In response to Nikita’s informative and very useful post, The Power of Pronouns, I have to say that I too struggled with the “non-gendering” of the ooloi species in the novels we have read so far in Lilith’s Brood. Ooloi in both Dawn and Adulthood Rites seem to display both very human and almost gendering characteristics, so it was hard not to give in to my “hierarchial tendencies” and label them as such. I also have to admit to myself that I have read the ooloi in both novels, similarly to the way I think Nikita read Gan in Bloodchild, within the context of the transgender community (as well as other marginalized groups, for reasons which I will touch upon later). I was extremely put off by Butler’s choice of the pronoun “it” in reference to the non-gender (or genderless) ooloi. I think that this is because we normally place this pronoun for something that is non-sentient and therefore not worthy of traditionally “human” pronouns. Although this alien species is exactly such, alien, “it” feels vaguely discriminatory to describe something that could almost be simply called “a third gender”. Something that is simply different from our “normal” understanding of gender; which would be within the traditional binary gender system. It seems to point again to our “heirarchial tendencies”, in which something other than human is stripped of its sentience and worth by dubbing it “it”.
I also feel put off because “it” is usually the pronoun of choice used by those who wish to “sting” (in reference to an almost lethal blow to one’s pride and dignity) those who are transgender or transsexual. It is the rendering of a person as “non-human” because they are outside our “normal” understandings of gender. My friend, who shall remain anonymous, is part of the transgender community on campus. She is biologically male, and is transitioning towards the female gender that she identifies with. Her confidence and bravery does garner judgment at times, and those who wish to deal the largest insult to her refer to her as “it”. It’s clear that in doing so, they wish to rob her of her “humanity”, making her unworthy of respect or sympathy. However, the ooloi in Butler’s novels seem to almost garner more respect than males or females in the Oankali communities. The ooloi work the closest with the humans during the genetic trade, an enormous responsibility since they are risking the future of the Oankali species. In Oankali families, they seem to be the head of the household: “…in spite of Jdahya’s claim that the Oankali were not hierarchical, the ooloi seemed to be the head of the house. Everyone deferred to it”. The male and female Oankali seem to refer the ooloi’s specialized intelligence for life and biology. The why is it referred to as it? It seems due to the fact that its gender and biology is outside human understanding of “normalcy”: Two genders mating in order to produce children and sexual pleasure.
Although racial minorities have not been so obviously stripped of their humanity, the contrariness to western understandings of normalcy (caucasian and more often than not, male) have resulted in an almost “gray space”, of feeling both human and not human. Of being worthy and unworthy. In a “Personal is Political” post from The Feminist Wire titled “Unhandsome: Race & Gender: A Chocolate Man’s POV”, a Black man traverses his space within both feminist and racially prejudice ideologies. The story of his childhood speaks of both feelings of unworthiness and the exclusion of his humanity. He writes about the taunting he received as a child ( due to his dark skin) and how his solitary life guided him towards a special relationship with the media. It was both a comfort and a loss, since there was nobody of his color in the TV shows he watched and the magazines he read. For a lack of a better word, he was invisible in visual realm of “normalcy”. When he goes on to college, the courses he takes in women’s studies perpetuate these feelings of invisibility. He writes: “I grew defiant because I thought I was hearing about women and the issues they face ad nauseum. I felt like the unnamed protagonist in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The world refused to acknowledge my existence and my struggle. The courses I enrolled in and the books assigned to them often depicted men singularly as the evil overloads of a patriarchal society”. Due to his status within the patriarchal society, he was lumped into groups of men that have stripped women of their agency and their humanity (the same men that refer to women as “bitches and hoes”, overemphasize the value of their bodies and not their minds, and reinforce their inability to reason and be independent). In defending women against their loss of humanity, feminists had stripped men of theirs. In particular, Curtis (the writer of this post) felt ignored and invisible. He became less than human, less than an individual. He became an “it”.