“Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation”
Raphael Carter , Starlight 2, Tor Books 1998
Funny, well-researched, as focused on gender as anything could be, and very likely even the truth. Hard sf at its best. (RD)
Excellent. Really does twist and exercise the mind and emotions – oddly for such a form, emotions are fully engaged – and the reader emerges with a new way of seeing gender. (CJD)
This story does the science/social sciences discourse Real Well – walks the walk and talks the talk down to the referencing. There is NO doubt it is more definitely about gender as opposed to biological sex than anything else so far. There is no doubt I love that last line. It’s the detonator that blows the entire very prettily constructed deconstruction of “gender constructs” clear into the air. “He’s a twelve. I know he’s a twelve. How do I know he’s a man?”
At the same time, the story has a couple of problems, and one of them is right in there. If “he” is NOT a man, how come you can, with such confidence, say “he?” Gender is what gives you the undisputed pronoun, “he” or “she” – so if “he” is a twelve – how come there’s doubt that he’s a man?
Again, the twins’ differentiation of types within the overall gender binary – “woman not yet to menopause”, “man with atrophied sex organs” – are all based on biological variations – subtle, fascinating, eye-opening so long as you regard gender as biologically based, and certainly does things with the idea of the bare binary pair – and this schema does allow for hermaphrodites, yes. But what does it do with performed gender identities? How would the twins categorize a drag queen or a butch lesbian in full regalia? It seems to me that although this story comes closest to overt deconstruction, even it has not completely mastered the intersection in “gender” between culture, performance, and biology.
That said, this is the closest to an overt and outright exploration of gender that I’ve seen so far, and for that it deserves the winner’s vote. (SK)
On the political journey to understand gender, I had reached the point of thinking that gender is all external to the person; but external and manifested by the person whose gender it is. I read this story as saying that it’s external and manifested by the person who is reading the gender, and what’s more, either there are actually no genders, or there are many, many genders. The idea that there are as many as two, or only two, is completely dismissible. By the end of the story, the idea that gender can be known by the person reading the gender has grown questionable, and along with it the means of knowing gender.
Gender perception or lack of it is not related to sexual desire in “Congenital Agenesis”, which makes me like the story all the better.
A complaint I’ve often had this year is that fiction ostensibly about gender turns out to be about freedom/slavery, or children, or race. The idea of The Other is so slippery, and so useful, allowing any Other to stand in for any other Other. In “Congenital Agenesis” Carter looks gender straight in the face, and gender is the thing that blinks. (KS)