Andy Connor has a piece on the Wheeler Centre site today, The Gender of Aliens, which calls for more agender characters in SF. As with everything I’ve ever read of Andy’s, it’s supremely articulate. For even more eloquent background reading, check out his agender-coming-out post, hi, I’m agender. Agender elven wizards? Hell, yes.
In this latest piece, I love the praise here for SF’s experimentation with gender (among numerous other ideas). Ursula Le Guin is a particular favorite of mine.
But there was one passage that gave me pause:
We mould kids into one of two basic shapes, dividing up the range of human traits and interests and capacities in a way that’s as unequal as it is damaging, and as damaging as it is false. So, if you’re a kid who’s neither a boy nor a girl – if you’re genderfluid or agender or have any other kind of non-binary experience of your own gender – the message received is that you’re not properly human.
I feel like there are two pitfalls here worth avoiding. The big one is that by setting up genderedness as “damaging” and “false”, Andy (perhaps unwittingly) positions his own approach as the only good and authentic one. To say this denigrates the way that billions of people think of their own gendered identities, which they may be comfortable with or even affirmed by or proud of. And that is not at all, I think, a necessary or positive move.
This leads on to the second pitfall, which to imagine that other people not sharing one’s identity, or even just not feeling personally excited by or attracted to it, intellectually or emotionally or in some other way, is dehumanizing. It’s only so if someone explicitly characterizes that identity as bad (say, as damaging and false).
Sometimes our experiences and preferences just put us in a minority and mean we will be poorly catered for. Often others may wish us well, or merely be indifferent to us, but be powerless or unmotivated to nourish us in certain ways. And that is painful, but we need not feel it tells us we are not fully human.
It’s often a mistake, generally, to imagine that others have a problem with us. Sometimes they just have interests that clash with ours, they don’t particularly care what we get up to, or they don’t even actually know enough about what we’re doing or thinking or feeling to have a problem with it. Sometimes they may even approve of what we do or are and we just don’t know. All this can be true of people close to us (our bosses, our friends, our lovers, our teachers) that we’re fool enough to pick fights with over grievances we only imagine they have with us. And it’s far more often true of people we don’t even know.
We can all get along, and avoid causing each other too much pain, if we just let everyone do their own thing, not give them a hard time about it, and assume they’d do the same for us. A lot of the time (though admittedly not enough for my taste), that assumption will be true.
Also published on Medium.