Tripping Over Gender in Ancillary Justice

I’m just starting in on Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. And, for those of you who don’t know… the main character used to be a troop carrier. (Not exactly a spoiler. That’s the beginning of Chapter 2.) And as a troop carrier, she refers to everybody as “she.” Everybody. Male and female alike. Which does kinda make sense… after all, ships are pretty much referred to as she. (Although I’m not sure how that works with a ship with a male name. You know… the Jeremiah O’Brien… she…)

A fairly good chunk of the first chapter is her–the troop carrier–debating whether people are male or female, and considering the implications of guessing wrong. (Her first language does not mark gender.) And how, exactly does a troop carrier figure out if humans are male or female? Yeah. Not easy.

And she spends a lot of time referring to the wounded (male) soldier she finds as “she.”

Let’s be quite honest, and say that I like her “remembering life as a troop carrier” voice a lot better at this point. It’s easier.

But that’s not really the point.

I could play with pronouns a long time before I got bored, but in some weird way–maybe because you’re just dropped into the middle of it–it’s a little confusing at this point in this book.

The change to pronouns that I’d make? Well, shoot. There are just so many options.

I could actually see one set of pronouns for people the speaker is sexually interested in, or whose gender makes a difference in some way. (Your surrogate is she, for instance.)

And a different set–or for that matter a different pronoun, singular–for people where gender does not matter to the speaker.

A lot of clarity in relationships, if your boyfriend is he, but your English teacher (technically male) or your gymnastics coach (technically female) are both just “os”–people whose gender is none of your business. And that guy you’re just not interested in? Os, os, os…

Clearly, there’d be a level of formality involved… That “os” is vous, and “he” is tu.

But I could see teenagers stressing out over whether their love interest would freak out over gendered address, or parents figuring out something was wrong, when they switch back to non-gendered.

Obviously, these are not real-world examples, or at least, they are not the current issue with real world pronoun issues. They both have more to do with the way the speaker perceives the other person’s gender (and its impact on their life) than with how the person they’re talking about wants to be perceived.

Which is, of course, also a marker of the society’s values. Who gets to choose? Who decides whether that guy is tu or vous? (I believe the story I heard in high school was that the girl is the person who can informalize the relationship, and as a lazy person, I always choose formal, because I can keep the verbs the same. Also, you get a higher quality of trouble by choosing a greater social distance.)

I might play with that in a short story, sometime.

Chivalry is a Drunken Contortionist

Men and doors are just plain awkward.

Don’t get me wrong. Opening doors for women is sweet, and when the guy manages to do it right, it’s adorable.

But more often than not, it’s an old-fashioned gesture that turns into a train wreck.

I’m evenly divided between putting up a series of YouTube instructionals: How to Hold a Revolving Door for Three Ladies and a Guide Dog; You’re My Date, Not a Doorman; And How NOT to Look Like a Serial Killer While Waiting for a Pretty Girl to Cross the Dark Parking Lot So You Can Hold the Door For Her Like a Fucking Gentleman.

And just campaigning for the whole world to install those swish-swish doors like on Star Trek.

I was leaving the copy shop yesterday, along with my mother.  Well, maybe a little behind my mother. I do get distracted in copy shops. And when I get to the double glass doors, she’s trying to take the second door from a delivery guy who is trying to hold the door open with one hand while maneuvering a hand truck with the other. He’s more or less spread-eagled across the sidewalk, with his hand truck trailing.

She’d have to climb over him or his hand truck, or both to get out that door, and her obvious assumption was that he was trying to get into the copy shop, not out of it.

So, now…

He’s trying to hold the door for her, she’s trying to hold it for him, and I’m trying to get the second door in the set so that he can just keep right on going, once he gets through the first one.

There are people behind me–who clearly see the situation the way I do–getting out of the way so he can get by, and people queued up behind him, waiting for him to go in the building. (Because, as I may have mentioned… arms and legs and hand-trucks thrown all over the sidewalk.)

I don’t know what finally tipped him off. Maybe my mother said something. You know, “I’ve got it. Come on in.” (Slightly surprised not to hear her say anything about air conditioning the great outdoors.) Or maybe it just finally clicked, but the guy suddenly goes, “No, I’m going the other way.”

And traffic starts moving again.

None of the women can look at each other for fear of laughing out loud.

Because this is a thing. If four men are carrying a load of bricks… through a thunderstorm… in the dark…. on a deadline… One of those men will still decide that he needs to stop and hold the door for the woman who’s dancing in the rain.

Say what you want about chivalry, but… Most women do recognize a Freight Exception.

Booksellers, Men, and the Cabinet of Sin

We sold pornography at the bookstore where I worked. Not a lot of it, and nothing that would compete with Jugs, Jugs, Jugs down at the local Kum&Go. Sex-positive, consent-positive, feminist, GLBT, fetish stuff. Non-violent. It lived in a cabinet behind the counter, and if you didn’t know it was there… well, you wouldn’t know. Strictly a word-of-mouth kind of thing.

The cabinet of sin was about four feet wide and three feet tall. Double doors. Opaque. And, if you happened to find a group of Booksellers gathered around it, there’s a pretty good chance we weren’t analyzing the latest Haruki Murakami. Hands down, it was the most open and accepting set of co-workers I’ve ever had.

Oh, and then, there were the customers…

You got to recognize that Look, eventually. The Please, Miss… might I trouble you for something from the Cabinet of Sin Look. The… Please, I’ve read this high-quality gift book about garden gnomes three times because I’m just that nonchalant Look.

So, you’d wait for the other customers to go away. The women, and children, that attractive, but is-he-or-isn’t-he guy, the older couple who look pretty much just like anybody’s grandparents. And then… only then… You’d “notice” him standing there.

Can I help you?

Oh, no. Just looking.

Well, fine. I believe you. Besides, what am I supposed to say? Oh, you are not. I know you want something from the Cabinet of Sin, and since I put away today’s shipment, I’ve got a pretty decent idea of what you want?

Moving on.

Noted. One of the unwritten rules of masculinity–apparently–is that whenever possible, you buy your porn from other men.

Or, possibly, female Booksellers are just that terrifying.

Or innocent-looking, or wholesome, or … something. Maybe I sold their kid a copy of One Fish, Two Fish the week before. But the script was always more or less the same. They’d loiter until some man showed up to sell them a magazine.

And, as it happens, most of the time, I did just happen to have a spare man just lying around. Well, not so much lying as laughing his ass off behind a partition. (The unwritten rules of masculinity–apparently–do not apply to SuperBookseller.)

In the end, SuperBookseller always had to sell the–whatever it was–and he was the king of straight faces.

Oh, yes… The women tried to be approachable. We tried to look understanding. We tried all kinds of things:

  • Putting things away in and/or organizing the Cabinet of Sin.
  • Sympathetic smile.
  • In a rush and much to busy to notice, even if someone tried to buy 3 kilos of cocaine and a baby elephant.
  • Sitting on the Cabinet of Sin.
  • Sitting on the Cabinet of Sin while eating a cookie taken from the Cabinet of Sin. (Yes, there are cookies in the Cabinet of Sin. Stop judging.)
  • Sitting on the Cabinet of Sin while eating a cookie and reading a paperback copy of deSade (Yes, the one with the picture.)

None of them worked. Once a guy decided he was not going to buy porn from you… well, mostly his mind was made up. He’d be there for hours, just… waiting… if you let him.

What are you going to do?

SuperBookseller, HELP!!!!

That’s why I named my vacuum cleaner after him.