Tag Archives: gender

Preventing potential lesbianism in the womb

Science has brought us many wonderful things, but it sometimes gets picked up as a blunt instrument by people with deeply screwed up ideas about what is right and wrong. Worried your unborn female child might grow up to be uninterested in having children, or attracted to “traditionally masculine” career choices? Or – heaven forfend! – homosexual? Fear not: pediatric endocrinologist Maria New of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine reckons that her experimental hormone treatment for pregnant women can ensure the birth of little girls who think and act just like Jeebus and the Founding Fathers would have wanted. [That link via Cheryl Morgan; MeFi links to PZ Myers’ take on the same story.]

I don’t know which makes me more angry: that a medical practitioner – herself a woman! – could come up with such a plan and still sleep at night, or that there will be thousands of people who will be happy to have the body chemistry of their unborn child tampered with so long as it can prevent them turning out to be one of The Gays. So much for the Western societal myth of parental love being unconditional, not to mention the one about doctors being ethical.

In case you’re thinking “well, it’s a matter of parental choice, surely?”- try reversing the polarity of the story and thinking about how the guardians of public morals would respond. If a doctor announced a hormonal treatment that could ensure the expression of characteristics opposite to those traditionally associated with the sex of the child in question – a way of *gasp* manufacturing queers! – there’d be a white trash jihad on their home and clinic within hours of the news breaking. Hi-ho, heteronormativity.

Physical gender not determined by XY chromosomes after all

Via Cheryl Morgan, news of recent research that’s blown holes in a lot of our preconceptions about how the physical sex of a mammal is determined by genetics. I’ll quote Cheryl rather than the article, because she uses less sciencespeak:

We have known for a long time that physical sex is much more complex than simply having XX or XY chromosomes. According to this article we now understand the exact mechanism by which a body will develop either testes or ovaries. Of particular importance is the fact that this mechanism involves a gene that is not on either the X or Y chromosome, and is active for only a very short period in the embryo’s development. There are therefore definite possibilities for things to go wrong in an embryo with perfectly normal X, and Y if it exists, chromosomes.

Even more startlingly (and potentially annoying for feminist separatists) is the following:

“The research challenges several long held assumptions, such that female development happens by default, or that once formed, mature tissues are immutable or fixed.”

And near the end of the press release, there’s this:

… if it is possible to change adult gonad type from ovary to testes or even the reverse, it may eventually allow individuals with gender dysphoria, who feel they are trapped in the wrong sex, to change their gonads appropriately rather than having them removed surgically as part of their treatment to undergo gender reassignment.

Another little step closer to living in Iain M Banks’ Culture universe… 🙂

Virtual bodies, mutable genders

Here’s an interesting bit of research from sunny Barcelona: men wearing a virtual reality headset that allowed them to perceive themselves as a female avatar started to identify strongly with their temporarily-assumed gender.

… men donned a virtual reality (VR) headset that allowed them to see and hear the world as a female character. When they looked down they could even see their new body and clothes.

The “body-swapping” effect was so convincing that the men’s sense of self was transferred into the virtual woman, causing them to react reflexively to events in the virtual world in which they were immersed.

Men who took part in the experiment reported feeling as though they occupied the woman’s body and even gasped and flinched when she was slapped by another character in the virtual world.


Later in the study, the second character lashed out and slapped the face of the character the men were playing. “Their reaction was immediate,” said Slater. “They would take in a quick breath and maybe move their head to one side. Some moved their whole bodies. The more people reported being in the girl’s body, the stronger physical reaction they had.”

Sensors on the men’s bodies showed their heart rates fell sharply for a few seconds and then ramped up – a classic response to a perceived attack.

As expected, the body swapping effect was felt more keenly by men who saw their virtual world through the female character’s eyes than those whose viewpoint was slightly to one side of her. In all cases, the feeling was temporary and lasted only as long as the study.

Plenty of opportunity for further research there; I’m no expert, but that looks to me like a validation of the theory that gender roles are socially constructed… but then that theory has been borne out by my personal experiences in virtual worlds, in my own behaviour as well as that of others.

I’ve heard it suggested before that a way to break down some of the more persistent gender prejudices in modern culture would be for everyone to spend a month living the life of the gender they consider themselves “opposite” to – maybe VR and synthetic worlds offer us the closest approximation of that classic science fictional plot device (Stross’s Glasshouse, anyone?).


One of my hardest jobs as editor here at Futurismic is trying to write the introductions to our new fiction pieces that actually do them justice. This month, I’m not even going to try – all I’ll say is that Eric Del Carlo‘s “Fluidity” totally blew me away when Chris sent it over for me to look at, and that I’ve not read such a strong yet sensitive treatment of gender politics in science fiction for some time. See for yourself.


by Eric Del Carlo

Some prim Prior in Xen’s childhood had made a pulpit-pounding fact of this statement:  “To interrupt one’s Cycling is to throw oneself off a cliff!”  So often and with such spittle-spraying vehemence was this preached that it had locked in Xen’s mind.

And so when he pulled the braided sash and his burgundy robe heaped the ground around his bare ankles, he stepped forward over the ice plants with that Prior’s fervor guiding, not warning, him.  The ocean’s salt-tart wind handled his slim naked body carelessly as he came to edge of the bluff.  Cascades of ice plants turned to dark rock below, then colorful sand.  Xen paused to touch his exterior genitals.  It was a wistful gesture.

Off a cliff…

He went, making instruction of that long-ago thunderous remonstrance.  When he struck the dark rocks, he crushed numerous bones; when he bounced and tumbled out onto the beach itself, he lived only long enough for a group of startled concerned bathers to huddle over him. Continue reading NEW FICTION: FLUIDITY by Eric Del Carlo

Has publishing given up on male readers?

Via GalleyCat comes an article by one Tom Matlack, who thinks that the publishing business has given up on trying to attract male readers. The core of this theory seems to be based on his failure to find a publisher for a proposed anthology of what GalleyCat describes as “first-person stories about manhood”:

We hired the best agent in the business, wrote a detailed book proposal, and went shopping for a publisher. Fifty (that’s 5-0, including a who’s who list of the literary world) turned us down. They told us guys don’t read, would never read any kind of anthology, and most certainly wouldn’t read an anthology about men. Apparently we are all mindless fools. The publishers also said they were focused exclusively on the “sure-thing” celebrity books in the wake of deteriorating economics. Just about that time we noticed a well-received anthology in the New York Times Review of Books written by women during menstruation.

Well, I’m a male reader… and the prospect of a fifty-story anthology of first-person tales about defining moments of manhood is not one that has me enthusiatically opening a search tab on Amazon. My immediate instinctive response is that Matlack has perhaps mistaken lack of interest in a particular book proposal for a lack of interest in reaching male readers in general.

I’m willing to believe that men as a demographic may read less fiction, but if that’s the case then surely pitching predominantly for a female audience is actually a sound market-driven move by publishers? It’s a chicken and egg argument, really; are there less manly books for men because men don’t read so much, or do men not read so much due to the lack of manly books for men? The massive hype around the forthcoming Dan Brown book would seem to suggest that publishers have no problem with putting out male-orientated books if they think people are going to buy them.

Overall, I think the notion that publishing has “given up” on male readers is utter balls, even beyond the notably male-centric domain of science fiction; it sounds like a domain-specific re-run of those “OMG male white Anglo-Saxons are an oppressed minority!!1” whinges that get trotted out from time to time, and Matlack’s exasperated mention of a successful anthology about menstruation as somehow proving his point does little to dispel the whiff of affronted yet passive misogyny.

So, male Futurismic readers – do you feel that publishers aren’t putting out the sort of books that appeal to you as a man (as opposed to as a reader in general)?