Tom Moylan’s criticism of Ursula K. Le Guin’s work, The Dispossessed, concentrates on the contradictions that Le Guin’s utopia faces against her own ideologies. The pro-feminist and pro-sexual liberation notions were presented well, yet instead of putting emphasis on these two, cast them aside into the margins in order for Shevek to take his place as “hero” and “leader” of the revolutionary path. In hindsight, pointing out Le Guin’s focus on a male-dominant attitude may seem arbitrary but does not ignore the fact that characters such as Bedap, as Moylan dubbed “the token homosexual,” had been “devalued” and never transcended from his restrictions as a minor character. (I might as well be reiterating parts of my E5 in this blog post, so sorry, Gerry, if this gets rather redundant.)
When The Dispossessed was published in 1973, homosexual acceptance was becoming more apparent, yet only reluctantly so. Despite the prevalence of opposition, the GLBT movement in America continued to confront its obstacles—Sodomy laws adhered by numerous states, discrimination, condemnation from various religious sects, and hate crimes—and has had its victories: The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders on December 15, 1973. A week later a United States federal judge promotes a ban to discriminate sexual orientation of employees. The removal represents a deviation from previous notions of homosexuality being “a psychological abnormality” and allowed limited acceptance for same-sex relations. Moreover, the gay culture stepped further into the public eye when gay political figures were elected into office and when more celebrities “came out.” In its social and political context, Le Guin’s novel may have portrayed America’s ostensible acceptance to sexual preference. Anarres culture did not frown upon on homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual relationships; sexual experimentation was of the norm.
So why does Moylan scrutinize Le Guin’s presentation of the GLBT characters like Bedap? Bedap expresses regret for his lifestyle or that he can never experience “the hardest and deepest, the intimacy of pain” (Le Guin 370). The implication is that Bedap’s homosexuality is the cause for regret, the reason why he cannot share the joys, the pains, of parenthood, cannot share the sufferings of others because “he never took the time” (Le Guin 370). His self-pity, his sense of uselessness prompts the assumption that offspring defines and fulfills a person’s purpose, betraying the ideology of sexual tolerance Le Guin contends in her works (this may be an outstretched presumption of mine… And I may be emulating Moylan’s tone. Sorry for that). Ironically, Bedap is the one who pushes Shevek towards the revolution, the catalyst that opens Shevek’s minds to the various flaws littered in Anarresti institution and administration. He never achieves complete happiness by the end of the novel, and is never mentioned again after he leaves Shevek and Sadik alone, an unfortunate and unexpected ending for someone who lives in a gay-friendly society. This ambiguity may just be a by-product of the novel.
I agree with Hunter’s suggestion of an unreached utopia being the reason for Bedap’s unhappiness. Yet, I still feel unsatisfied with that reason. There could have been some closure on Bedap and his endeavors (which I would assume include a family unit), but the open ending and the lack of any other mention of this character seems to again imply that Bedap is not part of the greater scheme of things like Shevek, who is the protagonist, the “important one.”
1) What do you think of Moylan’s criticism of Le Guin’s presentation of GLBT characters? Agree? Disagree?
2) Do you think Bedap’s treatment was a reflection of America’s reluctance to wholly accept homosexuals during the 1970’s?
3) Would a short epilogue detailing the marginalized characters like Bedap, or even Takver, suffice people such as Moylan? Or would it detract from the ambiguity that is The Dispossessed?