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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

(Hainish Cycle #4), 1969. (cw: some death, torture, confinement)

The truth is, I’ve avoided Le Guin for years. Shortly after college, I read her short story “Coming of Age in Karhide,” set on the same planet as The Left Hand of Darkness, and for reasons it destroyed me. But enough time has passed, or rather I’ve made enough progress in my life, that I wanted to try reading Darkness.

Gethenians spend most of the month unsexed and androgynous, but once a month go through kemmer and become either male or female, partly based on the context of their surrounding relationships. I think lines like “the King is pregnant” are supposed to be shocking, world-upside-down revelations? But I was mostly: “cool, hey Crusader Kings, it’s that easy.”

Still, Genly Ai’s arc, how he can’t move forward until he stops thinking of Gethenians as Terran analogues, as “mostly male” or as metaphors, until he really started accepting their “bisexuality,” that still shone.