Understanding Gender and Sexuality in Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness

14 Mar

The novel tells a story of Ai and his mission in Gethen. Soon he became a part of their society and is introduces to Gethenians’ peculiar sexual relationships. Gethenians are ambisexual that is they can be men or women (non-gendered). They are sexually inactive but in four days (when they are in kemmer) in the month they choose to become a man or a woman that can be different in each month. Ai is considered sexually active permanently as other humans from his planet, which for the King are “A society of perverts”, “a disgusting” and “monstrously different” human beings.

I want to talk about gender issues that Le Guin has brought up in this SF novel. First of all, the type of language she created and used to support her argument against the universal and dominant understanding of sexuality and specifically the notion of privileged heterosexuality. In that vein, Sedgwick in her critical essay Epistemology of The Closet argued about the cultural way we comprehend the process of sexual specification or species formation and understandings of sexual choice.  A deconstructive strategy needs to be seriously adopted to reject any cultural binary opposition – heterosexuality/homosexuality.  She also discusses how gender formation influences both identity formation and sexual orientation.It is interesting to see how she looks at the definitions of homo/heterosexuality as a modern Western identity and social category.

I believe Le Guin’s work although is not sexuality-centered novel plays a major role in seeing how human beings can be divided regarding their sex, gender and sexuality. Also, I want to emphasize that she gives a gender choice and not force it, which I see it as a feminist thought. Le Guin teaches feminists ideas through the gender tension created by a driven desire to free all men and women from traditional methodology of treating and constructing the concept of gender, and minoritizing and universalizing view of it.

Works Cited

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “Axiomatic.” Introduction. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California, 1990. 1-63. Print.

One Response to “Understanding Gender and Sexuality in Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness”

  1. Dr Lothian March 17, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    This post will be a great starting point for our class discussion next week. In the supplementary reading “Is Gender Necessary? Redux,” Le Guin gives an reinterpretation of her own perspective in writing The Left Hand of Darkness. She talks about how, even though she wanted to explore the nature of gender and its cultural formation in the ways that you describe, she finds that the language that was available for her to do so (in the late 1960s) meant that she did so in a very limited way and reproduced a lot of steretypes about masculinity and femininity in her efforts to get free of them.

    I’ve just uploaded a version of a story Le Guin wrote in 1995, “Coming of Age in Karhide,” also set on Gethen, which uses language differently and explores the gendering and sexual practices of the Gethenians in much more detail. It’s linked from the schedule — worth a read, I think.

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