Abstract: “Other” Genders and Sexes in Science Fiction

I am interested in science fiction, speculative fiction, and utopian/dystopian fiction. I am especially interested in the portrayal of “other” genders in this genre.

This semester, I am completing an independent study on women and gender in science fiction. Through this study, I have narrowed my focus. Two books that have been instrumental in this focus have been The Golden Witchbreed (Mary Gentle) and Dawn (Octavia Butler). In The Golden Witchbreed, children are sexually neutral until puberty. The “third sex” is not really a third sex—it is an intermediary state on the way to becoming gendered as male or female. The “third sex,” in this context, is not really a third sex—it is an intermediary state on the way to becoming gendered as male or female. The ashirenin (sexually neutral children) are not necessarily the lesser sex, but the fact that they remain in a state that is considered to be childlike seems to imply a lesser state. In Dawn, children are male, female, or ooloi from birth. The ooloi wields immense power—the ability to manipulate genes, and the ability to impart immense sexual pleasure. However, they are still objectified as a “thing.”

This summer, I will expand on my research and look how “third,” “neutral,” and “other” sexes and genders are portrayed in science and speculative fiction. I am interested in the pronouns authors assign to their “alternative” sexes—some use “it,” some use “he” or “she,” and some assign a new pronoun altogether. I am also interested in how pronoun use affects the gender assumptions of the “other” sex. I will also look at how the portrayal of different sexes plays into the male-female binary: does the different sex challenge this binary, or does it end up reinforcing it? Do transgressive imaginations of gender interactions end up being truly transgressive, or do they end up reinforcing the normative mode of perception? My research will culminate in a paper that explores these topics and compares different approaches to these topics.