(Re)Visioning Gendered Futures in Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts (2017).

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsConference Presentation


Presentation of research paper online at the international 'Futures From The Margins' conference, which took place in hybrid format from Oslo, Norway. The conference was organised by the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) and the CoFUTURES research group at Oslo University.

Abstract: “Do you think my body couldn’t decide what it wanted to be?”
The transformative possibilities found within speculative fiction mirror the transformative possibilities found within transgender alterity. As a genre, speculative fiction has the capacity to expand upon lived experience, reconfiguring what is already known to create new worlds, as well as new subjects to inhabit those worlds. This (re)visionary potential, which simultaneously disturbs and redefines conventional notions of reality, holds immense significance for transgender subjects.
With its propensity to “get to the heart of political questions”, speculative fiction is a productive space to consider the controversies of transgender matters. The imaginative scope of speculative fiction can generate alternative frames for transgender existence, enabling a possibility of realisation for such radically different identities, so it is not surprising that speculative fiction is a “natural progression” for transgender writers. Additionally, the promise of realisation that speculative fiction offers for disenfranchised figures appeals to a range of other marginalised subject positions, including black identities. The intersection of race and gender adds to the already multi-faceted layers of transgender debate.
This presentation will explore how Rivers Solomon, as a gender-neutral black writer of literary fiction, utilises speculative fiction as a vehicle to explore non-conformist transgender and intersex identities in their recent novel, An Unkindness of Ghosts (2017). In the novel’s imagined future society is strictly delineated by skin colour, portraying a hierarchical racial structure akin to that of the Antebellum South. Intersex and transgender bodies are also heavily subjugated within this hierarchy as, although categorically recognised, they do not comply with the desirable traditional boundary lines of sex and gender. The novel’s protagonist, Aster, is a black intersex female who forms a romantic relationship with Theo, a transgender woman of mixed heritage; the story articulates the difficulties encountered by these characters in attempting to negotiate identity in a future where bodies are strictly regulated according to both sex and race. Here, the intersection between race and gender highlights queer black identities as being doubly-estranged.
Ultimately, An Unkindness of Ghosts utilises the transformative potential of speculative fiction to consider the implications of racial and transgender issues, providing a futuristic example of the way in which black transgender realities work to disturb and redefine notions of gendered and racial identity.
Period30 Jun 2022
Held atUniversity of Oslo, Norway