Sex and gender doubleshot
May 18, 2015 5:59 PM   Subscribe



 
In terms of Le Guin, her collection "The birthday of the world' might be an even better choice since it deals with a number of different cultures with novel gender norms. I just finished reading it and it's really wonderful... She has an amazing way of making quiet moments riveting.
posted by selfnoise at 6:16 PM on May 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Slightly off-topic, but I really liked the answer to the first question on today's Ask a Queer Chick.

I tend to be attracted to men for the most part, but there are things in my history that make me not quite straight (and I hope there are things in my future, too) that made me decide my sexuality is "straight*" -- as in, the asterisk leads to some footnotes. But this was ... in college, so, mostly it was just "cute" to me to describe it this way.

Lately, I've decided I don't really care to explicitly define what I am. I've always been more comfortable in LGBTQ spaces but I also understand my privileges.

That list of novels seems like a great reading list. I need to get started on the ones I haven't read.
posted by darksong at 6:19 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Funny how they put Pratchett's The Truth as a graphic, rather than Monstrous Regiment. That one had me fooled, in at least one regard, to the end.

I really wish I had enjoyed Ancillary Justice more. The gender treatment is great, very innovative and smart, and it's unrelated that I still couldn't finish it. After feeling that David Brin and Peter Watts were a slog, I may have to admit that I am just not going to be a hard SF person.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:25 PM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Nice list. Embassytown also has some of the most thrillingly trippy depictions of alien language this side of Ted Chiang. Contrary to the listicle though the narrator Avice is a woman.
posted by batfish at 6:26 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I cannot imagine how Wraeththu by Storm Constantine did not make it in there.
posted by garbhoch at 6:26 PM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


I feel like there's a lot of pushback around placing your identity in a negative space, but I think "not straight" should be a totally okay, and maybe even politically important, way to identify.
posted by threeants at 6:27 PM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm more of a sexual colloid.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 6:44 PM on May 18, 2015 [15 favorites]


The genius of LeGuin (LHoD) is the lack of conditions to explain concepts like race (mentioned once in one sentence) and gender as the reader may perceive. The absence of a political atmosphere (earth) is refreshing.
posted by clavdivs at 6:49 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I find the identity problem to be well, a problem. I am bi in terms of biphobia, but the word does have issues. Fluid works as well as any of the alternatives.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:50 PM on May 18, 2015


Orlando, I knew of from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Is that character an invention of Virginia Woolf's, or was she working from an existing source?
posted by thelonius at 6:58 PM on May 18, 2015


I find it frustrating when book listicles don't give you a reason to read the book aside from its connection to the theme. If the list is of non-binary and gender-fluid novels, then the summaries should probably say something about plot, characters, or language, and given the audience for a list like this one, trigger warnings. Reading The Passion of New Eve is not at all like reading The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, but you wouldn't know it from this list.
posted by betweenthebars at 7:01 PM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Orlando is an invention of Woolf's based on her friend Vita Sackville-West.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:09 PM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Man, I really want to read Sphinx, but I also kind of think it seems like it would be less interesting in English translation than in French, since it must be so much harder to manage in French, and (I imagine) it would be very neat to read in French and be able to note what she's doing to pull the trick off.
posted by kenko at 7:23 PM on May 18, 2015


Oh and the description of Lilith's Brood reminded me of "The Seven Sexes", which I recall as being fairly mind-bending to, what, 12-year-old me.
posted by kenko at 7:27 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Totally thought Theodore Sturgeon's Venus Plus X would've made the list given the article writer's last name, but it's not like he made any claim to all-inclusiveness. Fluidity in gender is practically a sci fi trope which, as a long time fan, makes me feel betrayed when the fan community fails to be empathic to gender & sexuality issues.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:30 PM on May 18, 2015


Mission Child by Maureen McHugh It's not the first book that does this, but the main character's gender is certainly shown to be fluid.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:32 PM on May 18, 2015


Since some of the books are there because there's no distinct gender identity for the characters, this AskMe might be of interest.
posted by kenko at 7:34 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


While reading these comments, I remembered a short story I too had read as a youth about a multi-gendered species of creature on another planet. Thanks kenko for making it known.
posted by njohnson23 at 7:55 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Greg Egan's Distress takes place about forty years from now and part of the background is that gender identity is more or less a spectrum rather than binary. In particular there are a couple of permutations of of asexuality (asex for short) for example, including physical and neural.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:05 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really wish I had enjoyed Ancillary Justice more. The gender treatment is great, very innovative and smart, and it's unrelated that I still couldn't finish it.

I'd like to like it, but the "I am one of many a giant spaceship now down to one" thing makes my head hurt every time I try to think about that book. I couldn't finish it either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:30 PM on May 18, 2015


I'm more of a sexual colloid.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 1:44 PM on May 19 [3 favorites +] [!] [quote]

I see what you did there.
posted by gingerest at 9:57 PM on May 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


I really wish I had enjoyed Ancillary Justice more. The gender treatment is great, very innovative and smart, and it's unrelated that I still couldn't finish it. After feeling that David Brin and Peter Watts were a slog, I may have to admit that I am just not going to be a hard SF person.

I agree about AJ. It's an ambitious novel and the gender ambiguity is an interesting framing device, but ultimately I found large chunks of the novel just simply dry and boring (mostly in the long-winded descriptions of inscrutable religious practices and inscrutable family bonds and hierarchies; a shame because the little action in the book is taut and very well-done.) And I don't know if I'd call it "hard SF" Hard in parts, maybe, but most definitely "soft" in others.
posted by zardoz at 10:09 PM on May 18, 2015


No Delany? Seriously?
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:02 PM on May 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


Hard in parts, maybe, but most definitely "soft" in others.

Sounds a little... gender-fluid.

Sorry, sorry, I couldn't resist.
posted by overglow at 12:05 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd recommend Ancillary Justice to anyone.

Orlando seems like three different things to me: interesting literary experiment, deep meditation on gender and personhood, and silly gushing tribute to inamorata. Amazingly the film had ideal casting in Tilda Swinton yet managed not to be great.
posted by Segundus at 12:07 AM on May 19, 2015


I'm super happy for all the recommendations in this thread. Since someone's already mentioned Distress, I'll add that Greg Egan's other books Diaspora and Schild's Ladder also feature interesting takes on gender and sexuality. Diaspora might be my favourite novel: it's about a civilisation of purely computational artificial intelligences, their relationships with embodied humans and AIs in robot bodies, and their journey towards a destiny in the stars. The AIs can be male, female or neither, in which case they use the personal pronouns ve/ver/vis/verself. (Egan apparently borrowed these pronouns from the New Zealand writer Keri Hulmes, but I haven't read her work yet.)

In Schild's Ladder, people travel vast distances by uploading their consciousnesses, transmitting them and downloading them into new bodies. The physical characteristics of the new body might be very different from your original one, especially if you're in a hurry.

Both of these are very hard scifi, but I love Egan's writing and characterisation and recommend them widely. (I'm one of those who loved the religious and sociological stuff in Ancillary Justice, mind you.)
posted by daisyk at 12:42 AM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


(I also long to be able to use ve pronouns in everyday life, but it seems too much to ask of people, so singular they it is.)
posted by daisyk at 12:46 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


The AIs can be male, female or neither, in which case they use the personal pronouns ve/ver/vis/verself.

The difficulty I have with most gender-neutral pronouns is verbal clumsiness (most invented words are distracting and call attention to themselves by their nature) and the added memory burden of tracking people's preference when I have enough trouble remembering names. (More than once I've gotten a MeMail from someone letting me know I used the wrong pronoun for a member, and those times were just between he and she. Sorry, sorry!) But I think the v* set are good enough that they could be adopted by people for general use. On preview, what daisyk said.

I think the fact that verself contains verse is a bonus. But is it a problem that there are "male" and "female" versions, that is, vis and vers?
posted by JHarris at 12:59 AM on May 19, 2015


No Delany? Seriously?

Yeah, how can Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand not even be mentioned? It's a socially complex universe in which pronouns are used to indicate sexual interest instead of gender, and in which cross-species sex across whatever genders the differing alien species might have is a common thing. And that's just one Delaney example.
posted by hippybear at 1:15 AM on May 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm also missing Delany and I'm wondering if there shouldn't be some Gertrude Stein on there as well (Lifting Belly or Tender Buttons)-- especially considering they included Nightwood.
posted by frumiousb at 1:25 AM on May 19, 2015


For a period of time I referred to myself as pansexual, which felt more accurate since I’ve found myself attracted to both cisgender and transgender men and women

Ugh. Way to effectively say trans women aren't REAL women and trans men aren't REAL men there, person being interviewed for a Mashable piece. Also way to erase non-binary people, inclusiveness of whom is sort of the point of pansexual as opposed to bisexual.
posted by Dysk at 1:40 AM on May 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think the fact that verself contains verse is a bonus.

Yes!

But is it a problem that there are "male" and "female" versions, that is, vis and vers?

Sorry, my comment wasn't very clear. (I was on a tram.) Those aren't "male" and "female" versions; the pronouns work like this:

- ve looked in the mirror
- ve saw verself
- vis hair was a complete mess
- ve wondered why nobody had told ver

Here is a page with a bit more discussion about the grammar of these pronouns.
posted by daisyk at 1:53 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've read the Mashable piece now and I have to agree with Dysk: that was an ugly comment and uncomfortable to read. It's so frustrating when people who should be 'on your side' come out with stuff like that.

I'm non-binary, use queer as my general descriptor, and consider myself bisexual in that I'm subject to biphobia. I don't feel the need for 'pansexual' as an additional term, because the term bisexual isn't inherently binarist. If other people want to use it, that's fine by me, but using it to be transphobic and binarist is not fine.
posted by daisyk at 3:25 AM on May 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


Mefi's Own John Scalzi's book Lock In doesn't use any gender for the protagonist, which is super neat. Otherwise gender isn't a point of the book, so while it doesn't fit this list exactly, I highly recommend checking it out anyway.
posted by odinsdream at 3:52 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also way to erase non-binary people, inclusiveness of whom is sort of the point of pansexual as opposed to bisexual.

I see the etymology of bisexuality as something akin to that of lesbian, yet another thing that Victorian-era prudes got wrong about us.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:58 AM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


To leave a more positive comment, as I remarked to a friend the other day, this last year has been a really good one for famous women coming out as not-straight. I'm glad it's getting less remarkable and it really does seem, to me, that the general public's view of sexuality is getting more nuanced. Of course, it is still more acceptable for (cis) women to come out as bisexual or sexually fluid than (cis) men, and we need to keep working to make sure that changes.

Also, here is the Nonbinary Wiki's list of celebrities who have come out as having a non-binary gender.
posted by daisyk at 4:37 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Vita Sackville-West, the inspiration for Orlando, was also a butch bisexual woman.

Bisexual isn't a word chosen by the community, it's not ideal, but it is the most widely used and (more importantly) widely understood word. It isn't non-binary phobic, any more than straight or gay is - not only do many trans & non-binary people identify as bi, but bi people are generally the most open to being in a relationship with a trans or non-binary person.

As for fluid: that word works for some people, but other bi/pan people experience their sexuality as very fixed.
posted by jb at 4:39 AM on May 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Got wrong and never really considered in practice, since the whole dichotomy between straight (gender-normative) MSM/WSW on the one hand and fairies and butches on the other hand was baked into our communities and attempts to explain sexuality all the way through the 90s, (and later if you count that lesbian "man hand" thing.)

I wonder how much of Cyrus's "no labels" announcement is influenced by Joan Jett, who has suggested that anyone wanting to understand her sexuality should just listen to her music rather than ask for a label.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:40 AM on May 19, 2015


As for SF&F: we could be here all night listing good gender-bending/exploring books - I will add two (both Canadian, both a bit less well known):

Geoff Ryman, The Warrior who Carried Life

Elizabeth Vonarburg, The Maerlande Chronicles

Ryman also wrote The Child Garden, about opera and an inter-species lesbian relationship, and Vonarburg has The Silent City which addresses gender & gender-switching - but these two are my favourites.
posted by jb at 4:50 AM on May 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bisexual isn't a word chosen by the community, it's not ideal, but it is the most widely used and (more importantly) widely understood word. It isn't non-binary phobic, any more than straight or gay is - not only do many trans & non-binary people identify as bi, but bi people are generally the most open to being in a relationship with a trans or non-binary person.

You're doing this thing here where your language implies that binary trans people are outside of the gender binary (ie not REAL men/women) which is problematic.
posted by Dysk at 5:09 AM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


"For a period of time I referred to myself as pansexual, which felt more accurate since I’ve found myself attracted to both cisgender and transgender men and women"

Ugh. Way to effectively say trans women aren't REAL women and trans men aren't REAL men there, person being interviewed for a Mashable piece


I'm sorry, but I don't understand how the quoted part effectively says that. Care to enlighten me? (It's okay if you don't.)
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:22 AM on May 19, 2015


You're doing this thing here where your language implies that binary trans people are outside of the gender binary (ie not REAL men/women) which is problematic.

Almost all of the easily available language for this feels probematic, and it is incredibly easy to say unexpectedly jarring things simply by using commonly accepted terms and phrases. As someone on the outside, having such clunky language available makes it actively harder to communicate and understand such nuanced things.

Back to the list, I was glad to see Angela Carter included. I was lucky to have been given some of her books by a friend many years ago, and I've always thought she was an author who deserved more prominence. I've only read some of the books on the entire list, but they were all good to very good, which tells me that this is a list worth reading from.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:38 AM on May 19, 2015


I bet the reason Stars In My Pocket was not mentioned is that it's a really difficult book to get into and you don't get to the gender stuff until you've gotten through Rat Korga's story. In my experience, people who read relatively serious but popular SF and fantasy often don't read much Delany both because of the difficulty of some of his work and because of the way he is culturally positioned - it's all either pulp covers in old mass market paperbacks or those immensely classy Wesleyan editions that look Very Serious.

If I were a real professional teaching person instead of a community ed person, I would want to teach "Introduction to Samuel Delany", starting with some of his sixties short stories and progressing onward from there up through The Mad Man and excerpts from Through The Valley Of The Nest Of Spiders.

I really liked both Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword - I feel that all the description of religions and tea sets and so on is actually integral to what Leckie is trying to do with the space opera form - to wit, restore to it the detailed, lived experience of colonizer/colonized, and all the commonly-gendered-feminine stuff that tends either to be dropped out of space opera/hard SF or else treated anthropologically in passing. My entire SF class pretty much developed an enormous crush on Breq, not unlike that manifested by Seivarden later on.
posted by Frowner at 5:59 AM on May 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


Bisexual is commonly defined as being attracted to both men and women. Where pansexual differs is in explicitly including attraction to non-binary gendered people. By saying you're pansexual rather than bi because you're attracted to trans men/women places trans men/women outside of the gender binary - it says that even binary trans people are not actually men or women (because otherwise you would not need to use pansexual to include them).
posted by Dysk at 5:59 AM on May 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


tl;dr - conflating binary trans and non-binary identities in this way positions all trans people as being outside of the gender binary, outside of the categories of 'man' and 'woman'.
posted by Dysk at 6:02 AM on May 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ah, I see what you mean now, thank you so much!
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:08 AM on May 19, 2015


Bisexual is commonly defined as being attracted to both men and women. Where pansexual differs is in explicitly including attraction to non-binary gendered people.

Bisexuality has explicitly included attraction to non-binary gendered people since the 1980s. Implicitly, it has done so since that 19th century when Krafft-Ebing described it as a form of gender deviance characterized by having both male and female sexualities.

But yes, the, "men, women, and trans people" definition of pansexuality is one of the reasons why I'm no longer willing to touch that word with a 10-foot pole these days.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:13 AM on May 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Bisexual is commonly defined as being attracted to both men and women. Where pansexual differs is in explicitly including attraction to non-binary gendered people.

You have misdefined bisexuality. Please don't do that.
posted by jb at 6:17 AM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I speak as someone who most commonly defines as bisexual and does not use it in so restrictive a fashion, but as a term it certainly is very binary, and this erasure is a comparatively common complaint amongst non-binary people.
posted by Dysk at 6:19 AM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


(And Krafft-Ebing's - still binary-rooted - definition for the term in bygone centuries does not change its common definition and usage today, sadly. Nor does those of us using it in a broader sense change the commonly accepted meaning of the term, how people view and receive it, and indeed what people will see as a definition if they look it up in a dictionary, or the binary nature of the language around it in general. However you or I personally define 'bisexual' and what it means for us, it is not wrong to say that it is commonly defined as having attraction to both men and women.)
posted by Dysk at 6:24 AM on May 19, 2015


However you or I personally define 'bisexual' and what it means for us, it is not wrong to say that it is commonly defined as having attraction to both men and women.

When people say that you're defining bisexuality incorrectly, they aren't talking about just their own personal definitions. They're talking about the definitions that are common within the bisexual community and with bisexual activists. I have never heard a bisexual activist describe bisexuality as anything other than the 'their own gender and different genders' definition.

So don't use other people's ignorance as an excuse to perpetuate that ignorance. Please.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:05 AM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Julie Serrano has a really good blog post that seems highly relevant:
The prefix “bi” can mean “two,” but it can also mean “twice” (e.g., as in bimonthly). So while monosexual people limit their potential partners to members of only one sex, bisexual/BMNOPPQ folks challenge the hetero/homo binary by not limiting our attraction in this way, and are thereby open to roughly twice as many potential partners. My main point here is that the prefix “bi” has more than one meaning, and can have more than one referent. So claiming that people who use the term bisexual must be touting a rigid binary view of gender, or denying the existence of gender variant people, is as presumptuous as assuming that people who use the term “bicoastal” must be claiming that a continent can only ever have two coasts, or that they are somehow denying the existence of all interior, landlocked regions of that continent.
I don't necessarily agree with everything she says (above or in the whole post) but I think she makes some points that ought to be grappled with, whatever one's stance.
posted by overglow at 7:06 AM on May 19, 2015


I have never heard a bisexual activist describe bisexuality as anything other than the 'their own gender and different genders' definition.

I most certainly have.

There is also the question of the extent to which people want to be included in a label that has a common definition and history of referring to 'both' genders in a very binary conception of sex and gender if they exist outside of that binary. This is a form of erasure I have seen quite strong objections to.
posted by Dysk at 7:20 AM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


There is also the question of the extent to which people want to be included in a label that has a common definition and history of referring to 'both' genders in a very binary conception of sex and gender if they exist outside of that binary. This is a form of erasure I have seen quite strong objections to.

The common meaning and history is that I'm a feminine faggot who has sex with feminine faggots. Heterosexism, sexism, and misogyny have never been separated. Krafft-Ebing wasn't a figure from a "bygone century," he was part of the historical development of the dominant paradigm of classifying human sexuality in terms of gender. Heterosexuality is normal gender development. Bisexuality and homosexuality is abnormal gender development. Kids get singled out for homophobic abuse on the basis of perceived gender, and kids get singled out for gendered abuse on the basis of perceived sexuality.

Now, personally, I wouldn't mind it if the word "bisexual" went the way of "invert" as a product of an oppressive paradigm. But I'm developing less and less patience for this bullshit idea that I've ever been something other than a feminine faggot in the eyes of the dominant culture.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:05 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really liked both Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword - I feel that all the description of religions and tea sets and so on is actually integral to what Leckie is trying to do with the space opera form - to wit, restore to it the detailed, lived experience of colonizer/colonized, and all the commonly-gendered-feminine stuff that tends either to be dropped out of space opera/hard SF or else treated anthropologically in passing. My entire SF class pretty much developed an enormous crush on Breq, not unlike that manifested by Seivarden later on.

True. I think a large part of Justice and Sword is the idea that instead of gender as a primary dimension of power, you have power based on class, ethnicity, and social networks. The tea sets, jewelry, temple gifts, and art are signifiers of status and relationships, and are another form of conflict. Even something as simple as obtaining clothes for Seivarden is a minefield of perceived political (possibly sexual) relations.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:12 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have lots of friends who swear by The Queen's Diadem, an early-19th Century Swedish novel with a gender fluid central character. I haven't read it, unfortunately, as I've heard that the better translation is the one titled The Queen's Diadem, and I never come across it except being sold for $30+international-shipping on Amazon and I always hope to stumble on it in a library or local used bookstore instead.
posted by Kattullus at 3:32 PM on May 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Seems like somebody in this thread should mention James Tiptree, Jr., just because. (Though her novels were, admittedly, kinda meh.)
posted by Bron at 5:07 PM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, there's The Mirror Kingdom by Kameron Hurley, which has multiple cultures with different conceptions of gender (including non-binary genders) as well as a character who magically cycles between sexes.
posted by overglow at 6:43 PM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just chiming in to say, what a great conversation on a great topic. (And to second Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, which blew the lid off gender for me anyway.)

I love you all, in a way that may or may not be gender-specific.
posted by otherthings_ at 10:42 PM on May 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I made a related AskMe.
posted by daisyk at 10:37 AM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yep, it looks like I called it on the Cyrus/Jett connection, although just because you have a massive crush on someone doesn't mean you should make it the basis for a Hall of Fame induction speech.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:34 AM on May 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


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