“A man wants his virility regarded. A woman wants her femininity appreciated, however indirect and subtle the indications of regard and appreciation. [Here] one is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience.”
Day four of genderless narrator week: “Left Hand of Darkness” - Ursula K. Le Guin
Where do I even begin? This is my first Le Guin novel and probably my first real science fiction read as well. I love the genre but usually consume it through movies or TV shows.
This is a great novel for our genderless narrator week because all the characters are actually genderless. In this story, Terran Genly Ai comes to the planet Gethen to persuade Gethen to enter the Ekumen, the community of worlds. We also hear from Gethenian Therem Harth rem i’r Estraven, exiled from this community and in search of something larger than the world he has lived in for so long.
Although the inhabitants of Gethen are not strictly intersex in the sense of simultaneously having both male and female genitalia, each person can become either male or female at various times in their lives. Gethenians exhibit physiologically male or female characteristics only during the last phase of their reproductive cycle, called “kemmer.” Because each person has the potential to become either male or female, Gethenien society has not developed the concept of gender roles.
Since Ai is not from this world, he is permanently biologically male, thus ends up being ostracized by the Gethenians as a sexual deviant.
Le Guin’s science fiction novel has been compared and aligned with Judith Butler’s theories on gender and identity and heterosexual norms. Regardless of your opinion on this much larger issue, “Left Hand of Darkness” is a complex and fascinating read, showcasing Le Guin’s beautiful story telling and imaginative prose.