I write an algorithm that will rewrite stories so their protagonists have a different gender. So I can consider the characters and plots in a new light. It’s a simple program that changes pronouns and other gender-specific words pertaining to the main character, e.g. nather to suther, woster to zeter. It works well for short fiction (especially pieces that are nominally gendered with few tropes and only the occasional social expectation), yielding refreshing results: familiar stories are revitalized with a distinctive energy. Like old dogs who have learned a new trick—just one but a pretty good one.
So I upgrade the algorithm so that it will work convincingly on longer literary texts. In addition to changing pronouns, the new version rewrites the way characters conduct themselves, re-aligning their psychology and behavior with gender archetypes. Once I’ve got it working successfully, I run the improved program on my personal library to generate alternate versions of everything from classic plays to contemporary novels. To great effect. Each story thrums with a new vibe.
After a weekend of binge reading revamped old favorites, I yearn to see versions of my life in which family, friends, neighbors and coworkers have genders other than the ones they’ve long had. To better understand them and my relationships with them. Come Sunday evening, what began as a mild curiosity in the third chapter of a re-gendered Athena and Prometheus is an irrepressible desire.
So I try something well beyond the alteration of literary work—a project at the edge of my programming abilities: a software patch that will get my smartglasses to alter people’s appearance, tone of voice, etc. all in realtime so that I perceive people as having genders different from their own. But I just can’t get my homegrown hack to work. As much as I refine the code, it doesn’t transform reality into a convincing alternative fast enough. The best I can manage is a deepfake overlay with a split-second lag that still ruins the experience.
So I opt for what could be an effective alternative: a smartglasses mod that ambiguizes gender by obscuring and altering characteristics indicative or suggestive of gender. This allows me to be gender agnostic when I’m talking with—or just looking at—someone. Which is interesting, but not as interesting as re-gendering would likely have been.
And this gets me to realize that though gender is a construct, it’s one that I like.
So I turn my attention back to literature and write a gender-intensifying algorithm that accentuates the protagonist’s thoughts and behavior with manifestations of gender. After running it a few times, I’m impressed by how much this algorithm can widen the scope of a story in gender-related dimensions, dramatically expanding their protagonists’ genderhood.
The results are so good that I want more genderization in works of fiction, and that means making the algorithm capable of putting more into stories. Not just more details but more characters, places and plot points. Because a large part of gender is relational, manifested in interactions between people, involvement in events and responses to ambiance. The endeavor takes some doing, but all the effort pays off with novels transformed—no, transfigured by numerous gender-infused passages seamlessly grafted into the text.
In one case, the algorithm adds an entire gender-heavy subplot with a minor character who didn’t exist in the original novel. Through this and other enhancements, a whole new side of the protagonist comes to light, one that’s been seemingly hidden in plain sight—that’s postdictable, completely logical now that it’s there but unimaginable before it was.
Eager to see how far this can go, I push the algorithm to incorporate as much as possible. Soon, it’s tripling the size of novels by prolifically and deftly integrating a variety of new elements—all exuberantly inflected by gender. To the point of gender saturation, where it seems the stories can take no more. Or actually, as I then come to understand, I can take no more. Want no more. I find myself in a malaise of gender fatigue resulting from gender overload—first in individual books, maxing out on gender by chapter 5 in The Cognitive Fidelity of Beautiful Lies; then in general, unwilling to navigate gender norms at work. The gender burnout leaves me wanting stories about genderless robots in the depths of space.
Yet I still crave… something.
After several days of reflection, I come to the conclusion that what I want—and wanted all along—is to see things anew with greater depth, and gender augmentation was one way to do that. But the best way to freshen and deepen perspective is earnest curiosity. And nothing evokes curiosity like a good knowledge gap. But those are hard to come by in the thorough familiarity of my immediate surroundings. So I’ll probably have to make my own, until I have time to travel.
A high-quality retrograde amnesiac should do the trick. Which means it’s time to call on my psyberpunk friends, the most gender neutral one first.
Ever yearning to be spellbound by ideas of a certain fanciful persuasion, Soramimi Hanarejima often meanders into the euphoric trance of lyrical daydreams, some of which are chronicled in Soramimi’s neuropunk story collection Literary Devices for Coping.
Image: “Sick Bay” by Daniel Nester