The personal blog of the cultural ambassador to the newly discovered planet of the Ant-people (the Myrmeiods).

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Guest Post From the Myrmeoid Ambassador; Gender

It has been some time sine we interjected. We have been quite busy here doing the talk show circuits and attending meetings--a human colleague of ours has programmed a Braille-capable cell as a speech generator, allowing us to speak for ourselves, and to read transliterated English in real time. Our new ease of communication has dramatically increased our desirability as guests, apparently--and frankly we greatly enjoy being able to converse with multiple people at a time. None of us have ever done this before.

But we did want to post again, and there are still some misunderstandings that may flow from our human counterpart's posts which we feel we must try to correct.

The political issues implied by his most recent post we have already addressed, and will not do so again in this forum--except that as a resident of the Imperial Islands myself, I truly hope you do not think us capable of "breeding children as cannon fodder." It is true that hundreds of years ago, we DID send first-post-pupals to war, though never in tactically sensitive nor overtly dangerous situations. We would not do so now. It is unfortunate that we are now being judged based on the observations of an outsider, however well-intentioned.

But the two misapprehensions we want to address now relate to gender and vision. Vision will have to wait until the following post, however, as there is no way to adequately handle these subjects very briefly.

Ambassador Kilmon has correctly described our various life stages and castes, but he persists in using human terminology and gender indicators for us. We understand why; he is attempting to relate to us, and to make us relatable, and for that we are grateful. He is also coping with the difficulty that English has no adequate genderless pronouns--we understand "it" carries a connotation of non-personhood. We are thus unsure what else he should do in this matter. The ambassador may have chosen the best available linguistic course. Yet misunderstanding can still happen, and we wish tor correct it.

Principally, the problem is the pronouns. Ambassador Kilmon's designation of his friend, Danesinoru La'heli, and the child, Ka'te La'heli, as male and female respectively projects upon them gendered characteristics they do not possess. That Danesinoru is becoming biologically male does not lessen the inaccuracy. In short, our maleness does not make us men.

Your conception of manliness is, quite appropriately, derived from the nature of men and from cultural constructs that have some form of relationship to that nature. For example, men are bigger than women, so you associate maleness with a greater capacity for violence, for good or for ill.

But as a male, I am physically smaller than females of my species. Further, I have wings, which give me the advantage of greater mobility, but also make me extremely vulnerable. While flyers are the warriors in every one of our known societies, as an individual I would not want to fight physically with a layer. I would lose. Not that such fights occur, I only wish to emphasize the difference in our peoples in this respect.

Nor does gender mean for us what it does for you. For you, it primary. Even the minority of humans who have indeterminate gender or who claim no gender at all are often adamant about their gender identity--even if its unusual nature causes great emotional pain.

In contrast, I had no gender at all until I was in my early forties and my personality was already fully formed. Arguably, I have none now, as I do not much care about my maleness. I care about my status as a flyer. All males are flyers, so perhaps I cannot really separate the two, but female flyers relate much more strongly to male flyers than to layers. A good illustration of the distinction I am making is that of the eighteen Myrmeoids currently deployed in teams across your world, roughly half are female, but not one is a layer. We had no rule against layers performing this service, nor would we have objected had one come. Most of us are used to being deferential to layers, and they are generally the heads and centers of our families, so we would not pressure a layer against doing anything she wanted to do, however odd. But a space-traveling layer would be odd. They have no desire to fly, and little to travel.

In sum, by referring to us with your pronouns you risk interpreting our personalities through the lens of gender roles that are controversial among you and completely inapplicable to us. Since your language has the structure which it has, we can only recommend that you periodically switch the pronouns you use with us, at least in your minds. If you have been thinking of me as male, try to think of me as female; any aspect of my personality that appears to change when you do so was probably not mine to begin with.

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