The Objectification of the Sexually Abnormal

18 Apr

In “Aye, And Gomorrah,” Samuel Delany continues his experimentation with the issue of sexuality. Here, he comes with an entirely novel context. And I think that the construction of that context in such a short story reveals Delany’s genius.

The story is spun around encounters between “spacers” and “frelks,” two types of creatures with specific sexual perversions. The abnormality is not understood in the beginning, but  as we go on reading, the backstory gradually unfolds itself. Spacers are people who have undergone a process of “alteration.” They are understandably prepared to undertake the mission of setting up and maintaining the infrastructure on the moon, Mars and the satellites of Jupiter, building water conservation units, programming mining computers, etc. The aim of this neutering is enabling them to endure the huge amount of radiation beyond the ionosphere. Their equipment for that mission has required that they were neutralized at a very early age, when they are still children. We learn that the whole business was unjust and sad. It was a process of exploitation. They are chosen from children whose sexual responses are retarded at puberty. No idea is given how they are sorted in the first place—tests were made, maybe? They were changed into spacers because, we are told, the authorities wanted to “cut down the kids back then—especially the deformed ones” as a solution to the Population Explosion crisis.

An unnamed spacer gives an account of a handful visits he and his fellow spacers—the “platoon”—make  to some cities, mostly European and American. We are not given any clue of how these creatures move from one place to another. But we become aware that it is a swift and delicate movement. They just “come down” in a city, and then “go up.” Only once or twice do we know that they take, when on earth, the bus or the monoline. That is not the issue, anyway. And it is hard to say that their descending may be because they are looking for fulfilling their pseudo-sexual desire. Nevertheless, their contacts center mainly on this issue. It is worth mentioning here that their descending is depressing. Whenever they are met by people, spacers feel that they are unwanted. “Don’t you think that you … people should leave?” they are told. They are supposed to be up, doing “that good work for the government.” While on earth, spacers are known by their blue uniforms, a fact that even some people make use in disguise to hunt for frelks.

As a result of their sterilization, spacers are dispossessed of the capability to have sex. That is the essence of their plight. They are neither males nor females. Their sex is not known to people, since their puberty was prevented from occurring when neutered. The invention of the spacers has entailed the emergence of another “type” of people, namely frelks. Frelks are the only people who find sexual attraction in spacers. They are also described as people with “free-fall-sexual-displacement complex.” Their existence depends on that of spacers. Their desire for sexual contact with spacers constitutes the realm of conflict in the story. Spacers, the sexually abnormal, are objectified by the way frelks look at them, even though frelks show empathy; they are the only people who talk about the alteration with regret. The encounter of the two is characterized by immense disappointment and dissatisfaction. “I want something,” says a frelk girl to the unnamed spacer, “But, you are not the one who will give it to me.” The complicated nature of the encounter continues until the end. A resolution is never suggested, and the spacers have to go up.

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