Thursday, February 14, 2019

Let's Take 5 Minutes to Talk About "The Orville"

I. Love this show. I cannot express how much I love this show. It's kind of like having the best parts of what I loved about Star Trek as a kid back but funnier. And yes, it is hilarious but it has such good drama too. I will Stan this.

Okay so anyway I just saw the episode "About a Girl" and if you haven't seen it I'm going to suggest you don't click the read more link because this is going to be full of spoilers. Basically, I'm confused. I really liked it and I'm confused.

I'm about to get worldbuildy and dissecty so like...prepare for that.

Note: In this blog entry we're discussing biological sex. When I say 'male' and 'female', I'm talking about the reproductive bits. Gender is way more fucking complicated than that. That's not what this blog entry is about. We're also not just talking about male reproductive capability vs female, we're going to be dipping into mammalian vs avian and reptilian as well. So for the sake of not further complicating something that I'm already compulsively overcomplicating, we're just gonna set gender identity aside for a moment.

Right so let's kick off. First of all, I get that this is largely a comedy series but Seth MacFarlane was careful to come at this subject matter with care and from what I've read, I understand that they came at this episode as drama first with jokes sprinkled in. And there is a lot to unpack here so I want to start with a recap of what happened and then once you have that know. Commence with the unpacking.

So the episode before this one Bortus laid an egg. He's a Moclan, and their species is introduced as a single-gender species. They're all male. So he and his mate Klyden have this egg together and then it hatches and it's female and Bortus's reaction is "that's impossible" and they spout of some statistic about how rare it is that this happens and that it's only once every seventy years, right?

So Bortus goes to the ship's doctor and asks for gender reassignment to "correct the defect". And the Doctor is like "being female isn't a defect stfu no" and Bortus is like "but our culture" and they faff back and forth about this for a while.  The crew keeps trying to convince him that being female isn't a defect, even though it's pretty explicitly stated to be a mutation in the Moclan species and a really rare one at that.

So eventually the crew shows Bortus an animated rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and he changes his mind, his baby can be female and make up her own mind. But Klyden doesn't. And they've already called their home planet to get this gender reassignment surgery for their daughter and the Moclans are like "Well we're going to side with Klyden on this, we're obligated to do so".

And then Bortus and Klyden fight about it and Klyden reveals that he was born female. Bortus is freaked out because Klyden never told him and they fight about it a little bit. This all goes to trial on Moclus and that goes pretty much the way you'd expect it to. Each side presents evidence, and the Moclan vying to have the child reassigned is portrayed as a huge asshole.

Then the captain comes back with a female Moclan that was raised in a cave and she looks pretty old and she looks pretty much the way you'd imagine a female Moclan would including breasts (and I'm not pointing that out to be a pervert we're going to put a pin in that) and she's like "Well I'm not intellectually or physically inferior and I'm here to testify" and she does and it's very uplifting.

And then the verdict comes in and they decide they're going to reassign the girl anyway and Bortus and Klyden bring their son home.

And you know what? As far as stories go I really enjoyed it. Sometimes things don't end well. Sometimes you get the bad result. And...I think...we're supposed to see this as the bad result? I mean every bit of evidence kind of points at it? Bortus wasn't happy with it. The entire time I kept expecting there to be some kind of legitimate reason for being female to be a defect in the Moclan species. Except it wasn't. They played it perfectly straight.

Now...let me preface this by stating that I understand they're writing a mostly comedy show for a fully human audience that's accustomed to a gender binary and mammalian logic so on a meta level I understand the answers to all of these questions and that it is a very strong possibility it would have been too hard to actually delve into this on a realistic biological level. I get this. I'm not saying they did something wrong, but worldbuilding is kind of my shtick and I have questions and so...I'm going to get into a few of those.

Like first of all...Moclans are at first presented as all male. Okay. Easily explainable by them wanting everyone to think they are, but they blatantly state "one female every seventy years" and then we get three in the same episode. They treat it like it's some kind of mutation which could possibly check out as well and I don't know how long Moclans tend to live. So it is totally possible that we just happened to get all three females from the past 210 years all at once. I'll buy that.

But. Bortus. Laid. An egg.


Laid an egg.

So first of all, "Female is the sex of an organism, or a part of an organism, that produces non-mobile ova." Like by biological definition, laying the egg makes Bortus the female. And do not take me as misgendering him, Bortus is whatever he wants, that's all well and good, but let's take this from a cultural context for a second.

Moclans are a one-gender species, that is how they want people to perceive them. But for whatever reason they have a concept of femininity. Which doesn't make any sense if two male Moclans can have an egg together. Like, so much of our cultural context for what is female is directly hinged on the fact that mammalian females give live birth and have to carry a child in order to do this. No, I'm not being cheeky here I'm totally serious; Moclans have a concept for 'female' that is for some reason divorced from the birth of children. And for whatever reason it adheres very closely to human gender binaries?

And okay on a biological level Klyden being born female makes it seem kind of reasonable for them to have a female baby because chromosomes but they made it pretty clear this was some kind of birth mutation? Maybe it was more likely because Klyden was? I guess I can buy that too?

But Bortus laid an egg. So clearly Moclans aren't mammals, right? So why would Heveena, who is a Moclan female, have breasts? Creatures that lay eggs don't need them to feed their young. I mean there are a few mammals that lay eggs so maybe they're working under echidna rules?

Regardless of all of this, what I'm most stuck on is the fact that the narrative we're given is that Moclans are vastly male and female births are rare and shocking. And have nothing to do with reproduction.

But we also know that Klyden only found out he'd been born female when he got on board a human vessel and the human doctor was able to point out the signs.'s my hot take.

Female moclans aren't a genetic mutation at all. They're not rare. They have a similar gender ratio to ours and treat it like such a shameful thing in their culture that it gets buried. Like, this conspiracy goes fuckin' deep, right? Because we don't actually KNOW that Moclans are a true single-gender species and in fact we know they aren't. What we do know is that this is the narrative they've spun for the rest of the galaxy.

And suddenly this whole thing feels a lot more sinister.

Like, okay that still doesn't explain why an egg-laying species would have the same concept of gender binary that blatantly mammalian humans do, but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for that. This show is being written in the context of a mammalian audience and this is what's accessible to us. I'm down, let's go.

But I do have this really intense headcanon now that there's a vast Moclan conspiracy to cover up the fact that they have women. Like this pervasive gender reassignment that they keep doing is so well covered up that Klyden had it done to him and never even knew until there was a human around to tell him. No Moclan let him know. So it isn't all that impossible to believe that it's happened more often than that.

When Bortus said he wanted to take it to court, Klyden's reaction was astronomically adverse. He didn't want to air his dirty laundry in front of all the other Moclans. He didn't want everyone to know. Which means the stigma runs deep. And if females were as rare as they claimed they were to begin with, why the reason for the stigma? Why would they have any cultural concept for femininity in the first place?

We don't have widespread stigma concepts for extremely rare conditions. That's not really a thing that people do. There's no protocol for it. That's actually a massive subject for contention. We don't even have protocol sometimes for left-handed people and that's easily 10% of our population.

So yeah. I'm pretty sure we've got some Moclan conspiracy shit going on.

Fortune Favors,
Megan R. Miller

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