Gender Pointers and Binaries

I am almost done with my project. I have a substantial draft completed for my cumulative paper, and I am excited to revise and tweak it until it says the things I really want to say, and the things I think are really important. I’ve decided to use Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr.’s concept of “fictive neologies” as sort of a framework for my ideas; in particular, I’m extending Csicsery-Ronay Jr.’s analysis of nouns into an analysis of pronouns. Pronouns are the second structure I am imposing on my ideas.

In English, pronouns serve as a gender pointer. When science fiction writers create new pronouns or use regular pronouns in unfamiliar way, they complicate the reader’s perception of a character’s gender. When characters use these unfamiliar pronouns to refer to each other, this complicates how the reader constructs gender relations in the book. Science fiction typically portrays gender as stable and immutable—something that just is, and something hardly worth discussing in detail. In my paper, I will examine science fiction that attempts imagines something beyond binary genderedness. These imaginations take place at the level of pronouns, rather than the level of nouns that is so common to science fiction. Pronouns serve a convenient framework for this issue: pronouns are a linguistic structure that point to the underlying social structure.

There are two main ways in which these types of science fiction challenge traditional conceptions of gender. The first is through gender fluidity. Books that imagine gender fluidity imagine a world in which gender is not (and, importantly, should not be) a stable marker of identity. The Left Hand of Darkness and Woman on the Edge of Time are two examples of books that imagine gender-fluid worlds. The second way is through gender multiplicity. Science fiction that imagines gender multiplicity imagine a world in which heteronormativity is destabilized. The Golden Witchbreed and the Xenogenesis trilogy are two examples of books that imagine worlds with multiple genders.

Despite the really interesting science fiction I’ve read, I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of this supposedly gender-challenging sf ends up reinforcing, to some degree or another, heterosexual gender norms. It’s really hard, it seems, to imagine a world that doesn’t end up condensing down into some sort of binary. I’m going to see how my paper shakes out, but that is the preliminary conclusion I am drawing.

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