My most recent post up on Science Not Fiction covers the strangeness of sci-fi sexuality. A big part of it is my deconstruction of my experience playing as FemShep in Mass Effect:
The point is that sci-fi lets us see those variables of attraction and sexuality in action. Even better, sci-fi video games let us experiencethose variables for ourselves. In the case of my FemShep (pictured, right), I ended up romantic with Liara in ME1 and with Thane in ME2. To say I was attracted to a reptilian male alien assassin is bizarre, I admit. But that’s what makes sci-fi so wonderful. By playing Mass Effect as FemShep, I was able to understand andempathize with a form of sexual attraction I would never personally have.
But that experience is just the beginning. Science fiction has a unique kind of access to our tolerances and biases in a way that other media genres simply do not. In sci-fi, we are literally looking for the alien, the other, and how its presence changes our world. Often, that alien presence is just familiar enough to make its difference uncanny without being completely horrifying. A prime example of the uncanny are Star Trek‘s innumerable humanesque aliens. I avoid hominid, because the term is too broad. The Prawn from District 9 are arguably hominid. By humanesque, I mean appearing human but for minor cosmetic differences, such as the Bajoran nose ridges or the Orion skin color. More important: a humanesque species is one that can successfully mate with another, different humanesque species. Apparently, later series address the occasional need for technological assistance among some interspecies unions, but given the extreme forms of life encountered in the universe, it is bizarre that so many races would have similar DNA, genitalia, and reproductive systems.
But that’s not the point. The hard science of Star Trek interspecies mingling is unimportant (there is a panspermia theory that explains a lot of it, but I digress). What is relevant is that once we accept, say, a Human-Vulcan hybrid, we can accept something slightly stranger. Vulcans (and Romulans) are hot. They have angular features, emotional distance, a commanding presence, searing intelligence and kung-fu abilities. Ferengi, alternatively, are gross. The Klingon aren’t immediately visually appealing, but watch enough Star Trek, and you can see where an attraction could develop. Where things get really interesting is when Riker is attracted to an androgynous species. Or, when, in Mass Effect, we learn that the Ansari are an all female species that has evolved to mate with any sex and prefer to mate with non-Ansaris. (oh, and it’s an insult to be a purebred in Ansari, a brilliant twist, I could write about them for ages).
And that’s all it takes. We accept one step of otherness (non-human), and that break with species and culture actually breaks a lot of sexual mores. Thus, when confronted with a bisexual, polyamorous species, it’s not so shocking. Or a species with universal masculine features (i.e. Romulans) or other disorienting gender roles simply become just another way to be, not some sort of deviation.
And, as the picture above shows, once you start imagining, there is no limit to the weird couplings you can conceive.
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