When Biology Bifurcates

I am taking the train to Rhode Island… the windows show me winter-burnt fields, rivers, and the stripped pillars where a bridge once stood. On top of those pillars that supported the planks of the bridge, bushes and trees grow. Life must be reborn even in the structures we leave behind.

I spoke to the Sci Fi Council yesterday about Ursula’s book, and I was filled with enlightenment and new understanding. Saul, the resident space anthropologist, pointed out the nuances of Ursula’s voyage through winter- the way she juxtaposed enlightenment from the Ekumen, mostly based in technology, and that of biology, based in the sexless Winter race. Though the envoy Genly arrives with the idea that Winter has a lot to learn from the Ekumen, he leaves with the new understanding that we have a lot to learn from the way of life on Winter.

Ursula’s thought experiment about sexless planets teaches us that ambiguity may bring discomfort but also new understanding, which comes sometimes through persistence and immersion into a culture.

The Sci Fi spent time talking about transgender issues and the signifiers that reassure us of our binary world.

“Why wear a ring on your right ear? Does that mean you’re gay,” people often ask me.

I always think, Does a ring tell all. Have I been shipped back in time or do we still place such importance on jewelry placement.

Or how about this statement: “The first time I met you, I thought you were gay.”

When I ask people what made them think that, they always shrug their shoulders and give some vague answer: “I don’t know. Something about the way you talked…”

For being written in 1969, the year of hippies and Civil Rights, Ursula was surely ahead of her time. To imagine a world without the stringent rules of ours deserves respect and honor. It is hard to describe how much the book still resonates in our America, where we yearn to be post-race, post-sex, and post-orientation yet are still trapped in the biology that bifurcates our ways of thinking. Male, female; Gay, straight; white, black.

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