What are the Benefits to an Androgynous Society?

Imagine that you’ve landed on another planet where the inhabitants are human beings who have no gender, except for once a month when they have sex.

That’s the premise of Ursula K. LeGuin’s 1969 science fiction novel, The Left Hand of Darkness.

In LeGuin’s 1976 introduction to the book, she writes, “Yes, indeed the people in it are androgynous, but that doesn’t mean that I’m predicting that in a millenium or so we will all be androgynous or announcing that I think we damned well ought to be androgynous.”

This is an interesting point to make, for within the depths of the Internet (and by that, I mean, Tumblr), I have found that some people really think that the world will become this way.

They claim that it will be better for gender-variant people that way. But I’ve thought about it and I don’t think I would stop being a transsexual living in an androgynous society. I’d still want hormones and top surgery. I’ve read science fiction by straight non-trans male authors who think that this could happen, also around the same time when humanity would populate other planets.

Frankly, I don’t understand how an androgynous society would work. Would everyone look the same? What is androgyny–thin, white, able, narrow-hipped people in vaguely male clothing? Why would we need an androgynous society? Is there a problem with gender? Sure, I think we could safely say yes but what in particular bothers us? The segregation? The bizarre assumptions that men are better than women? The different toy options at McDonalds?

What are the benefits to an androgynous society? On the planet of Winter, in this non-gendered society of LeGuin’s, there are no notions of performing masculinity or femininity. The main character, Genly Ai, flounders in social interactions because he is used to gendered conversational cues. In Winter, the citizens all treat one another as human beings.

I really enjoy the wonderful variety of people you can meet on the street, don’t you? If we all dressed the same and tried to conform to an androgynous standard, life would be uninteresting. My copy of _The Left Hand of Darkness _ wouldn’t be secondhand and scrawled in—it would be pristine and look exactly like every other copy of the book out there.

On the cover of it, there is an ice sculpture. One half is a stereotypically feminine face and the other half is a stereotypically masculine face. Two halves of a whole. I think that sums up human nature nicely: we need the attributes of the “masculine” toughness and assertion and the “feminine” qualities of compassion and care to survive in this world, regardless of what planet we live on.


« Barton Flats