The Greater Freedom of Identity and Sexual Orientation in Oankali Society

When I was reading the fourth section of Imago’s first chapter “Metamorphosis,” I couldn’t stop thinking about whether or not Octavia Butler made the conversation between Jodahs and Nikanj resemble a conversation between a human child and his or her parent on purpose. While we still hear a lot of stories of human parents rejecting their child’s sense of identity or their sexual orientation, basically declining the validity of their perceived nature, the Oankali once again seem to be a step ahead of human society. I found the dialogue between Jodahs and his same-sex parent, Nikanj, beautiful and truly inspiring. Our society has a lot to learn from the Oankali, and from Nikanj in particular, who responds in a wonderfully accepting and caring way to its child’s worries and insecurities.

Nikanj carefully approaches Jodahs about the child’s fear of becoming ooloi (the third sex responsible for mediating between Oankali females and males) by letting its offspring know that it doesn’t want to push it toward the Human or the Oankali extreme, but rather wants its child “to develop as [it] should in every way” (546). Nikanj attentively listens to Jodahs and tells it that “there is no flaw in [it]” (547). We then get an insight into Jodah’s mind and learn that “its [parent’s] words gave a security nothing else could have” (547). In this way, Butler might have intended to emphasize the great importance of parental acceptance and unconditional love, which are two of the single most important aspects in a child’s life. Because it doesn’t want to hurt or cause any trouble for its family, Jodahs asks Nikanj if it could become male if it could change its shape. And Nikanj empathically responds by asking it if it “still wants to be male” (547). Thereupon we witness the child’s claim of its own identity, asking itself a significant rhetorical question: “Had I ever wanted to be male?” (547). At this moment, Jodahs realizes that it had just assumed it was male, and would have no choice in the matter. Moreover, it always thought that it could protect his family from being verbally or physically attacked and that “people wouldn’t be as hard on [Nikanj] if [it] were male” (547).

Toward the end of their conversation, Jodahs becomes more aware of what it truly wants and comes to the conclusion that it “wouldn’t want to give up being what [it is]” (548). Thus, only because of its parent’s acceptance and understanding, it recognizes that it really wants (and is meant) to be ooloi. However, Jodahs continues to wish it didn’t, because it doesn’t want to cause his family any trouble. Yet, Nikanj continues to support its child and emboldens it to stick to its true identity, reassuring it that: “You want to be what you are. That’s healthy and right for you” (548). These are what I believe to be the most encouraging, kind, and honest words a parent could (and should) tell their child in distress, especially, but not exclusively, when it comes to gender and sexual orientation.



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