SF gender

Jul. 16th, 2008 09:32 pm
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (Default)
[personal profile] liv
So I read Ian McDonald's River of gods about a month ago, and although I was extremely impressed with it, I never got round to posting a review. I think that's partly because I bounced about it at [livejournal.com profile] cartesiandaemon and [livejournal.com profile] rysmiel while I was reading it, and partly because I'm disorganized. But it's an absolutely fascinating and highly original book.

Anyway, among the explosion of exciting SF ideas, one of them is the concept of "nutes" who "Step Away" from gender, by a surgical and psychological process more or less analogous to an extreme version of sex reassignment surgery in our reality. I just can't get out of my head that if that gender existed, I would want to be it.

I mean, I know the medical technology described in the book is totally unrealistic, including physically rewiring the brain so that it doesn't even think gendered thoughts, not to mention remodelling the entire skeleton. And even it were possible, it would be a totally stupid idea; the book postulates, I'm sure correctly, that nutes are almost universally hated and regarded as freaks. It's perfectly obvious that I'm much, much safer looking like a moderately attractive woman than in a body that would upset everybody by being even more gender rebellious than any genderqueer person can ever manage in reality. People who know me well know I'm not as female in my head as I look, but I don't have to deal with the prejudices of any random strangers based on my appearance, and that's really the optimum situation. I also really don't need to be convincing myself not to do something that isn't even slightly an option!

Somebody said to me recently that if I have to hesitate to remember that I'm supposed to be female, that makes me gender dysphoric. To me that seems like comparing feeling a bit melancholy sometimes with actual clinical depression; I generally quite like my body and it's not even slightly a hardship being regarded as a woman. Thinking wistfully about how it would be nice to be able to opt out of gender is no more serious than vaguely speculating about whether telepathy or invisibility would be a cooler superpower. And realistically, even with existing technology I could present as a lot more androgynous if I chose to, and I don't think it's worth the hassle in order to look more like the person in my head. And really, even in RoG, it's a choice between male, female and social outcast, which isn't a whole lot better than having only two options.

Don't know if I'm actually going anywhere with this; the main point is that if you are interested in my review, it's linked.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-07-16 09:13 pm (UTC)
ext_1771: Joe Flanigan looking A-Dorable. (Default)
From: [identity profile] monanotlisa.livejournal.com
You've made me curious; I'm putting this on my To Read list.

And as for gender dysphoria -- it's always irked me that by using that term, people stress pathological aspects like depression, discontent, and anxiety that I don't feel are innate problems as much as results of the way society regards less than perfectly normed and conventional human beings.

As I've rambled about in my lj before, I am quietly assuming the continuum of gay-straight isn't unique: that gender identity, too, may vary a lot. Of course, there is a huge difference -- quality, not just quantity -- between myself and someone whose biological body doesn't fit who they know they are. I'm just a former tomboy who was baffled and not particularly pleased by puberty but who, at some point, decided to learn the "proper" gendered behaviour for this body, which ain't so bad at all. It took me a while (I do blame society more than anything else) to like my body, but now I definitely do -- even with its injuries and admittedly bad pain one day out of twenty-nine. Still, I don't recognise myself (and many of my friends) in what is supposed to be a natural state for my biological sex...which may say more about what mass culture considers said norm than it says about me, you know?

(no subject)

Date: 2008-07-16 11:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pw201.livejournal.com
Have you read Greg Egan's Distress? There's a similar concept (http://july.fixedreference.org/en/20040724/wikipedia/Asexuality#Asexuality%20in%20fiction) in there, with a character who is "neural asex" as well as having SRS to become asex. The book also contains "i" and "u" genders (ifem, ufem, etc.): people who've been sculpted to look more or less like a typical man/woman.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-07-17 06:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
Beat me to it...

(no subject)

Date: 2008-07-16 11:39 pm (UTC)
ext_3375: Banded Tussock (Default)
From: [identity profile] hairyears.livejournal.com


I think you need some social context: read up about Hijra.

India is far stranger than we can imagine: there are a number of gender-orthogonal castes and society's attitudes to them are, I suspect, somewhat more ambivalent than the things that we sometimes read, in English, in a Western context, related to us second-hand by Anglo-Saxon authors. The view that 'nutes are almost universally hated and regarded as freaks' misses a point about the caste system: it has a place for everyone, a community and an identity, and even if the majority regard you with loathing and contempt, they will allow you space to exist. This internal apartheid isn't quite the same as tolerance - and it is often accompanied by abominable injustice and enforced economic inequality - but it isn't anything like the exterminative hatred that exists in societies that seek cultural uniformity and have no mechanisms for accommodating diversity.

Urban middle-class Hindus don't like Hijras but that's not quite the same as hating them, and no-one's bothered to ask what other disadvantaged castes might think. A nute subcaste might well find a similar niche. Or, as in the book, carve out a new one defined by social inferiority but still achieving economic security based on superior education and arcane technological abilities.

Still, India isn't just the urban middle class. Brahmins might hate and loathe the future nutes if their education, technological aptitude, and administrative skills make them an economic threat; but they might equally co-exist in a hypocritical fog of public condemnation concealing near-universal private accommodations of illicit sex and undisclosed technological services.

I would agree that some of the technology in River of Gods is improbable but I always allow some leeway in a well-written 'future world' because there will indeed be some completely off-the wall innovations, and a great many adaptations of technologies we have today, that we would struggle to believe or even recognise if confronted by them in the present day. After all, no-one wrote a convincing '2008' in the late 20th Century that has turned out anything like our own daily life.

Further reading?

McDonald's short story The Dust Assassin is set in a slightly different India, with the 'nute' caste developed in subtly different ways: and, despite the short form, his story paints a very rich community with a truly wonderful sense of culture and depth.

Edited Date: 2008-07-16 11:45 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2008-07-17 01:25 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
Nifty! I had no idea about the Hijras. Thanks for this comment.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-07-17 01:36 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
Neat! Thanks for bringing this to my attention! Going on to my Amazon wishlist.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-07-17 05:36 am (UTC)
pthalo: (Joshua)
From: [personal profile] pthalo
i'm kind of in a similar situation as far as gender goes. i like that "a bit meancholy but not depressed." somewhere in between, enough to want the body to pass, not enough to want surgery. i don't even necessarily want to pass all the time. i mean i sort of do, but i don't always consider it worth the effort. mosty, i'm just a me, or an us really.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-07-17 08:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tooticky.livejournal.com
Not quite on the topic, but have you read Ian McDonald's 'King of Morning, Queen of May'? I'd be very curious to see what you thought of it.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-07-21 08:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rysmiel.livejournal.com
Darn it, I could have sworn I had sent you a KoM, QoD. I will try to make it stick in my head that you don't have one, but I do lose track of who I have sent what these days.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-07-17 02:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lumiere.livejournal.com
I imagine you're familiar with the asexual (http://www.asexuality.org/home/) community?

(no subject)

Date: 2008-07-20 08:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lumiere.livejournal.com
I was misled, then, by the term "nute", not having read the books, as it suggests neuter, and neutered animals generally lose interest in sex. (Though on consideration, it's not clear that would be true for humans; consider the castrati (http://www.amazon.com/Cry-Heaven-Anne-Rice/dp/0345396936), after all.)

Are you trying to convey a self-identity that's dual-gendered (androgenous, hermphroditic, or otherwise) or agendered? You're going back and forth between the two some, and it's not clear to me which you mean.

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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