Old Man’s War and Trans Folk

Note: This entry will have spoilers about my book Old Man’s War — which, inasmuch as the book has been published for nearly ten years now probably shouldn’t been seen as spoilers anymore but never mind that now — so if you haven’t read Old Man’s War and don’t want a relatively important aspect of it spoiled for you, here’s the takeaway: Yes, there are trans people in the OMW universe; no, it’s not a problem for the CDF/Colonial Union that they are trans. There, now you can go ahead and skip the rest of this entry.

Now, then, for everyone else:

I have been asked several times (and just yesterday, in fact, via e-mail), what happens to trans people who become part of the Colonial Defense Force in the Old Man’s War books. To recap, the CDF gets its soldiers by recruiting 75-year-olds from Earth and giving them new, super-awesome bodies that are based on — but not created solely out of — their own DNA. Because the creation of the bodies is only partly based on the recruit’s original genetic information, would it be possible to for transfolk to specify which gender they would like their new body to be?

This is a really interesting question. Let me try to answer it.

Let me note that with respect to Old Man’s War the book, I did not at all think about what would happen with trans people who join the CDF as I was writing it. Why? Short answer: Straight white male who didn’t know any trans people at the time, so it was not something in my consciousness. So everything from here on out is me adding commentary to the original text — but since it’s from me, the author, we can consider it canonical.

(Also, note: I am not 100% up on trans-related terms, so if I use terms incorrectly, it’s ignorance and not malice; please let me know in the comments and I’ll edit.)

1. First off, and to be clear, there would be no bar to trans people joining the CDF, because why would there be? The entrance requirements are a) you’ve signed up, b) you come from what are in the book rich, developed countries (which mostly align with the current slate of rich, developed countries). So yes, there would be trans people among the recruits.

2. By default, CDF bodies come in classically male and classically female forms. Note that thanks to genetic engineering, etc, the performance capabilities of both male and female forms are equal, so the gender presentation is strictly for the psychological comfort of the recruit, i.e., you’re (usually) used to being male or female, so you get to stay that way when you transfer into your new body.

3. Because the body sorting is a matter of psychological comfort, to the extent that the CDF knows about a trans person’s gender identity, it’ll sort them that way. So, for example, a post-op trans person will be sorted into their post-op gender identity, regardless of DNA profile, because that’s the clear preference for that person.

4. What about non-op, genderfluid, intersex or trans people who have not made their preferred gender public knowledge? The CDF initially sorts into male/female by best appoximation and then after transfer follows up for additional modification. The CDF is an organization that can grow back limbs and organs with minimal effort (for them; it’s slightly more traumatic to the person growing them back), so modifying bodies for the psychological comfort of the person inside is a relatively trivial matter. Most of this can be handled before the recruits get to basic training, although particular in the case of trans people who are not public, much would be contingent on them telling the CDF doctors and technicians.

5. And no, the CDF wouldn’t care about the gender presentation of the recruits. What it would care about is them being willing to fight. You’ll fight? Great, here’s your Empee. Go kill an alien. Thanks.

6. Would there be some other recruits who would have a problem with trans people? It’s possible; the CDF lets anyone in. The basic training drill sergeants will be happy to tell them to get over it. If they did not (indeed if they did not get over any general bigotry) the results for them would be grim.

7. Could a CDF soldier decide to change their gender identity and presentation during the term of service? Sure, why not? All CDF bodies have the same baseline capabilities and personal identity can be verfied via BrainPal, so there would be no penalty or confusion on either score. Are you following orders? Killing aliens? Great — change your presentation however you like.

8. Likewise, when a CDF soldier leaves service, they can specify the gender identity and presentation of the body they’ll be transfered into. Because, again, why wouldn’t they?

Short form: The CDF is happy to let trans people be who they are because it makes them comfortable with themselves — and that makes them better soldiers, which is ultimately what the CDF cares about.

With regard to the Old Man’s War series, I have not intentionally written about trans people in it (some of my characters may have been trans but did not tell me about it), but there’s no reason why I could not. So maybe I will at some point, if there’s a way to do so that doesn’t look like me transparently trying to gather cookies to myself. But regardless of whether I’ve written trans people into my books, there are, canonically speaking, trans people in the OMW universe. Because why wouldn’t there be.

(Update, 8:30pm: Making a few tweaks on language thanks to feedback from some trans and trans-knowledgeable readers)

110 Comments on “Old Man’s War and Trans Folk”

  1. The fact that you actually had to spend time writing this shows that a) Fans are really insane and b) You have too much free time and need to spend it writing actual stories in that Universe!!! Like what the hell happened once the short stories ended.

  2. Next time you see a shooting star, you may assume that due to a planning error your cookies were dropped from orbit without adequate environmental protection.

    And I don’t see anything insane about fans being curious about it.

    BTW: Something like 70% of my friends are trans, and at least some people consider me to be a kind-of-trans. (I don’t have an opinion on the topic, which is why they say that.) And it never occurred to me to think about it either, but if someone had asked me, this is pretty much what I’d have speculated.

  3. I think it’s fantastic that you took the time to put this together. It makes perfect sense that this is how things would work in the OMW universe. Thank you, sir!

  4. Actually, I’d say the fact that John took the time to write this shows a) He cares about representation and the feelings of his fans (some of whom are likely trans, btw) enough to thoughtfully respond to the question about how trans people would fit into the OMW universe and b) It’s something he may not have been aware of in his writing before but perhaps now will have mind as he’s writing new stories – and that’s a good thing because it expands the boundaries of the stories John has yet to tell.

  5. This was a pretty damn interesting and thoughtful read on something I hadn’t considered*, but when you put it that way it just makes perfect sense.

    *And as another cisgendered male, it’s nice to get out of my own head and consider something I might not have otherwise.

  6. Thanks, Paul, for peeing on the good feelings I was about to report.

    As a trans woman, I wanted to say thanks, John, that’s a very reasonable approach. Cookies are for monsters (well, one, anyway), but I honestly couldn’t ask fairer than that for a response, if I were the one who’d asked the question. My opinion has a huge ranking among trans people, with a followership of ONE! One whole follower for my opinion, and I categorically deny that SchmaitieCat is in any way related to me. But for me, that’s a fair response, for various values of “fair”.

    And you’ve got my e-mail. You want to ask about living as trans someday, I transitioned 22 years ago, so I’ve got a bit of experience in the field. :)

  7. Speaking as a transfolk: Media representation is really important. I am glad you took the time to explain that trans people exist in your fictional universe, but that’s not half as valuable as actually showing onscreen (as it were) that trans people (1) exist in your fictional universe and (2) are not punished by the narrative for existing. (And Paul up there can just shut up.)

  8. Also, for anyone reading along, forgive the spammy second comment, but if you’re looking for good reading about trans experience, Whipping Girl by Julia Serano comes very widely recommended.

  9. Good answer. It’s made me curious as to how race carries through across CDF & post-CDF colonial body transitions.

  10. Paul:

    I’ve often noted that writing here does not take away from novel writing time and indeed if I didn’t write here my novels would suffer because I would only be writing novels, and that would make me unhappy.

    Also, you know. I’m personally delighted that people are thinking about my universe when I’m not writing about it. It means it’s important to them.

    Also, also: I in fact did not have to write this at all; I chose to write because it was an interesting question and answering it tells me more about my own universe. I’m happy when people give me an excuse to think more about the worlds I’ve created.

    Finally: I don’t suspect you were intending to snark on transfolk, but asking “WHO CARES” right up at the top of the comment thread on trans representation in the OMW doesn’t help. As an fyi for later.

  11. Thank you for taking the time to write this, John. I am not trans, but people I love are, and it’s good to know that people are thinking about these issues when it comes to their worldbuilding.

  12. But there are no races since everyone is green, no one is physically handicapped since everyone is given a perfect body… what about mental issues? Is there still bi-polar disorders, anxiety disorders, PTSD?

  13. “With regard to the Old Man’s War series, […] some of my characters may have been trans but did not tell me about it”


  14. Kilroy:

    Not a canonical answer here, because I’ve not thought about it enough, but the brains in the new body are straight up from the genetic material of the recruit, so some mental health issues might be present if they have a genetic component while others (I’m thinking specifically of PTSD, which usually has a real world trigger) would not carry over. In either case, BrainPals, medication and therapy would probably help address symptoms.

  15. I’m a trans-woman and a fan, and I was happy to see this. I didn’t see anything offensive in it, though I find the use of “folk” to dull any perception of bias against a troublesome social norm. “Let’s talk about womenfolk” doesn’t raise the stance of concerned interpretation like “Let’s talk about women” does. Not that this is offensive, or that you’re operating outside social norms. It’s just a personal pet peeve. (I fear I don’t have better vocabulary options on offer – “trans people” or (God help us) “trans individuals” feel sort of clumsy, too.)

    My guess is that in the future gender fluidity will be a more common thing. Many people who were gender fluid in the past either stayed in the closet or identified themselves as the opposite (biological) gender because those were the conceptual options available to them. That would complicate the job of the CDF doctors, as it would lessen the confidence with which they could assume that, say, someone with male genitalia, breasts, and a dress would wish to be “completely female.”

    As for bigots, they often wouldn’t know. I’m sure many people who had changed their sex would be happy to talk about it, but others would just be thrilled to have an opportunity at the life they were “supposed to have.” How those numbers pan out would depend on the cultural norms regarding gender and sexuality back on Earth, I imagine.

  16. I’m not sure if this has been covered in any of the books, but does the CDF allow body mods? Can soldiers get piercings, tattoos, etc. as long as it doesn’t interfere with combat?

  17. John, wouldn’t the in-depth psychological analysis reveal their preferred gender presentation even if they hadn’t made it public? As I recall from the scenes in OMW, pre-conversion analysis was inventive, detailed, and seemingly pretty thorough.

  18. This is my favorite aspect of science fiction: taking an idea for a walk.
    Build a world and then, hey, toss in another thought and watch the ripples cross.

  19. Any time knowledge replaces ignorance, a fairy gets its wings. Thanks for taking the time to expound on your OMW universe, sir.

  20. I specifically want to ask Mr. Scalzi where you stand on gender in language as a functional building block and also as mere gender descriptor. In some foreign languages such as Spanish, Latin, and Greek, there are male, female, and neuter gendered functions based off the gender of types of vocabulary, and some of these concepts have rubbed off on the “borrowing” English language. Yet English provides a basic capability to discern and describe actual physical gender, supposed gender, and preferred gender. Many post-structuralist literary critics have commented on perceived gender hierarchies inherent in language as a subtle lack of freedom, and others argue any speech not presented without completely gender neutral pronouns such as “h/ir,” “h/ym,” and “s/he” is bigoted. As an author, do you feel that, in order to respect and insure the rights of a small minority of readers, you now need to deliberately obfuscate and make less clear your own writing in the English language (and in translation) by use of these supposedly less offensive pronouns whose lack of supposed offense is based solely on a lack of clarity, rather than any inherent value judgment of worth? The old English pronouns seem to have been acceptable to the majority of your readers to this point. How far is the artist expected to be shackled and inconvenienced by the preconceptions of a tiny percentage of any audience? Why any should artist be so shackled by what is perceived as “politically correct”, “non-offensive” speech, such that they are no longer functionally capable of meaningful communication within the language system is a viable question? Spock says, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” How far in insuring the complete rights of an individual who says suffering occurs if non-gender pronouns are not used, is a well-meaning author to be inconvenienced? While I understand you have taken a stand on underrepresented voices and points of view, and your world is inclusive, as a technician, do you feel you should be asked to give up a tool which conveys clarity– gender-specific pronouns–, simply because some tiny demographic finds them offensive? What if it created a serious decline in general readership over time?

  21. Anyone who thinks that our host MUST write transfolk into his stories should take a deep breath. In most situations, especially if the stories take place in a world where it’s not being suppressed, *it just won’t come up.* Unlike the world of, say, “Idiocracy,” I don’t say, “I like women” to everyone I meet. If it’s not relevant to the story, it probably doesn’t belong, although it can provide flavor. If it is relevant to the story, it must belong.

    For me, some of the first exposure to non-heteronormativeness [sic] in a future was Haldeman’s “Forever War” — the idea that homosexuality would become a norm was initially surprising, then rational for the point the author was making (but it’s probably less likely for the future our world-vector is pointing to right now — the birth control pill was relatively new when he wrote it, and pregnancy-free sex could be a strong population control driver).

    Gender fluidity is more common in SF than conventional literature — your average literary novel won’t have as many magical or surgical opportunities to change one’s self. And I find that exploration of what is to me, the “other,” to be excellent to help define my self, although in some cases it’s by the method in the old joke about how to carve an elephant out of a block of marble (carve away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant).

    I’m certainly not expecting every story to feature every flavor of humanity, though. Are there socio-political reasons why some works feature only straight white males as heroes? Sure. Sometimes it’s deliberate, sometimes it’s just what they know (which yes, is part of the problem), sometimes it just is what happens to work in the story.

  22. Drunkenafficianado:

    Your questions, while interesting, are generally aside the topic for this thread. I’ll note for the present I am happy to use “they” and “their” as a useful non-gender pronoun because people are used to it. The rest will wait for some other time.


    I don’t think I’ve ever been told that I must write trans characters, actually. None of the letter I’ve gotten ever demanded that. They were just curious how —if there were trans people joining the CDF — their transfer into a new body would be handled.

  23. drunkenafficionado: “As an author, do you feel that … you now need to … use … these … pronouns?”

    I think you can find the answer to that question by reading his writing. I know that’s where I would look.

  24. I’m not sure how you’d make PTSD go away. But being flexible in the body parts is neat. Like do polydactyly people get to choose to keep their extra digits or not? I don’t remember anything in the book that gave the protagonist a menu to select from before being transferred into the body. In fact it was almost entirely a surprise right up until the human version of the old man saw his green version new body moments before the mental transfer. Didn’t they start growing the body years before they turned 75? Can’t remember the details. But I think they just signed up, took a blood/genetic sample, and the recruit didn’t know anything until a few moments before the brain transfer occurred.

  25. I’m not sure it’s solved as neatly at that – or at the very least, there was one case (or more) where things went very wrong. (Which could be an interesting short story.)

    In Old Man’s War, new recruits don’t know how they’re going to be made young, so they can’t say “make sure my new body is female”. Nor do the people collecting the info know that. From the book, at the orientation they take some blood, DNA, and do a brain scan, and signed a form saying yes, he’d join the CDF. So unless there’s a record somewhere that the CDF has access to saying that Alexi Smith is a transgendered woman – the CDF doesn’t know that they need to change the sex of the body they are growing.

    So one can almost imagine the discussion between the lab techs. “Hunh that’s weird.” “What’s weird?” “It says that Recruit 786384A is a woman – but those are definitely male bits growing in there.” “Records must be wrong.”

    Then the scene happens when the doctor has the recruit’s new body rolled in – “That’s not right…”

    I fully agree that the CDF could make the new body match the new gender without too much effort, and would have no objection to doing so. As disposable as they seem to consider the new recruits, they are very clever about making sure the recruits are comfortable in their new bodies so they can be efficient killing machines. But unless transgendered people were involved in the setting up of the system, it’s the sort of thing that would be added by Things Going Wrong.

    Mental Illness is also of interest. I’m one of those who deals with clinical depression, and that might be a tough nut to crack – while the biological issues of saratonin transmission could be fixed, it creates mental pathways that develop over a lifetime that would be part of the “you” transferred over.

    In theory, both issues are handleable if the CDF has full access to the recruit’s medical history. But even in normal cases that wouldn’t be easy, and for those cases where the local government has banned the CDF and so old people take international vacations from which they don’t return seems very unlikely.

  26. Greg:

    “I’m not sure how you’d make PTSD go away.”

    Neither do I, which is why I’m hesitant to say my response is canonical. But on the other hand, I’m not sure how nano-materials would be turned into bullets on the fly, either, but it’s still in the books. The great thing about science fiction is that you don’t always have to explain everything to have it happen — sometimes you don’t explain it and then people who are smarter than you hypothesize how it happens.


    The recruit doesn’t know about the recruiting officers can certainly make note of presentation, etc. And also, it’s entirely possible in the 10 year gap between signing up and going, that the CDF can do a little research on its potential inductees. There will be gaps of course, which is why I note “to the extent that the CDF knows about a transperson’s gender presentation.”

  27. With the caveat that it’s been a while since I read OMW:

    1.) is cost per body modification a factor for the CDF in deciding who gets one and when? I understand that a military body that is able to build space elevators, orbital training stations, and entirely new bodies may have a lot of monetary resources with which to build the technology/maintain it/upgrade it/research it/use it repeatedly/etc, and to offer and improve these modifications at a consistently acceptable level of quality. However, it makes me wonder just how much money they have, how many soldiers are requesting modifications beyond the “military standard package,” so to speak, and if cost plays a role in deciding who gets one.

    2.) re: Kilroy’s comment above, about the CDF giving you a perfect body: the question of who decides what constitutes a “perfect body” is a fascinating one to me. For the CDF, it’s undoubtedly a body that allows you to fight as long and as hard as they need you to, and that gives you the highest possible chances for survival – slim though those chances may nevertheless be. For a recruit, however, a perfect body may be one that most closely conforms to their internal idea of who they are inside with regards to not only gender, but body type, shape, and other considerations as well. So how far is the CDF willing to go in order to make sure their recruits stay happy?


    3.) I might be going too far down the rabbit hole and need to go have a lie down. That’s entirely possible.

    In any case, John, I echo what people above me in the comments have said: I really appreciate your thoughtful response to this question, and will probably go back and read the book again with it in mind.

  28. Brain scans have shown physical differences in trans vs cis folks.
    John to me solving the trans equation simply would produce a better soldier.
    Isn’t that the goal?

  29. Patrick Wohlmut:

    Cost of body modification at the point in time where OMW takes place is relatively trivial. It would not be difficult to make and maintain body modifications. The economics of the CDF is actually a fascinating topic that is not germane to the discussion now, but would be fun to get into a some point.

    Shelly Adrienne Mimi Belsky:

    “John to me solving the trans equation simply would produce a better soldier.”

    I’m not sure what “solving the trans equation” means here.

  30. Making PTSD go away would require selectively induced amnesia and I’m not sure that even the OMW technology could do that.
    The Ghost Brigades would not apply.

  31. Well said, except that I don’t agree that you can call something “canonical” that’s not actually in the text of the books. =>

  32. And let me just say that Sgt. Ortiz hate everybody and is quite clear about who and why (one of my favorite sections of the book), and although I don’t remember if transfolk in whatever linguistic variation might have been used, rest assured, Ortiz would have hated him/her.

  33. John, transgender individuals suffer a dissonance between brain and body.
    Removing that would, while not produce a complete cure would go far.

  34. SAMB:

    I don’t know enough to speak knowledgeably about it, except to say that I suspect the CDF would attempt to control for conditions that would distract from operational effectiveness. How that’s addressed may vary from individual to individual.

    Kate Nepveu:

    Heh. Perhaps better to say it’s in the metadata?

  35. If you believe thinking about details like this is a waste of time when Scalzi could be writing more OMW stories, I wonder about your grasp on how worldbuilding works on a practical level.

  36. A “hurf-durf how dumb you have to spend time answering this,” in the context of a fandom that has notoriously over-thought and examined every aspect of a fictional world, could possibly be today’s epitome of don’t-bother-me privilege.

    There’s certainly things in Lost Colony that support John’s explanation here about the CDF and bodies, I would say.

  37. Our host was careful to spoil as little as possible, so I will do the same, but let me say this: In a later book, you will discover that changing gender presentation is trivial* compared to some of the body mods available to soldiers in the CDF.

    *Not trivial in a derogatory sense, BTW.

  38. Thank you for writing this – it has significantly improved my afternoon to know it’s being thought about :-)

    Re your request to let you know about terminology – in the circles I move in, “trans folk” is a more widely accepted orthographical representation than “transfolk” – “trans” is considered an adjectival modifier like “tall” or “queer” or whatever, as opposed to a separate noun-category in its own right. (Thus “trans women” are a subset of “women” rather than their own category; ditto “trans men”.) I can dig out references if helpful!

    [My context: I’m genderqueer and I’ve served as trans rep for the LGBT network in two different organisations for a total of somewhere over 2.5 years, plus been involved with national-scale campaigning in the UK. *Obviously* this doesn’t mean I’m right or that I speak for all trans folk or that all trans people will agree with me, but it’s background that informs my position & preferences with respect to terminology. I have yet to see someone express a preference for “transfolk” and similar, but that doesn’t mean that position doesn’t exist!]

  39. Kate Nepveu:

    It might be Word of God (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WordOfGod) but I would argue it is canonical, or canonical Word of God, due to following reasons.

    Mr Scalzi seems to consider Whatever a part of his career and not solely a personal rant since he often posts things here and has business contacts referred to it by a URL.

    Mr. Scalzi often posts his work here, and lets others on the Internet repost such as his piece on being poor..

    Many authors from the Liaden universe(tm) to Ilona Andrews to Lawrence Watt-Evan will write a short piece to understand a canonical or plot point, then offer it as bonus material, (on the Internet, Free/ Paid eBook short, or last chapter in the hardback).

    Personally, I categorize Word of God when it is hearsay, or a verbal interview, but canonical if it has been edited at least once, which Mr. Scalzi has already indicated he will edit this post if things change.

  40. @jml who said “Good answer. It’s made me curious as to how race carries through across CDF & post-CDF colonial body transitions.”

    Actually I thought this got addressed pretty well by Perry’s drill sergeant. It’s been a few years since I’ve read any of the books, but I liked that he took the time to walk them thru the concept that they’re all green now.

    @Paul at the top who said “The fact that you actually had to spend time writing this shows that a) Fans are really insane and b) You have too much free time [etc]”

    Someday, people won’t have to spend actual time laying these things out in detail anymore for the benefit of the ignorant. But that day is not today.

  41. In my view of the OMW universe, a brain scan done with the tech level necessary to create nanobots and intricate cellular function modifications, would at the very least be able to identify markers for the stress of an uncomfortable identification. (Apologies if that is worded insensitively.) Just like a doctor noting liver damage markers will order more tests, the techs involved would note that more information is needed, and open a limited investigation.

    This is of course his world, but in a trivializing view, the question, would be similar to “What is Mr X had psoriasis”. It has caused him quite a bit of discomfort and awkwardness throughout his life, and a solution would be entered.

    In the crudest solution, CDF could grow both options and subsequent interviews could decide which one goes to the ghost brigade.

    A kind of interesting question would be a screw up of the “I will Fear No Evil” (Heinlein) type where someone gets reassigned incorrectly, and has to work through their curiosity, fear, awkwardness, and just plain fear of making waves.

  42. Hard vacuum, party of N>=2 (and quite a party judging from the enthusiastic description). Seems like sex re-assignment for someone would be quite a bit simpler compared to making that happen. Maybe even enough for one to just try it out of curiosity or to switch from time to time depending on time and resource requirements for new body growth or on mission parameters.

  43. As a science fiction fan, I am totally on board with “but what if…?”. Yes, of course there are people who would be unhappy to wake up in a body that wasn’t right for them, and of course the CDF would take steps to minimize that. I love knowing a bit more about this universe.

  44. Found Ghost Brigade as a used 1.00 hardcover at a local library sale. Now I have to find OMW and I’ll officially be a Scalzi initiate

  45. “Making PTSD go away would require selectively induced amnesia and I’m not sure that even the OMW technology could do that.”

    But new and effective treatments for PTSD are being used and studied everyday. It would be fair to assume that an advanced society which can “copy” brain mappings, would also have the technology to diagnose and treat PTSD.

    Brain PAL tech alone would be running in background while you are sleeping. It would be trivial to diagnosis the existence and extent of PTSD in an enhanced soldier.

  46. Shelley Adrienne Mimi Belsky

    John, transgender individuals suffer a dissonance between brain and body.

    How sure are we that individuals would still have this dissonance in the countries of Earth where CDF recruits come from?

  47. The cause of dissonance is attributable to everything from D.E.S. (a drug prescribed to pregnant women from the 40s to the 80s) to pollution in the environment to natural factors.
    It could even be an evolutionary change.
    I think it’s safe to say that it is a planet-wide phenomena.

  48. The ways that trans narratives/identities are *constructed*, of course, is a different beast – Euro/US modern constructions are massively built around a binary gender system, where gender is *expected* to match that assigned at birth. “Trans” isn’t necessarily a useful label to describe that difference outside the context of Euro/US medical settings and discussions of the impact of colonialism. [I’m a white Anglophone approximately-Brit.] As I recall CDF recruits are mostly drawn from precisely that pool of Euro/US citizens, and I believe it to be currently the case that other wealthy nations (I am thinking Japan) are strongly influenced by the Euro/US medical model.

    … there’s possibly a point buried somewhere in there.

  49. First, I haven’t read OMW (it’s on the List! I’ll get to it! Really!) but the twist was spoiled for me inadvertently a while ago so I read through. Glad I did because now my first read will be with these canonical addenda.

    Second, my understanding of PTSD is that it’s an induced trauma to the brain. People don’t develop a PTSD brain in the womb from their DNA, but rather may have certain vulnerabilities, be more easily traumatized because their brains developed differently. It’s also not about memories, at least conscious memories, but about involuntary responses to threat. The potential for PTSD may never be realized if the person doesn’t have any experiences that pass their threshold for trauma. So, to the extent the CDF can fabricate new brain material from the soldier’s DNA, they could probably regress the brain to a prior state (pre-PTSD). It would also be worthwhile for them to specifically develop new mods that help prevent PTSD, i.e. make all brains more resistant to PTSD reactions, which would be a leading cause for their soldiers to cease being efficient killing machines.

  50. I rather assumed that being able to conduct advanced genetic engineering, the CU and CDF merely provided genetic treatments for transfolk (re: switch Xs and Ys around to produce the gender the individual felt most appropriate for his/her consciousness)

  51. Zhor2395:

    The Ghost Brigades explains why all CDF soldiers are all XX (and why they don’t have 23 chromosomes, and why it doesn’t matter).

  52. Kaberett: Thanks for your information. I’m genderqueer myself and half a dozen of my good friends are FTM, but even I didn’t know about the adjective-vs.-noun thing. Learn something new every day. :)

    Loving this whole post and thread, too. Smart people thinking deeply about important human-nature things is my crack.

  53. I’m writing a book that asks what happens if all men on earth just disappear. It started out from the stories a friend tells us about being the only woman working at the biggest waste water treatment plant in Seattle. We think about the importance of electricity and water, but never the vital sewage disposal for a city our size.


    The trans question is the stickiest to deal with as the President’s sister is a transwoman. Honestly that plot point has gone back and forth several times. is she there, is she gone? I might just leave it a question.

  54. As a precursor, I have PTSD.

    There are a bunch of people commenting on PTSD as if it is DNA-driven — PTSD is entirely trauma-based, either one or many traumatic incidents adding up to start changing brain chemistry and biology (but not DNA). There is no “underlying weakness” of people with PTSD (this is victim-blaming to the highest degree). If you put people in traumatic situations long enough their likelihood of developing PTSD rises to 100%, and some situations are far more likely to cause it than others. It’s not about the trauma, it’s about the way the brain processes it. This is why it’s so serious and why it’s so common in certain professions.

    People given new bodies would no longer have clinical PTSD. That’s not to say they wouldn’t still have other associated disorders related to memories, abuse, etc — but the actual PTSD part, the flashbacks, the nightmares, the brain in fight-or-flight state 24 hours a day, the shrinking of the hippocampus — would not happen. In other words, sign me up!

    Interestingly enough, people in OMW would be put in situations that would be quite likely to cause PTSD (if they survived long enough), but because of BrainPals and the CDF, it could be prevented. I figure BrainPals work better than cognitive behaviour therapy and EMDR therapy combined. It doesn’t mean that the things people suffered through wouldn’t be as horrible, just that in 10 years they wouldn’t still be re-living them every day.

  55. If the CDF determined that addressing a quirk in an applicant’s bio/psych makeup would make them a more efficient soldier, you betcha they’d do something about it during the switchover. “Hey, notes on Ensign Jones indicate that psychologically he would be more comfortable and effective in a female body.” “Alright, set the parameters for female on that one. Next!!”

  56. John, thank you for writing about this, and for approaching it from a place of humility about your lack of consciousness when writing the novels due to your relative social positioning. Both those things in concert mean a lot.

    I’m a trans woman, and the idea of a future in which trans-ness is simply not a big deal it incredibly hopeful to me, even against a backdrop of horrific war (full disclosure: I haven’t read OMW). In response to various people’s “how would they know?” ponderings, I’d point out that even now, trans people often seek to have their records–birth certificate, picture ID, etc–adjusted to reflect their true gender. I can only assume, barring a nightmarish conservative takeover in the meantime, that such procedures will become more common and more streamlined in the future. Plus any health care, therapy or surgery undergone in their transition process would be reflected in their medical records. If anything it would be difficult for a trans person to HIDE their trans status from bureaucratic agencies. It’s probably safe to assume the CDF would have access to full dossiers on their recruits, including detailed gender profiles. And honestly, as trans identities and trans healthcare become more mainstream and understood, it’s kind of unthinkable that the medical team initiating the procedure would make such an early-21st-century blunder as “oh, a penis, must not be female.”

    It would get more complicated when deciding which sexually dimorphic traits to give the new body. Seeing “F” checked on a form would not tell the tell the medical team whether the recipient wants the new body to have a vagina, nor “M” that they want a penis. I’d expect that either existing records, due once again to mainstreaming of transgender experience, would indicate precisely what body configuration the recruit prefers, or else in the absence of that information the team would configure the old body however the recruit’s old body is currently configured, and modify that based on recruit preference after the fact. Though I can hardly imagine, as a trans person, going through the recruitment process WITHOUT at some point saying “so, you’ll be able to give my new body _____ traits, right?”

    In terms of correcting language and conceptual models, you’ll notice that in the prededing paragraphs I did not refer to any body characteristics or body configurations as “male” or “female.” this is because in current trans discourse we don’t refer to, say, a testosterone-dominant body with a penis as “male” or an estrogen-dominant body with a vagina and uterus as “female.” This is because attaching a gendered marker to a trans person that’s at odds with their actual gender is extremely delegitimizing, i.e. “You’re a woman but you’re male-bodied” carries the message that you’re not REALLY a woman. Calling an actual trans woman male-bodied or a trans man female-bodied is extremely offensive. AFAB/AMAB (assigned female/male at birth) or even CAFAB/CAMAB (coercively assigned female/male at birth) are often used instead. Similarly, “your gender is female but your sex is male” is discredited; sex is just as much a social construct as gender, since the medical establishment is part of society. Your “classically male/female” has a nice ring to it, but is problematic for the same reasons. The solution is to simply call genitals and other sex characteristics what they are: “male genitalia”? Nope, “penis” is sufficient.

    The other terminology issue I had was the way you used “gender presentation.” “Gender presentation is, well, how you present yourself. For instance wearing a dress or makeup or high heels might be indicators of feminine gender presentation (though not in themselves sufficient to identify a person as a woman. The only reliable test is to ask them). Your bodily characteristics, including breasts, genitals, etc, are NOT gender presentation. Altering one’s body along these lines may assist in presenting their gender to their satisfaction, but conflating the two is harmful and assumes that one MUST alter one’s body to be transgender.

    Kaberett’ss point about trans being an adjective is apt, too.

    It’s important to acknowledge in discussions like these that there is no one answer for all trans people. We don’t all have the same experience, and we don’t all agree! For instance, with all respect to Shelley, many trans people including me don’t subscribe to the “dissonance between brain and body” model, and if someone came along to brain scan me and confirm my transgender status I would consider it an incredible human rights violation. I don’t speak for every trans person, only myself. The answers I’ve provided are what I’ve discovered to work for me, but also what I believe to be best practices for accommodating all trans people to the greatest degree possible and not invalidating anyone’s identity.

    Anyway, I may have written far longer passages of criticism than praise, but I hope you find it constructive. Please understand I’ve done so out of enormous respect for your willingness to open this dialogue.


  57. Drunkenafficianado:

    Your questions, while interesting, are an obvious display of small-minded prejudice. They are also predicated on several false assumptions:

    1. That “English provides a basic capability to discern and describe actual physical gender, supposed gender, and preferred gender.” In fact, English provides us with terrible tools for discussing gender, physical sexual characteristics, and the relation between the two, as illustrated beautifully by the fact that you just appended “actual physical” to the word gender to make it mean something it is not, and by the fact that you apparently believe this is a straightforward and clear phrase,

    2. That “supposed gender” and “preferred gender” are in fact distinct from “actual gender,” that is, that a person’s gender is up for debate, and subject to someone else’s, presumably your, approval,

    3. That “they” as a singular gender-neutral pronoun for use when the gender of a subject is unknown or unspecified, has not been in use since Shakespeare’s day,

    4. That using “politically correct” as an invective says anything meaningful about anyone but the person saying it,

    5. That altering one’s language to be more inclusive and less dehumanizing as a result of growing social consciousness is somehow detrimental to making good or authentic art,


    6. That leveraging a Star Trek quote which refers to principled self-sacrifice in the service of quashing minority voices and minority rights makes you anything other than a bigot.


  58. Oh, I forgot 7. That a “decline in readership” from those who take issue with acknowledging the humanity of those different from oneself would be any sort of loss to Mr. Scalzi’s creative life whatsoever.

  59. Let me note that with respect to Old Man’s War the book, I did not at all think about what would happen with transfolk who join the CDF as I was writing it. Why? Short answer: Straight white male who didn’t know any transfolk at the time, so it was not something in my consciousness.

    You’d never read “Day Million”, written by the extremely straight, white Fred Pohl back in 1966? First story to really drive home the sense of future shock to me.

  60. Joli, care to expand on your point 3 (“They” being used a singular gender-neutral pronoun not happening since Shakespeare)?

    I see it in common usage when coworkers or clients are unsure of the gender of a person. When you’re unfamiliar with other cultures and languages, names do not indicate gender nearly so well, and “They” is an unoffensive singular noun. I mean, you’re hardly gonna call someone an “it”.

    Example: I get an e-mail from a “Sidra”. i have no idea where that name comes from, or if it indicates a male or female. I will ask my coworkers if they know who “Sidra” is, and if they (ref: Coworkers) know anything about their (ref: Sidra) request. I’d be fine with saying “I don’t know what they want”.

    On the actual discussion of OMW, that’s a cool bit of worldbuilding, never would have thought about it. Makes sense that a militaristic organization that has those kinds of resources does whatever it can to make a soldier comfortable in their own body.

    For slight spoilers on the later books (I think Ghost Brigades, specifically), I wonder how this plays into the more alternative bodies that the CDF can brew.

  61. @Greg : I’m not sure how you’d make PTSD go away.

    IIRC, the Serrano series by Elizabeth Moon had a soldier being treated for PTSD with a fairly routine and reliable method (in universe), and some of Greg Bear’s stories involve cops treated with prophylactic drugs to avoid PTSD on the job – revisioning the condition as something more like malaria rather than insanity.

  62. Hey, John. Great essay, and fun extrapolation from the ground rules you’d already set down. It reminds me very much of my my circle’s conversations trying to fill in the gaps in the Trek universe.in my underfunded early 70s youth.

  63. @drunken afficionado

    Pronouns have changed over time (I’m looking at *thee,* thou!) and will probably continue to do so. Should that happen during Mr Scalzi’s lifetime, I would expect he, unlike some, would be perceptive enough to notice, and flexible enough to adapt.

    Would he be out in the forefront, driving the change? That seems unlikely to me, because I think such changes are usually driven by people in their late teens to early twenties, and he’s not in that age range anymore.

    Would he use nonstandard pronouns before then? Well, this is *speculative* fiction; he might write something where nonstandard pronouns are called for, including but not limited to aliens without gender or who have gender but don’t mark it in their pronouns (just as we don’t mark the difference between blonds and brunettes in our pronouns) or who have so many genders readers not of their culture cannot reasonably be expected to keep track. In other words, he’ll use nonstandard pronouns if, in his opinion, the story calls for it.

    Will his opinion match yours? It seems unlikely.

  64. (just as we don’t mark the difference between blonds and brunettes in our pronouns)

    Which, you know, might be an interesting story. Or imagine a story where “he” referred to people of one culture/ethnicity.race, and “she” referred to people of another. Or, for that matter, “he” referred to people above a certain salary, of a certain class, or full citizens, and “she” to others – to make yet another kind of point.

  65. Kate Nepveu: I don’t know if “canonical” is the word, but it is considered authoritative, to say the least, when an author clarifies plot points, or comments on a character’s background, or generally states the way thinks work in his/her universe, even though their statements are not supported by the text. An example: Dumbledore is gay, according to J.K. Rowling, though I don’t believe that that is anywhere in the text of the books.

  66. Joli: Must apologize, I returned to your comment halfway through reading it, and forgot the response that you were making (and specifically that you were calling out false assumptions).

    On the other hand, that was a pretty good read, so… thanks? :D

  67. Pronouns haven’t “changed”. We’ve lost one person, and we’ve lost a boat load of forms (only some of our pronouns have an object form (not you or it or what or that or which – and who barely does) and the accusative, ablative and dative forms have collapsed. But we haven’t *gained* a pronoun and it’s unlikely that we will, no matter how hard people try. Pronouns are a tightly closed class; languages just don’t add them. “They” is used (has been since Chaucer) for indeterminate referents and it’s what we use. Nobody has any trouble with “you are” for a single person, so why does “they are” raise hackles? My only guess is that it doesn’t mark gender – though in modern English only the two third person singular pronouns do. (Nouns don’t, adjectives don’t, verbs don’t … and they all used to. So maybe we can lose “he and she” and end up with one pronoun for all third person use. “They is/has/says” would solve the number problem if it presents one more than “you are” does…

    I know that sounds categorical, but as a linguist I see the powerful resistance of the closed class of words that is pronouns. As a person, I wouldn’t mind if a new one came along … though I’d caution people to remember that there are plenty of languages with no grammatical gender at all – and the cultures that speak them are not havens of tolerance and equality.

  68. Raist: I think you’re reading the post backwards on point 3. The post was criticizing someone else for assuming that pronouns for people must be gendered, which is to say that we don’t have a non-gendered pronoun. (Since “they” has been used as a singular non-gendered pronoun since as far back as Shakespeare, this is clearly false, those of us who did not write the original post being criticized agree upon.)

    Cat Faber:
    The Goblin King actually does some interesting things with thee and thou because it is trying to represent a class-conscious language in English, which is rather bad at that. (Thanks, Big Idea features! I never would have found that book otherwise!)
    But yeah, sometimes pronouns shift. From what little experience I have with it, it actually sounds like French may be shifting currently, with it expanding the usage of “tu” to more uses in order to get rid of status angst. This is the other the opposite alternative from eliminating the “personal” singular second person in favor of using the “formal” plural second person for everyone the way English does. (… and in various dialects of American English, that plural second person is getting squeezed into just singular because differentiating singular versus plural is handy. I wouldn’t care to place bets on when the entire US will be saying “y’all”, though.)

  69. I’m interested in what John said at #6, that I don’t think I saw mentioned by anybody–I’ll admit my eyes kinda glazed over at the point of “That’s the problem! Pronoun trouble!”–What does “The basic training drill sergeants will be happy to tell them to get over it. If they did not (indeed if they did not get over any general bigotry) the results for them would be grim” mean? Extra hard training, peeling potatoes, or suicide squadron? You’d think the Colonials would’ve found a way to catch that before the new bodies.

    I’ve used the phrase “I’m only bigoted against bigots!” for 40 years, but “grim results” is both vague and threatening. A little too much like “We don’t like your type around here!” while fondling an ax handle.

  70. If I remember correctly is there a 90 percent death rate in 5 years? Your not really worried about morale in that case .. It’s just someone else to take a bullet. I think the thinking would be more ruthless.

    You opened this can of worms… So remind me why did the CDF only want people from rich countries? Wasn’t this all paid by the CDF? Poor people can take a bullet too.

  71. IIRC: They’re only taking people from rich countries because those countries have longer lifespans, so they have plenty of old people who can sign up. Who have (remember) already lived a full life. CDF soldiers are not young, they’re senior citizens who’s consciousness is transferred to new bodies. John Perry was, what, 75 when he signed up?

    In other words, they already got to have their full life, and now they’re getting a second. (granted, one that mostly is experienced staring down gunsights and pulling a trigger)

    People from poor countries have shorter lifespans. Also, they were poor, so they probably had shittier lives anyway. Why not only recruit from long-lived, wealthy nations? If you can get all your recruits from there, and if those people are (paradoxically) more afraid of death anyway, it works.

  72. Though it does seem like the original post issue would be a non-issue in a future where consciousness is transferable and bodies can be regrown to whatever specifications you want, whenever you want.

  73. I think your response is pretty close to what Heinlein’s would have been. It fits your universe and you have logic to back it up.

  74. I thought the more pertinent reason they recruit from richer countries was that those areas were the ones barred from emmigrating. It’s not totally clear to me from the opening chapters (I just looked) that they don’t take anyone from countries where people can emigrate – just that they don’t have the pressure of having grown up unable to go to space if they wanted to.

  75. Joli: …and 8. That paragraph breaks are unimportant.

    Phoenician: In Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, the pronoun ‘he’ is used when referring to someone to whom one is sexually attracted, and ‘she’ at all other times. The word ‘women’ means “people” (and applies to both human and non-human sentient life).

    The Ridger: I didn’t know English ever had an ablative case. How far back does that go? German, a relative of English that’s kept a case structure, doesn’t have it.

    Guess: You obviously haven’t read the books. That topic is much discussed. Go read them.

    Miles Archer: I really doubt that the man who referred to homosexuals as “the poor in-betweeners” and says that they would never be offered water (in SIASL) would be any more liberal about trans people.

  76. Guess: If I remember correctly is there a 90 percent death rate in 5 years?

    I can’t remember if it was 5 or 10 years. I do remember doing some estimates and the attrition rate for the CDF was in the neighborhood of half a million dead a year.

    The estimate was based off of how many recruits were in the station with the protagonist at the beginning of old man’s war, I forget how many there were, but there were some suggestions about numbers somewhere.. And then multiply by how many times a new shipment of recruits were taken in and converted over to green monsters, which I think I estimated to be every other week. That told you how many people were coming into CDF in a year. If you know 90% of those recruits would be dead in 10 years (maybe it was 5), then you could estimate how many CDF people were killed every year. It was something like 400k per year, if I recall.

    The US lost 400,000 troops during its entire involvement in WW2. And the CDF has been sustaining those losses for YEARS. I’m not even sure how its sustainable. The short of it is: this is a good case for drones and nukes. THough drones and nukes aren’t as good story fodder.

  77. “The US lost 400,000 troops during its entire involvement in WW2. And the CDF has been sustaining those losses for YEARS. I’m not even sure how its sustainable.”

    It’s sustainable because, remember, the CDF is not recruiting from the pool of “young American men between the ages of 18 and 30, less all those who are physically/medically unfit to serve, less all those who are needed at home for industry and farming and so on”. That’s quite a small pool, especially when you take that last condition into account. And (not that this applied in WW2 thank God) it’s less sustainable over the long term because if you kill too many of your young men in 1942, then there will be a distinct absence of young men in 1962, because the men who should have fathered them in 1942 didn’t due to being dead.

    The CDF is recruiting from the pool of “75-year-old Western people who are alive”. This is a much, much bigger pool. As long as you can stagger (or roll, or limp) on to the shuttle, you’re in – no physical test required. (I am assuming, though we don’t see any, that wheelchair-bound or otherwise disabled 75-year-olds are accepted into the CDF because why wouldn’t they be?) They’re all retired – you don’t need to keep them behind to bring in the harvest. They’ve all had kids already – no long-term demographic implications.

    Can the Western world’s population sustain a death rate of 400,000 75-year-olds every year? Well, yes. It’s doing it now! The whole point of Old Man’s War is that the soldiers are going to die of old age soon anyway, so what difference does it make?

    On the original post, I admit that being CSWM (like our host) I honestly hadn’t thought about the issue, but if I had I guess my headcanon would have been something similar; you turn up to sign up age 65 looking female, they make a note on your file and make sure your green body looks female too.

  78. John,

    Thank you for thinking the question through, and sharing the answer with us. I exist, and I’m trans, and all else equal I find universes which include trans people more (a) interesting and (b) verisimilitudinous. It’s okay if we’re not obvious all the time, but it’s nice to be possible.

    Since you asked for feedback: While I don’t find it offensive, I’m not a fan of the “transfolk” construction, mainly for the same reason I’m not fond of “transwoman” and “transman”. While they scan a little more smoothly than “trans woman” and “trans man”, they also suggest a third category, rather than simply modifying “woman” and “man”, which for many of us is the main point – we are women and men first, and if the situation necessitates asking what kind when it comes to congruity with the gender people assigned us before we could figure it out and explain it ourselves, we are also trans.

    For me, “trans folk” would go down better, and “trans people” would go down smoothly indeed, since it makes the point that we are, in fact, people, a point which unfortunately needs frequent reinforcement in our society.

    One metric to help assess these is to substitute another minority for “trans”. Does “black people” or “Polish people” scan okay? Then “trans people” is probably okay. Does “black folk” sound a little off, somehow? Probably “trans folk” will, too.

    …some of my characters may have been trans but did not tell me about it…

    Yeah, we can be like that, in part because when we tell sometimes people act like Paul did, and it gets old quick.

    Paul, I’m willing to posit for the sake of politeness that you are not, at root, a jerk, but you’re doing a hell of an imitation of one. Unfortunately, people acting like jerks toward trans people also contribute to verisimilitude, so if we’re all lucky, your contribution will give John a grain of inspiration to write a trans person into a story sometime so that he’ll need to write another self-important jerk (which I think he does well).

    He could even do a trans jerk (because those exist), but I hope that’s not the only trans person he does.


  79. drunkenafficianado:

    The old English pronouns seem to have been acceptable to the majority of your readers to this point. How far is the artist expected to be shackled and inconvenienced by the preconceptions of a tiny percentage of any audience? Why any should artist be so shackled by what is perceived as “politically correct”, “non-offensive” speech, such that they are no longer functionally capable of meaningful communication within the language system is a viable question? Spock says, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” How far in insuring the complete rights of an individual who says suffering occurs if non-gender pronouns are not used, is a well-meaning author to be inconvenienced?

    What a very polite and urbane way to suggest that trans people are insufficiently numerous to matter.

    What madness, to consider a minority in what we do. All commercial buildings must have an elevator? You can’t actually mean that… Do you realize how much annual revenue that costs, in lost floor space? We can’t afford it, and people who can’t navigate stairs are, after all, only a small minority…

    As Joli pointed out, Spock was speaking in a context, to justify a sacrifice he, himself, chose to make. Put those words in his mouth as he tosses an ensign out the airlock so that the shuttle can take off, and they read rather differently, don’t they? (I hope very much that he is not a moral utilitarian. I do wonder what he would say after reading LeGuin’s Those Who Walk Away from Omelas, possibly the reply to moral utilitarianism there is.)


  80. All of this makes me wonder if the CDF has a regulation with respect to “acceptable” body mods, similar to the regulations in the various US armed forces for hair styles (e.g., the US Air Force’s regulations on mustaches). The possibilities for low ribald humor (image the USAF chart applies to other parts of the male anatomy) are endless…

  81. With this post John has officially made his universe more than 2 levels deep. John had stated that his world is 2 questions deep and that is enough for most people. Well its not enough for the ‘star trek’ crowd. I think we now have an obligation to play stump the chump with John and pick at all the details to see if we can get the answers we crave. Lets go trekkie on him.

  82. “Why any should artist be so shackled by what is perceived as “politically correct”, “non-offensive” speech, such that they are no longer functionally capable of meaningful communication within the language system is a viable question?”

    We got this garbage when the movement to sometimes use “she” and “her” as generics. “But it will be distracting!” the “obviously not bigots” cried, loudly. Somehow the world has survived. I didn’t see the D&D books that alternated genders in examples burned by masses of people who found them too confusing to use.

    I am more than confident that our host here can write using non-offensive speech without surrendering his ability to communicate meaningfully.

    Perhaps conservatives are simply too stupid to be able to read text with changes in language that liberals are quite capable of comprehending?

  83. Phoenician in a time of Romans: “Or imagine a story where “he” referred to people of one culture/ethnicity.race, and “she” referred to people of another”

    You may be interested in “A Person Paper on Purity of Language” by Douglas Hofstadter (yes, that Douglas Hofstader).

  84. As a side note, those D&D books, I re-read them recently, and was struck by how much, MUCH more comfortable I was reading them, and feeling like there wasn’t a default setting that didn’t include me. And all they did was simply change gender by paragraphs (-ish). But when i came across an article (in Dragon sometimes, they weren’t as consistent about the practice) that used default ‘he’, it felt jarring and weird and uncomfortable, after the invisibility of using both he and she (and leaving aside for the moment the possibility of other pronouns, because yeah, closed class, usually).

    It’s a tiny thing, but it made the books much more enjoyable to read for me, because half the text included half the people (-ish). Y(L/100km)MV.

  85. Xopher: I really doubt that the man who referred to homosexuals as “the poor in-betweeners” and says that they would never be offered water (in SIASL) would be any more liberal about trans people.

    You are confusing Jill’s reaction with that of the author. Given the number of gay, trans, and other folks in his later (and admittedly lesser) works, I doubt that Heinlein would have had much problem with them in the real world.

  86. ajay: Can the Western world’s population sustain a death rate of 400,000 75-year-olds every year? Well, yes. It’s doing it now!

    Hm. “sustainable” might not be the right word. I think if you’re fighting a war that has 400k deaths per year for decades, then maybe someone should take a step back and consider the tactics, strategies, and diplomacy that is creating that situation.

    JohnD: CDF has a regulation with respect to “acceptable” body mods

    I would imagine. You can’t wear a gas mask, oxygen mask, etc, if you have facial hair. There’s not a tight enough seal. You can’t wear a helmet if you decide it would be cool to have “horns” added to your head. military pilots today have a somewhat limited range for how tall they can be. too tall or too short and you can’t fit in the plane and reach the pedals. Body piercings might create problems getting snagged on things so might be restricted.

  87. We only have John Perry’s views about how the body-creating went on. There may well have been other tests or questionnaires that would assist in people being assigned bodies that they would be comfortable with.

    My mental picture is that while everyone is green, they still keep their physical features, so you still look like you.

  88. And there’s one evaluation mentioned which might well be part of that determination: the naked interviewer asking the recruit to describe their 7th birthday party. The hetero recruits (and Thomas, who is apparently bisexual) got interviewers of the opposite sex; when Alan says he got a male interviewer and the other Old Farts look at him, he says “What? I’m gay,” which incidentally is the first mention of that. Later, when John Perry mentions that evaluation to the doctor about to transfer him, the doctor says, “Yeah, we get a lot of useful information from that one.” (Or something like that; going from memory.)

    I’m sure it’s left unspecified because, well, there’s no reason to specify what they learn, but I could see the combination of childhood memory and naked person-of-sex-attracted-to playing a role in determining, at the very least, whether additional evaluation to ascertain optimal sex assignation (? can’t think of better term here) of the new body is indicated.

    BTW, I don’t remember if anyone addressed this upthread since I read it all yesterday, but IIRC at least one commenter said that trans people could just tell the CDF what they wanted their new body to be, or something like that. But until the appointment to transfer, the recruits don’t know they’re getting new bodies — Perry is rather taken aback at the cavalier mention of testicular cancer in his original body because he has no idea that he won’t be using that body for much longer. So while such conversations could take place, it seems more likely that the CDF would make their first guess, at least, based on their evaluations. I suppose maybe a recruit could request surgery and their new body might be altered according to that expressed preference, but I’m far into the waters of ignorant speculation here and had better stop.

    One more aside, re Heinlein: while I have no particular reverence for him, I do remember pretty much the first example I saw of a trans person in a book was Elizabeth Andrew Jackson Libby Long, presented as female in The Number of the Beast with an account of being asked while being…revived? something like that… whether s/he wanted to be male or female. It was later that I read the earlier mention of Andrew Jackson Libby, I think in Misfit and Time Enough for Love. Not certain about that last though as I only read it once many years ago.

  89. “If the CDF determined that addressing a quirk in an applicant’s bio/psych makeup would make them a more efficient soldier, you betcha they’d do something about it during the switchover. ”

    I always assumed this was the case with these books, actually. Hey, why not add different genitalia while you’re at it creating a body that’s green and whatnot.

    “The trans question is the stickiest to deal with as the President’s sister is a transwoman. Honestly that plot point has gone back and forth several times. is she there, is she gone? I might just leave it a question.”

    Depends on how you’re getting rid of the men. If it was something that affected everyone born with an Y chromosome, then she’s gone. If it’s something else like every dude on the planet suddenly thought being a lemming was cool or took up ultimate fighting to the death, then she’s not. Just a thought :)

  90. I love that I am not the only one who wonders what these characters are doing now…funny, I just assumed that your initial “intake” with the CDF would capture whatever information would be important to make your transition to soldier as “psychologically comfortable” as possible. They presumably want to know a lot about you before they bring you into a volatile environment.

  91. Dear drunken…,

    Some random thoughts that come to mind…

    ~ Obtaining your sociopolitical knowledge from middlin’ sci-fi movies might not be the best of all strategies. For a start, you might look up the phrase “tyranny of the majority,” both its origins and its application to the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. It is possibly more germane to the real world than a throwaway line by a fictional alien. And, really, if one wants to take that line and apply it willy-nilly out of context to real-world politik, it’s an awfully good justification for Fascism (I mean the real thing, not the bandied-about epithet). So you might want to be rethinking your authoritative sources. Just maybe.

    ~ Decades ago, there was a catch phrase in West Coast fandom–– “… And speaking of tsunamis…” It referenced an LA fan who had read some article on the subject which utterly fascinated him and he was bursting with the desire to monologue about it to somebody, anybody. So he waited for an opportunity at a party and as soon as a subject came up that was even vaguely related (I mean vaguely, as in it might’ve mentioned the Pacific ocean), he pounced and launched into his fascinating-to-him change of subject. It was an epic derailment.

    When you actually find John writing so unclearly, due to neologisms and innovative grammatical constructions, that it does interfere with your comprehension, you might then bring him to task for that. Now seems just a tad premature. It smacks of the classic diversionary tactic of “but if we let that go too far…” as in “but if we let gays marry, there is no limit to who or what will be allowed to marry in the future…” or “if we start throwing harassers out of conventions without exquisite due process, soon there will be mass ejections of men…” and so on. Indeed, there is always a small hypothetical risk of “things going too far.” Get back to us when that happens, please. I’m sure we’ll be happy to entertain a course correction then. We will be waiting for your call.

    ~ John’s use of “they” goes back to at least the early 16th century, according to the OED, a tolerably reliable source. It’s probably even older than that, but then the etymology starts to transmute into things like old Norse and old English and I can’t figure out what the exact equivalencies are. I will leave that to our resident linguists. But by the first quarter of the 16th century, we are getting clear equivalencies to modern usage.

    It seems to fall in and out of currency, much like the infamous serial comma (much eschewed when Teresa Nielsen Hayden and I were taught grammar, but back to being mandatory by the mid-late 90s). It’s definitely not new, and it’s most definitely not unacceptable, except in the most formal SWE (standard written English), and even that seems to be in the process of change.

    pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
    — Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

  92. Wow… It just goes to show that people will read what they want to read into tone on the internet. For those of you who struggle with gender identity or who have struggled in the past you are absolutely right to say that I don’t know what you have been through. That said I work directly with 2 transgendered people every day and could care less. We have even had some amusing conversations about issues they face (like when do they switch bathrooms). I understand my post came off as flippant, which was my intention but there was no intended disrespect towards you. I just harbor a certain amount of resentment at John and the way the entire short story situation was handled with regards to the story that was omitted unless you purchased the anthology and that it was left on a cliff hanger. John never left anything on a cliff hanger before and I found it annoying…. Thus I want resolution. So thhpttt. ;)

  93. Dear Paul,

    It’s a poor author who blames the audience for not understanding the tone of what they meant to say. Reactions to your post were pretty consistent. You might consider that it was your writing that might need work, not the comprehension skills of the readers.

    Yes, the resentment part of the tone did come through. Its focus was, shall we say, less than narrow or clear, from your post.

    pax / Ctein

  94. Dear John,

    Kinda aside, since you’ll have deep-sixed the offending comment toot-sweet, but… do you have much of a problem with spam getting past the filter bots? ‘Cause this is the first bit I’ve seen on your pages.

    Just curious.

    pax / Ctein

  95. Oops, Just noticed an unfortunate conjunction–

    Wobsmack, I am NOT referring to your comment. There was a (now deleted) spam that showed up afterwards.

    pax / Ctein

  96. Dearest Paul,

    I am most relieved to hear that you could care less about the life experiences of your transgender associates. The fact that the store of your empathy (if such could be qualified) is at least some amount greater than zero is a matter of some comfort to me. If you *couldn’t* care less, then I would be disappointed (though not, I must confess, terribly surprised) to know that there is yet one more cisgender (“identifying as the gender one was assigned at birth”) person in the world who is utterly indifferent to our experience and struggles. Could it be any less than a positive amount of care which prompted your concern for our mental health, assuming (though perhaps rashly) that we must be “insane” to take up this inquiry with the author? While you may have made this declaration in a state of some ignorance regarding both transgender people and those who live with mental illness, I can only assume your haste was prompted by the fractionally-above-zero store of concern bubbling up from your all-too-human breast.

    I would, however, like to note that “transgender” is not a verb in the English language. Neither I, nor those you work with, are “transgendering.” Neither, Paul, are you “cisgendering.” “Transgender” is properly an adjective, which modifies a noun such as “person,” “man,” “woman,” “astrophysicist,” etc. Given the nonzero quantity of empathy you possess, I feel assured that you will accept this gentle correction with sensitivity and grace.

    Please do not construe this message of clarification as a distraction from your one-person crusade to hold an oppressive author to task for the tyranny of implementing a publishing strategy which you found inconvenient. By all means, stay true to your righteous cause. You may be assured that any transgender persons who find themselves within the blast radius of your carefully deployed truth grenades will gladly take the shrapnel and present no impediment whatsoever from the target which you surely have in sight. May all the angels of righteousness and courage speed you toward your goal.

    All the best,

    PS. I do hope that the tone of my missive is entirely clear.