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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Misunderstanding Sexuality in “Phallex Comes Out” by Brent Hayward in Chizine #29

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An article that takes a deeper look at some of the themes in "Phallex Comes Out" by Brent Hayward and responds to Miranda Siemienowicz's review of the story at Horrorscope.
Although, Tangent has not yet done a full review of Chizine #29, I wanted to briefly discuss "Phallex Comes Out" by Brent Hayward and respond to some of Miranda Siemienowicz’s statements in her review of the story at HorrorScope. It should be noted that this article will include spoilers and should be treated as informal criticism rather than an actual review.


Hayward constructs an interesting little tale about the vagaries of human sexuality and the dark nature of the human soul; he does so by combining seamlessly two standard tropes of fantasy and science fiction: a witch burning story and robot slave story, respectively.

The sex robot serves as the ideal view-point character to express his themes, allowing the author to draw sentimental reactions from us as we learn the fate of the robot’s mistresses and watch as it suffers at the hands of male tormentors from the outside world. The story implies that these tormentors invade the house out of fear of feminine sexuality, and thus firmly establishes this as a clearly feminist story. Further support for a feminist reading occurs when the male robot fails to save the day at the end, finishing on the sad note of the robot limping away on his attachable penis, alone in an alien world nothing like the chateaux.

Miranda Siemienowicz writes in her review: "Hayward’s treatment of the theme of sexuality, for the most part mature and diverse, disappoints where the author reverts to the dubious ideas of women’s fantasies of pretended non-consensuality and, in the conclusion, of the final triumph of the phallus over all."


What I found unfortunate about her review is that she seems to miss the moral of the story completely. Although Miranda Siemienowicz might not ever wish to engage personally in a "fantasy of pretended non-consensuality", that is quite a generalization to make about every woman on the planet. After all, if a woman were going to engage in such a fantasy, who would make a better candidate to try it with than a robot who obeys your every command and you have complete control over. Lesbianism, homosexuality, and necrophilia represent "mature" expressions of human sexuality, but pretended non-consensual fantasies do not? Am I getting this right?


So she can believe some people are turned on by having sex with a rotting corpse or having sex with someone feigning death, but there hasn’t been a single woman since the creation of this planet that has ever enjoyed or been turned on by the idea of pretend non-consensuality. We’re not talking about real rape here, but a fantasy; that is why the word "pretended" is key.


But perhaps her second point has more validity. Maybe the real problem is that the phallus does triumph over all.


However, the final words of the story reads as follows: "Then, mangled face grim, Phallex withdrew his largest member from his abdominal pouch and screwed it resolutely into place. Leaning on his crutch, he began to limp forward."


This description, which includes words such as limp and mangled, doesn’t exactly bring to mind a triumphant character flaunting his daunting penis to the world in triumph. In fact, his mistresses lay dead, he no longer has a purpose, he has been physically damaged and beaten, and by the end of the story the question lingers whether he will be able to survive on his own in an outside world that views him as a monster. If that represents triumph I would hate to see Miranda Siemienowicz’s idea of defeat.


The story, however, uses this final scene, this "defeat" as a metaphor for feminist concerns; this sex-slave robot represents the objectification of women as sexual objects. Notice that without his mistresses to please sexually he has no other purpose; we are left with the sense that our robot protagonist is lost, that he doesn’t know what else awaits him in the future. Notice that the narrative, told from his point-of-view, gives a fair amount of attention to his torn body; the only object which has meaning for this sex robot. Notice the very fact that he is a robot, a kind of programmed slave, thus suggesting he cannot perform any actions outside his primary function and programmed limitations (think how this applies to the metaphor). He is nothing without his body, or as the metaphor suggests, "women only have purpose through their bodies and sexuality." The story, however, shows us that Phallex is more than just a mindless sexual slave; in the narrative we gain access to his inner thoughts and discover the robot capable of a wide-range of emotions, making him more human that quite a few of the actual human characters.


Camille, one his mistresses, states the moral explicitly (order slightly modified from the text): "They hate me because I like only women. They are afraid of that, for some reason. We can be a very small-minded and dangerous species." The people from the outside end up killing the mistresses because they see this rampant sexuality as perverse, and thus deem them witches because of this "perversity". Ironically by putting forth the opinion she does, Miranda Siemienowicz only confirms the story’s moral through her unthoughtful remarks about human sexuality. How does she know what hidden desires lurk in the thoughts of every other woman on this Earth? Or every man? Or between two consenting and willing sexual partners? This is not to say her reading of the text is wrong, but rather to point out how her own biases affected that reading. The point is human sexuality is very wide and broad, varying from culture to culture, and person to person. The real dubious statement is postulating a broad generalization about the sexuality of three billion people.