girls pretend to be boys. That's problematic, in the theme of "Empowerment means everyone gets to be dudes!," but it's there, and it's worth discussing.  Also, I should definitely look for books that don't necessarily keep with that theme.

Stuff I can think of off the top of my head, in which this is a relevant issue:

  • The Song of the Lioness, by Tamora Pierce, a series of four books following a girl who wants to be a knight, and has to pretend to be a boy to get through the training.  The individual books are Alanna: The First Adventure,[1. Pierce, Tamora. Alanna: The First Adventure. New York: Atheneum, 1983. Print.] In The Hand of the Goddess,[2. Pierce, Tamora. In The Hand of the GoddessNew York: Atheneum, 1984. Print.] The Woman Who Rides Like a Man,[3. Pierce, Tamora. The Woman Who Rides Like A Man. New York: Atheneum, 1986. Print.] and Lioness Rampant.[4. Pierce, Tamora. Lioness Rampant. New York: Atheneum, 1988. Print.]
  • Monstrous Regiment,[5. Pratchett, Terry. Monstrous Regiment. New York: HarperCollins. 2003. Print.] by Terry Pratchett, which is about a teenage girl who pretends to be a boy to join the military in her small country.  I won't put any spoilers in this post, but it's not quite as cliché as that sounds -- or, it's even more cliché, and that's the point.

Glasshouse first post

I imagine there's going to be somewhat less on this document than there is on the Le Guin post, but while I'm doing masterposts I may as well do this one. This post contains my sources and citations for Glasshouse, by Charles Stross.

  • The actual book, Glasshouse, by Charles Stross.[1. Stross, Charles. Glasshouse. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.]
  • Crib Sheet: Glasshouse, by Charles Stross.[2. Stross, Charles. "Crib Sheet: Glasshouse." Charlie's Diary. Charles Stross. 13 June 2013. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.]
  • Asimov's chat with Charles Stross,[3. DiLucchio, Patrizia. "Asimov's chat with Charles Stross." 2003. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.] which required the WayBack Machine to get to.  I saved a screencap, a copy of the text, and noted the WayBack URL, original URL, and citation in a separate document.
    • Significant quote; "And I got this crazy idea: what if you ran the Zimbardo prison study protocol in something not unlike Varley's Eight World's universe, with gender roles instead of prisoner/guard roles?"

The reason Glasshouse is a part of this project for me is because, when I came up with the idea, I originally could only think of two books that dealt strongly with gender: The Left Hand of Darkness, and this one.  It deals with characters from the distant future, who are able to change their bodies pretty much at will, and who are forced into a situation where they have to live in a fixed body of a fixed gender in an attempted reproduction of the Western world, circa 1950-2000.  The main character, who lives as a man at the start of the book, struggles with the extreme limitations of his assigned identity as a woman.

Glasshouse also makes an important link backwards in time in my project: Stross has said on multiple occasions that he wrote the book as his own "Eight Worlds" novel -- "Eight Worlds" being a setting conceived in the 1970s by John Varley, in which he "asked questions about the meaning of identity and gender in a future where biology was as mutable as clothing is today," as Stross wrote in Crib Sheet: Glasshouse.

I'm two chapters into The Ophiuchi Hotline, the first "Eight Worlds" book.  So far, gender hasn't come up much.  I'm not sure if this was the ideal book to pick for the topic of gender, but I figured the earlier the better when looking for ground-breaking SF.

[Above written 2014.02.21]

The Left Hand of Darkness first post

I don't have a lot of time to organize my research this morning, but I've started the necessary googling to get going on the S&G/SF project. This post will contain my first sources on The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin,[1. Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace, 1969. Print.] and I'll come back in and edit it with concise versions of future posts on the topic.  Right now I can't, but when I come back later I'll also be writing the MLA style citations for my sources here.[2. Started adding footnotes with MLA citations later on the same day.]

Here are the links I have open right now, that I want to be able to close before I leave the house:

[Above posted 2014.02.21]

[Above posted 2014.02.21]

Notes about the actual book:

The Left Hand of Darkness is about a planet on which there isn't a gender binary.  There also isn't a sex binary.  All the people native to the planet are a neutral sex most of the time, and once a month go through a phase during which they acquire reproductive organs and secondary sexual characteristics.  It's not just a binary that's hidden most of the time, though -- being female in one phase doesn't mean you wouldn't be male in the next.

LHoD is the most well-known and popularly influential SF book about gender.  And, as some folks have pointed out (Hurley, MacFarlane), it's odd and disturbing that there hasn't been another book about gender of similar influence and gravity in the subsequent 35 years.  LHoD shouldn't have been a singular novelty -- and it wasn't, it didn't take too much research to uncover quite a few more books that deal with gender in SF/F -- but it should have been the early signs of the end of the gender binary as default in SF, especially far future SF, and it hasn't been that.  Most SF today still assumes that in the late third and early fourth millennium, we'll still have basically a 20th century culture surrounding gender throughout civilization.

LHoD isn't the center of my project, but it is an essential starting point -- if for no other reason than the fact that it's still generally considered mind-blowingly revolutionary highlights how badly we've failed to move past gender since the 60s.

[Above posted 2014.02.21]

Sex and Gender in SF: I'm starting a project!

I'm taking a class this semester called "Sex and Gender in a Global World," and the final project is going to be a 10 minute presentation on... something to do with sex and gender.  So, I've decided to do mine on gender in Sci Fi, partly because that makes it way easier to decide what to read in my free time for the next three months. Then, super conveniently, a blogger at, Alex Dally MacFarlane, started a series called "Post-Binary Gender in SF."

In this post, I'm going to lay out my general plan and try and nail down some of my sources.

I've already read The Left Hand of Darkness,[1. Published 1969] by Ursula K. Le Guin, on which I'm sure I'll be able to find plenty of material, and Glasshouse,[2. Published 2006] by Charles Stross, on which I at least have his notes.

Those notes, by the way, led me to John Varley's Eight Worlds series, of which I'm currently reading the first book, The Ophiuchi Hotline.[3. Published 1977]

I'm waiting for an order to come in from Barnes and Noble, of The Female Man[4. Published 1975] by Joanna Russ.

The above-mentioned Tor blogger has already written two posts in her series, one on Mission Child[5. Published 1998.  MacFarlane column link; Jo Walton review link] by Maureen F. McHugh, and another on Ancillary Justice,[6. Published 2013, MacFarlane column link] by Ann Leckie.  I intend to read those.

There are also some titles that printed out on my receipt at Barnes & Noble -- I'm going to look into them, but I haven't done so yet:

  • Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia, by Samuel R. Delany
  • We Who Are About To...,by Joanna Russ
  • Venus Plus X, by Theodore Sturgeon
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Camp Concentration, by Thomas M. Disch