Suspension

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Suspension is a story written by shukyou and illustrated by serenity_winner. It originally ran in Yes, And 3 at http://s2b2.livejournal.com/313996.html, and is mirrored at http://www.shousetsubangbang.com/mirror/suspension/.

Summary[edit]

A night out at the club with a jaded woman, her best friend, and a beautiful acrobat.

"He's pretty cute, isn't he?" asked Jahi.

"I'm sure she is," I said without even looking, making sure I came through loud and clear over the thudding music. I had come out for the evening for a drink and some relaxation, not for Jahi's half-assed attempts to hook me up with every warm body that could walk upright. Besides, Jahi was so horny that to her, everyone was a he.

Author's Notes[edit]

From http://ladysisyphus.livejournal.com/887155.html:

I admit, I wrote this story entirely so I could engage in this particular form of pronoun fuckery.

If it seemed at all familiar, then you must be one of those beautiful and lovely people who also read Samuel R. Delany's brilliant Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. (In fact, the story itself was originally going to be titled 'The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities' until I realized I'd rather save stealing an auspicious title like that for something more substantial.)

If you haven't read it, one, you need to, and two, let me steal the bit from the Wikipedia article where the pronoun thing is explained:

[T]he Velm sections of the novel assign an alternate meaning to the pronouns "he" and "she" not related to physical sex. All characters, whether they are human males or females or evelm males, females, or neuters, are referred to as "she" in most contexts, and "woman" and "womankind" are used as generic terms for humans. The normally male pronouns such as "he" or "him" are used to denote sexual interest in the subject by the speaker.

So here's where everything stands: Mel is the narrator, so everything is viewed through her POV (not unlike Mark's). Mel has a vagina and thinks of herself as a woman. She initially starts off thinking of Jahi as the default 'she', but eventually admits Jahi's sexual desirability and makes the transition to 'he'. To Mel, Alice is always 'he' because Alice is hot like suns are hot. Also, Jahi has a penis and Alice has a vagina, and both of them would think of themselves as women -- and each of them would use 'he' about the other two, because they're both into one another and into Mel.

As the Wikipedia article points out, "This is, quite intentionally, extremely confusing for the reader". Delany has an entire novel to make the point; I had 7000 words, many of which were threesome porn with a futuristic feeldoe. I tried to establish that something was weird as quickly as I could, too, so that it didn't seem like anyone was being the modern equivalent of a misgendering dickhead.

Okay! If being able to tell who's being talked about where is all you cared about, you now know! Feel free to skip the following blah blah blah about gender.


Still with me? Great.

In this story, as in Delany's novel, there's not really such thing as 'gender identity', at least as that phrase refers to the self-identification kind of way we talk about gender today. How Person A genders Person B says far more about Person A than it does about Person B. Making that gendering hinge on sexual attractiveness to an individual is of course a completely arbitrary factor, but it works well if you are either (as Delany was) making a point about (homo)sexuality, or (as I am) writing queer sexytimes.

I find fascinating the idea of making gender an observational matter -- at least, as far as language is concerned. For starters, it makes misgendering someone impossible, because pronoun usage classifies the observer, not the observed. It eliminates the need for an individual to decide upon their own static pronouns, including worrying about what information is implied by that choice. It decouples specific qualities and connotations from traditional bi-gendered pronouns, making one term applicable to all persons without implying anything about said person by using it. Assuming that the baseline of this gender distinction is sexual attraction, it normalizes desire by making it a matter of public record -- or gives someone a perfectly acceptable neutral if they don't want to reveal their interest.

(And, using this particular setup, it makes the default pronoun singular again, which not only makes fussy grammarians like me happy, it conforms better to standard usage, making (especially listening) comprehension easier. I have no problem with the singular 'they' as a generic example -- see sentences in the previous paragraph -- and I'm mostly okay when reading, but the other day I listened to a person tell a story about a group of people, one of whom uses they/them pronouns, and most of the time I straight-up could not tell how many people were doing what at any given point in time. This is no judgment on the storyteller, my brain, or anyone who identifies by the singular 'they', but the otherwise-plural nature of 'they' used about a single person can make communication more difficult instead of easier. Invented pronouns present singular alternatives to this problem; so does universalizing an extant singular pronoun.)

Of course, this doesn't eliminate the idea of gender entirely, nor can it even strip it completely from language. You can't fault Delany for not going into it (especially in frickin' 1984), but Stars in My Pocket lacks discussion of how non-pronoun and -title terms that are still gendered would work. In fact, it so sidesteps description that might indicate someone's 'real' gender that it often errs on the side of just not describing characters at all. Obviously I couldn't have gotten away with that here even if I'd wanted to! So I assume that in this universe, there are words for how anatomy and presentation interact, such that someone could for instance describe Jahi using a single term to indicate that she is a muscular woman with lots of body hair and a penis. I also assume, though, that by the time the issue of Jahi's penis became a topic of conversation, the discussion would have moved to a point where his penis was actually relevant -- so I guess under those conditions it would be a single term to indicate a muscular man with lots of body hair and a penis, but.

But when that penis isn't relevant, it doesn't matter! Linguistically, there's no casual way to make it matter. And if Jahi had something other than a plain ol' garden-variety penis under there, it also wouldn't matter -- again, until someone wanted to get up close and personal with it. Eliminating pronouns obviously doesn't make everyone indiscriminate when it comes to attraction; for instance, in the story, Alice expresses a preference for cock, and there's a long time in her life when Jahi just isn't Mel's thing. But heck, if you're not getting friendly with someone's bits, you don't need to know about their particulars.

And if you are getting friendly with someone's bits, you might be in a porn story! You never know.


I toyed with the idea of making this a universe where Delany's pronoun standards are a particularity of twentysomething club kids, but fuck it, why give any indication this is anything but normal?

I mean, I hope it's clear enough that I'm not advocating for this as a wholescale cultural change or some magical solution to all problems caused by gender identity. I just think it's a fun beach to build sandcastles on!


...And then I talked too much. Oops.

External Reviews[edit]

  • http://fairyninjas.wordpress.com/2015/07/21/circus-maximus-ssbb-yes-and-3/: "This one had maybe the most interesting gender angle, wherein everyone was considered to be a woman until you wanted to sleep with him, at which point he became a man. So two women who are friends meet a man, and all three men have a pretty hot threesome, which does not include three cocks."