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?.