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The Hanging Gardens

home to boggles and beasties and all things that go bump in the night

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Consent and Mind Control
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settecorvi
I’ve started listening to podcasts while I run, since I discovered the delicious number of free fantasy and scifi stories on iTunes. One of the first I stumbled upon was Metamor City, a scifi/ fantasy fusion, and it kept me entertained on the elliptical until episode seven. Then I flew into a teeth-gnashing rage and promptly lost all sympathy for the protagonists.

Background time: A 16 year-old telepath named Abby has entered a pseudo-Christian halfway house for abused girls to discover what’s been causing a rash of suicides. She meets Jenna, a resident of the house who also happens to be a succubus. While Jenna needs to feed off of sexual energy to live, she emphasizes that she gets informed consent from all of her partners and would never use her power to change someone’s mind once they’ve refused her. The big bad turns out to be a creature from some nightmare plane that forces its prey to dream of their worst memories in order to feed off of the their emotions while they sleep. Emotions from waking minds are too intense for it to stomach, and Abby first sees it watching Jenna in the middle of a small orgy, slavering after the energy she’s generated but unable to touch it. The creature easily turns aside Abby’s attack, and leaves her sobbing on the ground in the thrall of her own worst memory. To defeat it, she convinces Jenna to first mentally and then physically rape a group of traumatized abuse survivors.

Oh, it’s not phrased quite that way, but a rose by any other name etc. etc.

Abby gets the idea when having a heart-to-heart with Mother Anna, one of the nun-types in charge of the house. Mother Anna tells her:
Wisdom comes in knowing when you can do something on your own and when you need the help of others… You need to be honest with yourself about what you can really do to help people, and then look to others and their strengths to help you do what you can’t do on your own… Respecting your own limits and trusting others to help you will free you to act without fear.

Silly me, I immediately assumed that Abby would tell the other women in the house what had been stalking them, and they would have a great big group empowerment scene where they banded together to defend themselves and reclaim their trauma.

No, because that would involve trusting mere humans.* There aren’t any other psychics are in range to help her, so
Like it or not, she woud have to do this with mundanes. Luckily, she had Jenna. Look to others and their strengths, Mother Anna had said, and that was exactly what she intended to do. If only she could persuade Jenna to do it.

Despite the scorn in the voice actor’s tone when she said “mundanes,” I still thought we were headed towards a plan that would involve consenting participants. Silly rabbit! Humans can’t actively participate in a plan, they’re raw materials to be used in its execution.

Abby explains her idea to Jenna, and I think you’ll recognize the line where my brain sent a glaring ERROR ERROR ABORT message. The conversation in its entirety:
Jenna: You’re out of your mind.
Abby: Probably. But this can work. It makes sense!
Jenna: In spooky land, maybe. But come on, Abs, Clarice is dead, she jumped out a window and impaled herself on a fucking fence. Nobody’s gonna want to party tonight.
Abby: I realize that. But. You’re a succy, Jenna. You can make them want to do it.
Jenna’s face went pale.
Jenna: Oh hell no. No. No, Abs, do not go that way. I don’t mind loosening people up now and then, but what you’re talking about, that’s some seriously dark shit. I go fuckin’ with people’s heads like that, the Lighties’ll have my ass for breakfast.
Abby: Let me worry about the Lightbringers
Jenna: Easy for you to say. Spookies get equal rights and all that. They find out I do what you’re talking about, they won’t need a jury to put me down.
She lowered her head and closed her eyes for a moment. When she looked back up, they were haunted.
Jenna: Besides, even if I could get away with it, I don’t know that I’d want to. I spent the last five years trying to convince myself that I can be what I am and not be evil. I don’t know if Eli lets succies into heaven, but I’ve been trying to do everything I can to convince him that I’m on his side.
She shook her head
Jenna: If I do this, I’m scared he’ll decide I’m just another demon. What’s worse, I’m scared I might enjoy it.
Silence hung across the table for a moment.
Abby: I understand what you’re saying, Jenna. But if we don’t stop this thing, more people are going to die. The Lighties can’t fix this. I don’t think anyone can see this thing who’s not a teep. If we can draw it out, I can hurt it. But not without help from you and a whole lot of other people. If you do this, you’ll be helping to save these girls. You said it yourself: You don’t hurt people if you can help it. You won’t hurt them here, either, and anything you do to their heads will be temporary. I can make sure of that, even if you can’t…Don’t you think Eli would be glad that you’re helping to save lives, even at great personal risk to yourself? Isn’t self-sacrifice his whole deal?
Jenna smirked humorlessly.
Jenna: So you’re saying I can be self-sacrificing by doing something totally selfish.
Abby: Exactly
The other girl snorted, and this time Abby saw a little amusement in her eyes.
Jenna: You know, that’s such a brilliant argument I can’t believe the badguys haven’t thought of it yet.
Abby: Yeah, well, they’re not known for their creativity. How about it? Will you help me?
Jenna sighed heavily and nodded.
Jenna: All right. But you better back me up if the Man Upstairs sends someone looking for me.
Abby: You got it. Now come on, we’ve got a monster’s ass to kick, and your boot’s going to be the first in line.

Got that? All of it? There are so many layers of oh-hell-no here that I could not believe my blinking ears.

“You can make them want to do it.”

I cheered internally when Jenna vehemently refused…until she elaborated on why. Set aside “loosening people up” with only a giant hairy side-eye, since people can’t choose a succubus’s influence the way they can choose to imbibe alcohol or any other inhibition-lowering substance.

“I go fuckin’ with people’s heads like that, the Lighties’ll have my ass for breakfast.”

The first concern out of her mouth. Not “That’s unethical on so many levels we may have to invent new dimensions simply to hold them all,” or “We have a word for people who coerce others into sex, and it starts with an ‘r’ and ends with ‘apist,’” or even “Why don’t we just tell them we need their sexual energy? I’m sure they’d be happy to help kill the creature that’s been slaughtering their friends once we explain the situation.” No, she’s worried about her own skin. I can understand that fear, I can even understand it springing to mind immediately in a selfish but essentially good character. Except she never moves beyond her self-centered concern.

Besides, even if I could get away with it, I don’t know that I’d want to. I spent the last five years trying to convince myself that I can be what I am and not be evil. I don’t know if Eli lets succies into heaven, but I’ve been trying to do everything I can to convince him that I’m on his side… If I do this, I’m scared he’ll decide I’m just another demon. What’s worse, I’m scared I might enjoy it.

This is supposed to sound selfless, but look at her phrasing. There’s a whole lot of ‘I’ in there, and no mention of her potential victims. She frets that she might feel evil, that their Christ-figure might not let her into heaven, that she might decide she likes forcing people. She doesn’t worry about hurting the women she’s lived with for years, many of whom have barely escaped abusive situations with their lives and minds intact. She doesn’t worry about ripping away their mental and bodily autonomy when they’ve only just regained some control over their lives. She doesn’t even worry that doing this might actually make her just another demon, only that Eli will think she’s one, no matter how pretty her justifications.

If you do this, you’ll be helping to save these girls… You won’t hurt them here, either, and anything you do to their heads will be temporary.

A) These “girls” can’t save themselves. They need someone else to take control in order to accomplish anything. B) If it doesn’t leave a physical mark, everything’s fine! Right? It’s not like having the ability to consent stolen from you would be traumatizing or anything, especially for people who’ve been sexually abused in the recent past.

You know, that’s such a brilliant argument I can’t believe the badguys haven’t thought of it yet.

They have, Jenna. You just fell for it.


If that conversation was sickening, the execution is the equivalent of cholera. The scene where they carry out their plan makes what I’d assumed Jenna was going to do seem positively philanthropic. Our daring duo spends the rest of the day telling students that there’s a mandatory memorial for Clarice tonight. Abby implants telepathic suggestions in the staffs’ head to stay away. That night,

Abby noted with relief that the few girls under thirteen and those who were in the late stages of pregnancy did not make an appearance. Abby and Jenna had decided that they were off-limits for their own protection, and Abby had given them a strong compulsion to go to sleep early. She was just glad to see that none of them had resisted her instructions.

Abby spoke, projecting her thoughts so that all of the assembled students could hear her.

“Listen up, ladies. This is Abby. I’m in a lucid dream right now, and you can hear me because I’m a telepath. You’ll forget all about that once it’s over, though, so don’t worry about it. Jenna and I called you here because we found out why our friends keep dying. I don’t want any of you to panic, but you need to know this. There’s a monster from the dreamlands that has decided to make a nest here, and it’s been feeding on your emotions while we sleep. That’s why some of you keep on having nightmares. The good news is, I figured out how I can kill it. But to do it, I’m going to need all of you to help me.”

She paused, giving the students a chance to assimilate everything. Many of the girls turned and began whispering among themselves, clearly unsettled by the voice that had appeared in their heads. At the same time, Abby sent a mental whisper to Jenna. As she watched, the succubus began to radiate supernatural energies, smoky red tendrils that reached out from her aura and began to touch the minds and hearts of everyone present. Once the connections were made, Jenna began sending energy through the links, changing thought patterns and orientations, recalibrating moral compasses, stripping away what little remained of the girls’ inhibitions. Abby saw each young mind transmute itself into a reflection of the succubus, some of them readily and with little alteration, others with so much bending and twisting that what resulted bore little resemblance to what the girl’s minds had once been.

Abby’s speech had been carefully timed. She’d given them enough new information to ensure that they’d still be talking about it by the time Jenna had taken hold of them. The process was both swift and so gradual that the young women had not even noticed what was happening to them. Abby waited for Jenna to nod - Jenna couldn’t see her dream-self, but the signal had been prearranged – and then resumed speaking.

“The thing feeds on emotion. It’s drawn by it. So we’re going to create a little lure for it. And then we’re going to waste it. So listen carefully: I want you to do whatever Jenna tells you to do, and when I give you the signal, you all grab hold of each others’ hands, or whatever other skin is close at hand, and make sure that at least one of you grabs my hand over there on the couch. That’s critical, okay?”

She waited for the somewhat puzzle nods of acknowledgment. Even now many of the girls were absently touching themselves, or tugging at their clothing. But they all seemed to have enough presence of mind to hear and remember Abby’s instructions. Of course, the suggestions she implanted along with the words probably had something to do with that.

“Okay. Cool. Jenna, go for it.”

“You heard the lady,” she said. “All right, girls. Let’s get naked.”

Cue the orgy.

Let’s touch on a couple small issues before we plunge our hands into the steaming, enormous pile of no in the center of that passage.

Abby noted with relief that the few girls under thirteen and those who were in the late stages of pregnancy did not make an appearance.

See, she’s being responsible! Fourteen year-olds are fair game, though.

I’m a telepath. You’ll forget all about that once it’s over, though, so don’t worry about it.

Jenna mentions that psychics have equal protection under the law, so there must be laws against meddling with people’s memories in the book, too. I understand that Abby is supposed to be on a covert mission, but this isn’t presented as a morally objectionable but necessary action, just as an aside that’s quickly tossed off. It’s even worse given the reason Abby told them in the first place.

I’m going to need all of you to help me.

Not that you get to choose whether or not you’re going to.

Jenna began sending energy through the links, changing thought patterns and orientations, recalibrating moral compasses, stripping away what little remained of the girls’ inhibitions. Abby saw each young mind transmute itself into a reflection of the succubus, some of them readily and with little alteration, others with so much bending and twisting that what resulted bore little resemblance to what the girl’s minds had once been.

Are you terrified and nauseous? I am.

Don’t read this from Abby’s perspective, or Jenna’s. Put yourself into the shoes of one of these nameless women. Imagine being warped into something other, a twisted mirror of a demon who’s going to use you for her own ends. Imagine having your very self torn from you. How horrified are we by the thought of dementia, of inexorably losing our mind to something we can’t fight? This is the same, only sped up and sexed up.

They’re not willing participants in what follows. No matter how enthusiastic they are, I can’t move beyond that fact. They might throw themselves into the most frenzied sex since bacchanalias went out of style, but there is no free and uncoerced consent here. In their current state, they have been rendered incapable of giving consent. Even after having Jenna reshape their thoughts to her liking, they’re further compelled by Abby’s mindwhammy to follow Jenna’s orders. Yes, I’m hammering this point until if it were a horse it’d be pâté. That’s because none of the main characters seem to understand it. Neither does the author.

I’ll take the emotion-eating monster, thanks. At least the worst it can throw at me is the product of my mind.

Abby’s speech had been carefully timed. She’d given them enough new information to ensure that they’d still be talking about it by the time Jenna had taken hold of them.

Here we get the real reason Abby bothered to give her victims any information: She wanted them quiescent and distracted so that Jenna could work. She doesn’t think they deserve to know anything about the situation, much less have the facts to give informed consent to her plan.

What follows is a generic, vaguely described orgy scene observed from the outside by our intrepid hera. The music that accompanies it has a steady, driving beat and begins with a rising motif. The monster is defeated, Abby laughs off Jenna’s attempts to lower her inhibitions (haha, the little minx! That doesn’t bode poorly for her future victims partners at all!), and waltzes out of the school at peace with her worst memory, with nary a thought as to how any of her victims will react to whatever she’s let them retain of the event. Closure is only for special people!

I have a sneaking desire to write a spitefic where one of the victims ends up at the doctor’s office with an STI she doesn’t know how she contracted, a terror of physical intimacy she can’t explain, and a resurgence of PTSD symptoms that she hasn’t experienced since she first escaped to the halfway home.

One of the most frustrating bits is, this would have been so easy to fix. Have Jenna refuse Abby’s first plan to simply use the girls and insist on giving them a choice. That shows Jenna’s morality despite her infernal nature and highlights Abby’s thoughtless condescension towards humans without turning her into a monster. During the prelude to the orgy, Abby could simply have told the women the truth of the situation, explained that she’d have to erase the memory afterwards for security reasons, and then allowed whoever wasn’t interested to leave. Even if half of them left, they’d have plenty of energy to destroy the creature, from the way the original scene was described. Jenna could facilitate the festivities with everyone’s consent, helping to get them in the mood despite the pall Clarice’s death cast. The women who participated might not remember the precise events, but they could carry within themselves the knowledge that they’d had the strength to defeat a powerful adversary.

Instead, these very young abuse survivors were reduced to objects, quite literally little more than batteries for Jenna to gather the necessary charge. Kant’s assertion that good intentions override the negative consequences of your actions was bullshit when I first encountered it, and it’s equally bullshit when put into practice here. What’s worse, the author doesn’t even seem to realize what he’s written. There’s not a hint in the text that Abby’s plan is anything less than ethical, or that our heroes should face any repercussions. In the aftermath, Abby threatens her superior if he considers pursuing Jenna for her actions, and he agrees to leave her alone. From both of their attitudes during the conversation, the clear implication is that if he pursued her, he would be doing so on a technicality rather than removing an actual menace to humans.

Consent is one of my sticking points. Respecting others’ boundaries is another. You cannot have your character destroy another person’s bodily and mental autonomy without so much as a warning and still expect me to view them as an unadulterated good guy, not unless one hell of a lot of soul searching and genuine remorse follows.

* Which could be an interesting viewpoint to take, since the next story in the series makes it clear that most psychics don’t view non-telepaths as their equals. Except in this case, we’re explicitly meant to view Abby as a sympathetic protagonist putting together a brilliant and morally acceptable plan, not as a twisted anti-hero manipulating humans she sees as one step up from animals for what she considers their own good.

Originally posted at http://settecorvi.dreamwidth.org/10024.html.

  • 1
the author doesn’t even seem to realize what he’s written

Well, there's your first problem. :|

Joking aside, that's really gross. Disappointing, from what sounds like it might have been an interesting world idea.

Oh man, there is so much potential in this setting if only the author weren’t such a stunning specimen of the white upper-middle class male libertarian. The next story centers around a male telepath who decides to become an androgyne, someone who can change sexes at will, and the exploration of his choice and the consequences could have been fascinating. Instead, we get retro genderfuckery for all! Plus bonus female side character who’s broken for not wanting babies*! And assertions that only polyamory with one man and multiple women will work, because Science Has Shown that men are naturally more competitive and women more cooperative!

That was when I stopped listening, which is probably for the best, since my stockpile of sarcastic exclamation points is running low.

* Okay, that one is a bit of a simplification. It makes sense within the context of her society that her friends, family, and even she herself would believe there’s something wrong with her for not wanting children and that nothing she could do will ever be as important as having kids, except we’re never given any cues their perception isn’t objective reality. Plus, her aversion is (of course) due to some deep childhood trauma rather than any innate preference. I didn’t listen long enough to hear what had created this unholy perversion of her nature, but I can sure make an educated guess.

I can't think of any authors I'd trust with that idea. I am currently imagining all the horrible ways it could go wrong, and nyaaaargh my mind, it is melting.

Time for a great big teal deer response to your jokey comment!

Short version: You don’t need androgynes to have grade A genderfail.

Long version: I’m the exact opposite – I’d love to see more authors tackling genderfluid and sexchanging characters. And trans characters, and agendered characters, and everyone on the spectrum of sexuality and off of it. The potential for metric tons of fail is strong, since the setup could so easily sink into a soapbox for the author’s biases, but (IMO) the potential for interesting worlds and stories is stronger. I might vociferously disagree with the way the issue was presented in Metamor City, but I still enjoyed hearing about a protagonist who was (nominally) outside the usual binary.*

Where I think Metamor City went off the rails is in implicitly presenting the author’s opinion as the One Objective Truth about sex and gender. I could have accepted the speech we get from one of the androgynes on how women are Supposed To Be as simply that one character’s opinion, if not for the way the unisexed characters echoed their pseudoscientific evopsych bs. There were no characters presenting alternate viewpoints, or showing us other ways to live. Daniel, the main character, is simply told “women are x,” and every woman in the story is shown conforming to that statement. In the end, assumptions about ‘natural’ gender roles pervaded every thread of the story, and they would have been just as noxious if the main character didn’t become an androgyne.

* Okay, last ranty mcranterson comment on the confluence of idiocy in this story, I promise. When Daniel becomes an androgyne, he himself doesn’t become a woman, an entirely new female personality takes up residence in his head. His soul literally splits in two, and memory carryover between the two sides seems sketchy at best, a bit like having an event described to you rather than experiencing it firsthand. One side can “trade off” to the other when they don’t want to deal with a situation. So really, it’s more like having another person moving into your body and, uh, remind me why anybody would want this again? You don’t get to experience being the other sex, you’ve just cut your effective lifespan in half. What’s worse, Our Hero is so stupidly incurious that he doesn’t make certain he understand the repercussions of this life-changing, irreversible choice he’s making and is completely shocked when he finds out about the soul splitting. His friends are either sociopathically indifferent or merely careless enough that they don’t ensure he knows what will happen.

Oh, I'd definitely love to see more gender and sexuality diversity. I just... only read terrible books, I guess. So which mainstream author would be most likely to rescue that story premise from utter fail? I honestly can't think of any. If I'm going to read a trans or genderfluid character, I'd rather be getting it from a trans or genderfluid author, which means that I'm not getting anything because I only read terrible mainstream books. Which is bad behavior from both me and the publishing industry. I should seek out better sources of reading material.

Anyway, the problem I have with the story as you've described it isn't just that it's a cisgendered dude writing about a trans or genderfluid experience, but it's also a dude having a male character that can turn into a woman for a lark, experience the ways in which it sucks to be a woman, and then switch back and escape them, probably while acting all enlightened about it and using his new-found wisdom and sensitivity from being catcalled once on the street as a lever to pick up chicks afterward. That's what was running through my horrified imagination, anyway. It sounds like it's actually slightly less stupid in the gender-switching department and more stupid in that the characters lack basic common sense and decency.

Also, I once read an absolutely hilariously terrible manga that had almost that exact split-soul plot, except that the guy couldn't choose when his female personality took over, and the female personality was secretly the evil overlord's soul mate. The male personality was named Lapis and the female personality was Lazuli. I swear, I can't make this stuff up. See what I mean about only reading terrible books?

Anyway, the problem I have with the story as you've described it isn't just that it's a cisgendered dude writing about a trans or genderfluid experience, but it's also a dude having a male character that can turn into a woman for a lark, experience the ways in which it sucks to be a woman, and then switch back and escape them, probably while acting all enlightened about it and using his new-found wisdom and sensitivity from being catcalled once on the street as a lever to pick up chicks afterward. That's what was running through my horrified imagination, anyway.

I think you’re absolutely right about the root of the problem. I’m certain there are cis male authors who could handle the topic with respect, but Daniel’s experience reads transparently like a man’s fantasy about what being a woman is like. The way I remember it - and I freely admit that by that point I was losing patience with both character and plot and wasn’t being particularly forgiving - it was dude writing about a male character turning into a woman for a lark and experiencing the ways in which it is awesome to be a woman. Or rather, the ways in which guys assume it’s awesome being a (hot) woman. She feels sexy and likes it when guys ogle her! She suddenly has an interest in clothes shopping! Multiple orgasms! Nobody catcalls her, or makes her feel physically unsafe, or condescends to her in a way she finds offputting.

It sounds like it's actually slightly less stupid in the gender-switching department…
I found the sex-switching stupid in part because it was first presented as one thing (you become the other sex), then revealed to be something different (someone of the other sex moves into your body), and nobody in the story seems to understand the distinction, or why someone might want the first option but be horrified by the second.

… and more stupid in that the characters lack basic common sense and decency.
What finally made me stop listening to the podcast was that I realized I loathed 95% of the characters. If I want to hear about morally bankrupt idiots making decisions that destroy their lives and the lives of everyone around them, I can go read the news.

Also, I once read an absolutely hilariously terrible manga that had almost that exact split-soul plot, except that the guy couldn't choose when his female personality took over, and the female personality was secretly the evil overlord's soul mate. The male personality was named Lapis and the female personality was Lazuli. I swear, I can't make this stuff up. See what I mean about only reading terrible books?

That sounds amazing in the most delightfully horrible of ways. Oddly enough, it almost seems like the author read the same manga. Danni, Daniel’s female side, could take over from Daniel more easily than he could resume control because *handwavehandwave.* Danni is, of course, sexually rapacious, bisexual, highly emotional, and latches onto the first man who shows interest in her, even though it’s later revealed that he unconsciously mind-controls people into doing what he wants. The whole “she doesn’t want to leave a relationship that’s making her happy even though she knows she’s been mindwhammied into it” was yet another idea that could have been interesting, and yet the carrythrough smelled subtly off. To me, the way it was written sounded like the rational Daniel needed to take control of needy, hysterical Danni…and I’m ranting about the plot again, after I’d said I wouldn’t. I think what really got my metaphorical goat about this particular story is that it had the potential to be interesting, and the author squandered it time and time again. A bit like Twilight, except with more gratuitous sex.

Sorry about the belated reply. Work’s been leaving drained enough that I get home and cannot brain.

I completely agree that I’d rather read about trans and genderfluid (and POC and disabled and all sorts of diverse) characters written by authors who belong to the groups they’re portraying. It’s so easy for a member of a majority with the best of intentions to swandive into a stereotype, or other a character, or indirectly lay claim to a history and suffering they don’t have any right to, or to end up writing a bunch of characters exactly like themselves with a thin veneer of color/disability/etc. overlaid, or just not have the life experience to imagine the world without a given privilege. To name a very few ways to screw up. Even if the character is well written, it still comes with nasty undertones of “group X needs the Mighty Majority to write about them for their own good.” Despite all of that, I still wish that more mainstream authors would include characters who don’t come from the same background as they do, especially as viewpoint characters. We’d certainly see a few head-desk inducing caricatures like the one that sparked this discussion, but at least it would get more nominal diversity into the published sphere, which (I hope) would make room for actual diversity. If a trans author sees a cis man successfully publishing a series about a trans protagonist, even if it’s rife with cringe-worthy stereotypes, they might decide there’s room in the market for a realistic trans protagonist.

Maybe that’s specious logic, or overly idealistic, and what would actually happen is that we’d all have rage aneurysms over the terribad so! very! exotic! characters engendered by the worst preconceptions of privileged dudes.

My taste in books isn’t any better than yours, and I can’t think of any mainstream sf/f author who identifies as trans or genderfluid. That’s probably a combination of my own ignorance and, as you mentioned, the publishing industry’s biases. If I had to choose a well-known author to try their hand at a sexchanging protagonist, I’d go with Ursula le Guin. The Left Hand of Darkness wasn’t perfect, and le Guin herself wrote an essay addressing some of its problems, but at least she thought about the scenario beyond “experiencing life on the other side would rock!”

Online, Shira Lipkin (shadesong) is an author who identifies as genderfluid, though primarily female, and she has a sextet of novels coming out next year. I disagree with many of M.C.A. Hogarth’s (haikujaguar) politics, but she’s written a novel and a few short stories about a society of trisexed aliens called the Jokka who can switch sexes at two puberties. As a warning, reading stories about the Jokka make me twitchy and viscerally uncomfortable, since being female in their society is a nightmare. It’s very well written, but a nightmare all the same. Almost all of her stories involve rape and at least three have featured force birth, so be prepared. With fewer caveats, you might be reading it already, but if not,
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Sorry about the belated reply. Work’s been leaving drained enough that I get home and cannot brain.

I completely agree that I’d rather read about trans and genderfluid (and POC and disabled and all sorts of diverse) characters written by authors who belong to the groups they’re portraying. It’s so easy for a member of a majority with the best of intentions to swandive into a stereotype, or other a character, or indirectly lay claim to a history and suffering they don’t have any right to, or to end up writing a bunch of characters exactly like themselves with a thin veneer of color/disability/etc. overlaid, or just not have the life experience to imagine the world without a given privilege. To name a very few ways to screw up. Even if the character is well written, it still comes with nasty undertones of “group X needs the Mighty Majority to write about them for their own good.” Despite all of that, I still wish that more mainstream authors would include characters who don’t come from the same background as they do, especially as viewpoint characters. We’d certainly see a few head-desk inducing caricatures like the one that sparked this discussion, but at least it would get more nominal diversity into the published sphere, which (I hope) would make room for actual diversity. If a trans author sees a cis man successfully publishing a series about a trans protagonist, even if it’s rife with cringe-worthy stereotypes, they might decide there’s room in the market for a realistic trans protagonist.

Maybe that’s specious logic, or overly idealistic, and what would actually happen is that we’d all have rage aneurysms over the terribad so! very! exotic! characters engendered by the worst preconceptions of privileged dudes.

My taste in books isn’t any better than yours, and I can’t think of any mainstream sf/f author who identifies as trans or genderfluid. That’s probably a combination of my own ignorance and, as you mentioned, the publishing industry’s biases. If I had to choose a well-known author to try their hand at a sexchanging protagonist, I’d go with Ursula le Guin. <i>The Left Hand of Darkness</i> wasn’t perfect, and le Guin herself wrote an essay addressing some of its problems, but at least she thought about the scenario beyond “experiencing life on the other side would rock!”

Online, Shira Lipkin (<lj user=shadesong>) is an author who identifies as genderfluid, though primarily female, and she has a sextet of novels coming out next year. I disagree with many of M.C.A. Hogarth’s (<lj user=haikujaguar>) politics, but she’s written a novel and a few short stories about a society of trisexed aliens called the Jokka who can switch sexes at two puberties. As a warning, reading stories about the Jokka make me twitchy and viscerally uncomfortable, since being female in their society is a nightmare. It’s very well written, but a nightmare all the same. Almost all of her stories involve rape and at least three have featured force birth, so be prepared. With fewer caveats, you might be reading it already, but if not, <a href=” http://wonder-city.dreamwidth.org/”>Wonder City Stories</a> is a superhero serial with a multitude of narrators, most of whom are POC, queer, trans, older folks, or some combination thereof.

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