Thursday, October 27, 2011

Not So Broken

Thoughts on In Defiance of Sleek-armed Androids

We are happy to welcome guest blogger Lisa M. Bradley. She is a poetry contributor of FU #3, and her poem In Defiance of Sleek-Armed Androids recently made the ToC of The Moment of Change, an anthology devoted to feminist spec poetry and edited by Rose Lemberg. Read on, and let Lisa tell you about her defiance:

The catalyst for my poem was Jaswinder Bolina's poem (published in American Poetry Review and acknowledged in my poem's footnote) "One Day, Androids Will Have Pudgy Arms and Hug Us Like Mother, But Still I’d Reach for You, Dear Reader, Which Is Why I Have So Much Faith in Us as a People." I love ridiculously long titles, and I was delighted to see a mainstream, literary poet referencing a SFnal concept. True, he rejected the notion that technology can satisfy our need for nurturing touch. (Carbon-centric prejudice!) Still, I admired his calm defiance, his belief that humans will always know the difference between Us and Them.

But I doubt androids will have pudgy, "motherly" arms any time soon, because our culture (I'm thinking specifically of the United States) has a youth fetish and is obsessed with sex. At the same time, our technology relentlessly pursues streamlined efficiency without asking, "Efficient for whom?" For all their overtures toward ergonomics, manufacturers still cater to an ideal that doesn't exist. This is why I need barbecue tongs to reach the top shelf in my kitchen, why three-quarter sleeves infuriate me, why my child can't wash her hands in a public bathroom, why people using wheelchairs can't navigate store aisles, and so on.

So I took back the SFnal concept, but I made it more realistic. Technology perpetuates internalized prejudices: hence, idealized able-bodied androids that exist as sex objects. Once I'd hit upon that premise, the poem spilled out, although not with anything approaching calm defiance. Obviously, I would reject such androids, as surely as Bolina would reject the pudgy-armed momdroid. Not because they're "mechas" but because they're attempts to police my desires, deny my needs, erase me.

I didn't know how strongly I felt, how rebellious, until the words were on the page. I didn't know how feminist the poem was until I wrote this essay.

Anything that refutes or resists the status quo is considered dangerous by those who benefit from it. (See the NYPD's response to Occupy Wall Street.) According to the status quo, certain people are not supposed to feel desire. They're not supposed to have sex, or to have sex "that way." Yet human beings need satisfying, nurturing tactile experiences to be happy and healthy, and for many of us, that includes sex.

I believe transgressive, "dangerous" sex can actually make us less harmful to ourselves and others, because the consensual fulfillment of our specific needs validates our sense of self-worth: "This is what I want and need, and I deserve to have it." And when we get what we need, we feel good about ourselves. We're more productive and generous. That's what I mean by:

The longer we grind together,
the safer our jagged silhouettes grow
for programmed caresses…

But once we receive such sustenance, we are much less inclined to sacrifice our desires for the benefit of a hostile system:

…our crevasses yawn,
ache for shorn and crumbling cleavages
that…upset the wholesome parameters
set by quality control.

In my poem, Us versus Them doesn't mean androids/mechas/fake versus humans/biologic/real. It means real, imperfect, complicated relationships versus fake, perfect, frictionless fantasies. It means me and my tribe versus those who perpetuate harmful, uninterrogated idealizations.

When Rose Lemberg requested "In Defiance of Sleek-armed Androids" for the The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry, I was pleased but puzzled. I hadn't thought of my poem as feminist.

That's one of the benefits of anthologies. While writing this poem, while down in the trenches, it was all I could do to find the words that fit how I felt, that melded eroticism with defiance to suit the soul of the poem. As a reader, I often slip into the same tunnel vision. I am so eager to immerse in the text—to wallow in alliteration, marvel over turns of phrase, admire form and experimentation—that I lose sight of the larger context. By gathering diverse works, having them grind together as it were, editors prompt new comparisons and realizations, even among the authors themselves.

I'm grateful that Rose selected this poem (and another of mine) for the anthology—not only because she's gifted me with a deeper understanding of my own words, but also because I'm deeply honored, flabbergasted even, to share a table of contents with so many outstanding poets. I thank Fantastique Unfettered for first broadcasting my poem and for sharing the rabble-rousing spirit of liberation.

Lisa Bradley's work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, Cicada, Mothering, and many other publications. Her poems "The Haunted Girl" and "In Defiance of Sleek-armed Androids" are reprinted in The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry (forthcoming from Aqueduct Press). She believes, as Oscar Wilde wrote, "The truth is rarely pure and never simple." She tells her impure, tangled truths at and she tumbles and tweets as cafenowhere.