role reversal

Sea Horse

The above photograph of a sea horse was taken in July, when I visited the Galway Aquarium with a good friend who was staying with me on vacation.

I’d been to the Aquarium once before and had been surprised at how much I’d enjoyed the excursion. The Galway Aquarium is tiny by international standards, but there are plenty of cool creatures to oogle. The Aquarium even has a very large tank where you can touch the Rays as they zip by. One of them seemed to be quite keen to be petted, and kept doing chin lifts out of the water as it glided past.

Perhaps it was showing off to its more inept companions. I can guess who doesn’t get invited to parties…

If you ever want to question your assumptions about “the natural order” of the world there is no better educational exercise than to learn a bit more about the habits of the other occupants of our world. Just a couple of litres of sea water can reveal dazzling diversity.

For instance, our friend the sea horse: the Wikipedia entry is a good start. The male carries the babies to full term, with only a daily 6-minute visit from his girlfriend during his pregnancy. There is some evidence that sea horses are monogamous. I think I’d stick with a male partner that was willing to carry multiple babies to full term. If you check out the image in the Wikipedia page the pregnant male looks like he’s swallowed a tennis ball. That’s love.

While I was at Clarion West Vernor Vinge recommended a book: Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation, written by Olivia Judson. I bought it after I arrived back in Ireland, and it’s a hilarious and educational book. Vernor’s suggestion was a practical hint that arose from a discussion we were having on designing aliens for science fiction. A great deal of aliens – be they elves in high fantasy or BEMs in sf – are thinly masked versions of ourselves, replete with all our cultural baggage and assumptions.

In a chapter titled “Eve’s Testicle” Ms. Judson has a little poem for readers to memorise and recite when someone throws out a boneheaded comment about ‘natural’ gender roles:

When you gaze at a couple and wonder
What trait makes him ‘him and her ‘her’,
Beware, for it’s easy to blunder
And be false in what you aver.

Some creatures change sex before teatime,
Some others find two sexes dull,
And that virile male fish has no free time–
He’s got all his kiddies to lull.

When it comes to the topic of gender,
Mother Nature’s been having some fun.
Take nothing for granted! Remember,
You won’t find any rules–not a one!

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