Dawn

Octavia Butler’s Dawn is a sci-fi novel that deals with humans being prepared by extraterrestrials to live on earth again following nuclear war. What is particularly striking about this book is the approaches to sex that Butler takes with her extraterrestrials. She has beings called ooloi that are not male or female. In fact, when Lilith, the protagonist of the novel, expresses confusion over the ooloi’s gender, it tells her that “it is wrong to assume that I must be a sex you’re familiar with” (11). This issue of human confusion over the ooloi’s sex is a recurring theme within the novel. Much later, when Lilith has contact with another human being for the first time since Awakening, he tells her that “when they woke me up, I thought the ooloi acted like men and women while the males and females acted like eunuchs” (87). Unlike Lilith, this character insists on gendering the ooloi within a human binary, and the contrast is very interesting. Lilith finds his actions to be foolish and willfully ignorant. In fact, she has an argument with her partner Joseph later on after he refuses to accept the ooloi’s sex, telling him that “we need to know them for what they are!” (170) Overall, I found the inclusion of and fight for a third sex to be a very interesting choice, especially for a book written in the 1980s. It illustrates how sci-fi is a prime means of exploring concepts beyond the expectations of western society, including when it comes to gender.

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