Worldbuilding: It’s Always The Twentieth Century In Space

Customs. Customs never change. Even when there is basically no in-universe connection to the customs with which we must comply.

This meta-post is inspired by the current flap (and lies, damned lies, and open letters from activists) about Rebecca Tuvel’s transracialism article and the ensuring prompt outrage excursion from the usual suspects, with particular regard to one piece of the response to the response, which I quote here:

As for the accusation that Tuvel “deadnam[ed] a trans woman,” meaning that she used a pre-transition name that was subsequently changed, the authors conveniently leave out the identity of the trans woman in question: Caitlyn Jenner. Now, deadnaming trans people is, as a default rule every cisgender person should know, rude and offensive, and in extreme cases it can actually be dangerous or deadly (if someone isn’t out as trans in their community). But Jenner herself has not been shy about using her old name or talking about her life as Bruce. It’s nonsensical to claim that once a very famous trans person has exhibited comfort using their old name and talking about their pre-transition life, any reference to that name or life is still verboten. It seriously misses the point of why deadnaming is frowned upon.

It’s also inspired by the foofaraw over one particular character in Mass Effect: Andromeda, Hainly Adams, who in a conversation about why she came to the Andromeda Galaxy and left her old life behind, mentions her trans-ness and her old name from said old life, something that has been widely decried as the most terrible and horrible of bad writing and offense-giving.

Now we get to the worldbuilding part:

In the Eldraeverse, one relevant issue here is the Central Office of Records and Archives, whose Universal Registry of Citizens and Subjects is very keen on nymity, on the grounds that without authentication and identification, it’s really hard to have trust, accountability, and the obligation of contracts. You are uniquely identified by your UCID, to which is linked every name you have ever identified yourself by, along with dates, types, and whether or not it should still be considered current. This is part of the core data in everyone’s Personal File, and as such, a matter of public record, trivial to look up. Trivial in the “you can walk down the street and see everyone’s names in convenient entoptic AR floaters” sense.

Should this be something people *there* have a problem with?

Bear in mind, when you answer, that should you meet three women at the bar, that one of them used to be a man is probably the least surprising metamorphosis to you, inasmuch as the second grew up as a hermaphrodite, corona-dwelling space whale and the third is a cephalopoid battle robot in her day job, who’s only biologically female or for that matter biological while on leave – and neither of the latter is what you might call unusual.

(The bartender is a fragment of a mixed-sex/mixed-gender group mind and the house band is an octopus.)

I submit that it’s a real stretch to imagine that anyone from that cultural background – in which what we would call trans-ness is not in the least dangerous, socially taboo, or even curious in the backwateriest of backwaters – would even invent the concept they’re supposed to be upset by.

(This, incidentally, also probably applies to the Mass Effect: Andromeda case. ME:A takes place in the year 2785, and even if we discount the 600 years it took to reach Andromeda, departed the Milky Way in the year 2185, approximately 265 years downtime from now. Leaving, moreover, a universe in which same-sex relationships are ubiquitous and open xenophilia both passes without comment and forms the basis of award-winning movies.

Now, granted, there’s no actual in-game canon to indicate that anti-transgender prejudice has also died off in the meantime, but given what’s apparently happened to other popular twencen prejudices, assuming it hasn’t in the absence of clear evidence seems to demand a higher burden of proof. It is more consistent with the background, I further submit, to assume that – much like “once the races were much more distinct and people felt that was important” and “once gay people weren’t allowed to marry” – it’s something that college students studying “pre-space Earth history” find weird and kinda incomprehensible.)

All of which is to say, this is projecting the mores and bigotries of now onto the fictional future, and there are two reasons why you should stop it:

One, it’s bad worldbuilding. It’s behavior inconsistent with the setting because its precursors are inconsistent with the setting, and that makes it stand out like a sour note in a flute solo.

And two, it’s bad messaging. Do you really want to send the message that humanity, or sophontkind in general, can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t grow the fuck up and overcome its stupid-ass prejudices? Because by insisting that those prejudices (worst) or the responses to those prejudices (better, but still bad) are faithfully shoehorned into every extrapolated future or conculture, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

In our fictional futures, things are permitted to get better.

No, really.