Storify: Poor Relations and Transness

Storify is shutting down in May and has informed users that we have to migrate our content elsewhere if we wish to save it. This is one of my old threads.

This thread is being kept for posterity.

@D_Libris: It is the year 2017. A luminary of SF is writing a new book. What does the plot turn on? FORCED GENDER REASSIGNMENT

I'm.......not okay with this.

[I posted three screengrabs from the piece.

Image #1:

Award-winning speculative fiction writer Jo Walton explores futuristic science fiction in Poor Relations, a tale of relentless social climbing throughout the solar system.

Described by Walton as “Mansfield Park on Mars,” Poor Relations is an eye-opening exploration of social and financial precarity, deeply pertinent to today.

“When it came down to it, you couldn’t legislate against the economics of sex and gender any more than you could legislate against people being poor.”

Image #2:

It’s the twenty-fourth century. Humanity has spread throughout the solar system—but for most of us, life is as precarious as it was in Dickensian England. Brothers Achille, Marcantonio, and Nore have been raised rich, but after their father spends the family fortune and puts a laser to his head, they’re forced to face facts. The wealthy Luke Bailey is willing to pay top dollar for what’s left of their estate, enough to buy Achille a commission in the space Navy. But only if Marcantonio and Nore will both become female—Marcantonio to marry Luke, and Nore to be their spinster housekeeper, for as long as Luke lives.

Image #3:

Poor Relations tackles familiar themes of hierarchy and oppression in a science fiction setting, depicting a world in which one’s gender can be easily reversed, but in which that flexibility has come to be used as a tool to make people more unequal rather than less.]

I'm not okay with this at all.

We have so few positive and nuanced portrayals of gender reassignment. We don't need it to be a boogeyman for poor cis people. Even IF somehow this was done PERFECTLY (and I....really doubt it will be), it will still establish GRS as a thing cis people should fear.

If you wanted a gender-themed novel about two men forced to live as women, why not promote one by and about trans men? If you wanted a gender-themed novel about GRS and vaginoplasty, why not promote ones by and about trans women? It's incredibly problematic to be like, "well, before we do THAT, let's scaremonger about cis people being forced to undergo surgery."

And I get it, I do, that cis people think this will HELP cis people understand gender. "They're men even with vaginas!" BUT. By centering cis fears around GRS, we get the continued pushback of "wait, should we allow kids to think they're trans? Surgery is SCARY. Better to never EVER let them think they're trans and if they really, REALLY are trans they'll get surgery eventually."

This reflexive scaremongering on behalf of cis children KILLS trans children who die lacking validation and words for themselves. So while I can believe Jo Walton meant well, this is actually harmful to trans people and makes cis prejudice worse in many ways. Because they DON'T come away going "wow, gender is immutable no matter your body, I need to make sure trans kids have resources they need."

Instead they come away saying "wow, surgery really IS serious, we need to make extra sure no kid undergoes this unless they REALLY have to." (Kids don't undergo surgery for gender; they have puberty-delaying medications and proper pronouns, but cis people make assumptions.) So, tl;dr: Please stop writing (and reading, and promoting, and recommending) forcible gender reassignment surgery on cis people stories.

@JettimusMaximus: "gender can be reversed." Huh.

and then there's this. Walton isn't the one writing the ad copy and reviews, but it'll hurt us anyway. GRS doesn't "reverse" gender, and gender is not "reversible". Both in the sense of "not changeable by surgery" and "not a binary". The reviews and promos aren't written by the author, but writing a forcible GRS story leads inevitably to these harmful "conversations".

This is also a world building flaw. A scifi society with easily accessible magic-surgery would not think of it as "gender reversing". Full, perfect, easy body modification would NOT result in a binary two-body society. Every combination would have a market. Some people would want to change regularly for variety.

Tanith Lee recognized this in DON'T BITE THE SUN in 1976, and she's cis as far as I know. This isn't me being Revolutionary Trans. Scifi already KNOWS this, is what I'm saying. So this Austenian reboot with easy GRS but everyone is Basically Binary just sounds silly. I like Austenian reboots, don't get me wrong, but I don't even know how you justify a "wife class" and a "spinster class" in this setting.

Which isn't me saying that easy surgery fixes misogyny but rather that I feel misogyny would block easy surgery. MRAs and TERFs are deeply misogynistic, defining women in misogynistic ways to police trans people out of our genders. So somehow science....skated around the misogyny, keeping it in place but also making easy surgery....which people only use for binary sets.

@alexandraerin: The only way it makes *any* sense is if the rich guy is consciously LARPing a time period and is forcing the other people to play along. And no one can save them from this exploitative contract because it's one of those scifi libertarian dystopias that manage not to collapse.

Now I wish to end on a personal note.

There are books about forced GRS already. They're in the Romance section of Amazon and they're often exploitative of trans people. (The "exploitative" part is complicated and it depends on a lot of factors but many of them are written and consumed by cis fetishists.)

When my nonbinary romance, SURVIVAL ROUT, was briefly in the Top 100 Trans Romance, it was painful to look at the Top 100 page. Because, yay, there's my book, HOLY SHIT WHAT THE HELL as far as the eye could see. This isn't a matter of "oh wow, I guess we need more trans romance" because we HAVE some. The Top 100 is determined by SALES, not quality.

As long as cis people keep consuming harmful narratives of us, keep writing harmful narratives of us, keep not buying our #ownvoices, our narratives become determined BY cis people who can, frankly, out-buy us. And that... hurts. It does. So please buy and review trans authors. Convince OTHERS to buy and review us. Promote us. Otherwise, this just keeps happening.

If anyone wants to get an ARC of this book to me, I will try to read it because I have Concerns. Major concerns include whether the characters are gendered correctly in pronouns (I'm guessing not) and fertility/infertility.

[@designatedmike then posted a screengrab of the author's comments on the piece. The comment reads:


"Zvi: Oh, that’s easy. I was having a conversation with a group of friends, and the question came up of Varley-style easy gender changes, and whether we’d do it if it was that easy. ALL the women said yes, and ALL the men said yes… as long as they were sure they could change back later. And I suddenly saw future gender choices as economic, and of course many people would hate this in many different ways, which I do explore in the book.

As for “we” have gay marriage, for one thing, we for values of “the West” do, being gay is still illegal in many parts of this planet right now. And we, same valuies of we, have a tendency to declare a battle won and forget about it and move on to the next battle. The US STILL does not have an Equal Rights Amendment, in 2017, the glass ceiling is very real, and the work of older women falls out of the canon in a depressingly frequent way. It’s better than 1917! But I wouldn’t say feminism is over and we can stop examining this stuff.

Anyway, this is a book that has main characters who we would identify as gay and trans, but that isn’t quite how they identify, in the same way as you have very different identifications of those things historically.

You may well really hate what I’ve done with gender stuff in this book, but it’s not a thing I did without thinking about it.

Crane: Thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt. Appreciated.

Everyone else: Yay!"]

I don't understand how a tradpub author can come out and say this without realizing what they sound like. "I polled my cis friends about life-saving trans medical care and decided to make it scary", like. [How About No .gif] You have to KNOW people are gonna ask. You're a cis author writing about trans surgery, you need a better boilerplate answer than this.

This.........has a lot of TERF red flags in it, and I know people are going to leap on me for saying so. I'm not saying Jo is a TERF. But illustrating the woman's pay gap by forcible gender reassignment of a cis man to a perceived woman is a TERF rhetorical Thing. A cis man is still a cis man no matter what happens to his genitals. (TERFs agree with me on this, they only disagree what "cis man" means.) Trans women are WOMEN. They experience misogyny and violence and low wages and rape, as women in our misogynistic society do.

You can't just toss a cis man in a woman suit and say he's experiencing misogyny now. This whole thing reeks of transmisogyny. And you're appropriating a life-saving surgery for trans women to make a point about cis women. Like, this isn't even "I wanted to raise awareness about gender and how it can immutable no matter what happens to your body." This is straight up "women are oppressed so to demonstrate that, I made a man into a woman. Transmisogyny? No, no, this is the FUTURE!"

The world building is also now a contradictory mess. There's misogyny and pay gaps, but misogyny in no way prevents GRS access. Impossible. There's no "gay" or "trans" people because Future Enlightenment but gender is an entrenched binary that determines your net worth. Even if this was a true Austenian setting and not a space novel, there were gay and trans people in Austen's time! The only way you can get rid of the idea of transness is to NOT assign gender at birth, or allow true gender fluidity without barriers. But that means no misogyny and no net worth determined by gender (I.e. pay gaps). Misogyny polices our genders to maintain itself.

I just. This only makes sense as a transmisogyny Just So story.

I'm going to Storify this thread but here's a reminder of what Cis and Trans mean.

When you were born, you were probably assigned a gender at birth. Usually the genders are "girl" or "boy". There are actually SO MANY genders but our society doesn't really acknowledge them, so you were probably stuck with one of those two.

The thing is, only YOU can tell us what gender you are (or no gender at all!). Now that you're older, you can totes do that! So here's a test: Write your gender on a piece of paper (or "???"). Write your assigned gender at birth on ANOTHER piece of paper. If the pieces of paper match ("girl"+"girl"), you're cisgender. If the piece of paper DON'T match ("girl"+"???"), we call that transgender.

It's that simple! If you're transgender and your gender is one of the "Big Two" (boy or girl), we call that "binary transgender". (To indicate that your gender falls into the binary of acknowledged genders in our society.) If you're transgender and your gender is NOT one of the "Big Two", we call that "nonbinary transgender". Or NB or "enby".

Now, because people are complicated and identity labels should NEVER be forced on someone, some enbies don't use "transgender". I didn't for about the first 6 months of my questioning. I called myself "non-cis" because I was afraid of "stealing" transness. But nonbinary gender people whose genders don't match their assignment at birth 100% have a right to the transgender identity label. So please feel free to use it without hesitation or fear if you are a nonbinary gender.


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