Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bloodchild and MPreg

Okay, first of all-if you haven't yet come across the term "mpreg" and can't guess what it stands for, it's a shortening of "male pregnancy" and is mostly used in fanfic with slash pairings. I don't know enough about it to do more than speculate (I wash my hands of mpreg fics) but I guess there's an impulse to give a happy couple a baby and when the couple comprises of two men, one of them has to step up and be the bearer (because apparently surrogacies don't exist...?). According to this Wikipedia article of Fan Fiction Terms, mpreg is something that often comes with a warning. So, presumably, the Implied Reader finds it not to their taste, for whatever reason.

I go into this because in her afterword to "Bloodchild", Butler says, "'Bloodchild' is my pregnant man story" (30). The prevalent motif in the story itself, to me, was pregnancy. I read it mostly as a way of understanding how people deal with having children, how people raise their children to have children, how the process of child-bearing can be alternately vilified and deified. What makes this story's version of mpreg horrifying, rather than whatever mpreg is in fanfic (again, haven't read enough to make any sort of sweeping generalization, but I am aware of how female pregnancy often works in fanfics) is the effort taken to make it horrifying. Seeing Lomas birthing these "long, thick grubs" (16) fills Gan with disgust; he vomits, and weeps, seeing "red worms crawling over redder human flesh" in his mind's eye (17).

They don't look so bad now, but just wait until they lay eggs IN YOU. I understand why Butler had to work through her fears through storytelling. Image source: J. Eibl, U.S. Department of Agriculture, via Wikipedia

Until he is confronted with Lomas, and the truth about birth, Gan is able to believe that "this was a good and necessary thing Tlic and Terran did together--a kind of birth" (16). He continues, "I knew birth was painful and bloody, no matter what. But this was something else, something worse. And I wasn't ready to see it. Maybe I never would be" (16-17). Suddenly confronted by the reality of the situation he has been prepared for all his life, Gan finds himself horribly, violently disgusted. The terms he chooses to represent this process, however, reveal a strange analogy with human reproduction itself, even though he attempts to establish human sexual reproduction as good and natural.

The story parallels the (Terran) male experience of interspecies pregnancy with the (Terran) female experience of human pregnancy. The clearest indication of this parallel is the interchangeability of Gan and his sister, Xuan Hoa--either will serve willingly as bearers of T'Gatoi's child(ren). Hoa, however, has another duty ahead of her: "to bear [her] own young" (21). When T'Gatoi points out that Hoa would find it easier to bear Tlic children than Gan, because "she has always expected to carry other lives inside her" (26), this similarity becomes a point of difference, as the other lives were always intended to be human (26). Interchangeable, parallel, but different, and not just in the species of their children; Gan has seen birth and accepts it knowing that he will be cut into and have writhing worms plucked from his flesh. He makes an informed choice, partly driven by fear, partly by the desire to protect his sister...and partly by love (what is love?). His choice is almost more meaningful now, because he has seen what he was not supposed to see, what T'Gatoi expected would turn him away from the duty he was raised to perform. Almost.

Gan's lack of real knowledge about the process of birth accompanies a belief that he does know, from "diagrams and drawings", and from T'Gatoi's efforts to "ma[ke] sure [Gan] knew the truth as soon as [he] was old enough to understand it" (13). This assurance gives him the self-confidence to help Lomas, though both T'Gatoi and Qui believe for different reasons that he wasn't supposed to see the act (10, 21). Gan identifies the effect that watching Lomas has on him, in contrasting himself with Xuan Hoa. He thinks "Hoa wanted it...She hadn't had to watch Lomas. She'd be proud. . . . Not terrified" (25). Without the actual knowledge that he gains by watching Lomas, Gan would be proud and self-assured, as he was before, as Hoa is now. After learning the truth (the truthier truth?), terror replaces pride. The truth about birth is one that T'Gatoi believes should be avoided (28) and that Gan believes should be welcomed (29).

I can't help but carry this parallel to its other side: human reproduction. If the knowledge that Gan gains through experiencing birth in this way is both more terrifying and more crucial than the knowledge gained from diagrams and expectations, then what of the total absence of this sort of experience with respect to human birthings? Gan's mother gave birth to "'huge' children" (14), hinting at some difficulty during the process. Gan believes that Hoa should give birth to "[h]uman young who should someday drink at her breasts, not at her veins" (26), but ignores the period of gestation, during which the developing embryo absorbs nutrients indirectly from the mother's blood. One could argue that the absence of a detailed glimpse into (human) pregnancy and birth is justified by most human readers' experience with and knowledge of birth, but there is a suggestion that human pregnancy and human birth is itself as terrifying and disturbingly alien as the interspecies parasitism masquerading as "a kind of birth" (16). First she alienates the reader by having a man bear the young, and then Butler draws the parallel experiences together to offer an insight into human fears, with the full powers of cognitive estrangement at work.

Birth! You should have seen this diagram in Sex Ed...right? Image source: Seth's post


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