This is the first part of a series about the complex biological realities of sex. Though the posts build on one another, each can be understood alone.
Content note: this post contains images and language that may not be safe for work.
I first learned about the social construction of sex from a lovely trans woman named Kiki.
She said, “You may have heard before that gender is socially constructed, while sex is biological. But I’m here to tell you that what you’ve heard isn’t true. Sex is socially constructed too. So are you ready for the truth? Are you going to take the red pill or the blue pill?”
Three years later, I was diagnosed by my gynecologist with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which means that my body produces hormones intermediate between “typical men” and “typical women.” What I learned from Kiki gave me context in which to understand…
I think my favorite part ofThe Darkest Gate is the way S.M. Reine writes Elise’s pain. Her emotional baggage is at least ten sizes larger than her and the manner she deals with other creatures (human or not) reflects that. Emotional pain eats you up and makes itself so much at home that you forget that it is there. But your interactions will reflect the depth of your pain and the extent to which you work to keep a lid on it. For once the lid comes off, man. Well, it’s an experience.
Elise’s awkwardness is not only due to her emotional pain. As we get snippets of her past we see that the main focus of her parents has been to train her to fight and to repress her feelings. At 14 James found her (see Death’s Hand) and her career as a kopis began. No wonder Elise has no time for the niceties.
Another factor influences Elise’s interactions with others. In 1999 (as you will discover in this novel) Elise went to a gynecologist to figure out what her problem was. Her discovery shocked her and created another wound to place in her casket of pain.
How much influence this next factor has had on Elise’s way of dealing with the world, I do not know, but I imagine quite a deal. The life of kopis and aspis is not an easy one. It requires a great deal of dedication and sacrifice. There is no glory and no wealth in the life of keeping humanity safer from other creatures. At one point James tells us that:
“hope for was dying in the service of mankind. The idea of being able to settle down was equally tempting and disappointing, since he knew it was something he couldn’t have. He couldn’t afford to eat on many days.”
We get several realistic descriptions of their situations. My parents grew up with poverty, my dad with hunger. When they speak of the harsher parts of their childhoods I find myself amazed to see the people they have become and the lives they have been able to provide us. I see some of their pain reflected in the writing of S.M. Reine.
When you are placed in such a position, some of us find ourselves willing to do things we might not otherwise do. Our practical sense of survival takes over. In 1999 Elise, not James, was the practical one of the two and decided she had to do the job Mr. Black offered to pay for. Doing that job and the consequences that derived from it led to the situation the retired kopis and aspis find themselves in when 2009 comes around. One might say that James and Elise’s lovely rear ends are being royally bitten by the past catching up with them.
I think I am going to leave you with that. Well, that and (as you have probably guess) I LOVED The Darkest Gate.