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Andrea Barrios

Professor Holy Batty

English 102

7 November 2018

What Draws The (Gender and Race) Line?

Ursula Le Guin is known as a writer of gender fantasies and science fiction. In Left Hand

of Darkness, she presents an androgynous race that does not identify as male or female and they

do not have the physical characteristics of either gender, however, the main character is

considered a “normal” man in our world but in the world of Winter, he is just an alien not

everyone understands. On the other hand, David Hawng presents a play portraying the

relationship between a French diplomat and an Asian spy that identifies as a transgender, while

in the times of the Vietnam War, Song, the Asian spy, does everything is in her power to take

advantage of her former lover. These two books have similarities between the approach they

make towards sexuality and gender identity by portraying the impact of non-heterosexual

relationships in societies and how they work when they are with and without prejudice. At the

same time, they allude to the role race plays not only between characters, but also cultures, since

there is so much contrast to West/East and Earth/Winter.

It is mentioned in an article by Tony Burns called “Science and Progress in the Writings

of Zamyatin and Le Guin” that implies that Le Guin does not think there is a connection between

love and sexuality (Burns). This is seen in Left Hand of Darkness since she describes the people

from Winter as people that do not have the urge to have sexual relationships for any purpose

other than reproduction. Even though I do understand how gender identity can be subjective,

specially nowadays where everyone is opening their minds towards this, I wondered why Le
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Guin tried described Winter as a society with non-binary gender identities. It turns out; in Le

Guin's words, she "eliminated gender, to find out what was left" (Cummins 71). But what does it

mean? What else forms a society if not gender roles? Le Guin discusses the possibility of how

we would function with no stereotypes of what men and women can and cannot do according to

their gender. Winter is a place with no feminism because there was never the need for it,

everyone had the same responsibilities and rights. The fact that everyone goes through the same

process of being a woman or a man gives Winter’s citizens the ability of being more tolerant and

empathy, which is what a lot of countries, and the Earth itself, needs nowadays.

Coming back to Ai and his point of view towards the habitants of Winter; he is from a

place where only women get pregnant and they are responsible for taking care of everyone else.

His mission was not only to understand them but also to apply their laws and beliefs in his life

and bring it back to Earth. That is why is vitally important to pay attention to things he mentions

as the lack of prejudice he perceived from them and the comparison he makes between humans

and Gethenians.

Ai is a representation of all of us, as “normal” humans. We can see how his relationship

with Estraven takes quite some time to develop since Ai never really got to trust Estraven.

However, Estraven as former King but still citizen of Winter, he showed one of the most

important characteristics of his native home, he had no prejudice, he was open to understand

what Ai’s mission was and he did consider Ai as his friend. Ai’s race did not interfere in how

Estraven saw him, on the other hand, Estraven’s race did. As mentioned before, Ai comes from a

place with prejudice and a place where everyone can and had become a victim. Le Guin presents

what seems to be a collision of two societies and the lapse of how they merge one another.

However, Le Guin does mention the color of skin of Ain and the Gethenians but there is no
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double meaning for this. Just as Green mentions in her essay “"'There Goes the Neighborhood':

Octavia Butler's Demand for Diversity in Utopias." “Race does not operate as conceptual

category in The Left Hand of Darkness: Genly Ai's color is not attached to any meaning or

history, which may be a utopian description but does nothing to address the complexities of

"human difference" now.” (Green 166). This means that for Le Guin there is no meaning to the

color, skin color is just that, color. This is tendency for Le Guin to not only erase race from our

society but also to show us what impact it would have; from the political to the sociological

aspect.

Hawng, on the other hand, does connect love to relationships and sexuality, but in a

gallant way. Liz Brent mentions in her essay “Critical Essay on 'M. Butterfly'.” (Brent) that there

is a connection but not necessarily between Gallimard and Song, but between Gallimard, being a

French diplomat, and what Song was, an Asian woman. This alludes to the stereotypes and

fetishes that not only men, but also women, have towards people of different cultures. It was

easy for Song to portrait a woman and to do the trick with Gallimard, since she played the “little

fragile Asian woman” with him just to fit all the stereotypes that are set on Asian women.

Gallimard also shows the characteristics of a pseudo ‘macho’, since he has never really

had any kind of power, which reduced his masculinity at the point where he believed Song was

the ideal woman, not only for him but also for the world. This profile was threatened when he

finds out he has been having sexual relationships with a man for all these years, instead of what

he thought was “his little one”. Gender identity and masculinity are two things that are extremely

fragile in the life of a man like Gallimard since he needed the power Song made him feel he had,

and he needed a submissive woman, just as Song seemed to be.


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In my opinion, finding out that someone is lying to you after so many years still makes

you feel sick, regardless of the gender, no wonder why Gallimard did not want to look to Song’s

naked body (Hawng 87). However, all the details in Gallimard’s reaction towards the truth

makes me think that he did not wanted it to be true, and it also supports the profile detailed

above. Gallimard expressed to the crowd “Did I not undressed her because I knew, somewhere

deep down, what I would find?” (60) What made me think if the truth he is talking about is that

Song is a man, or if he had feelings for her, even though he knew she was a man. He did have

feelings for her and was afraid of being considered a homosexual, especially in that time of

history, where homosexuality was considered not only an illness but also a sin.

This shows how much gender identity has been affecting in people’s lives for the past

hundred of years, in different ways depending on the place where it takes place. Pao mentions in

her article “M. Butterfly” that Hawng wanted to “create a controversy to make audiences think

about whether the notion of race is "real" or simply a form of mass delusion.” (Pao). What is it

that gives us the sense that something is a correct way of behavior if not ourselves? Here is

where the race and culture meet stereotypes and double standards. While Song had no big issues

living as a woman for so many years, since she had the physical characteristics of an Asian

woman and also the modesty and personality; it was extremely difficult for Gallimard to preserve

the position of a man of power, especially because he did not really have any power at all neither

in his job nor his house, while following the stereotypes that not only the play M. Butterfly

settled, but also the idea that Asian women are submissive, he filled in all the holes that existed

in Song’s reality.

The whole contrast of how Song refuses to give Gallimard his son, later in the story,

alludes to not only to the protectiveness and bound that Asians have towards family, but also the
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importance they are giving to how a child should be raised by a conservative Asian family and

not a family of a French diplomat. This is an incredible example of a passive act of racism, not

only from Song towards the West culture and characteristics, but also by implementing all those

Asian stereotypes in her character. Hawng presents M. Butterfly, in my opinion in a constant

battle of where is better and who is smarter between the West and the East and between women

and men.

Finally, M. Butterfly and Left Hand of Darkness do share a lot of similar topics

approached but the way each of them did it is in a sense, different. While Le Guin presents a

novel based on what a society would have left after taking away sexuality and gender identity

completely disconnecting love from reproduction, Hawng presents a play that not only centered a

whole story in homosexuality and heterosexuality, but also gives an ironic hint of whether or not

sexuality is about feelings or is it all about our very own fantasies and fetishes. Le Guin left us

with the idea of what an ideal and fair world would look like when gender identity is lowered in

expectations and importance. While Hawng left us with the idea of what men expected from

women, not only at the time of the Vietnam War, but also nowadays in places like the United

Kingdom and the United States where non-White women and men are considered exotic and

extravagant. All together, we can also say that both literary pieces differ in what race means and

the impact it has on one and the other. Le Guin stayed loyal to her belief that we are all just

tinted in different shades, and the characters in her novel do not care about the non-existing

meaning behind it, but Hawng spent most of the space in his play talking about the

characteristics of each race represented and explaining the reaction of one towards the other.
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Works Cited

Brent, Liz. "Critical Essay on 'M. Butterfly'." Drama for Students, edited by Elizabeth

Thomason, vol. 11, Gale, 2001. Literature Resource Center,

http://library.lavc.edu:2102/apps/doc/H1420035799/GLSu=lavc_main&sid=GLS&xid=d

da5a7b0.

Burns, Tony. "“‘Science and Progress in the Writings of Zamyatin and Le Guin’ and ‘Anarchist

Politics in Zamyatin and Le Guin.’”." Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, edited by

Lawrence J. Trudeau, vol. 302, Gale, 2014. Literature Resource Center,

http://library.lavc.edu:2102/apps/doc/H1420118412/GLS?u=lavc_main&sid=GLS&xide

0191fa3.

Green, Michelle Erica. "'There Goes the Neighborhood': Octavia Butler's Demand for Diversity

in Utopias." Utopian and Science Fiction by Women: Worlds of Difference, edited by

Jane L. Donawerth and Carol A. Kolmerten. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1994.

166-189.

Hwang, David Henry. “M. Butterfly”. New York, N.Y. Print.

Le Guin, Ursula King. “The Left Hand of Darkness”. New York: Ace Books, 1976. Print.

Pao, Angela. "M. Butterfly." Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Jeffrey W. Hunter, vol.

196, Gale, 2005. Literature Resource Center,

http://library.lavc.edu:2102/apps/doc/H1100061266/GLS?u=lavc_main&sid=GLS&xid=

7e4930.