Episode 32: We Also Read “Helicopter Story” (Née “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter”)

A helicopter shooting missiles.

Our new episode is available from our Podcast host here: Episode 32

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As of right now, there’s no official/legitimate option to read “Helicopter Story” (published January 2020 in Clarkesworld). However, and you didn’t hear this from me, but it’s not impossible to find.

Other reading:


Transcript

Charles 0:18
Hello, and welcome to Assigned Scientist at BAchelor’s. I’m Charles and I’m an entomologist.

Tessa 0:23
And I’m Tessa and I’m an astrobiologist.

And today it’s just the two of us to talk about a short story, which was originally published as “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” in the January 2020 version of Clarkesworld, and was later renamed to, quote, “Helicopter Story” by Isabel Fall. Yeah, so I think probably most people listening will have at least some sense of the situation. But I thought that we could start off with a little bit of context, just in case my dad decided to also listen to this one.

Charles 0:51
The phrase, “I sexually identify as an attack helicopter” actually started as a copypasta on the internet a couple of years ago, like six or seven years ago, as a way of explicitly mocking the idea of self determination in gender identity, and I think particularly to mock the increasing number of people who were identifying with, quote, unquote, weird genders. This was around 2014-2015. So then, as a story, it was published in January 2020, quote, “I sexually identify as an attack helicopter,” it begins with that sentence.

And then it goes into an idea of not sexually identifying, but having been gender reassigned to attack helicopter as basically a commodification of gender identity by the state in pursuit of military ends. And so the story ended up getting a huge amount of backlash very quickly, it was taken off of the magazine’s website, and basically nobody heard anything else from Isabel Fall. Then later, it was renamed to quote “Helicopter Story” and was recently nominated for at least one Hugo Award and potentially in two different categories – I don’t really understand or keep up with the Hugo’s – and there was a piece written by Emily VanDerWerff where she was actually able, by email, to interview Isabel Fall – and to just to put it very simply, it’s a… it’s a real bummer. Does it… do you think I missed anything?

Tessa 2:21
I mean, that’s the basic outline. Although, as someone who is in like the LGBT SFF world, I do have some more, like, thoughts and comments on the whole situation.

Charles 2:31
This is why it’s a two hander podcast, I can tell about cats, and bugs, and you get, uh, all the rest of it. So to begin with, I would say… yeah, I would open it up to you, what immediately comes to mind as, as what you would want to say?

Tessa 2:50
First off, the story itself is pretty good. And I’m sure we’ll get into that later. You know, it’s a bit more blunt than I usually go for in my speculative fiction, but on the other hand, like it’s pretty typical for Clarkesworld, the magazine where it was published. And also, I mean, when you’re writing primarily to a cis audience, sometimes you need to be blunt.

Something, though, that I think that has gotten missed in sort of like the aftermath reports of the whole situation is that, one of the reasons that Isabel Fall was initially subject to so much scrutiny over the story, and I don’t think, like, she deserves the treatment she got, but the reason why there was such a strong reaction was that Clarkesworld is edited by a guy named Neil Clark. To be clear, he is not a bigot, so far as I can tell, or anything bad like that, he does have a history of being a little bit clueless when it comes to handling topics that are potentially harmful to marginalized groups. And also like, especially when, in the past, he’s published things and people said, Hey, this isn’t great, he’s just kind of blown them off. And he’s also in the past fallen for trolls.

So that’s one of the reasons a lot of people initially were skeptical, or at least suspicious, I should say is probably a better way of putting it of, you know, whether or not this was an actual piece written in good faith or if it was a troll, because he’s published unwittingly stuff by trolls before. This is still very much in the era of the sad puppies, which for those of you don’t know, are a faction within sci fi fandom that is very not keen on any form of social justice or marginalized voices in science fiction/fantasy, and that it really should just be the domain of, you know, white straight men doing manly sci fi stuff and you know, sleeping with aliens and blowing stuff up and none of this social justice stuff.

Charles 4:36
Well, listen – we all want to read stories about sleeping with aliens.

Tessa 4:40
Okay, okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. All right.

Charles 4:43
But more sexually interesting ones than like, Orion slave girls.

Tessa 4:47
Yeah. Yeah. But anyway, so… and I should point out that the Sad Puppies have been known for trolling before – that’s why they you know, in 2014/2015, they actually nominated a story by Chuck Tingle to the Hugo’s, but because they figured out how to game the Hugo voting system, and while Chuck Tingle is an absolutely fantastic author, and I encourage everyone to read his stuff, the story in question was the illustrious “Space Raptor Butt Invation” – he generally doesn’t write stuff that is, within mainstream science fiction. He basically writes extremely surreal erotica, which is amazing, but we’re pretty sure it’s probably part of a larger performance art piece.

Charles 5:31
We got to do an episode on Chuck Tingle.

Tessa 5:33
We should, we absolutely should. I mean, like, I love the guy, you know, he is like the patron saint of chaotic good in our world, as far as I’m concerned. So anyways, like because, you know, there is these groups in science fiction who have a history of submitting stories in bad faith specifically to like mock or expose what they consider to be the influence of marginalized groups in science fiction, and that the story appeared in a publisher who is known for falling for those trolls in the past and hasn’t been great about sensitivity and marginalized groups, the… I think that fed a lot of the initial suspicion, although once everybody got past that it kind of spiraled off into its own terrible thing.

I think if the story had been published in another venue, like, say, Strange Horizons, which has a long, long, long history of being very uplifting of marginalized voices, it may not have exploded the way it did. I don’t know that for sure… it’s possible people still would have freaked out and still would have treated Isabel terribly. I don’t know. But my suspicion is, it may have been less likely to occur.

Charles 6:31
I’m also interested… because I imagine that you were a bit more plugged in to the actual backlash as it was happening than I was, do you think a lot of it was just based on the appropriation of an explicitly transphobic meme plus its basis in Clarkesworld, which people are already maybe a little bit guarded towards, or do you think a lot of it was based on the content of the story itself?

Tessa 6:57
I think it was the initial stuff. Like, I don’t think a lot of people initially read the story. They just saw a story with a title that referenced transphobic meme in a venue that was known for being not great about marginalized voices in the past and made their assumptions, which is not great. I mean, I think that’s where, you know, talk about the articles about this, I talked about the toxicity of Twitter, I think that’s like, where that really shine through is that people didn’t even read this thing, and still kind of assumed that it was bad news.

Charles 7:27
It is a bad website. Well, I guess that’s as good a segue, as we’re gonna get into at talking about the story itself, and how are you feeling? What are your thoughts?

Tessa 7:36
So I mean, I think it’s a good story. Like I said, it’s a little more blunt than fiction I tend to read, but I can understand, given the audience she was writing for… I really liked the idea of like, war between states becoming sort of this almost black box process enabled by, you know, machine learning algorithms, where like, the people involved aren’t even sure why they’re being ordered to do what they’re doing. But you know, everybody’s afraid to turn off the algorithms, because it’s the only thing keeping their society going. And I do like the idea of like, it became possible to remap people’s gender identities, that instead of going the normal like conversion therapy route, she went a completely different route, which I think is really intriguing of, well, of course, this will be militarized.

Charles 8:15
This is actually an interesting idea, to me, in the story was the method of reassignment. And I wonder if much of the good faith criticism about the story came back to this kind of bio essentialist notion of like, the physiological locus of gender identity, which is an extremely pretentious way of saying a very straightforward affirmation of gender being in the brain, and that literally, the way your gender is mapped is neuro physiologically. Like, how did you… how did how did that treat you?

Tessa 8:54
I mean, I can see why some people might be uncomfortable with that. I honestly, if anything, I think it may be… I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but an illustration of kind of the danger of taking that, you know, sort of very hardcore neuro science approach to trying to understand something as separation, right entity because yeah, if it does have a strictly neurobiological basis that can be isolated, then you could do crazy stuff, like assign someone’s gender to whatever arbitrary object you wanted it to. So I don’t know if that was meant as a criticism of that view. Or if it was just a conceit she accepted for the story to be able to work, it does work very well as a criticism, you know, even if it wasn’t intended.

Charles 8:54
Mm. Hmm. Yeah. I mean, it really is so dependent on the audience that you’re writing towards, because I can see people being very like actually reading it and being very skeptical of it on that basis, because there has been an ongoing argument among everybody about To what extent and in what ways we want to affirm the kind of born in the wrong body image of trans identity, and I can see that kind of getting people’s hackles up. But on the other hand, I do see what you’re saying about it being a conceit to make the story work, because otherwise, it might be difficult to get there.

Tessa 10:15
Science fiction authors do this sort of thing all the time, you know, we make assumptions or come up with a premise that doesn’t necessarily reflect what we believe, or what even necessarily is true. But you know, you need to because otherwise, like, you don’t have a story to write about. And you can say that, you know, something as simple as faster than light travel, which underpins so many series to, you know, something as complex and socially challenging as, okay, if gender is completely neurobiological in origin, then we can mess around with it and make people identify with their warmachines.

Charles 10:45
Well, I think another thread that kind of got pulled out in various discussions of the story, particularly in I think, Emily VanDerWerff’s piece for Vox, but the idea of it was a particularly kind of transfeminine experience of discomfort. And I wanted to ask if that kind of resonated with your experience of the story.

Tessa 11:07
It’s a little hard to say, because I am, like, years into my transition at this point. Whereas you know, the story, definitely, I think the people that hit like the strongest chord with were people who are still relatively early into their transition. But with all that said, I certainly remember what it’s like and sort of the vulnerability that comes across with the messiness like that part definitely resonates. It didn’t come after the actual story itself to me did not come off as like an outright troll, because all right, trolls are horrible at being subtle about what they are, they are painfully obvious. So yeah, I definitely. And I think it is very treacherous to try to make assumptions about someone’s gender based off of their writing, especially in speculative fiction, where you’re doing all sorts of weird stuff that may define normal conventions about what men and women are supposed to be like and how they’re supposed to write.

Charles 12:01
Yeah, I will, I will say that I didn’t like… I wasn’t that into the story. To be honest. I think part of that is, I don’t like military science fiction in general.

Tessa 12:16
Same, honestly, that’s also like one of the reasons why I was like, this seems kind of blunt. But you know, like, it’s common in military science fiction.

Charles 12:23
Yeah, I always say I don’t like anything that is about war and then I have to backtrack a little bit, because the last couple of seasons of Deep Space Nine obviously are about war. But at the same time, DS9 is the best TV show ever made. So it’s difficult. And then also, it did seem potentially a little bit blunt… it was an interesting read. If it hadn’t gotten such a huge backlash, I don’t know that I would… because it is always difficult.

We referenced this meme in a previous conversation, and I’m going to keep referencing it because there’s always that like, two halves – nd one is like all of the scholars that Athens and it’s talking about gender with trans people, and then the other one is a woman helping a toddler, play with blocks or something, and it’s talking about gender, with sis people. And I really feel like it’s difficult to write something that is going to resonate deeply with a trans audience, but also be accessible to assist audience when writing about gender a lot of the time and of course, this gets more and more complicated as you add on, you know, intersecting identities where trans women of color writing is often inaccessible to white trans people, not because they’re bad writers, but because the experience of gender is not only gendered but also racialized, and class and history and country and tradition. And it’s very, it’s guys, it’s… it’s complicated. And non guys, you know, we’re an inclusive podcast.

Tessa 14:09
Yeah, I agree. Like, there are a few stories that I think really capture the trans experience that have been well received by cis audiences off the top my head, the Charlie Jane Anders short story, “Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue,” which is absolutely devastating, and has some serious content warnings on it for anyone who’s not keen on stuff about forcible detransition. But you know, it also won the Sturgeon Award and, you know, was nominated for a couple of other awards. So clearly, it was able to reach cis readers. On the other hand, it is like a brutal, brutal story. But that seems to be the exception, not the rule.

So full disclosure. I know one of the people who was one of the initial critical voices, Neon Yang, who has since apologized, but they’re still getting raked over the coals for their initial skepticism. And, you know, I don’t think it’s an accident that some of the people who have got the worst of the counter backlash against people who are suspicious of the story has been focused on, you know, people of color and people who aren’t sis. So you know, I think that kind of also shows that even in the wish to sort of rectify some of the wrongs that happened with the reaction to the story, the people who are getting targeted, or you know, who are getting the full brunt of it are the people who are the least socially influential, I guess, or have are most socially privileged. You know, again, Neil Clark does bear some responsibility for some of this. And no one’s been really talking about him at all. Unsurprisingly, he is a straight white dude. And it’s just weird.

I was talking to one of my other friends about this, who’s also a trans woman, and she was like, yeah, again, she pointed that out to me, but she also said, you know, at the same time, it is so difficult for society to talk about transmisogyny, and that trans women get shut down so quickly, whenever they bring it up, in most cases, that it’s not surprising that the backlash was as strong as it was, because you know, most trans women, unfortunately, more often than not, are on war footing, you know, to some extent, or another, pretty much all the time, especially with anything that intersects pop culture, because up until you know, very, very, very recently, pop culture was pretty terrible about trans women, it mostly ignored trans men, which there are essays to be written about whether or not that’s a good thing, or a bad thing, or neither, or both. But it’s been pretty terrible to trans women. So, you know, I think that’s kind of the other difficult thing about like, this whole discussion is that the backlash and the counter backlash have not been great. And a lot of the toxicity has flown towards people who probably don’t deserve it, and certainly aren’t in a position of social power anyways. But at the same time, we just can’t dismiss it all as Oh, you know, Oh, those, those paranoid, too sensitive trans women, you know, just get offended at everything sort of thing, either.

Charles 17:03
So what you’re saying is things are very complicated.

Tessa 17:05
Yeah, I would say that things are very, very complicated.

Charles 17:09
It’s difficult for me to live in the world, because everything changes all the time. And things are very complicated. And I like it when things are simple and don’t change. So it’s tough out here. But we have to push through, we got to push on through. Because that’s life. And there isn’t really any other option. Yeah, I would love to dig into more – do you have any more thoughts on specific stuff in the story itself? Because I think there are a couple of interesting ideas.

Tessa 17:40
You know, like I said, I really like the idea of government or war essentially becoming so based off of machine learning and data mining that like the humans eventually get kind of crowded out of the loop. You know, I think that’s a really fascinating idea. And, you know, one I hadn’t, I haven’t really seen that much in science fiction, and I normally see that, ah, the machines have turned against us or whatever. It’s never the story of well, the machines are telling us to do that. And they’re not really sentient. So they can’t really explain why they’re telling us to do it. But you know, we’re terrified that if we don’t do it, it’ll break something else. So and, you know, and hence this war, that doesn’t really seemed to serve a purpose. Otherwise, in terms of gender, you know, it’s interesting that, you know, it talked the way it talks about, like, why, you know, someone or a military would want to remap their soldiers gender identity, so they would identify with their war machine to the equipment, you know, the idea that so much of that information would become intrinsic, or at least unconscious. Yeah, that was also a really thoughtful idea.

Charles 18:45
This story kind of works for me as someone who was casually cis, but not dedicatedly so, do you know what I mean? Like somebody who experienced no real dysphoria necessarily about their original assigned gender, but who also didn’t feel a strong attachment.

Tessa 19:08
We’ve talked about that for before, when we were- when we had Rose Eveleth on, you know, talking about cis by default, and you know, sort of being apathetic to gender and that’s a good point, you know, someone who is like me, or you or, you know, anyone else who’s really strongly identified in their gender, whatever that is, probably wouldn’t work as well. If nothing else, they’d have very conflicting memories that would be difficult to work through.

Charles 19:31
Hmm. Well, and it’s also… because I even said when we talked to Rose is that I don’t necessarily, I always, I always never know how I actually feel about my own gender because it was, it was, it was a lot more defined as what I definitely as a as an outright rejection of womanhood rather than an equally strong affirmation of manhood. I think partially because men as a group, are kind of a nightmare and a lot of soul called masculinity also is bad.

There’s a push-pull that any queer people listening will certainly be familiar with, unless they are extremely offline, of sort of increasing tendency, especially among sort of younger people, towards really intensely rigorously detailed taxonomy of identities versus pushing back against that idea of taxonomizing so obsessively, because… it’s always hurtful to me because I do agree that sort of rigorously taxonomizing identity labels is probably ultimately self defeating. On the other hand, I’ve love, I love taxonomy, and I love making taxonomies. But the good news is insects, based on what we know about insect cognition so far, can’t get their feelings hurt, and they definitely don’t know English.

Tessa 21:02
Yeah, I think you’re safe in that regard.

Charles 21:03
I think I’m safe. Maybe that’s what, that’s the real tactic we should pull is, instead of telling these kids that they’re wrong, and they should all be ashamed of themselves and this would never fly in the 70s, which… I bet there were some weird people in the 70s too.

Tessa 21:19
Oh yeah, absolutely there were.

Charles 21:21
We should instead get them interested in biological taxonomy, we should just redirect…

Tessa 21:26
Redirect that urge to, like, impose certainty upon the world, and like, towards something that’s actually productive.

Charles 21:34
Unfortunately, the reality in biological taxonomy is also that there are never any completely clear cut boundaries between organisms either. So I just really want everybody to praise my bravery and resilience in being an autistic person who loves rigid application of labels and hates change and uncertainty. I just really think that people should praise me more for that than they do.

Tessa 22:00
I mean, it is impressive.

Charles 22:03
[laughing] Thank you Tessa.

Tessa 22:04
You know, I honor your struggle.

Charles 22:08
Thank you. It’s hard out here. But we get through every day. I think another interesting thing in the story itself was the discussion of sexuality and the effect of gender identity and the reassignment to helicopter of the experience of sex and sexuality, because this is another thing that I think often gets pushed to the side. But I said this to you the other day, that I often feel like straight trans men are living in a completely different universe from me, just in terms of how they manifest their gender and their transition and their experience of like, post transition life, versus how I do, which is not even necessarily about being gay, but just in like, the effect of one’s relationship to sexuality, also affecting one’s relationship to gender and to gendered aspects of identity.

Tessa 23:09
I think there’s definitely something there because that is something I’ve noticed too, is that, you know, I have known, you know, I have a friend or two who are trans men who identify as predominantly or exclusively straight, and they’re really nice people. But yeah, it’s a very different world, I think probably. I don’t know if it’s just because you know, straight men generally seem to get, like the biggest pass in our society, like, as a result, straight trans men, if they want to have the option of being a lot more normal than the rest of us, or what’s going on with that? You know, I don’t know,

Charles 23:45
I think it… I think it also appeals to, and I don’t have a direct quote right now, but I’ll see if I can find one before I post this episode. But it is not uncommon that I will see a quote that that I see circulated sometimes about how white queer people are often not especially revolutionary in our thinking. And in our paradigms of queerness, where the white, queer struggle, and maybe more fittingly, the white gay struggle has often been towards assimilation rather than revolution or liberation, because of the feeling that being gay or being by or being trans potentially, it is a way that we have been denied the full extent of our privilege as white people. And so our ideas of sort of retribution for that are drawing us back up on the level of other white people who are not gay or we’re not queer, who were not trans.

Tessa 24:46
We want in on the money, yeah.

Charles 24:48
Yeah, and I feel like particularly and maybe exclusively for white, straight trans men, that is more true for them than for any group of trans people, where the only thing that is making them an aberrant person is their trans status. And so it is much easier to kind of lean into that and emphasize very heavily, I’m a totally normal guy like you. I just have X, Y, and Z traits. And I, you know, I want to be very clear that this is not all straight trans men, particularly, it’s not even all straight white trans men, right? It’s just, I think, a pattern that has existed where like, if you are a queer trans person, you are not like… put it this way, maybe I know that there are members of my extended family, or people that we knew before I transitioned, who are fine with me being trans, but they’re still anti gay, right? So it’s like, they kind of accept me, but not really, like any way you slice it, I’m not going to be a fully acceptable person to those people. Whereas if I had transitioned to be a straight person, they might have seen me more as somebody who just had a medical condition.

Tessa 25:28
Right, yeah, no, I think there’s a lot to that. And plus, I, you know, I think that’s also just like a general greater understanding and like, cis society, you know. I know, I’ve more than a few times gotten the, I don’t get why you became a woman and then married a woman. And it’s, you know, it’s like, dude, I’m a lesbian. It’s not that hard. But, you know, they can’t wrap their heads around it. And also, I think, especially in the name, in the case of straight trans men, there’s sort of a subtle misogyny underneath it of like, of course, you know, being, you know, a straight man is better than being a woman who wouldn’t want to be a straight man. So I think that might be part of it, too. And I don’t I don’t think, you know, obviously, straight trans men are not responsible for that. But I think it does play into how sometimes they can feel a little, their experiences don’t always match up with our own.

Charles 27:02
Yeah. And I, you know, I do want to emphasize again, that everything is very complicated. And we’re talking in very broad patterns, rather than implicating any individual. Well, here’s another conversation potentially, while we’re just in sort of the swamp of discourse, which is not necessarily a negative thing… swamps have great biodiversity.

Tessa 27:28
Are important for the global carbon budget as well.

Charles 27:30
Very important. Also, can you imagine the bugs in there? Yes, yes, yes, yes. I don’t like humidity, so I’m not going to be visiting a swamp but shout out to swamps, we’re a pro-swamps podcast. That’s said, now that we’re in the much more metaphorical swamp of discourse, here’s something that is constantly being argued about, also, of how important is it that stories about trans people and about trans experiences of gender are written by trans people?

Tessa 28:06
You know, that’s, there’s a lot of discourse about that. I have seen non trans people approach trans identities really well. It’s not frequent, but I have seen it happen. One of the best trans romances I’ve ever read one of the one of the best trans portrayals of what it’s like to be a repressed trans lesbian I’ve ever read was in like, what was basically someone’s city of heroes fanfic which legitly I don’t know this, for sure. It was written by a sis lesbian woman. And it was fantastic. She absolutely nailed it. Beyond that, you know, I, one of my other favorite books was written by a non binary author, but not a trans feminine one – Being Emily is also a great story about a trans woman protagonists, not written by a trans woman. So I do think it is possible. With that said, I think it’s a lot more difficult. And, you know, it’s not something an author should take on unless they’re really really willing to do the research to get it accurate because I think that’s why stories written by actual trans people that are about trans people tend to do better is because they have access to the real life experience and can make their stories accurate and three dimensional representations of that experience.

Charles 29:30
Hmm, it is interesting to me because and this is related, because a lot of the backlash to “Helicopter Story,” because a lot of it a lot of the sort of suspicion also was related to how there was absolutely no information about Isabel Fall available to anybody.

Tessa 29:46
Yeah.

Charles 29:46
Which then opens it up to, are you trans, are you not trans, are you a cis woman, are you a cis man, are you…

Tessa 29:55
Like I would not have had a problem with it if Isabel Fall was cis, like, I still think there is space again, if they’re willing to put the work in for it for cis people to write about trans stories or you know, at least things that are allegorical to being trans. I think a lot of that was more suspicion of, at least initially would have been suspicion of not just are you, cis, but are you like an outright troll, but with that said, Yeah, you know, provided it’s in good faith and they do their homework, I think that’s fine. But you know, it’s not something you can just kind of like, throw together, it’s something you have to do very consciously and deliberately, if you’re not, you know, if you do not have that lived experience, it’d be the same way I’d feel about putting in a character who’s a person of color. I have done it in some of my stories in the past, but I’ve been very careful about it, because that’s not a lived experience I can call upon directly.

Charles 30:48
I used to be much more on the side of, I only want to read stories about trans people and about trans experiences of gender from trans people exclusively. But the argument that really sort of affected me was, I saw what… it might have even been Emily VanDerWerff, because I do follow her on Twitter, mostly because she’s been a guest a couple of times on another podcast that I listen to, Good Christian Fun, which I think should bring me on as a guest. Putting this out into the universe.

Tessa 31:17
Manifesting it. It worked with Rose Eveleth.

Charles 31:19
It did! I think would be a really good guest for good Christian fun, because I am a Christian, I grew up in an extremely Christian household – but I am also gay, I am trans. I study evolutionary biology, kind of, I’m a leftist. I’m an interesting guy. I don’t know, you decide. They’ve had a couple of trans people on but they have not had any biologists on, that’s all I’m saying.

Anyway, so she’s been a guest on a couple of episodes, she’s a great guest, it might have been her, the argument being that art and writing and creating art is often how people process emotions and experiences. Because you can start out not trans one day and then be trans the next day. And that’s valid. And so you never know, most people who are cis now probably won’t end up being trans. But you never know, you never know. And often the way that people figure things out about their gender is about writing about gender. Like, we all have experienced gender, by living in a world with other people where gender is an idea that we’re all kind of beholden to, of course, then the problem is there was a long and storied history of men, normally cis men writing about gender as if they are the ultimate authority on it when they are not.

So I can, I can, like I can see why people would be going into “Helicopter Story” with a level of suspicion, but I did get very strongly the sense reading it that you could have legitimate criticisms of it as a story or about what it says about gender, but none of it felt to me, like a bad faith exploration of these ideas, right?

Tessa 33:01
Right, right. I will say the one advantage that having you know, trans fiction written by trans people about it, is that well, yeah, you know, I do believe that it can be written about by people who aren’t trans because as you say, that’s an important part of people processing, you know, their own understanding of themselves and of the world, you know, there, you do have the advantage of, like, having such a rich foundation of common experiences that you can throw out stuff that a trans reader will appreciate but a cis reader may just go by, you know. I wasn’t exactly swept away by Detransition, Baby – there were parts of it where I laughed out loud, because it made such an obscure reference to like, the trans feminine experience of someone who transitioned, or, you know, came of age in the mid 2000s, to the mid 2010s, that I’m like, Oh my god, how are you know, how, how did the author like, get into my personal memories to extract this or whatever? So, I mean, I will say that it’s like the one advantage, I think, to trans work by trans authors.

Charles 34:02
And, and or… maybe a very strong takeaway is how crucial good editing is.

Tessa 34:09
Yes.

Charles 34:09
Well, we could play a game of, “is it gay if it’s in space?” but instead of is it gay if it’s in space? Is it queer if it’s in the future, and it’s helicopters?

Tessa 34:19
I’mgonna say yes, because it’s still definitely outside the sort of the heteronormative realm.

Charles 34:24
Because there was also because the sort of the ending note of the story is access the gunner of the helicopter, who was sort of the completing aspects of the, the gendered experience of being the helicopter is experiencing gender dysphoria, how to actually how did that sort of ending note. How did you feel about that?

Tessa 34:48
Honestly, it was kind of weird, like, not in a bad way, but it was just like a little hard for me to wrap my head around. You know, I thought it was clever, but it was just kind of, it’s hard for me to grasp on a visceral level, even as a trans person.

Charles 35:01
Hmm. Well, I think that’s maybe a good ending question of did this story, speak to the actual way that people experience gender to you? Did it feel like a useful contemplation of the reality of gender?

Tessa 35:22
I mean, it’s certainly a good addition to the conversation. I think just because like, I do think it’s a good critique of making neurobiology, the end all be all gender identity, and in a good exploration of what could happen if you could actually remap that sort of just going through regular conversion therapy route of like thinking even more radically about it, you know, it’s almost sort of a dark mirror of gender liberation, where Yes, we are now in a society that’s accepting of all forms of gender, but we’re using it for like, terrible purposes. So I think in that respect, it’s definitely it definitely did what it set out to accomplish.

Charles 35:57
For my part, I don’t know. That’s my final thought. I don’t know how I really feel about this. Yeah, I mean, I’m not mad that I read it. But I also I didn’t find it, really. It didn’t really shake me up, particularly. But I also wonder if part of that is in sort of defenses of it, or like, statements of it as being a very strong piece of writing. I think the most compelling to me, is the idea that it speaks very particularly to a kind of trans feminine experience, that I also am not plugged into.

Tessa 36:35
I think so. At least I know… Imean, I wouldn’t say it resonated for me that much more strongly as a trans woman either. So I don’t know if that’s just you.

Charles 36:43
Hmm. Well, did you see anything on it that did feel particularly like…?

Tessa 36:48
Really, this, like I thought it was just more of a general expression of like gender or exploration of like the idea of gender and gender identification? Like there was nothing about it, as opposed to something in Detransition, Baby where like, the transfeminine experience is integral to the entire story. I didn’t really get that.

Charles 37:09
If you want to find more about me, I am on Twitter @cockroacharles.

Tessa 37:13
I’m on Twitter @spacermase.

Charles 37:17
And now you have a website.

Tessa 37:18
I do! At tessafisher.com. Thank you for reminding me.

Charles 37:21
This show is on Twitter @ASABpod or at our website where we post show notes and transcripts for every episode, asabpodcast.com. If you like the show, please tell other people that you think might like it because that’s the number one way that podcasts grow. And we’re not really aiming for sponsorship numbers, although I would love to be sponsored by BioQuip. I’m also going to put that out into the world – Sensodyne or BioQuip, if you want to advertise on a podcast: ASABpod@gmail.com.

Tessa 37:50
Until next time, keep on science-ing.

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