In-Between: How Many Gay Men Are There On Pern, Anyway?

Content Notes: Sexual assault, planning sexual assault, and anti-queer tropes and ideas

I had this post planned out for a couple weeks from now, because there’s a line in Chapter 7 that seems like it’s a throwaway, but has significant impacts on everything that we’ve been speculating up to this point about the various and sundry ways that dragons and their riders get busy. And then Mari Ness’s post this week is specifically calling to our attention the presence of queer people on Pern as it continues to thunder along at a breakneck pace, and I had hoped she would wait one more cycle so we could synchronicitously line up without any actual collaboration or knowledge on each of our parts. Alas, as with most things, I end up adjacent to perfect timing (unless it’s comedic timing and I’m directly involved).

Here’s the segment, involving the blue dragonrider J’trel, and paternity rumors.

Rumors went on, wildly, to assert that J’trel had had a romantic liason with Jalenna resulting in Jassi. Kindan tended to discount such rumors as everyone knew that blue riders preferred to partner with green riders, and that both riders were usually male.

That’s an interesting way of phrasing it, because it doesn’t say “blue and green riders are gay. Super gay. Like, Kinsey 6 gay.” Instead, it says “blue riders like green riders, and since there aren’t all that many women green riders, that means a lot of blue rider men and green rider men get together.” Kindan and the narrative are taking this statement to mean “J’trel couldn’t possibly have had an affair with a woman that resulted in a child, because he’s gay,” but it’s entirely possible J’trel is bi. Or, possibly, that J’trel is straight and he spends a lot of time away from people because his dragon has urges. Or even that J’trel is gay, but dragon sex-rays mean that you couple with the first person closest to you that seems compatible. There’s a lot of wiggle room there for what exactly J’trel’s orientation and sexual practice actually is. (And also, I see this as a convenient way of denying allegations of affairs. “I’m a blue rider,” they say, “so I can’t possibly have slept my way through this Hold and its women.”)

I mention this partially because people who read Pern and then research extra-textual statements by the author run into a very infamous statement about dragon colors being indicative of sexual orientation, no exceptions. This segment is, if not a walking-back of that statement, at least allowing for a less Calvinist interpretation of color and orientation. It doesn’t actually move the needle all that much in text, though. Bronzes are the only color guaranteed the possibility of PIV sex with another rider when their dragon is in flight, and that seems to be only for gold flights (unless we’re supposed to believe in a vast amount of curiously never heard green (or other color) riders who are women.) Every other color has the expectation that they will be men having sex with men when their color goes chasing a green (or is the green getting chased). And Pern doesn’t shy away from portraying this as normal for the dragonriders. There’s no “stay away from the blues unless you like being pounded in the butt” or any indication at all that, to other dragonriders, these couplings are seen as immoral or otherwise problematic.

The original author initially intended for Pern to be without war or religion, if we go into the extratextual material. If most of the issues and hangups about gay sex are rooted in specific dominant religious beliefs of the various centuries in Terra and the interpretations of sacred texts that give rise to those beliefs, then there’s no reason for Pern to have any issues at all about gay sex, because there’s no religious reason for them to do so. Textually, even if you buy my argument that there is religion on Pern, and it’s the cult of the dragonriders, then there’s still no reason for Pern to have any issue with what the dragonriders do for sex, because they’re holy figures. I would expect a certain amount of “we’re fine with gay sex, after all, the dragonriders do it” to be the prevailing attitude on Pern. Or even that certain kinds of gay sex might be okay, so long as there’s enough straight sex to result in pregnancy, heirs, and the continuation of the bloodline. There’s no textual reason that I can find to believe anyone on Pern gives a damn about gay sex.

And yet, I can’t help but have the feeling like we’re not supposed to think about the prevalence of gay sex in the Weyrs at all. We spend far more time, proportionately speaking, on het Weyrleader couplings rather than on what must be the vast majority of pairings (and moreings) in the Weyrs. Mari’s post references the idea of non-Weyr women being kidnapped and forced into, at “best”, rape, at worst sexual slavery. If that were happening all the time, there would be angry mobs at the Weyrs for at least as long as it took to get frightened away by the dragons again. Those don’t happen, and we don’t see Lords Holder plotting angry revenge against their Weyrs for stealing their women for their sexual urges.

There are plot reasons for focusing on the het relationships between Weyrleaders, but even when we get to Benden’s son, he’s chasing one of the few women green riders with his bronze, rather than any of the other green riders. One of the few on-screen gay couples were there, plot-wise, to have one of them get mauled by very large predatory cats and then have an embarrassing story spun and then immortalized in art about they got away and beat the cats. Another, as Mari’s past reminded us, are plot devices for the Brown Rider Rapist to get stabbed and for the narrative to disapprove of the couple being out with their dragons so close to sexytimes. But we don’t see the Weyrmates of most of the riders, even the named ones.

And then we get outside the Weyrs, and run face-first into “there are no gay people in the Holds or the Crafts.” At least, that’s the strong implication, given how much the Lords and Ladies Holders are always married, their daughters will be married off, their sons will inherit, and they don’t have any choice in the matter. Even with the extensive fostering system, we haven’t heard anyone talk with each other about wondering if someone is more interested in another son than in the daughter he’s being shopped for. Or about girls having dalliances with other girls before (or after) getting married. The Crafts seem to follow this idea, given the chewing-out Murenny will give Kindan and Koriana themselves for behavior that is far less explicit than actual sex, and the ways that everybody was trying to dissuade Kindan from giving his crush any sort of attention. And that Cristov mentioned miners getting married early.

Even though I’ve been trying very hard to foreground everything I can that might suggest interests outside heteronormative pairing in settings outside Weyrs, there’s nothing that comes of it. No confirmations, not even something that suggests bisexuality is a thing that happens. There’s a missing segment of population on Pern, and it seems like they went the same way that the Tinkers and Travelers went. Or we’re supposed to believe every gay boy gets Searched. If that were true, I’d want it to be seen as some sort of rescue mission out of the oppressive Hold and Craft culture, because that is what it would have to be. And that story deserves to be told, if that was what was intended. (It wasn’t.)

But if it turns out that the Holds and Crafts are fearfully repressive about sexual orientation and who is allowed to have sex with whom (which is not a stretch at all, given that they essentially run on a system that requires meticulous records of parentage), and it’s no secret at all that the Weyrs are full of gay men having sex with each other, then how do you end up with the clearly cordial relationships that happen between Weyrs, Holds, and Crafts? And the cult of the dragonrider itself? Because a kid who gets Searched essentially ends up as “goodbye to the life you’ve known, now you will participate in gay orgies the rest of your life, in contravention to everything we’ve taught you about what appropriate sex is.” Yet they somehow make that transition without a problem. For those that Impress, I suppose you can handwave it as “dragons, yo.” But what about all the ones that don’t? And yet there’s no sniping or veiled remarks or any other anything that suggests the Lords, Ladies, and Craftmasters consider dragonriders to be perverts of the highest order because of how much sex they have and with whom. Not even in their own heads. (Mari talks about “sniveling boy-lover” leveled as an insult, but that seemed to be the only instance where it got foregrounded, and the person throwing it was coded villainous by the narrative, so there’s a question about whether we’re supposed to see it as insulting.)

And, furthermore, we know that anyone within a certain radius of a dragonkin in active mating flight has to deal with uncontrollable sexual urges, even if it’s not their dragon. Like, if I were a Weyrleader and some Holder or Crafter pissed me off, I’m sending every green who goes on a mating romp over their airspace with the point of making them stop everything and start screwing at the most inopportune times. I might even delight somewhat in making their adolescent children do the same thing to ruin their marriage value, or trying to see if I can time it so the Lord and Lady Holder end up screwing everyone but each other or their family. I might even instruct my Weyrfolk to specifically target the family, cousins, fosterlings, and so forth for those “kidnappings” with the explicit intention of ruining the marriage value and the reputation of purity of that Hold (or Craft) so that they have to make extra effort to find suitable matches. We hear once or twice that dragonriders try not to be over populated spaces because of this effect, which is awfully nice of them, but clearly someone gets affected every time, whether on land or at sea. Yet we never hear anyone giving an excuse for their behavior as “got dragon-drugged, they flew over while I was out,” or gets reprimanded that is not polite to talk about getting roofied by a dragon or what you did while under the influence, or someone planning very specifically to try and be near someone they want to have sex with when they think a dragon is going to go by in a mating fight, so they can honestly say they were out of control of their own body or mind. Either as a way of sanctioned rape or as a way of expressing their own sexual behavior and being able to blame it on the dragons.

We don’t see any of this. The closest we get to a realistic portrayal of how a community might react to the presence of dragonkin is at Aleesa’s wherhold (although there’s still serious squick at the idea of deliberately getting the underage involved in this as well), and Aleesa is explicitly called insane by two separate characters, so we’re not supposed to see her as a good example for the rest of Pern to follow. But even there, the focus is extremely narrowly on Pellar and the women around him. There’s no mention of grouping by orientation, just by age. There have to be other gay men, or bi men, or pan men, that exist outside of the Weyrs. Where are they? And why don’t they appear when the dragons do a flyover, exceedingly grateful for the ability to be themselves without judgment or social stigma?

And that’s without talking about lesbians, bi women, pan women, and so forth, who don’t have the handwave of “well, they’re all in the Weyr.” Isn’t it interesting how every Weyrwoman chosen is straight (regardless of whether she actually wants to sleep with the Weyrleader outside of mating flights)? If there were women in the bronze rider ranks, would a Weyrleader end up being a woman at some point? How would that work out? And where are all the queer women, inside and outside of the Weyr?

We can’t really chalk this up to “the author was ignorant of them, so they’re not there”, because they are present in stories and plots and Kindan’s thought process right here. And they have been in existence since the first novel. Queer people exist on Pern! And they have explicitly existed since the second published novel! And yet, they are systematically invisibled unless it’s very specifically plot-related.

What the fuck is wrong with this place?.

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7 thoughts on “In-Between: How Many Gay Men Are There On Pern, Anyway?

  1. WanderingUndine April 25, 2019 at 8:54 am

    AMC’s infamous statement that being sodomized turns men “homosexual and effeminite” does deny the existence of bi/pan men (and non-homosexual men who have been anally raped). But it contradicts the claim that many blue riders and occasional brown riders are bisexual. In fact, the more the Wiki (my sole source of information on the matter) says, the more conflicting and rapey it gets. Some choice bits, copy-and-pasted here:

    “Due to the 5-1 bronze/gold ratio and the infrequency of gold mating flights, [bronzes] often mate with greens (the losers of a gold flight almost always seek a green for their needs)” […] “In canon Pern, the rider of a bronze dragon is always a heterosexual male.”

    “All brownriders in the Pern novels are men; most are heterosexual, but bisexual or “masculine” homosexual brownriders are not rare. Anne has also stated that masculine females also have the ability to impress to a Brown.”

    “Canon blueriders are typically homosexual or bisexual, though some are heterosexual. In interviews, Anne has stated that homosexual women may be able to Impress a Blue dragon, however it has only been shown to happen once in the books with [later book spoiler]”

    “Females of any sexual orientation may Impress Green.”

    “For much of Pern’s history, all greenriders are male. During these periods, all green mating flights result in homosexual intercourse between the riders of the dragons involved. This homosexual intercourse is accepted in the Weyr as being separate from the rider’s personal preferences unless the rider has shown otherwise. Mating flight sex between two riders, one of whom is not the other’s chosen partner (known as a weyrmate) is not considered to be “cheating.” It is understood within the Weyr that sex during mating flights is not optional for the rider. Anne McCaffrey stated that “The dragon decides, the rider complies.” Dragons do not usually consider the preferences of their riders when considering what female they wish to chase, or for a female dragon, what male dragon might catch her.”

    “Both green and gold dragons broadcast their sexual feelings on a wide band during mating flights. Weyrfolk tend to become somewhat inured to this and therefore can hold their sexual reactions until an appropriate place and time. However, flights are usually not over the Weyr itself and sometimes the flightpath of the mating flight brings the mating dragons over Holds or Farmholds where the average people occasionally find themselves engaged in unexpected activities. This is especially common among young teens working out in the fields who react to the sudden, unexpected and overwhelming urges with potentially embarrassing results. [Yeah, no, rape isn’t just “embarrassing.”]

    “Riders of the losing dragons usually seek sexual relief after the intense flight, if they do not have a chosen partner they may seek the comfort of any willing and available partner of their sexual preference. The weyrfolk tend to happily accommodate these riders, especially if they have been affected by the flight’s sexual urgency. This is one of the major reasons for the Weyr’s reputation for being sexually very open.”

    “In later interviews McCaffrey claims that green dragons merely pick up on psychological clues from homosexual boys before they themselves know that they are homosexual.”

  2. WanderingUndine April 25, 2019 at 8:55 am

    Oh, here’s the Wiki page: https://pern.fandom.com/wiki/Dragon

  3. depizan77 April 25, 2019 at 10:36 am

    (This might be a double post. WordPress was being wonky.)

    Augh. Augh augh augh. How was this world ever anyone’s fantasy? (In the “wow, I wanna be a dragonrider!” sense.) It’s worse than Westeros – or even Gor (dear god, McCaffrey, how did you end up with world-building more horrifying than Gor?) – just with a candy coating. The rape is baked into the world-building in a way that I’m not sure any other sci-fi/fantasy series even approaches. (And I really don’t think I want to know if it has competition in “no, actually the world literally runs on rape and would take either the re-engineering of a sapient species or the extinction there of to remove it.”)

    Why would anyone design a world this way? How did she not notice how the world was designed (if she didn’t)? Why are there fan clubs? I do not get Pern. I have only screaming.

    (I mean, it’s nice that she created a fantasy world that had gay men in it, but the rest of the queer world seems to be missing, and it kind of only had gay men to start with because roofie dragons. Which doesn’t exactly seem like a win for gay representation. Like…at all.)

  4. Silver Adept April 25, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    @ WanderingUndine –

    This is why I try to stay away from the outside-text material as much as I can get away with. It doesn’t actually help. If anything, it makes things worse trying to reconcile text with not-text, a situation this generation of fen are getting a healthy dose of from Jo Rowling. The text of Pern is terrible enough about its own contradictions, why would we want to add more from the author?

    Especially because the additions always seem to make things worse. As depizan points out and then does an impression of Edvard Munch over.

    I mean, even the gay folk that are in these books are essentially married monogamous couples who would be indistinguishable except gay. Surely Kylara wasn’t the only dragonrider who actually enjoyed sex with others and might have seen those sex rays as a blessing.

  5. genesistrine April 25, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    Or about girls having dalliances with other girls before (or after) getting married.

    Nerilka seemed to have a serious crush on whatever her name was, her friend who married Alessan. Whether or not it got physical is, of course, never mentioned.

    Surely Kylara wasn’t the only dragonrider who actually enjoyed sex with others and might have seen those sex rays as a blessing.

    Not to mention Fax and his collection of concubines in the first book. That’s presented then as normal for Lord Holders, but every one we see afterwards has one and only one lady or mistress at a time, no overlap. Same with ‘Dawn, when we’re told that all kind of marriage and reproduction contracts are possible, but do we ever see anything other than 1 mother 1 father and children? Of course we don’t.

  6. WanderingUndine April 25, 2019 at 3:21 pm

    Er, I apologize. I don’t use the Wiki much, but with your questions and speculations, I wanted to give the ‘information’ that’s out there. And share the outrage at its grosssness and absurdity, having already looked it up for commenting on the Tor reread. Misery loves company.

  7. Silver Adept April 26, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    @ WanderingUndine –

    I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that comment as censure, although that’s how it came across. The wiki information is useful and relevant to the discussion. It also makes me WTF about how the books were written with those ideas in mind and trying to find where they might have applied. And reinforces my idea to try and avoid them, except in specific cases like these, because they will be more trouble for me than they will be helpful. I want to see whether the stories themselves can hold together (and show the author’s views) by themselves as much as makes sense to do.

    @ genesistrine –

    Oy, Fax and his concubines. Which is Early Installment Weirdness, but also a signifier that he was a bad person. He was, because I doubt somehow that he got the consent of all those women for sex and to carry pregnancies to term. Kylara gets it, too, because she has nonstandard sexual practice, although it’s couched as sleeping below her station (and possibly enjoying being a kinky woman). When the Benden Weyrleader’s child is breaking hearts and sleeping his way through all sorts of people, that’s frowned upon by his parents, but he gets redeemed by the love of a single woman (that he raped) and stays faithfully monogamous, as best I can tell, to her from that moment forward. For supposedly infinite space, the actual things we see on screen are remarkably few and follow a single pattern.

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