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Nestor Cruz

Professor Batty

English 102

01 November 2018

Does Gender or Sexuality Matter?

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin and M Butterfly by David Henry

Hwang both feature concepts of Queer Theory and Postcolonial Theory. I will be comparing and

contrasting Queer Theory in both novels. What is Queer Theory exactly you may ask? Well it is

the combined area of gay and lesbian studies, as well as theoretical and critical writings

concerning all variances of it such as cross dressing, biological sex, gender identity, and sexual

desires. Gay and Lesbian studies began as liberation movements during the late 60s and 70s. It

began and still remains associated with political activism to achieve legal and economic rights to

equal to the heterosexual. The movement was viewed as separate movements throughout the 70s

and it was believed that male/female hetero/homosexual were fixed identities. Around the late

90s, growing recognition that these two groups shared a history of being despised and

suppressed. I feel that le Guin and Hwang make gender/sexuality a strong topic in their novels.

Le Guin in Left Hand of Darkness makes it where all the characters in that story have no gender.

It’s a different approach in a story and it feels refreshing. Left Hand of Darkness mostly focuses

on race rather than gender. While In M Butterfly, the book is more focused on gender/sexuality.

The two main characters fall in love only for Gallimard to find out Song is a man and not a
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woman. The book also focuses a little bit on race as well because Gallimard is a Frenchman in

China. It’s a new environment for him and has to get accustomed to their culture. In Left Hand of

Darkness the main character Ai, is sent on a journey to explore the universe. As he embarks on

his journey he meets all kinds of different races of people. All the people in that story have no

gender and the story focuses more so on their race than sexuality.

I believe that both Ursula K Le Guin and David Henry in their work both promote gender

sexuality by telling different stories about love and gender and how each author tries to make it

the norm. For example in Left Hand of Darkness none of the characters in that story have a

gender. It gives the reader a sense as to what life may be like if there were no gender. I feel like a

lot of discrimination would be gone. There wouldn’t be gender roles or powers. A quote from

Left Hand of Darkness that expresses gender roles is “A profound love between two people

involves, after all, the power and chance of doing profound hurt.” This quote doesn’t specifically

state what gender the people are but talks about the love between them. Also talking about how

love may hurt individuals. Love doesn't have a certain gender lock is what the quote is trying to

say, so a man can love another man, women love other women, etc. It all ties back into queer

theory. I came across this article called “Queer Lives in Archives: Intelligibility and Forms of

Memory” with an interesting quote stating “Even queer materials that are part of these stable

records are often created by those other than the queer people themselves and instead by those

policing them in some way.” I found this quote interesting because it is expressing how people

that are not queer at all like to create certain perceptions of the way that these queer people like
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to act. It is biased as most of the time people like to bash on these people because of their

sexuality and feel that people should have to be attracted to the opposite sex. That isn’t the case

though in today’s society. In today’s society we have branched out from being narrow minded

believing that people can only like a certain gender because those are the unwritten rules, to now

us individuals being able to express ourselves much more. We get to have more freedom now on

who we are attracted to. There are obviously people out there though who are ignorant and will

continue to bash this way of living.

In M. Butterfly the main protagonist falls in love with who he thought was a woman. It

turns out the person he loved deceived him as he never told Gallimard about him being a man.

Song was a secret agent who was disguised as a woman to get information out of Gallimard.

Over time though on the job, he lost his main focus which was just to get information out of

Gallimard and falls in love with him instead. An interesting quote I found in the novel is “Now I

see -- we are always most revolted by the things hidden within us.” This quote relates to the

queer theory in this story because Song hides the fact that she is a man from Gallimard and they

end up falling in love. In other words the quote means that we resist most things that are hidden

within us. In this case though Song wasn’t able to resist Gallimard and his love which lead to

him compromising his task at hand. Another quote that I found in an article called “Gay Maps,

Queer “Reads” : Exposing Violence in the Spatial Representation of Gay D.C. in Search of

Queer Spatial Potentials” is “Queer will be used to express particular forms of marginal

positionality and resistance not inherently tied to sexual or gender practice, but to an oppositional
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relationship to dominant moral and political constructions.” This quote is expressing that the

term “queer” will not only be used to describe sexual or gender interest. It will also be used to

describe forms of opposition of the norm. Tying this back to M. Butterfly the story isn’t solely

based on gender or sexual desire but also on morals. When growing up you've always been told

to tell the truth and when you don’t it affects your morals as a person. Well in the story Song

doesn't tell the truth until nearly the end of the story because he was so in love with Gallimard

that he didn't want anything ruining the relationship. It goes against his morals and is wrong

towards Gallimard.

A counter argument may be that people feel like the authors don’t treat the issue of

gender/sexuality correctly. In each story it seems as though it really isn’t a big issue. The readers

may feel that the authors need to talk about the subject more at hand. For example in M.

Butterfly we know that Song’s gender is a male but pretends to be a female in order to spy on his

future lover, Gallimard. That’s about it though, the author doesn’t go into specifics about gender

other than the story’s main plot. A quote I found from an article called “Hated Identities: Queers

and Canadian Anti-hate Legislation” talks about queer theory in detail. Stating that “queer theory

is a way of complimenting the work done by the liberationists without holding to the categories

and identities that form the bedrock of the GLM.” The quote is trying to explain how queer

theory was created by liberals looking to seek change in the gender/sexuality norms. Something

like this or even related to it would not be found in these novels. Left Hand of Darkness is about

a man being sent out on a mission to discover the different races of people out there. All the
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people in that book have no gender and is more focused on race. People may not like this

approach because they feel like gender is an important part in who we are as a person. Another

article that I found called “Personal Explorations in the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations”

talks about students “may be reluctant to talk about racial and ethnic disparities because they do

not want to offend other students, or, they do not want others to think, they, themselves are

racists.” I think this may be the reason why Le Guin doesn’t go into detail about talking race in

the novel. She may feel that it could offend people or think that people may think she is a racist.

Race is a sensitive subject to talk about but it should definitely not be ignored. Le Guin should

talk more about race in the novel as a whole.

Overall I do believe that both authors Ursula K Le Guin and M Butterfly handle the

situation of gender/sexuality very well. Each story has good plots regarding each. It really makes

the reader wonder and think that this is something very possible that can happen. Picturing a

society where there is no gender is very abstract and different but interesting. A lot of the hate

would be gone because of the lack of gender. No power roles would be worried about because

everyone is the same gender. People would be more so focused on race than gender. That could

be still an existing problem as already in today’s society we struggle with hate crimes due to

race. Overall though I like the concept in Left Hand of Darkness and feel like the author really

opens your eyes on a different world. A world where we are all the same gender. As for M

Butterfly, the story is mostly about sexual identity. Song the lover to Gallimard, the main

protagonist was originally given a task on a mission to spy on Gallimard to get him arrested. In
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order to do this though Song would have to disguise himself as a woman and get Gallimard

attracted to him so he can get close to him. He does this but overplays his role and caught

feelings as well for Gallimard. They both fall in love with each other and Gallimard later finds

out that Song is a man. He was fooled this whole time. Imagine that, you love someone only for

them to lie about who they are and lose your trust. It's the wrong thing to do and nobody should

go through such situation like this. Gallimard eventually finds out and goes to prison because

Song got all the information out of him to get him into jail. Once there he kills himself. Both of

these authors works promote hierarchical binary oppositions. The texts really try and make

gender/sexuality more of a norm.


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Works Cited

DeLaurentis IV, Vincent D. “Gay Maps, Queer ‘Reads’: Exposing Violence in the Spatial

Representation of Gay D.C. in Search of Queer Spatial Potentials.” ACME: An International E-

Journal for Critical Geographies, vol. 17, no. 1, Jan. 2018, pp. 109–143. EBSCOhost,

library.lavc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=13

0855952&site=eds-live.

Marín, Marguerite V. “Personal Explorations in the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations.” Journal of the

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, vol. 18, no. 3, Sept. 2018, pp. 153–173. EBSCOhost,

library.lavc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1192948&

site=eds-live.

Moore, Dawn, and Angus MacLean Rennie. “Hated Identities: Queers and Canadian Anti-Hate

Legislation.” Canadian Journal of Criminology & Criminal Justice, vol. 48, no. 5, Sept. 2006,

pp. 823–836. EBSCOhost,


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library.lavc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=pbh&AN=22

991903&site=eds-live.

WATTS, G. Queer Lives in Archives: Intelligibility and Forms of Memory. disClosure, jul.

2018. n. 27, p. 103–111. Disponível em:

<https://library.lavc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&

AN=131002932&site=eds-live>. Acesso em: 4 nov. 2018.