“Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler made me very uncomfortable on the first read, and I immediately started it over again to try to find exactly what it was that made me feel a little sick. Yes, the scene where Lomas is split open to remove the grubs was very unsettling, but not any more so than the final scene when Gan agrees to implantation. It was not exactly coercion but acceptance of an inevitable fate that seemed to me just as disturbing. Reading through Butler’s afterward, I couldn’t help thinking more about how she considers this her “pregnant man story.” By making pregnancy and childbirth a foreign or literally “alien” experience, Butler has defamiliarized the readers with feelings and actions that should seem natural to us. A human fetus requires a host body for nourishment for a gestation period before it must be removed or expelled naturally. The surgical procedure done to Lomas is actually similar to a Caesarean birth. The acquiescence of Gan at the end of the short story to become a host despite having witnessed a painful and horrifying birth is possibly similar to many women’s acceptance of the risks of childbirth. Even the idea of having seen an N’Tlic operation performed as a psychologically scarring experience is similar to that of witnessing childbirth up close.
There are, of course, some problems with this reading of “Bloodchild.” Unlike a human fetus, the grubs will devour the human host if they are not extracted, so the risks are definitely greater for Gan. The relations between the Tlic and the Terrans are very different from the male-female relations in our own world. Or are they that different? The Tlic (men) are dependent on Terrans (women) to play host to their children, they have a history of violent and possessive attitudes towards the Terrans, and they have integrated into families (like a nuclear family). In the afterward Butler denies that this story is about slavery, but the power structure is apparent. There is a definite subjection of the Terrans to the Tlic, and interestingly more specific to males than females because the females are needed to reproduce their own young. What Butler calls “accommodations” made to human social practices disrupt the usual power structure of male-female humans. The playing field is somewhat equalized as both sexes take on risks of childbirth and diminished physical strength compared to their counterpart to prevent an unwanted implantation.
Though this seems to be a feminist move on Butler’s part to grapple with her pregnant man story, Gan ultimately agrees to become a host in order to protect and save his sister from the risks and pain. Unfortunately the male comes to the rescue in the end. Perhaps it’s Gan’s male perspective that shapes his martyr-like behavior because as T’Gatoi says, “It will be easier for Hoa. She has always expected to carry other lives inside her” (26). His understanding only allows for the implantation to be viewed as a violence. I’m afraid I’ve written myself into a circle here or very unintentionally argued against the reading of the story that I started with. I might actually have more questions about this story than I have answers!