sex as the alien in lilith's brood (vols 2 and 3)

I went into more depth with this line of thought in my paper, but for some reason the Lilith's Brood trilogy got me thinking about how the subject (and act, ultimately) of sex is treated by our society, and why.

The vastly different attitudes of the humans and the Oankali towards sex is significant; it reveals itself is through language and the characters' actions. The Oankali talk about "sharing" sex; the humans talk about "having" or "getting" it. In the human view, it is almost like a possession itself, or a method of possessing a partner. To the Oankali, it is a biological necessity for reproduction, but there is also a ritualistic element to it that is almost sacred. Humans use sex as a weapon (as in rape) to subjugate or control others; or, sex is demonized and treated as sinful or "perverse". Humans make sex into something that is unnatural, "other" and "alien" in this way; which is reinforced by the fact that the Oankali, an alien species, embrace sexuality. It seems that the Oankali also use sex as a device, but to bring people together and deepen their intimacy, as Nikanj does with Lilith and Joseph.

I acknowledge that the main flaw in my theory is that some of the Oankali sexual interaction with humans seems coerced, even forced. For example, when Nikanj is seducing Joseph, he says "You see, your body has made a different choice'" (pp 189, Dawn). Does Nikanj somehow know what Joseph truly wants, or is it taking away his free will? In the same way, Nikanj tells Lilith "You'll have a daughter, and you are ready to be her mother. You could never have said so. Just as Joseph could never have invited me into his bed, no matter how much he wanted me there. Nothing about you but your words reject this child" (pp 247, Dawn). The mind is supposed to be one of the fundamental things that a person controls about themselves; surely this control is not taken away so easily.

The professed goal of the Oankali colonization is to allow humans to "have a chance to live on your Earth, not just to die on it" (pp 32, Dawn). And indeed, they do go about teaching them how to survive in strange terrain without killing unnecessarily. This preference for nonviolence is admirable. However, the realization that sexuality is not "alien" but natural is also a goal. Nikanj puts it, "Let them learn that it isn't shameful to be together with one another and with us" (pp 200, Dawn).

By the end of the trilogy, readers may sit back and find that they have embraced or at least accepted the idea of a third 'both-gender' sex like the ooloi. The novel's depiction of sex as "alien" and yet inherently human is meant to encourage readers to critique societal attitudes that condemn sexuality as demonic, sinful or something to be feared. Butler's critique should lead us to question why our society treats open sexuality, appreciation of pleasure, and unconventional gender identities as "alien". As the fate of the earliest humans in the novel suggests, these tendencies seem to ultimately lead to sexual repression, cyclical violence and the destruction of the human race.

I'm curious as to how the concept of romantic love enters into the human/Oankali equation. For the Oankali, it's a biological function, ritualistic but not necessarily intimate ( except in a purely physical sense ). They don't seem to have any notion of courtship or monogamy, though a species with five-parter intercourse probably wouldn't.

However, there's just as little romance amongst the human race; aside from the backstory of Lilith's dead husband and son, the relationships are too complicated to fall into the " soulmate " category. In the fight for survival, there seems to be no time for romance; like you said, sex is used as either a weapon or means of control. We do see some relationships in the monogamous sense of the word ( Gabe and Tate, and Tomas and Jesusa in an incestuous way ), but they're not the focus; most often the traditional dynamic of Western romance is absent.

It's very refreshing to see that Butler didn't play by the Hollywood gender rules and chose a deeper dynamic, but it's also kind of jarring to see the idea of romance twisted until it's in a barely recognizable form...

Actually, I found the Oankali perspective to everything - sex especially - somewhat exhausting to read. Butler is constantly harping on the inferiority of our species, and it really made me increasingly annoyed - not at the book, per se, but more at the Oankali, if that makes sense. Their treatment of sexual desire in particular bothers me, because it's so counter to the way I've been trained to think: we should not let the desire for sexual pleasure rule us, whereas the Oankali seem to take those desires we'd consider to be coming from the id, and claim that those are the desires of every part of us but our speaking words. I tend to think that people say things seriously, and mean them, mots of the time, so Nikanj's opinion of Joseph is kind of offensive to me.

As much as everyone likes to hate the Hollywood romance dynamic (and admittedly, there's a kind of predictable idiocy involved there), I think that a world where romantic, loving relationships are possible, and not just based on the desires of the body, is very refreshing after having been reading Lilith's Brood for so many long pages.