Sunday, October 6, 2013

Gender and arches in LHoD...

...and LHoD means Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. le Guin.

This is a scifi with too many layers for me to adequately describe briefly. But let's start by saying that it takes place on an alien world full of individuals who are completely genderless, except for when they have sex. Then they adopt either the male or female gender temporarily...before reverting back to their regular genderless state.

Their lack of gender is a source of confusion to the man Genly (an alien to that world), who tries to force his own binary understanding of gender on these people when he speaks with or thinks about them. And he does this despite his best efforts not to. It's a pretty good example of how people can be so set in their ways of thinking about gender/sex/sexual orientation as black and white (that you're male or female, straight or gay) that it's so easy to pigeon hole others, even when making an effort not to do so. A really good example of this can be found in the following excerpt:

"Though I had been nearly two years on Winter I was still far from being able to see the people of the planet through their own eyes. I tried to, but my efforts took the form of self-consciously seeing a Gethenian first as a man, then as a woman, forcing him into those categories so irrelevant to his nature and so essential to my own" (12).

You can even see Genly pigeon holing people right here, when he says "forcing him into those categories so irrelevant to his nature"...emphasis mine. He does this even while he is stating that he is denying what they are when he tries to give them gender.

Stepping back from this amazing book for a moment...

On a personal note, I wonder if Genly's problem confronting a planet that doesn't fit into his binary understanding of gender/sex/sexual orientation is part of why I love this book so much. I'm bisexual, and what le Guin is doing in this novel is throwing the binary everything out the window. I also see the last bit in the above excerpt as something some monosexuals do to bisexuals which adds to bi-erasure: "forcing him into those categories so irrelevant to his nature and so essential to my own." I'm reasonably certain (though some might say overly hopeful) that most people can adapt more easily fitting their heads around bisexuality than Genly does to living in a world full of genderless individuals. Yet many monosexuals still try to force us into being monosexuals. Not even necessarily by telling us outright that we have to be gay or straight. Often it's as simple as assuming I'm straight because I'm a woman who's in a serious relationship with a man.

Now complete change of direction, and SPOILER ALERT.

I'm up past my bedtime, but I want to note this down (the writing bug has finally bitten me again, it seems), so I'll attempt to be quick and hope this makes sense to someone who's read the book. If you haven't, you might want to skip the next bit.

The novel starts with a completion of an arch that the king mortars (mortars? right word?) the keystone in place. The mortar used is not made with human blood and bones, but it's explained to Genly that at one time this was the norm because otherwise it was believed that the arch would not stand. Oh, and the arch was going to be the great thing of this particular king's rule.

At the end of the book Therem dies, and Genly thinks something about his (sorry, now I'm forcing Therem into the gender binary...AGH) death being the blood and bones in the mortar to the arch...I'll have to look up the exact quote later, I don't want to do that right now.

But basically, maybe the whole story is really the arch that will distinguish the king's reign in the history books, even though it isn't a physical arch. After all, it starts with an arch, and there's mention of the hero's (again with gender binary) blood being what made things happen.

Just an interesting thought that I don't feel like I'm explaining properly, but which isn't leaving me alone. Maybe I'll figure it out better as I go along. I'm only part way through rereading the book.

No comments:


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