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Reads: "I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter," by Isabel Fall
"I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter" was published in Clarkesworld Magazine on January 9, 2020.
This is a very interesting science-fiction story that does what science-fiction does best: it takes a real-world controversy (gender) and attempts to help people understand the author's beliefs by placing them in a new (and less ideologically charged) context. If intended as a defense of trans-affirming gender theories, I think this story fails. But if intended as an explanation of them, I think "Attack Helicopter" succeeds wonderfully.
I've been working hard for the past few months to try to understand the trans activism movement, not just superficially, but at the roots, the biological and ontological beliefs that underpin the entire ideology. I've read dozens of articles and non-fiction testimonies in that time. I intend to read quite a few more before writing about it. But this story helped me to understand certain aspects of trans identity more clearly than a hundred articles. Chalk up another win for science-fiction in the "promoting mutual understanding" column.
(This story is also, in its own right, a good short story about interesting characters, which is crucial. Robert Heinlein got away with writing preachy, boring tracts late in his career only because the first half of his career had been spent being Robert Heinlein.)
In an added twist, this particular short story was written by a trans author. Isabel Fall was responding to a common trope used by internet gender realists: "If you can sexually identify as a man even without a penis, then I can sexually identify as an attack helicopter even without a rotor." Isabel Fall decided to subvert that trope with this story, and succeeded. Clarkesworld, one of the three most prestigious sci-fi magazines in the world, found it worthwhile and published it.
But, in yet another example of the toxic thought- and identity-policing that has consumed the entire American literary community, some trans activists on Twitter didn't get the joke (and most didn't even read the story). They became upset and attacked Clarkesworld until Clarkesworld took the story down (allegedly at the request of the author, as it always allegedly is). So you have to read the story on archive.is instead.
One of the very best episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is called "Far Beyond the Stars." It's about a black man in the 1950s who writes (under a pseudonym) for a short-story magazine very much like Clarkesworld. One day, he starts writing a story about a space station in the far future--a station where the captain is a heroic, widely respected black man. His fellow authors love the story. But his editors pulp it, because the audience mobs would destroy them for publishing it. The author gives a stirring speech in defense of storytelling. (Watch the episode. It's exceptionally good television.)
I don't know how the Left-wing "progressive" movement turned into the actual villains from "Far Beyond the Stars," but here we are.
UPDATE 2021 JULY 6:
Last week, Vox ran an interview with Isabel Fall—the first interview Fall has ever given—which provides some updates. Like all Vox writers, the interviewer treats the people who did this to Fall with kid gloves ("I believe they believe they did the right thing"), tries very hard to talk around the C-word ("cancellation"), and even finds a way to shove some blame on to "right-wing reactionaries" in the Sad Puppies movement (who are, naturally, allowed zero disclaimers about why they thought they were doing the right thing), despite being totally uninvolved in this cancellation. You've gotta admire the sheer gall of it! But even Emily VanDerWerff finally refuses to exonerate the wrongdoers, for which VanDerWerff deserves some credit.
Enough about VanDerWerff. The interview is worth linking because it is good to hear Fall's voice at last. I am gutted to learn that Isabel Fall had more stories to tell, and has decided not to tell them. I hope that someday, somehow, that will change, in this life or the next, because this is somebody who not only got into Clarkesworld, but deserved to be there.
I say that as someone who has submitted fiction to Clarkesworld. My submission was rejected by a form letter within 48 hours—and I agree it was not Clarkesworld-quality. (I almost, almost got my story in at Andromeda Spaceways, which was more my level, and I'm still depressed about missing the final cut.) Not a lot of people are capable of Clarkesworld-quality short fiction, and it's a tragic waste to drive one of them out of the field.