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Showing posts from October, 2014

Descriptors in Yolen's 'Tale of the Seventeenth Eunuch' (with spoiler)

Jane Yolen's "The Tale of the Seventeenth Eunuch" is a short story of about ten pages that was published in The Mammoth Book of Comic Fantasy (1998).

It is narrated by someone who identifies himself in the first sentence as "the seventeenth eunuch of the Lady Badroulboudour". Hearkening to a verse in the Gospel according to Matthew, he says of his fellow "bed guardians": "Some of us were born so, some were created so by other men, and a few are self-made – or self-unmade."

Lady Badroulboudour, now fifty years old, recalls her late husband, The Aladdin, as a magnificent lover. Her many daughters are married off to princes, and her many sons have become rulers themselves. Her eldest son requires her to stay in her palace rooms so that she will not become meddlesome. He gives her many eunuchs, who "tried to pleasure her – for do not think that eunuchs are devoid of sexual passion," the narrator says. "It is just that we cannot …

The first 'Changers' is a smashing gender-change story for young adults

Changers, Book One: Drew is an entertaining tale of a boy who wakes up and discovers he's a girl. His mission is to find out whether he prefers being a girl. Originally posted to Helium Network on March 19, 2014.

The skateboarder Ethan changes into the cheerleader Drew in Changers: Book One. Image by Tammy McGary from Sulphur Springs, TX, USA © Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Wikimedia Commons.

Changers is refreshing new speculative fiction for young adults by T Cooper and Allison Glock-Cooper. The premise is that – in a benign version of The Metamorphosis – a happy, skateboarding eighth-grade boy wakes up just before high school begins and discovers that he has transformed overnight into a different, hotter person.

The teen's prescient parents at least had the decency to move the family preemptively to a new town. Their new home happens to be in Tennessee, which the unsuspecting child says "may as well be the moon. The moon with about a thousand fried chic…

'Remake' posits more than the author directly confronts

Remake by Ilima Todd (2014) is reminiscent of the Hunger Games trilogy in many ways. There is a teenage female narrator in a dystopian society that blends high- and low-tech and is designed to prevent her escape; her two male love interests, both of whom are devoted to her; and a populace with the ability to request that their skin be permanently dyed pink or green and that they have dinosaur horns installed on their foreheads. All of this is presented by a writer with a direct, spare use of English, like a YA Hemingway.

In this society, human infants are reared in "batches" apart from any concept of family, and they are given hormone blockers to prevent sexual development. In their late teens, without any counseling, they are asked to give decisive answers to questions that will determine the rest of their lives. Chiefly, they must pick a profession, a name, and a gender. The last decision comes in two options: either they will have their hormone blockers removed so that t…

The ‘prostitute with a gun’ was a middle-class high school girl

On May 19, 1992, Amy Fisher, a 17-year-old high school student in Long Island, N.Y., rang the bell at the home of 37-year-old Mary Jo Buttafuoco. Buttafuoco stepped onto her front porch and had a brief conversation with the girl, whom she had never met before. Fisher then shot her in the face and fled the scene. Neighbors heard the shot and rushed to Buttafuoco's aid. She regained consciousness the next day in a hospital and was able to recall the conversation with her attacker. This information helped police to promptly identify and arrest Fisher.

Fisher's explanation of her action shocked the nation. She claimed that she had been lovers with her victim's husband, Joey Buttafuoco, 36, since the previous summer when she was still only 16. While those who knew Buttafuoco believed him to be a pillar of the community, Fisher said he perpetrated auto theft scams. She claimed he introduced her to a life of prostitution, such that she wore a beeper to her high school classes an…

The eunuch Kalima in Dominique Lapierre's epic 'The City of Joy'

Kalima is one of the hijras, male-bodied people who have been castrated and who live as women in self-designated communities, in Dominique Lapierre's book The City of Joy. Lapierre based the book on real experiences.

Originally published May 5, 2014 to Helium Network.

Dominique Lapierre's book The City of Joy, published in 1985, was based on his experiences in India several years previously. The epithet "City of Joy" refers to a neighborhood of the city of Calcutta characterized by extreme poverty, where people died every day from hunger, disease (notably leprosy) or unsafe living conditions such as open storm drains.

Among the main characters are the Polish Catholic priest Stephan Kovalski and, later, the Jewish doctor Max Loeb, both of whom are in India to do humanitarian work. Hasari Pal is an Indian man who features in the book from beginning to end. A group of eunuchs (hijras) appears in the last quarter of the long story; among them is Kalima.

Kalima
Kalima, a…

'Necessary' and with 'magic powers': Eunuchs in Sharad P. Paul's 'Cool Cut'

Dr. Sharad P. Paul's novel Cool Cut (2007) captures childlike simplicity while tackling large themes of love, death, violence and cultural continuity. Originally posted to Helium Network on Jan. 4, 2014.

Image: Statue in Tamil Nadu representing the dance form "Karagattam." Tamil Nadu, India Image by: Wikimedia Commons user 'Balaji' © Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license Wikimedia Commons.

Dr. Sharad P. Paul's novel Cool Cut (2007) follows three friends growing up in the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India, in a small Tamil-speaking village on the banks of the Kaveri River. It is the mid-twentieth century and the teenagers look toward Madras as the big city. Told in clipped, Hemingwayesque sentences, the novel captures a certain childlike simplicity while tackling large themes of love, death, violence and cultural continuity.

Kumar and Lakshmi are just old enough to begin to dream of falling in love with each other, but they must cont…

Piyush Saxena's 'Life of a Eunuch' on the marginalization of eunuchs in India

Life of a Eunuch sheds light on a large social issue in India: the poverty faced by a large eunuch population. The author claims this population begins life with an intersex condition, as a result of which they leave home to join groups of others like them, and because of their homelessness and lack of family ties, they cannot obtain identity documents, which in turn interferes with their ability to travel, get jobs, and open bank accounts.

The author is Piyush Saxena, a wellness counselor with a Ph.D. in naturopathy who, according to his biography, "believes that the root cause of all medical problems is pollution and parasites." After taking an interest in the plight of eunuchs in India, he founded an organization called Salvation of Oppressed Eunuchs (SOOE) which seeks to integrate eunuchs into Indian society. Saxena's mother and father also contributed to the book. The book is available online as a free download.

This article was originally posted to Helium Network o…

The case for calling the enemy 'Daesh'

Isis is the Greek name of an ancient Egyptian fertility goddess. The Egyptians, who were the ones who actually worshipped her thousands of years ago, pronounced her name something like Aset, Ast, Iset, or Uset. Her Greek name has retained appeal, conveying exotic, earthy sexuality and strength. Thousands of women are named Isis, and many American businesses have branded themselves with her name. Dean Obeidallah reported: "According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, more than 270 products or business names among active federal trademarks use 'ISIS.'"

There is competition for her name. Today, a terrorist group so extreme that even al-Qaeda disavows it is self-styling itself as a new state. Initially, it announced itself as the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, which in English has the acronym "ISIS". The exact region of the imagined caliphate is still in dispute, but even when "al-Sham" is replaced with "Syria," the acronym rem…

Believing in the divine, or experiencing the divine?

Do you believe in God? Why, what a funny question.

The Pagan leader Starhawk wrote that "we do not believe in the Goddess — we connect with her; through the moon, the stars, the ocean, the earth, through trees, animals, through other human beings, through ourselves."

More recently, Pascal Boyer explained: "It takes us Westerners some effort to realize that this notion of 'believing in something' is peculiar. Imagine a Martian telling you how interesting it is that you 'believe' in mountains and rivers and cars and telephones. You would think the alien has got it wrong. We don't 'believe in' these things, we just notice and accept that they are around. Many people in the world would say the same about witches and ghosts."

So, too, Michael Harner: "Shamans don't believe in spirits. Shamans talk with them, interact with them. They no more 'believe' there are spirits than they 'believe' they have a house to…

Eunuchs in the novel 'Eon: Dragoneye Reborn' (contains spoilers)

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman is a fast-paced fantasy story for readers over the age of 12, set in an original fictional world inspired by Chinese and Japanese culture, complete with magic and palace intrigue. In particular, its treatment of gender variance offers a rich opportunity for readers of any age.

(Warning: the following analysis of gender in Eon: Dragoneye Reborn contains "spoilers" about the book.)

Originally posted to Helium Network on Oct. 31, 2010.

In the Empire of the Celestial Dragons there are 12 male dragons in the zodiac, and each year, the current dragon selects one 12-year-old boy to be the human representative of its power. Girls are forbidden to work with dragon magic; in fact, a female Dragoneye would be seen as "a travesty of everything natural in the world" (244). The magically talented 16-year-old slave girl Eona, therefore, is carefully disguised as the eunuch Eon by her master who trains her as a Dragoneye candidate. For some r…

How sincerity differs from honesty

Sam Roberts wrote The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case after interviewing David Greenglass. Greenglass stole nuclear intelligence from Los Alamos, N.M. After being told that his wife had told the FBI that his sister, Ethel Rosenberg, had been involved, Greenglass readily testified against Ethel and her husband Julius. The Rosenbergs were executed in 1953. Greenglass said in the book that “I frankly think my wife did the typing, but I don’t remember,” that he had named his sister to protect his wife, and that he did not regret it. “My wife is more important to me than my sister. Or my mother or my father, O.K.? And she was the mother of my children.”

(Greenglass died in 2014.) Greenglass lied, but he was sincere — decades after the fact — about how he felt about his lie.


With intimates, at least, if the relationship is to be preserved, sincerity certainly has an important place. Sam Harris took a hardline stance against lying in his brief book by that name:
Sincerity…

Whence patriotism?

Where does patriotism come from? On an evolutionary level, oe might try to trace it, as Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson did, to the aggressive loyalty that is seen in some other primates.
"Unfortunately, there appears something special about foreign policy in the hands of males. Among humans and chimpanzees, at least, male coalitionary groups often go beyond defense (typical of monkey matriarchies) to include unprovoked aggression, which suggests that our own intercommunity conflicts might be less terrible if they were conducted on behalf of women's rather than men's interests. Primate communities organized around male interests naturally tend to follow male strategies and, thanks to sexual selection, tend to seek power with an almost unbounded enthusiasm. In a nutshell: Patriotism breeds aggression." As the U.S. Secretary of Defense once put it: "The Department of Defense is optimistic about the underlying patriotism of our youth in the face of national cri…

Anti-Semitic and white privilege strings that pull the 'War on Christmas'

A version of this essay was originally posted Dec. 1, 2008 to Helium Network. Helium is no longer online. This essay is now maintained here, where it has been kept updated through 2017.

Each winter, as Christmas nears, Americans are treated to a media creation of the pretended righteous response to a fictitious "War on Christmas." Bill O'Reilly first introduced a Christmas Under Siege segment on The O'Reilly Factor show on Fox News in December 2004; comedian Jon Stewart began mocking it on The Daily Show in December 2005. The theory behind the War on Christmas is that there are legions of anti-Christian or hyper-politically-correct people who are out to remove all references to Christmas from the public square, and that these pseudo-militants need to be stopped before they succeed in eradicating Christmas altogether. The movement's proposed strategy to combat these enemies is simply to beat them at their own game and to make sure that stores, public events, and…