Early 15th century detail of The Legend of St. Stephen by Martino di Bartolomeo
Early 15th century detail of The Legend of St. Stephen by Martino di Bartolomeo

Once I asked my father
what he’d do if he found out I was a changeling.
Without hesitating, he said
“Kill you. Find my real daughter”

This paper consists of a series of semi-autobiographical anecdotes, like the one above, interspersed with more direct analyses of the queerness and transhumanity of entities deemed non- or sub-human in sci-fi and fantasy literature.

The experience of being trans in a non-speculative, ‘real’ world can result in a rupture – a dislocation which generates planes of parallel existence out of splintered desires, necessities and modes of survival; above ground, Under the Hill, and out into the endless alien recesses of space. Being trans means inhabiting a body which is possible in some worlds, and impermissible in others. Side-stepping any debate about whether transness is ‘real’, I would say, I don’t want to be real. I don’t even want to be human.

In this instance, the implication of real is natural, and the meaning of “natural” is “of this world”.

As a trans person, I have a supernatural experience of my body. Along these lines, this paper includes stories about aliens, changelings, and AI’s, and describes how these speculative states – the grotesque, bizarre, undesirable or misleading bodies of science fiction and fantasy – can also be states in which queer bodies can thrive.

I will draw from Octavia Butler’s alien Oankali in Lilith’s Brood, Ann Leckie’s exploration of the relationships between Artificial Intelligence, non-human bodies and personhood in Ancillary Justice, and Jeff VanderMeer’s writing of genetic mutation and changelings in the Southern Reach trilogy, focusing on:

  1. How queer and aberrant bodies have been marked with tropes of ugliness, trickery, fear and transgression, and how these traits manifest as ‘creatures’ in speculative fiction.
  2. The ways in which “grossness” and duality is interrogated by the listed examples.
  3. And, how this sense of bodily transgression, which feeds on revulsion, otherworldliness and the trans/sub-human, can be re-appropriated and harnessed by queer and trans entities to speculate about other ways of existing in this world.

About the speaker

Felix Kawitzky is a non-binary trans artist, writer and lecturer. They are a PhD candidate at the University of York, researching in the fields of queer science fiction, fantasy, collective storytelling, and tabletop roleplaying games. They have an undergraduate in Fine Art, and a Master’s degree in Theatre Making from the University of Cape Town (UCT).

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