Thursday 26 January 2017

Does penpal gender matter?

Earlier this month, I read from cover to cover the National Geographic's special issue for January 2017 on the Gender Revolution. I had never read any of their magazines from cover to cover, so this is a first! I found this issue so illuminating. Only in the last 25 or so years have I become aware of other sexualities/genders. 

The humanist Gene Roddenberry was a great influence on my teenage and young adult years. There was one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation introducing the Trill to the crew of the Enterprise. One Trill fell in love with Dr. Beverly Crusher and they had a romance. He was injured and he was dying but the symbiont inside needed a new body to act as host. However, it was too long a wait for a new Trill host to arrive but an interim solution became available - transplant the symbiont into Picard's No. 1 - Will Riker. This worked for a while and the romance continued with the dear doctor. When the new Trill host arrived and the symbiont transplanted, I recall the look of utter horror/disgust on Crusher's face when she sees the Trill is female. The Trill female still had the feelings of romance for the doctor, but Beverly felt uncomfortable. 

Continuing, Deep Space 9 has a Trill officer - Jadzia Dax. She meets one of her symbiont's past host's spouse's symbiont's new host and the love was still there; the two symbionts still loved each other even though their respective hosts were female. This showed me that there is more to love/attraction than the outward appearance.

So, what has this got to do with letter writing?

Traditional online penpal ads/profiles often state that they only want  female penpals. Some of these go on to add, "out of respect for my husband." I looked up the definition for respect - due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others. How does having a male penpal go against the right of others? If I rewrite and infer... "Because of my husband's wishes, I am not allowed to make friends with men, as he thinks I will want to throw my body at them, have affairs with them." I wonder then how this husband would cope with his wife having a lesbian penpal; would he fear she'd tempt her away and corrupt her? And would he have opinions on transgenders who were female or who are now female, or what about those who are intersex, examples - 1) a model has come out recently as intersex, having been born with undescended testicles, and the testes removed when she was 10, and 2) a writer and film maker grew a beard and had a period aged 12. So, would you discriminate on grounds of gender or sexuality? Should spouses (or even parents) dictate who you should be friends with?

The word I like is prefer. This allows you to keep an open mind. I did prefer to write to females 20 years ago, but I did also have some male penpals and I was pleasantly surprised. 

The February letter writing projects can give the freedom to write to new people, to discover the world. 


  1. I remember that Star Trek episode! I really want to read that issue, thanks for sharing this. My sister came out as transgender a couple years ago, so I'd love to hear other people's stories as well.

    1. On one of the penpal groups on Facebook, there is an admin (Dee) who is writing a thesis on the subject. -