always should be someone you really love
|Title:||always should be someone you really love|
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This story was discussed at great length at The Cutting Board by cathexys in 2007 in the essay gender and sexuality in three SGA stories, now offline; archive link to LiveJournal post; archive link to Dreamwidth mirrored post. The other two stories discussed in the essay are Straight as a Circle and You're Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl). See gender and sexuality in three SGA stories.
Reactions and Reviews
Genderfucked: John and Rodney - This story is my new fannish happy place. I'm afraid I'm actually still too much in the first blush of love with it to really give it the rec it deserves. It's a genderfuck twist on that old slash classic: We're Not Gay, We Just Love Each Other. John and Rodney aren't gay. Except now they're both women. Women who are still attracted to women. So now, in a way, they are kind of gay, attractive and attracted to each other. WNGWJLEO is often a problematic trope for me, but I absolutely adore this take on it. Also, on a shallower note, John and Rodney make really, really hot lesbians. 
2007 Discussion at "The Cutting Board"
Always Should Be as inverted WNG
always should be someone you really love (ASB) not only announces its WNG thematic in the title (the emphasis on love as the driving and overwhelming feature is something that I consider central to WNG), it actually, literally, employs WNG in its plot, i.e., John and Rodney are straight, get genderswitched, start having sex as women with one another, get switched back and, after a time, realize that they do want to continue/return to being involved with one another. On the surface, this evokes the basic WNG premise: two seemingly straight guys realize for one reason or other their deep and abiding love for one another and decide to express that love physically even though they were not/are not/still do not consider themselves to be "gay." It plays with some of the common WNG subtropes, i.e., the virgin to sex/gay sex/penetration, and does so twice over as both John and Rodney are literally virgins in their female bodies and (to gay sex) in their male bodies.
community belonging vs individual transcending love
And yet ASB is exactly the opposite of WNG. WNG is built on the overwhelming force of individual attraction/love overcoming societal/cultural expectations and constraints (and here I'd also include stories where the lovers defy external prohibitions for the lover that they previously had obeyed, i.e., John knowing he was gay all along but only for Rodney deciding to risk DADT or Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon defying the Jedi prohibition against overly deep emotional involvement or Bodie and Doyle risking being torn apart as partners because their love is stronger than their responsibility to CI5,...). ASB, on the other hand, is less about individual love than about community and finding one's own, one's tribe, people like oneself. This is what ASB is for me as John and Rodney do not overcome their "wrong" bodies for their deep love as much as they actually retain their desires for long sections of the story. In a way, then, it is the story's focus on bodies that makes it so very queer. In terms of WNG the problem for me here is that there's little emphasis as to why John desired Rodney specifically and their love is incredibly bound to the bodies they actually inhabit and have sex with rather than being a love that transcends (and thus, in a way, ignores) bodies and orientations. Of course, many slash stories use external situations (AMTDI, drugs, bonded) as a means to make the OTP realize that their strong affection is something more indeed. But I would contend that the emphasis is less on becoming aware of the other as potential mate as it is about both of them sharing an experience. The emphasis throughout is on the way they themselves are changing rather than the way their relationship is (i.e., much of the internal growth and increased awareness is about themselves rather than their responses to the other).
"Two men can defy the world."
This reading is clearly the most contentious part of my argument. trobadora read a first draft and commented how she read the story as a fusion of the fuckbuddies and WNG trope - the "against our normal orientation" part of WNG with the "coming together through sex" part of the fuckbuddies trope. She suggests that the shared experience changesand sexualizes their relationship but that it is not the *basis* for it. I'd argue that given the fact that fan fiction tends to foreground and emphasize the friendship, that we tend to accept the OTP as clearly meant to be together, ASB seems to work *against* that easy acceptance. Clearly community is not all there is; they are close friends and everything that always seems sufficient to make me accept that they fall into bed together in any other slash story. The fact that there is no discussion of their changed sexual object choice yet a lot of discussion of their shared experiences makes me read this story against a more typical slash reading. Finally, the fact that's it's only two of them seems sufficient to me to argue for a community reading--because two men *can* defy the world :)
loving (as) women
At the beginning of the story, when John and Rodney become women, they retain their male identity and female object choice. In fact, during their first sexual encounter, John says you are really gorgeous as a woman and Rodney responds You’re completely my type. Sex initially is described very much in terms of having sex *with* a woman, though their experiences clearly queer them in interesting ways. As they masturbate their female bodies they become both subject and object. This is hinted at in the very beginning when John describes his ambiguous feelings in regards to his new body: He can’t tell anyone, not even McKay, how much he loves this, this body all new for him, beautiful and unworn. But he’d been almost glad of that; it stays his secret, delicious and perverse. And as they move towards fucking, they seem to fully accept their sexuality as becoming something that's not binary any more, i.e., whereas before they seem to primarily have sex *with* a woman, they're now fully having sex *as* a woman. So when John fantasizes about having a cock to fuck Rodney, Rodney agrees with him I mean, what the hell, this body seems to like having, uh. God. Having things inside ii, thus accepting the cognitive dissonance in both of them between their physical and intellectual desires. [Or, to reference Wittig, they define themselves as lesbians, and thus, in a way, as *not* woman--though, of course, neither are they not *not* woman :)] What the story does then, is mix and merge and twist sexual identity and sexual object choice; but any sense of straight or gay requires a certain stability in both. Neither John nor Rodney have that and their sense of identity as sexual beings is constantly changed as they remain in their female bodies and as they begin having sex with one another. Whereas the beginning is them noticing one another as attractive females (thus retaining their initial straight object choice), their own bodies clearly make their sexual encounters "gay," but it is the awareness of their bodies as these multi-erogenous zones that can give and receive various forms of pleasure that complicates any clear position for identity or desire at the end of their tenure as women. In fact their discovery of their own "polymorphous perverse sexuality," functions as a mirror, disrupting the genital obsession binary as their changed genders disrupt traditional gender binaries: the acceptance of the spectrum of gender identity is doubled in the spectrum of the bodies as sexual zones in toto.
So we have the very queer male lesbians and then they get their bodies back. And it is the second violation, the second shift that moves both of them completely into territory where noone can connect with them fully, where they only have one another to relate to. They have been both male and female, have had desires and experiences as both male and female, and the disconnect (a little heavyhandedly symbolized via the vertigo that follows the identical phrasing of both changes) is repeted in the second switch, which suggests that they're not just back in their bodies without having been affected. John's masturbation scene was quite problematic for me at first. I read his trying to fuck himself and not enjoying it as a weird way to bring in that deep Rodneysexualness that WNG sometimes implies (a reading that the rest of the story didn't support, however). thingswithwings suggests that the reason he couldn't enjoy it was that he tried to replicate the penetration and enjoyment of his *female* body: I'd say that it's more about the melancholia, the feeling of loss. No one who puts a dildo in their ass and wants it to feel like vaginal intercourse is going to enjoy it. And John is still in that place where he's getting used to his male body again. This would further suggest that his change created an identity that could never fully return to only male but would always retain an aspect of female desire. So if he was trying to have sex as a female getting fucked, trying to recapture what he'd lost, he couldn't enjoy his male body and ass but instead was trying to regain the feelings and sense of self he'd gained as female, was experienced his loss of his vagina. The fact that he'd want that penetration as female is a wonderful way of showing how much he'd already changed, how much his identity and sexuality already had changed.
When they finally get back together, their doubled identities and desires get represented in the overlaid image: John is overwhelmed by double-vision: Rodney’s strong masculine jaw shadowed by the gentler curve it’d held two weeks ago, his broad, furry chest reminding John of his beautiful soft breasts.. So rather than the very detailed focus we had when they were loving each other's female bodies, we're getting a mix of the body and the person being desired, the doubling of their sexual identities both in themselves and their lovers. Looking at the sex scenes and the conversations between the two, I read their connection less about the deep transcending love of WNG as about multitudes of desire, about the coming to terms with sexual bodies being multiple and a polymorphous perverse desire where all parts of the body become erogenous zones. I'd like to think that that's what they learned as women--the story very much emphasizes breasts and other non genital parts of the bodies they touch and inhabit. So, if they as men suddenly realize the entire body as a canvas of potential desire then their male bodies, suddenly rediscovered as they're as alien as their recent female bodies have been, can become a more plural playing ground. The author in comments describes John and Rodney as "fairly uncritical middle-aged heterosexual men ho think in terms of gay/straight, at least for most of the story" ; nevertheless, both have already understood in their behavior much more than they could possibly articulate. So they may *think* that they're not gay but just love each other, but we see a different story. Just before they get back together, for example, John smells Rodney's familiar smell, thus suggesting that his senses are way ahead of him in terms of what he does or doesn't want: It’s heartbreakingly familiar: Rodney’s smell, and his blue eyes, and his warm body against John’s.. It is the emphasis on familiarity that most suggests a reading that foregrounds their love, the sense that Rodney and John are still the same underneath their bodies, but most of the body descriptions to me suggest that in this story they *are* their bodies, that it is exactly the vertigo and doubledness that brings and keeps them together.
alien queer radical gender terrorists and tarin
One of the most enjoyable meta aspects of the text is the way the author doubles herself into the text: clearly she violates John's and Rodney's genders in writing the story, thus becoming the alien queer radical gender terrorist she creates. Moreover, she offers an ever so brief history of queer life and the importance of community in the figure of Tarin as heyiya observes, I want to know Tarin's life story; he's such an interesting, enigmatic character, and I hope I'm not wrong in seeing a nod to all the lonely passing/ftm/butch stories of lesbian literature. It is in the figure of Tarin and hir loneliness that we can see the community of two that John and Rodney have created. After all, much of John and Rodney's initial relation is about finding someone who understands (and it's telling that they go to one another rather than the women they know, that they help each other through their first menses rather than asking Teyla etc.), who shares this unstable and complicated sense of self. So to me, Rodney and John deciding to become lovers after the second genderswitch is as much about being with the one person who is both male and female and who understand being both male and female as much as it is about some imaginary "love" that they've discovered when sleeping together. (And, of course, the question then becomes what "love" actually is, with love getting constructed somewhere between desire and identity and community and that nebulous thing we call attraction :)
physicality: metaphor or not?
Likewise, ASB's excessive emphasis on physicality in and for itself is in direct rejection of one of the more typical WNG aspects: WNG, after all, foregrounds the emotional intimacy and transcending/transcendent love over physical embodiments. The reason the partners may not consider themselves "gay" is often expressed in their realization that they are not attracted to other guys or, at least, that they wouldn't be willing to defy whatever rules or norms they're defying were it not for the love of the other. I'd suggest that a crossover trope of WNG is the way sex and physicality per se mark intense relations in their intellectual and emotional intimacy [and I say crossover, because even though most WNG employs it, I'd argue it's even more pervasive, b/c a lot of fuck buddies falling in love also uses it, where we begin with (possibly even anonymous) sex and make our way to the emotional intimacy, where the sex begins as just sex and then morphs into something altogether different, i.e., the *quality* of the sex functions as metaphor]. Interestingly, it's not even only sex which figures utterly central and carries much of the metaphoric weight but simple physicality that stands in for other things. ASB does not follow that pattern. Its physical focus (and there's plenty) rarely ever function metaphorically (i.e., John contemplating Rodney's breast as a symbol of his growing love for him) but tends to be very much *about* the bodies (and female ones at that :). There's no transcending awareness and *knowing* the partner's desires before/better than the partner does but instead experimenting and curiosity and a fair share of just plain desire in/of the female body. The sex scenes are erotic and sexy but they stand in for themselves rather than their growing love. In fact, the final scene we have is of the non-erect penis, which works nicely as a a deemphasis of the phallus as the center stage of their identities and desires, as the primary means of pleasure. If their female desires are multiple and not as genitally focused, then their doublegendered/multigendered new identities and desires should exceed the phallus as well.
noone's gay as genderqueer utopia?
So, if there is any way to read the story as WNG, I'd suggest it's rather a version of NIGWAJLEO (Noone Is Gay; We all Just Love Each Other), which, of course, is one underlying aspect of WNG, i.e., the ideal that we (should?) love people and not the bodies in which they come. Read like that, the trope does posit a near utopian space that could maybe be read as very genderqueer, i.e., where the individual rather than the sex is loved. In that sense, the story is doing that, though it's not something specific to Rodney and John's love but it is very specific to Rodney and John's particular experiences. In that reading, the ancient device that forces every ancient to experience both genders might have created a society of intersexed/multisexed/multidesiring subjects, but in the story, only Rodney and John have had that experience and that sense of understanding, of belonging, is a strong aspect of searching one another out, of their love!
... John and Rodney, in a series of changes that takes them so far into each other that heterosexual identification becomes so very irrelevant and limited. Remarkable femslash, but it's the journey towards wanting each other that made the story for me. Always Should Be Someone You Really Love (links to part 2, this series is complete), NC-17, John/Rodney, genderswitch and discussions of het, slash, femslash and use of toys. It runs the gamut, really well. From thingswithwings. Also, Ronon and Teyla are distinct presences. 
The One Where Elizabeth Proves She Totally Did Not Pay Attention in the SGC-Mandated "Being Sensitive to Major Body Alterations in Your Staff" Training. And, Yes, I Am Quite Sure the SGC Does Have Such a Training. Frankly, They Would Be Fools Not To. always should be someone you really love, by thingswithwings. Stargate: Atlantis, John Sheppard/Rodney McKay.
And, from the title alone, the eight people alive who have not already read this story know what this last cliche is: genderswitch. And, oh, I love genderswitch. There was a time when I didn't - a time when I wouldn't even read it - but fortunately due South broke me of that. (It wasn't an inhibition I really needed, after all.) I'm not even sure why I love genderswap so much, unless it's the conversion effect, where you're much much more passionate about something if you disliked it for a while before you started loving it. In any case, the passion is definitely here.In any case, I love genderswitch. I particularly love when writers play with it a bit - not just the classic scenario of "Hey, you have new parts! They are more compatible with MY parts! What say we get it on?" (Not that there is anything wrong with that.) And I love what [livejournal.com profile] thingswithwings does here; she turns both the guys female, and what happens then says a lot about, you know, deep things: sexual preference, identity, desire versus love. So there is thinkiness and girl-on-girl action. (If only more written works managed to incorporate both of these things. In particular, I can think of some textbooks that would be vastly improved by sex. Although, in all honesty, some of those textbooks could be improved by adjectives, so it's not like the bar is set particularly high, here. Still. I think we can agree that sex improves most things.) In short: this is one of my favorite genderswitch stories, and genderswitch is one of my favorite cliches, so - really, this is a very favorite thing of mine. Read!