It is suggested in the short story "Coming Of Age in Karhide" (added to the 2009 edition of The Left Hand of Darkness as an appendix) that on coming of age, if trapped alone with someone who is in somer (non-kemmer), the one in kemmer would need to satisfy that phase and might try to do that with the person in somer, against their will:

We exchanged and compared symptoms for a mile or so. It was a relief to talk about it, to find company in misery, but it was also frightening to hear our misery confirmed by the other. Sether burst out, "I'll tell you what I hate, what I reallyhate about it—it's dehumanizing. To get jerked around like that by your own body, to lose control, I can't stand the idea. Of being just a sex machine. And everybody just turns into something to have sex with. You know that people in kemmer go crazy and die if there isn't anybody else in kemmer? That they'll even attack people in somer? Their own mothers?" "They can't," I said, shocked. "Yes they can. Tharry told me. This truck driver up in the High Kargav went into kemmer as a male while their caravan was stuck in the snow, and he was big and strong, and he went crazy and he, he did it to his cab-mate, and his cab-mate was in somer and got hurt, really hurt, trying to fight him off. And then the driver came out of kemmer and committed suicide."

The stories told about this happening suggest that the one in somer would be physically hurt by this act. Does this imply that the "default" gender assumed by the one in kemmer in such a situation would be male, as how else could the other be hurt?


The simple answer: One of the premises of the novel is that there are no gender-specific differences in size and strength, even in kemmer. Therefore kemmer-female on somer or kemmer-male rape is physically more feasible among the hermaphroditic Gethenian-humans than among us non-hermaphroditic (dioecious?) humans.

A fuller answer: It's important to understand the context of the passage. This isn't an adult discussion of current events or common practices; these are two adolescent tweenage [girl+boy]s entering puberty, telling scary sex stories as a coping mechanism for dealing with the scary changes their bodies are going through. IRL, pre-internet Western culture this was a common rite-of-passage for tweenage girls; I remember accidentally-on-purpose overhearing my sister and her friends telling similar stories at that age in the late 1960's. Did the rape described actually happen? Maybe - insanity happens. One of the premises of the novel is that even in kemmer there are no gender-specific differences in physical size and strength, so kemmer-female on somer or kemmer-male rape is physically more feasable among Gethenian humans than among non-hermaphroditic humans. But it shouldn't be taken canonically as a common event. Ultimately the question of male-on-female rape vs. female-on-male rape (rare IRL but not unknown - IRL rape is much more about violence, power & control than about sex) is pretty much irrelevant to the story. Whether you agree with the author's basic premises/biases or not, for this kind of rape to be common in the world of TLHD would be not be internally-consistant within the novel.


This is specifically address in the book. Le Guin explictly states that rape (or forced seduction) are simply impossible.

Consider: There is no unconsenting sex, no rape. As with most mammals other than man, coitus can be performed only by mutual invitation and consent; otherwise it is not possible. Seduction certainly is possible, but it must have to be awfully well timed.

Later on we see that being in Kemmer without a receptive partner doesn't lead to sexual aggression (as it would in Earth humans), it leads to frustration and anguish:

Sexual fear and sexual frustration are both extremely rare. This was the first case I had seen of the social purpose running counter to the sexual drive. Being a suppression, not merely a repression, it produced not frustration, but something more ominous, perhaps, in the long run: passivity.

  • are those quotes from the book? I'm specifically referring to the epilogue, not the main book itself – danimal Apr 23 '15 at 22:03
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    @danimal - These are quotes from the book. The second one definitely relates to the question of sexual violence. – Valorum Apr 23 '15 at 22:04
  • but then aren't these the observations of the first Investigators, and therefore not conclusive? The epilogue however was written later in the story timeline – danimal Apr 23 '15 at 22:06
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    @danimal - I defer to your greater knowledge. It sounds like you're almost ready to answer your own question, something that's very much encouraged. – Valorum Apr 23 '15 at 22:07
  • that's kind of you! the question came up in my book-club and I wondered if this had been addressed or thought of by others – danimal Apr 23 '15 at 22:08

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