Home > Newsletter > Bending Genre, Bending Gender

Bending Genre, Bending Gender

Written by A. M. Dellamonica

Sometimes speculative fiction can tell you who you are.

In 1996, Circlet Press and editor Cecilia Tan brought out Genderflex: Sexy Stories on the Edge and In Between, an anthology whose stories were specifically geared to exploring the gender fluidity, of breaking down the one-two binary of male *or* female, of exploring the other, the both, the in-between. Before reading the book, I’m not sure I ever would have said there was anything about my gender that was all that complicated. Afterward, I realized that in some of those stories were picture-perfect versions of myself.

It wasn’t lifeshattering. The look in the mirror that is fiction didn’t even change much for me at the time. That part of my life was remarkably in balance, even if I was somewhat clueless about it. Even so, Genderflex kicked me into a gentle forward motion. It was an early step on the journey that led to me identifying, today, as bigendered.

It’s easy to decry the lack of queer and genderqueer characters in SF. We all want that chance to see ourselves in stories, and there can never be enough of those moments. But, honestly, I think science fiction and fantasy do a better job than many genres of exploring the male-female binary and alternatives to it. I can recall a James Patrick Kelly story, “Lovestory,” with aliens whose sexes were divided into male, nursing parent, and the ones who bore the kids. Recently in her novel Undertow, Elizabeth Bear created a race of amphibians with no gender at all.

But aliens put us at light-years distance from the day to day experience of genderqueer folk (while literary fiction, in my experience, often shoves it all too directly in your face.) I’m not sure there are a lot of ordinary but transgendered humans in SF, and this is something I tackled head-on in Blue Magic.

In the world I created in Blue Magic’s predecessor, Indigo Springs, one of the characters has proclaimed an Age of Miracles. Another—a middle aged guy who’s lived his entire life in denial about being in a woman’s body—gets a miraculous opportunity, late in the book, to change his sex. Immediately, in an instant, he’s the man he’s always—and never—been.

Gender transition in the here and now is a complex process with a lot of involvement from the medical system: you usually need a psychological diagnosis, for one thing, and this allows you access to hormone prescriptions and one or more surgeries. There are a lot of hoops to be jumped and hazards and obstacles aplenty… and all that only comes if you live in a part of the world where the mere suggestion that your gender and your body might not be in alignment won’t get you ostracized or killed.

In Blue Magic, with Ev Lethewood, I wanted to take doctors and psychiatrists out of the equation, and deal with gender transition as if it were as simple as throwing a switch, buying new clothes, and asking yourself: now that I’m really me, what do I do?

If this storyline can do for even one person what Genderflex did for me, I’d be thrilled beyond words.


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  1. Linda Steers
    May 1, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    “James Patrick Kelly story, “Lovestory,” with aliens whose sexes were divided into male, nursing parent, and the ones who bore the kids” – sounds very familiar.

    The Tenctonese in Alian Nation had a similar sexual twist. Because they were designed & bred as slaves they were unable to make babies without their Binnaum (whom they describe as a Gatekeeper) and then Mum carries the baby for the first half of the pregnancy when it’s transfered to Dad’s pouch for the remaining gestation period; this meant that each parent was only out of the workforce for half the term.

    To the Tectonese this wasn’t a gender problem but Sikes found it very difficult to come to terms with the fact that his police partner was pregnant and a Mum! It was a very clever story arc and forced the audiance to consider their attitudes to the social mores and gender issues.

  2. May 2, 2012 at 6:21 am

    Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. This was a mind opening book for me and remains one of the best books I have ever read.

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