Rider's Pride & Sexual Orientation/Discrimination

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Title: Rider's Pride & Sexual Orientation/Discrimination
Creator: David Peavy (and commenter Graeme) at "Gay Authors -- Quality Gay Fiction Stories"
Date(s): May 12, 2007
Medium: online
Fandom: Dragonriders of Pern
External Links: Rider's Pride & Sexual Orientation/Discrimination - DKStories' Forum - Gay Authors, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Rider's Pride & Sexual Orientation/Discrimination is a 2007 post by David Peavy at the discussion forum "Gay Authors -- Quality Gay Fiction Stories."

It discusses a fan story called The Rider's Pride (107,446 words) by dkstories.

Topics Discussed

The Original Post

I recently read Rider's Pride and while I enjoyed the story, it highlighted some aspects of McCaffrey's Pern that I had not realized existed. It has been several years since I read my last Pern novel, but I had read all of them to that point. I remember some brief innuendos about Green and Blue Riders in her books, but as she never had any gay protagonists in her novels (that I know of) it was never really fleshed out.

However, in reading Rider's Pride, looking at Pern from a gay man's perspective, it made me realize how heteronormative is the society, not only in the larger Pern world, but in the Weyr culture. I think because McCaffery has focused on the gold, brown, bronze riders in her novels, I did not realize the pervasiveness of the oppression for gay men in Pern and the Weyr.

Before I begin, I am making a couple of assumptions. 1) Green Riders are predominantly, if not exclusively gay men. 2) Blue riders are predominantly, if not exclusively bisexual men (at least during mating flights). 3) Brown/Bronze Riders are heterosexual men, and 4) Gold riders are heterosexual women.

The basis for my observation is the implied fact that gay men can only impress green female dragons. Given the societal structure within the Weyr, this does not allow them any opportunity to assume any leadership positions. Why gay men, who can impress on female green dragons, cannot impress on a gold queen, is never discussed (maybe you can't have 2 queens? :) ). This hierarchal system implies that gay men do not have the characteristics needed to be Weyrleaders, just because they only impress on green female dragons.

Another revelation in your story is the implication that all Green Riders are passive gay men (bottoms), while the Blue/Brown Riders are the tops. Dan's story implies that this relationship occurs during the mating flight, but does not suggest that there is any role reversals outside of the mating flight. This leads one to the position that Green Riders are always bottoms because they are riders of female dragons, just like female riders are penetrated because they not only fulfill that gender role, but are riders of female dragons. A very patriarchal, heterosexual point of view.

If you take the two together -- the subjugation of gay men to non-leadership roles, and the relegation of gay men to passive partners in a sexual relationship -- then the Weyr is not as transgressive of the heteronormative society found in the Holds or the Halls. Dan's story, and Pern's other novels, imply the different values found in the Weyr, as opposed to those in other cultures on Pern; however, when it comes to gender roles, there is no difference.

One could argue that at least in the Holds and the Halls gay men can define their personal sexual relationships without having them dictated by others. Additionally, while they might have to hide their relationships, at least there is no bar to leadership in the Holds or the Halls. Being a gay man in the Weyr could be very difficult, unless one agreed to live according to the Weyr's rules of behaving like a proper gay man.

I would be interested in others take on this issue.

Comments to This Post

I've been thinking about this for a while, before I even saw your post. While superficially, what you've said appears correct, I don't think it is.

Firstly, I would say that a reasonable percentage of brown and blue riders are gay, not bi. The examples of brown/blue riders establishing longterm relationships with green riders show this (at least to me). I have also noticed that some bronze dragons will join in a green mating flight, so some bronze riders are probably bi, too.

Next, while there is a strong implication that green riders are "bottoms" in a mating flight, extending that theory outside of the mating flight is unwarranted. It is not stated anywhere, and to extrapolate from one relationship (and even there, we don't "know" -- we're guessing) is a really bad practise.

I also have to ask the question as to how much the rider's desires are driven by the dragon. We know that green dragons are sexually active, and that in a mating flight the dragons emotions tend to overwhelm the riders, so does a green dragon influence the sexual behaviour of her rider?

Finally, the story of the first fall made it clear that the original designer of the dragons include strong sexual roles in their behaviour. Some of this has propagated throughout the history of the Weyrs, but there has also been a lot of social evolution. Remember, leadership roles in fighting wings are determined largely by the DRAGONS, not the riders (the leadership of the Weyrs, in particular).

On a side note, I can't see why there can't be a male rider of a queen dragon, but that decision would be up to the weyrling dragon, not the rider....
[David Peavy]:

To my knowledge, McCaffrey never wrote any explicit sex scenes in her Pern novels. As Dan seems to have done a lot of reading and research in this world, I am basing my conclusions on his work. If you know of any novel that counters that assumption, please let me know. To be frank, I never gave this matter much thought before I read Dan's story, probably because green riders never played major roles in McCaffrey's novels. But in reading Dan's story, the conclusion that green riders were regulated to the passive role in homosexual relationships, seemed to be in harmony with the gender definitions found in Pern's society.

[quoting Wikipedia ]: :Anne McCaffrey has stated in a number of documents and interviews that dragonets use pheromones to determine the sexual orientation of the humans to whom they Impress. According to these statements, greens Impress only to women or to "effeminate" homosexual men. Blues Impress primarily to homosexual or bisexual men with "masculine" temperaments, or possibly to masculine or lesbian women; browns similarly Impress primarily to heterosexual men, but sometimes to bisexual men. Bronzes and golds Impress exclusively to heterosexual men and heterosexual women, respectively.

However, these ideas have never been made explicit in the books (although it is clear, at least, that most male green- and blue riders are homosexual). Many members of online Pern fandom find McCaffrey's ideas about sexuality highly questionable for a number of reasons, both scientific and ethical. (Most infamously, she claimed in an interview that science has proven that being the receptive partner in anal sex triggers a hormonal change that will make a previously heterosexual man become homosexual and effeminate. Thus, she argues, even if a male green rider were originally heterosexual, he would not stay that way.) In later interviews McCaffrey claims that green dragons merely pick up on psychological clues from homosexual boys before they themselves know that they are homosexual. "A green Hatchling is unlikely to be impressed (pun intended) by a heterosexual boy." - Anne McCaffrey 1998 on The Kitchen Table BB. [much snipped, see the Wikipedia link]"
[David Peavy]:
Tent peg is taboo in most fan circles because it is really, really offensive. Still, it was an actual interview, even if the Anne McCaffrey team has been working their little tails off to see that all copies are destroyed. Which is why I keep a copy of the most offensive snippet. Education is important, so here it is:

Anyhow, it's a combination of this section of an interview transcript between Anne McCaffrey and somebody (the full transcript has been pretty systematically removed from the 'net-- I wonder why):

A: The situation will arise where two males will enagage in sexual activity. Greenriders, have to be homosexual.

Q: Some fandom Weyrs choose to seperate sexual tendencies and flight related sex experiences...

A: Let me stop you right there, there is no seperation. Two men engaging in sexual activity with one another are gay. The dragons choose based on their own drives.

Q: *audible pause* *sounds of paper rustling* But, uh, some people say one experience, especially under the control of outside forces dosen't really make you *emphasis* gay.

A: It's not a matter of the rider *emphasis* becoming homosexual. Green and blue dragons choose people who are already homosexual. And even if circumstances arose, and a green dragon chose a heterosexual lifemate... Well, he would become homosexual. It's a proven fact that a single anal sex experience causes one to be homosexual. The hormones released by a sexual situation involving the anus being broached, are the same hormones found in large quantities in effeminate homosexual males. For example, when I was much younger I knew a young man who was for all intents and purposes, heterosexual. He was mugged, and involved in a rape situation involving a tent peg. This one event was enough to have him start on a road that eventually led to him becoming effeminate and gay.
You are using references that I'm not familiar with and not able to investigate properly. I am aware that there is reference material I have not read, so my understandings have been based purely on the published novels I own. I have read Dan's story in that context, and because the role of green and blue dragons in the Weyrs is not something that is well expounded in the original novels, I haven't found any significant issues with what he has written. Only Anne McCaffrey (and maybe Todd McCaffrey) can say if Dan's story is fully consistent with the world of Pern -- I'm certainly not in a position to do so. Dragonquest had a brown/green pairing that Dan mentioned was one of the first times that he realised that same-sex couples were not exceptional in Pern. F'nor was told that keep his brown dragon away -- Canth's comment was that the two dragons were "a couple", and F'nor stated that Canth wasn't a poacher. That same story has the following enigmatic statement from one of the Weyrleaders: Weyr-breed are best for dragons -- especially greens. After Dan had alerted me to the same-sex relationship, I found the "especially greens" comment interesting.
[David Peavy]:
Accordingly, McCaffery has created a world where a person's sexual orientation determines to a large extent their place in Weyr society. Additionally, for gay men there is even a rigid delineation between tops and bottoms (or as she describes it, effeminate and masculine men). In Dan's story, I can see how J'shon's being described as "sensitive" would fit in with McCaffrey's effeminate categorization of gay men who prefer to be passive in anal sex.

Since blue riders are gay men, while brown riders are predominately heterosexual (with the possibility of a bisexual man getting impressed by a brown dragon), it leaves the Weyrs to be lead by the stalwart heterosexual men and women who impress upon bronze and gold dragons. Yes, McCaffrey does allow gay men (and to a lesser extent bisexual men) to be characters in her world; however, they are regulated to background characers for the vast majority of her stories. In fact, the design of her world precludes a gay man from being a major, much less a main character in her stories due to the fact that gay men are barred from leadership roles in Pern's society.

Back in the 70's, a fantasy writer mentioning that a society acknowledges and recognizes gay men was empowering for many gay teens. But over 30 years later, I think gay readers demand that gay characters be allowed to sit at the lunch counter and not to have to take a seat at the back of the bus.

Personally, I think having a story about two gay men, one impressing on a bronze dragon, while the other impresses a gold dragon, would be one I'd love to read! Not only would it be a love story of the two, but it would demonstrate to Pern readers that gay men can't simply be thought of in terms of "masculinity," or sexual positions, but that gay men are able to assume the responsibility to lead others in society. It certainly would cause the Holds and Halls to sit up and take notice.

PS - This it NOT an attack or even a critique of Dan's story, rather a realization that while McCaffrey's Pern was open-minded in the 70's, it is not so in the 21st century.
I appreciate what you are saying. However, the world was effectively created back in those 70s so consistency requires that the situation that was described then persists in new stories today. It would require the creation of a new universe to do what you are saying. To be fair to Anne McCaffrey, it is a situation where she is not able to easily do what you request. The best bet would be in the post All the Weyrs of Pern world -- information from Aivas would help promote a societal change that allows different leadership models to evolve. This would probably be easier outside of the Weyrs, unless the Weyrs change the way they determine their leaders.
[David Peavy]:
I would respectfully disagree. An author who creates a world, can change it. Besides, McCaffrey herself has deviated from her "rules," when she created a white dragon and originally only women impressed green dragons. My suggestion was not that gay men would supplant heterosexual men in leadership roles, but just be given one chance to break down the heteronormative world view present in Pern via two characters in one novel!

I think that if McCaffrey's estate wishes to continue publishing Pern-related novels after her death, they will need to jettison her antiquated and stereotypical view of gay men in future Pern novels. That will require a change in the portrayal of gay men within the Weyr, otherwise they run the risk of publishing books that will be rejected by readers if they depict one dimensional characterizations of gay men based on their proscribed sexual positions.

Prior to Stonewall, there were many mainstream novels that contained gay characters. In almost all of them, those gay characters were stereotypes and were killed off by the end of the novel. Most gay men (and others) today have never read those books, and in 10 years, unless there is a redirection in the Pern universe, I think the next generation of gay men (and others) will have no desire to read a Pern novel.

Given the vast number of novels I've read over the years, I rarely find myself wanting to spend my leisure time reading a book that contains a stereotype of a gay man, much less a rejection of gay men as being equal to heterosexual men, as McCaffrey does in her Pern novels. While I have almost all of her Pern novels on my shelf, I am reluctant to re-read them (even if Dan's story has me strongly inclined to do so), because I have recently learned of her negative view of gay men. Similarly, while I have read several novels by Orson Scott Card, I have not read any of his novels after I learned of his published homophobic views.

McCaffrey has had the means to make changes to her world (and she did with the female green riders), since the 70's while the gay community has fought for its civil rights. She has chosen to continue to propagate her view of gay men as being inferior to heterosexual men (especially effeminate gay men) through her Pern novels. As readers, we each need to decide how best to respond to her decision.
To me, the early books did NOT show gay characters. I didn't spot the reference in the second book until Dan pointed it out. She built same-sex couples into her universe in a quiet and unassuming way -- as something that was normal and not needing to be pointed out (at least in the weyrs). Later stories have explicit descriptions of same-sex couples, without any stereotyping that I can find. To dismiss the entire universe because ONE social structure (the weyrs) have same-sex couples but do not appear to allow them to have any obvious position of authority, that appears to be shortsighted. I certainly don't agree that the stories imnply that homosexuals are inferior. I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this. To me, these are STORIES, not social/political documentaries. If anything, I would be more likely to object to the strong (though not rigid) class system that prohibits someone who has the wrong parents from becoming a social leader (eg. Lord Holder). However, I accept that this is just part of the complex social tapestry that the stories take place in. They don't make a commentary as to whether this is a desirable social structure -- just that that is the way it is in this totally fictional universe.