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“The Left Hand of Darkness” is full of dualistic concepts surrounding the central concept of ambisexual beings.

Updated: Jun 28

By Corina Breukel

Sitting people-watching on the beach in Portugal, it struck me that biological sex expresses itself physically at its most extreme at the peak of potential fertility in the young. I observed many curvy young women and broad shouldered young men. But much more interesting using the lens of “the left hand of Darkness” is how those differences fade with age. Thus, many men acquire fat deposits on their chests, whereas the women often loose their waists and become broader in the shoulder and hairier of chin. It made it much easier for me to visualise the Gethenians.

As I have been considering this book, I have paid a lot of attention to the way being gendered at birth colours our entire existence and puts limitations on our experiences. Being a young person in an era that was in some way more idealistic than our current time, gave me androgynous role models and I remember for a time dressing in my dad’s old tweed suits and cutting my hair very short to appear uncannily like a young boy. In retrospect I suspect this was an embodied thought experiment, a way to explore life without the constraints of gendered expectations.

Even though “ the left Hand of Darkness” has a planet full of ambisexual humans at its centre, to me it is a book of contrasts; between a kingdom (Karhide) and a communist regime (Orgoreyn); between religions, between the planet of Gethen without war and the Ekumen which came into existence after war, between the seasons and in a sense between Ai as a sexual being “ a pervert” and Estraven as the ambisexual. Yet as in its central verse

Light is the left hand of darkness,

and darkness the right hand of light.

Two are one, life and death, lying

together like lovers in kemmer,

like hands joined together,

like the end and the way,

this story explores wholeness through its description of contrasts. Those of you that draw or paint will be aware that to create a picture that convinces the eye (Ai) of its “reality” you need to create strong contrasts close to each other. It is also a story that documents from both sides a journey of listening which leads to understanding. And that mirrors what we aim to do in clinical situations so well.

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Jun 28


Jun 28

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