HIM

The right wing part of social media has been in meltdown once again this month, this time over the fact that the disgusting trannies have failed to move the Trans Day of Visibility to a different day because Easter Sunday happens to have moved onto March 31st. How dare they? Easter has been cancelled!!! Oh dear.

In view of which, it is just as well that none of them have read HIM by Geoff Ryman, because there might be actual heart attacks rather than just cases of the vapours.

HIM starts from a very simple and obvious scientific fact. Virgin births are common throughout the animal kingdom, and in all such cases the new life produced is female, usually a clone of the mother. Therefore, if Mary gave birth by parthenogenesis, Jesus must have been born a girl. And if He hasn’t come down to us in history as a girl, why he must obviously be a trans guy.

Thus begins a re-examination of the New Testament on that basis. What would it mean? Can it help us make sense of the story? Ryman is, after all, a science fiction writer. Extrapolating from a premise is what he does.

It makes a lot of sense too. Jesus’ message is very much one of anti-Patriarchy, about caring for others rather than being an angry old man with an imposing beard. It is one that someone not born and raised male might have come up with, and certainly one that might attract women followers.

That we know is true. Ryman makes good use of the characters of Joanna and Susana from the New Testament. They are not people we learned anything about when I was in school, but it seems clear that Joanna bankrolled Jesus’ movement. Also we know from history that women were hugely important in the early Christian church under the Roman Empire, despite all of the nonsense from St. Paul.

The central character of the book, however, is not Jesus, but Mary, or Maryam as Ryman would have her. She does, after all, bookend Jesus’s life on Earth. And she makes a fascinating narrator. Ryman’s Maryam is a smart young woman from an important Jerusalem family. Not wishing to be lorded over by some beardy misogynist, she contrives to marry a bookish lad called Yosef whom she is sure she can order around. But Yosef has heretical ideas that he can’t keep quiet about, leading to him being exiled from Jerusalem. And Maryam, well, who is going to believe a young woman who claims she has become pregnant without having had sex?

Now it gets complicated. As an intelligent woman, Maryam is delighted that God has given her a daughter. Here at last will be a prophet who can preach on behalf of women. She is therefore horrified when her daughter claims that she is a boy called Yehush. Maryam does everything she can to get her daughter back, while the sweet, kind-hearted Yosef just accepts everything calmly. It is a fascinating gender reversal of what all too often happens to trans kids.

Maryam, because she really wants a woman prophet, eventually comes around because she realises that the message is more important than the messenger. A harder nut to crack is the sister, Babatha. She’s very conventionally feminine and is furious that her elder sibling gets away with avoiding all of the women’s work around the house. She eventually does the ambitious woman thing of finding a rich idiot to marry, and therefore gets to represent White Feminism in the book.

Eventually young Yehush becomes a cult leader, and here Ryman provides us with a convincing portrait of a revolutionary movement that is growing too quickly to control. And of a young person who is finding it increasingly difficult to embody the role for which He has been created.

Someone who is a better theologian than me will doubtless write a fascinating analysis of this book, but my simplistic view of Ryman’s argument is as follows. God has decided that He doesn’t understand humans properly, so He creates an avatar so He can walk among them. But young Yehush quickly realizes that God has been wrong about many things, and that smiting humans when they don’t do what they are told isn’t a very good strategy. Unfortunately, channeling God, and trying to change God’s mind at the same time, is way to much for a human body and mind to cope with, and things start to unravel.

One of the interesting things that Ryman does is to try to fit stories from the Gospels into his narrative. One clear example is that Yehush does not raise Lazarus from the dead on a whim, but rather because He knows that He will rise from the dead soon and He needs to work out how it is done.

Possibly less successful are some of Ryman’s choices about how to embody 1st Century Judea. On the one had he has his characters talking in a very modern way. On the other he insists on what I assume must be period-correct spelling for the names of people and towns, and for some nouns. That makes it difficult to work out who is who, and I don’t see the point of that because we all know the story.

Overall I found HIM a fascinating book, and one that I whipped through quickly. But judging the argument(s) that it makes will take a whole lot more reflection, and knowledge of theology. I’m really looking forward to hearing some conference papers about this book.

As to the trans content, it is well done, but rather less central to the book that you might imagine. But I do appreciate the book having a pronoun for the title.

book cover
Title: HIM
By: Geoff Ryman
Publisher: Angry Robot
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Bookshop.org UK
See here for information about buying books though Salon Futura

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