My Gender Is a Fish

by Carter Gwertzman


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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Self-exploration in 15 minutes or less, November 30, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

I was glad I wasn't the only person worried this was a troll entry along the lines of the "clever people" who write "gender: attack helicopter" in their twitter profiles (thanks to PopeHat for this specific examples) and I'm also glad it's clearly not. I suppose to a certain extent, categorizing gender is tricky. It shouldn't be black and white. Yet making an involved taxonomy for its own sake is just exhausting all at once. Yet at the same time, people who criticize it the loudest have no problem discussing the difference between Alpha, Beta, Omega and Sigma males.

Abstractly, the game tracks your gender. It starts with boy or girl. Then it asks eagle or fish. Then a pebble or sun. Then a bit of a false choice before the final one, with an explanation. This all feels pretty simple. There's no overboard mysticism, and I appreciate MGiaF giving me a new way to think instead of telling me to.

I also think MGiaF shows a certain evolution from some of the more confrontational earlier twines that just flat out tell you you're not considering gender hard enough, you privileged cis white male, you. I mean, this is just heckling as opposed to outright abuse by cis white males, but if we're trying to make art, let's make it accessible even to those who might not be our target audience. And I appreciate feeling included, as someone who's heard I didn't try to be masculine enough, or why the hell was I trying to be macho, I wasn't fooling anyone.

I wanted a new way to look at things. MGiaF provided that. It's not the only way, but it helps reaffirm wishes I had long ago. Wishes that people who classified me as Not Masculine Enough (but don't try being as masculine as us!) would just clam up, or that there was indeed a third way, and there was far more to seeing yourself than being ranked by masculinity or desirability.

And it also provides a good contrast to the usual dialogue we hear in general. One particularly bad passage from a Reality TV show sticks in my head. I was only watching it because it was on the screens at my local athletic club. A bunch of guys were competing for one woman (the very worst kind of Reality TV, because shocker of shocker, relationships built on competition and the excitement of the chase don't last,) and the narrator asked "can the sensitive guys do man's man things like get a high score at the rifle shooting range?" Maybe this wasn't exact, but it was bad enough and obviously a very shallow exploration of our roles and who we are. We obviously can do better, and that MGiaF did so much better in under 15 minutes pleases me greatly. I can't speak precisely to how good the symbolism is, but it seems to me that we respect (or find wonderfully mystifying) the concept of spirit animals or objects or even corny tattoos in languages we can't speak, and it shouldn't be something to make people ooh and ahh, but something we can internalize and share as we wish. And MGiaF having nothing too exotic helped it feel accessible to me.

So I walked away wishing there was more but not feeling there had to be, despite my earlier-mentioned aversion to taxonomy. The old saw about how there are 2 times to walk away, too early and too late, apply here, and MGiaF walked away well before drowning you in pointless possibilities. I've certainly had that feeling of "I think I'm X, wait, no, that doesn't fit, more like Y" and so forth, and realizing that no labels fit, but reasonable ones helped me find who I was. And I appreciate having that experience sped up with little to no risk.

I can't offer any detailed literary analysis. This is out of my realm in many ways. There's a nonzero (but low) chance MGiaF is just random mysticism or parts are way off-base and I glossed over them and it successfully BSed me. But in that very unlikely case, I got a lot out of it. It left me writing and remembering a good chunk for something that took 15 minutes to get through. And I have a feeling I missed something, too, but these are blanks I'll fill in later.