Gender Identity in Lilith’s Brood

In recent discourse there has been more attention paid to the ideas of gender identity and sexuality. In media coverage on a daily basis one can see that there is more attention being paid toward the trans and gay communities, yet there are still many people who have no voice. It is often believed that these communities, especially those who declare themselves as gender fluid or non-binary or anything other than the typical male and female genders , claim to be these things for attention rather than an actual feeling of relating to neither or both or other genders. This snubbing of a person’s identity has become a violent act against a whole community of people and it is only recently that any sign of people speaking out against it has been seen on a large scale. This, apparently new found, feeling of support and unity in these communities can be largely drawn back to the fairly recent popularity and downright unavoidability of social media.

With the increasing influence of social media on today’s society, especially today’s youth, it makes it almost impossible to ignore the calls of the oppressed or previously ignored. Forums like Tumblr and Twitter lend issues the ability to reach thousands in a manner of minutes and as such they have become increasingly popular in advocating for these communities. However the accessibility of social media to the public also lends to even more violence against communities who are beginning to gain more of a voice on topics of social injustices. The idea that non-cisgender straight people are acting up for attention is one of the most harmful ideas being perpetuated in current society and has led people to refuse to accept others’ identities if it differs from what they believe it should be. This denial of identity has led to the suicides and deaths of many members of these communities and an outcry by and on behalf of community members to discredit stereotypes surrounding their identities and sexualities. One such article that discredits stereotypes about non-binary people makes points that can be seen in Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood series.

It is already known that Butler often talks about decidedly non-space alien topics in her works in a way that is not necessarily recognizable until it is too late. In the case of gender fluidity and pansexuality it is no different. While the ooloi characters present throughout the series represent a gender that is neither male nor female and may be identifiable as non-binary, it is not until Imago that a truly all-encompassing representation of sexuality and gender identity can be truly seen. The Oankali do not assign their offspring a gender at birth but rather wait until metamorphosis  to see what their children will be, however it is generally known what each child will become. In the case of Aaor and Jodahs however, neither become the expected gender of female and male respectively and instead both become the third gender of ooloi.

It is with this unexpected change in sexuality of Aaor and Jodahs, the generally accepting Oankali become fearful and prejudiced against the ooloi constructs. Even their mother Lilith it unnerved and angered by them and their ooloi construct ability to change appearance and perceived gender in accordance with what their mates find attractive at a specific point. This is where Butler uses space alien ideas to portray decidedly non-space alien ideas. The feelings ranging from fear to unacceptance to wary on behalf of Aaor’s and Jodahs’  community and family seems unfair in the context of the novel and yet it is something that many people who are non-cis or straight experience on an unhealthily regular basis. While Aaor and Jodahs eventually gain acceptance in the novel, the ending is not always so happy for people in the real world and it is the responsibility of every individual to become informed and create a safe environment for everyone regardless of gender, sexuality or any other characteristic that makes someone other than “normal”.

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