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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Science Fiction and Sex: Sex

In species which reproduce sexually, sex describes the characteristics that distinguishes reproductive roles. For example, humans have two sexes, male and female. Some species are all hermaphroditic, possessing gametes, which in other species have become two sexes.

Some species have three sexes. Take ants for example. There is a queen, a female capable of producing offspring. There are males, who live short lives; their sole duty is to inseminate non-related queens. And then there are all the other ants, worker ants and soldier ants, cemetery ants and nurse ants. These are almost female, would be females, but their reproductive organs do not mature. They remain preadolescences, tweens.

Or consider wrasses. There are many varieties and species of the wrasse and some of them are quite special. Imagine a fish harem, one male and many females, but all the offspring are females. What to do when the male dies? The most dominant of the female fishes changes sex and becomes the new harem leader. You may remember this as a plot element regarding the DNA of some frogs from Jurassic Park.

Finally, lets consider slugs. Slimy, slick, covered in mucus, terribly elegant slugs! Most, not all, are hermaphrodites, possessing both sex organs, able to sire and birth offspring.

These are just some of the possibilities. I am sure the sexual and asexual world have produced many lovely varieties. Ursula Le Guin, the first lady of ambiguity and duality, has imagined another possibility. In The Left Hand of Darkness, the Gethians spend most of their life sexually neutral except for two or three days a month called kemmer. During kemmer, a person goes into heat and must find another person who is entering kemmer, although some avoid others if they have mated for life after their partner dies. Any person can become either sex. Like the slugs, they are capable of both siring and birthing children. There are some who, like us, are trapped in a permanent state of kemmer, living their entire life as a single sex. They are called perverts but are an integral part of a religious rite of insight.

Being between two genders, trapped in a sex, being of one sex and the none-correlated gender, is often considered freakish when it is non-normative. However, these in-between people are often considered to have special religious insight because of the ambiguity of the identity.

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