Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Quest for Sex

...and by my title I mean the noun, not the verb. Ravi Zacharias once poignantly noted that sex has never been discussed more openly before, but people have never been more confused about it before either. Actually, I'm sure what his verbatim quote was more poignant than what I have in my memory, but it gets the point across. With the rise in sex and gender distinction, individuals don't feel they can all be pigeon-holed into one of two characters anymore.

And science fiction tends to share that view. Large iconic shows like the Star Trek franchise and the UK analogue, Doctor Who, all theorize about sentient alien life that may not as easily be categorized into human terms of "male" and "female". Thus, the age-old address of "ladies and gentlemen" is no longer sufficient. And here we get into the language-related portion of this blog.

In one of the more recent episodes of Doctor Who, the hostess of the ship addresses the passengers as:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, and variations thereupon"
which I think is rather clever. It plays on the idea that similarly sentient life-forms also reproduce sexually, and therefore would in fact be some sort of similar variation between the males and females of human physiology. Still, given the hypothetical number of different aliens out there, it seems a bit biased to lump all those different sexes into a simple two words that basically relate back to the human template. But maybe the alien translation of such a phrase would be equally biased for that species' sexes.

Incidentally, Star Trek: Nemesis also had a go at updating the old address. Near the beginning of the movie, Data asks for attention from the party guests by addressing them as:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, and invited transgendered species"
Sounds a bit harsh, especially compared to the Doctor Who version. Although the Doctor Who version was set much farther in the future, does it really take humanity three millenia to coin a better phrase? Apparently, in the Star Trek universe, the male/female split is pretty universal, and across all species, it's considered different or rare to have one that is "other". So I suppose in their case, the address is kinda excused in a way. If I live long enough to see it, I'd like to know what we actually end up with if we get to that stage in society where "others" are just as normal and plentiful as the traditional males and females.

No comments: