Strange Horizons, February 23, 2004

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"Genderbendering at the Madhattered" by Kameron Hurley "Genderbendering at the Madhattered" by Kameron Hurley is a mindbending look at gender in an alien setting. Cue, the protagonist and a photographer for the Historiographical Society, lives in a world where children are underage neuters, adolescents alter sex according to whim, and mature adults choose a perpetual gender–or at least the one they will wear for their procreative years.

The bending does not stop there. Queers inhabit this world, also: men and women who are born unable to switch genders. Society also has its rules. It's illegal to wear the clothing of one gender when you are physically another. Cosmetic surgery is based on gender, not personal choice.

Cue's assignment is to visit small towns and take photos of the mature adults, recording them and their chosen gender for posterity. Underage children, adolescents, and queers are not photographed, the latter because they are outside the historical realm, the former because they have not chosen perpetuity.

Into this background, Cue, literally and figuratively falls for Sunshine, another adolescent but one whom the government has recommended to become permanently male because of his/her narrow hips. Sunshine is an artist who apparently has no gender confusion, and of all of Cue's friends, is the one who appears most clear-sighted. While Cue hangs onto the adolescent changes about him/her, fearing the static nature of perpetual adulthood, so similar to his photographs, Sunshine prefers to focus on the personhood beneath the physical trappings and record his insights in paint.

The premise caught me and held on, despite occasional paragraphs that could have had smoother transitions. Although Cue's job is vital to the tale, I found the slide from current events in his world to those of his job to be somewhat disconcerting. Still they were an aberration and did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.

Love is never easy, even in a world where gender differences are prescribed. Kameron Hurley provides a read guaranteed to have you continue thinking, even once you pass "The End".