This is the first post, essay one if you will, in my blog series titled “Science Fiction Conundrums,” where I, a queer Science Fiction author, will examine issues that are perhaps unique to my preferred genre… though I am quite certain some of these explorations will be applicable to other genres, queer in context/ sub-context or not.
First off, let’s discuss the difference between sex and gender. Sex refers to the biological and genetic factors we are born with/ the hand we are dealt at birth. It’s chromosomes, hormones, and internal/ external organs or the lack thereof. Gender is much more complicated. According to WHO (the World Health Organization) gender, “refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.” But, as we all know, (or should know) there are many more genders than male/female. Gender deals with psychology and sociology. It’s societal norms and expectations and all the variants therein.
Note to readers: If you plan on disproving my discussion of gender and sex in the comments by mansplaining or lobbing your religion at me, please hit the back button and go away before you even begin. I approve all comments before they post, so your rant will probably be trashed. Besides, you and I both have better things to do.
First, a bit about my own unique perspective on sex and gender: I’m a bi/pan queer woman, which means sex and/or gender are not what attract me to another human. Intelligence, empathy, and kindness, however… I am also a mother of three children and married to a woman, but, no, that does not make me a lesbian. I was also married to a man for over a decade. Identities like mine often cause a backlash even within the queer author community, but I’m not certain if it’s a patriarchy issue (since most of the Queer Science Fiction sites and author groups I frequent are dominated by MM authors and male readers) or a misunderstanding concerning gender and sex and their interweaving.
It’s a subject to explore in a later post in this series.
Today, I want to take a closer look at Sci-Fi worlds where there is only one biological sex present, concentrating on the problem which arises when the author describes these single-sex species in male/female (binary) terms.
He/ she. Her/him. His/ hers. Most Earth species have two biological sexes, (I’m overlooking single cell organism and other, often described as gender-bending, species here) but, as we know (or should know) nothing is really so simple or as black-and-white. (red-and-green, purple-and-pink…pick your color combination) In Humans, it’s relatively simple. Two things must come together, an egg and a sperm to create a child. (okay, yes, I know that technology is changing this) However, and this is a big however, if you have a world containing only one biological sex then there is absolutely no logical reason to use binary terms such as male or female (or their pronoun versions) to define your characters. I don’t care if other species in their world require binary/ two biological sexes for reproduction, if your character’s species does not, and you’re writing from their viewpoint, it’s absolute BS to use binary world, male/female terms, and here’s why…
Biological sex will not be a defining concept within the species.
Biologically-based sexual-reference terms will not have developed inside the species, because there is no reason for them to exist in the first place
Biologically-based sexual-reference terms will not be necessary for the species to convey ideas unless it involves talk about or with binary species, and then it would probably feel awkward to them. (rather like many of you who define themselves strictly by binary terms are probably feeling about now)