» Isabel Fall's Short Story on Constructed Gender and War
Isabel Fall’s short story
is a warning that instead of fearing that the state will never recognize non-binary genders, the state could exploit the end of the binary to advance its imperialist projectsStrike that previous, see a new conclusion below.
If gender has always been a construct, then why not construct new ones?
The story doesn’t provide an answer for this. But we must be aware our dreams can be suborned.
It’s a tight and frightening story
, and goes on my award shortlists for 2020.
Update, 2020-01-11: I’m rethinking this. After a person I respect noped on the story entirely. Going back to the story,I let myself gloss over the writer making gender essentialist assumptions to make the story work (that gender was a function of biology so it could be imposed on someone if one scienced the heck out of it.)
Essentialism is messy, dangerous stuff: see most of the ‘X-Men’ plots from the past forty years and anti-trans ‘predation’ rhetoric (people getting ‘transed’ against their will), for instance. There’s a useful twitter thread that gets into the problems essentialism causes in this story.
Queer- and transphobic people want to lock queerness and transness into a bottle or a pill so they can ‘cure’ it or exploit it.
I overlooked the essentialism because the story hooked me on the premise that the State would try to force a gender transition on a person to further the aims of the State. But the gender of a cis-woman given “attack-helicopter hormones” is not that of an attack helicopter, it’s that of a cis-woman.
This story, when you poke at it, is less a warning, than it is a rehash of the stories of the State remaking people imperfectly into weapons and tools. There are plenty of those, and many don’t slip into transphobic tropes.