I recently attended a talk on bisexuality in 1970s science fiction. You might be thinking, “Wow what a niche subject, who would even turn up to this?” And I must admit it is a niche subject. The talk was presented by an MA student, Oli Lipski, studying a very specific course on gender and sexuality looking through the lens of SF, was set up and attended by the University of York LGBTQA society, and me, a bisexual science-fiction nerd, who before this talk had made zero connections between SF and her own sexuality. I won’t lie when I tried to think of any examples of bisexuality in SF I could only really come up with one that I wasn’t even sure counted: The Left Hand of Darkness.
Yes my friends, I am back to the grand Ursula K Le Guin, because she is always relevant. For those of you who don’t know the aliens (well to us at least, Gethen is their home planet so I guess we’re the aliens) are entirely genderless until they come to “kemmer” the mating of their reproductive cycle, when their bodies can revert to either gender based on what the dominant partner kemmer’s into. So if someones kemmer comes on strongly female, their partner will become male in response. It really is an amazing books, it should be required reading for every gender studies module across the globe, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I was unsure if The Left Hand of Darkness could be classed as bisexual for a couple of reasons, firstly because it doesn’t present a gender binary, only a binary of biological sex, they have no concept of gender performance, which – if we insist on labelling sexuality – comes into play massively with these labels. But also because the inhabitants of Gethen are descended from humanity their sexual activity is predominantly heterosexual and they have no choice or preference about this, it is a biological reaction akin to a sneeze, no idea of personal identity really comes into play.
But that’s way more than I originally intended to say on The Left Hand of Darkness itself, so let’s bring it back to the discussions of the evening. Why this text was included became apparent as the evening went on and Lipski moved onto the idea of reading your own sexuality in the text. This pretty much blew me away. Like I just did with Le Guin I’ll read my sexuality in a text then come up with reasons why it’s wrong and I can’t have any claim on said text, but if more critics were to explore this, were to read bisexuality (or any sort of under-represented minority) will there be a flux of writers portraying these minorities? Just a little food for thought there. But the idea of reading your sexuality in a text really got me thinking about how SF can be used as a tool to explore sexuality as we know it. But that still isn’t what I’m going to talk about next.
What I really want to think about is that phrase “as we know it” which is used an obscene amount in both SF and actual science. There are probes and satellites circling our solar system looking for life “as we know it” and I think this is a concept that holds back the imaginations of SF writers and scientists alike, we always try to create something or look for something the mirrors just us. Psychologically speaking it’s probably a complete impossibility for us to consider forms of life that are entirely different than our own, the human race is intrinsically egotistical, but maybe there is an alien race out there that isn’t and has zero concept of self or individual. Much like the humble bumble bee. That I just mirrored in this blog post. Because I cannot conceive of anything beyond my own awareness.
I have deviated quite massively from the original point of this post, but really I’m just extremely (platonically) excited about aliens and their sexuality. And speaking of aliens and sexuality… STAR TREK! Here we go, I recently read an interesting article called ‘ A friendship that will define you both: Star Trek and the Devolution of American Masculinity by Bridget Kies, and it is definitely worth a read. It’s an extremely interesting paper, and towards the end it casually proposes the idea that Spock is asexual and Kirk is pansexual, and I was like WHAT? SURELY WE NEED TO EXPLORE THIS MORE?! But no, it had a short paragraph and then Kies left me starving for more queer theory in Star Trek that wasn’t just erotic Spirk (or McSpirk for a dash of polyamory) fanfiction. It’s easy to see how the logical, calculated Spock who only displays any concern with sex when his pon farr forces him to. But Kirk? Really? How can the overtly heteronormative, ladies-man Kirk be pansexual? Simply by the fact that he has clearly been sexually attracted to aliens (but who wasn’t sexually confused at a young age by green Orion slave girls?) and therefore can’t adhere to the constraints of gender attraction shaped by life on Earth.
I really want to get into gender right now (the talk inevitably ended up discussing how robots in SF are gendered) but I don’t want to blow anyone’s mind! So I’ll leave gender performance and robots for next time and wrap up sexuality. I know I’ve spoken pretty much solely about bisexuality and pansexuality and even asexuality. And I know that heterosexuals and homosexuals must feel a bit left out. Oh how the tables have turned.