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Let Me Pass!

Dreamed January 1974 by Alice Sheldon ("James Tiptree, Jr.")
Source: James Tiptree, Jr.: the Double Life of Alice Sheldon by Julie Phillips (2006), p.308-310.

THE PROBLEM

In early 1974 Alli was still successfully passing as James Tiptree. Her biographer Julie Phillips writes "Alli was struggling with her story for Aurora. All of the the eventual contributors, including Ursula Le Guin and Joanna Russ, had a difficult time with the assignment." [Aurora: Beyond Equality was a proposed anthology of stories showing life after gender equality's been achieved.] In October, Tiptree wrote to the editor Vonda McIntyre

I find in my heart I am so damn pessimistic I cannot imagine a better world.

I can't imagine people--men and women and children--just living. With everything OK [...] This isn't age--I guess I've always been this way. Living in an essentially doomed world [...] I care strongly that other, younger people should have a better life--but as for myself I can't imagine it [...]

Moreover I suspect that most of the organised world activities are male structured (as well as male-dominated) so I can't believe that simply filling in the personnel-slots with women means anything real. And I don't think things would get much different unless women had a chance to build their own world ... which ends up like Russ's "When It Changed" and not Beyond Equality at all. Everything else I try just ends up with Golda Meier running a space-station, the Heinlein jocks-in-skirts thing. I REFUSE to fancy some stereotype like Women-Have-ESP or Only-Women-can-understand-aliens etc. etc.[...]

I would not feel threatened by an all-female power-structure any more than I do by an all-male one."

NIGHTMARE
[It began] in some kind of fancy hospital... my mother arrived there (driving a car!) car key was stained (bloody?)... I took doctor (Larson? Parsons) aside to tell him she hurt all over (like me)--as we walked he scooped a small patient from a chair in the hall and thrust it into a wooden drawer. "It's time, in you go!" It was a very old woman, like a toucan bird, all head and beak--I said, but it's dark in there, no light, nothing! [...] "Can't you be kinder?" He shrugged [...] I tried to talk about Mother, about being kinder, I said I'd seen cruel untreated diseases--he seemed OK but then made the first peculiar or "ominous" remark--"Are you sure all that hasn't changed you?"--or "made you sentimental" [...] I protested, thought him convinced. [...]

Then we came to an eating room, the doctor went to sit with several young nurses; I knew I was invited but I turned away [...] instead went to the dessert "line" to cozen some food--I was "irregular," lying, "I'm with--" Some men at one end like off-duty conspiratorial waiters or sailors offered me a dish [...] and drink, the drink was pinky-creamy, I felt awkward and left after drinking it--the men were joking evilly--

And now the terrible chase-action part begins-

First, drink in hand, I somehow yielded to some kind of temporary idle seduction or woman's room Saks sort of atmosphere--I went around and "down" with the women--till somehow I understood I was in a trap, running to some kind of slavery, and tried to resist--fought to turn around and go back [...]. Always the magic talisman was, "Let me pass, I must leave and go to my mother, she is dying up on the top floor, her doctor is Dr. Parsons?... They want me." [...] At first it was various "temptations" and threats, all by women--dressed as vampires, insects, whores, etc.--silks and weird spaces and hangings--always trying to get to the "up" ramp, get up it--"I can't be a woman, I must go to my mother!"

Finally she made a run for it, pursued by the pack of women, then turned: "One of the pack came at me, I grabbed her or she me, wrestling arms, everything in terrible slow-motion glue (I was lying on my face, on my arm I think) [...] couldn't talk or breathe--I bent only her finger, it withered--I awoke--"

It was, she noted, a dream that drew on "my fear of being a woman, of desserts (and men), Acapulco, the lost women I've seen, [...] age, cancer, Africa, the WAAC, all together. Whew." The day before she had "inspected my genitals (mosq. bite), noted the labia 'withered' like my assailant's finger. Also worrying about my own story for Vonda, my sex-reversed role." She concluded maybe it wasn't a good idea to sleep face down.

She didn't note what the dream also suggests: she doesn't belong at the table with the women, but the girly pink drink the men offer her is worse. It seems to be the men's feminine drink--not the women themselves--that sends her down into the world of "vampires, insects, whores" (like Greenwich Village in a lesbian novel). As always, there is no alternative but asexual virtue, kindness, and remaining her mother's daughter.

--Julie Phillips--

photo of Alice Sheldon, who wrote as 'James Tiptree, Jr.'
James Tiptree, who had nightmares of being a woman

EDITOR'S NOTES

--Chris Wayan



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