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The XY Conspiracy by Lori Selke


Why Are There No Women in Black?

Jyn, an Asian-American lesbian, makes her living stripping in clubs in San Francisco. But stripping is only her day job. Her true vocation is UFO hunting. One night, working at her day job, she sights a Man in Black and realizes he is stalking her.

But why would they be after me? Sure, I’d posted a few things on various message boards, and, like everyone else these days, I had a blog and a mailing list that I was supposed to send monthly newsletters to, except it was more like quarterly. My correspondents didn’t know about the day job, though. How had they found me? Why did they care?

Unless I was onto something? Unless I was right? My theories aren’t entirely orthodox within the UFO community, after all. Maybe I had accidentally stumbled on something a little too hot, a little too close to closely-held secrets that I’m not supposed to question or suppose.

Jyn’s “not entirely orthodox theories” involve the origins and history of the XY chromosomes. The next day, Jyn packs up her car and sets off on an extended road trip—part “serious UFO tourism” and part flight from the MIB—that takes her though a variety of western states, stripping in clubs and bars as she goes, drawn, inexorably, to New Mexico…
A feminist Men in Black story starring a mixed-race sex worker? Count me in, Ms Selke!

The XY Conspiracy is a mix of a novella; part sex-worker manifesto, part quintessential road trip novel, part MiB conspiracy theory, Selke has dropped a number of different threads into a pot and stirred them together. What’s more, she’s made them work; the road trip comes from fleeing the MiB, the sex worker manifesto comes from her protagonist’s profession, and the road trip draws in more discussion of sex work. It’s a strange melange, moving from a discussion of the ins and outs of the stripping business, the way different women have different preferences within it and men have a strange reaction to it, and the way marginalisation of sex workers is ridiculous and the damage whorephobia does, to Jyn fleeing the MiBs convinced that men – and specifically, the Y chromosome – is an alien experiment, with emails from a friend showing all sorts of interesting evidence about gender.

The XY Chromosome is an overtly political book, as the above might hint. It’s also an incredibly engaging book, though. Selke has a style that really draws the reader through her action; the first-person narrative, fast-paced writing brings the immediacy of the novella, of Jyn’s fear, to life and home to the reader. But there are slower sections, more relaxed ones; Selke lets those take their own time, draw out to their natural length, rather than hurrying past them to more action or dragging them out beyond reason. It makes for an interesting and varied pace that feels textured and real; Jyn isn’t always frantically running, but nor is she horrendously over-relaxed.

Jyn is a brilliant character, too. The XY Chromosome is a little light on other characters of any depth or significance, but Jyn’s incredibly strong personality goes a long way to make up for that. As a narrator, she often discusses issues with her audience, such as her theories about alien experimentation and UFOs; about gender and the nature of gender; about sex work, and the stigma attached to it; and all sorts of other things. Selke has given us a fascinating character whose record of events really comes to life, in a way that a simpler, more straightforward retelling would not. The dynamics of Jyn’s life – her race, her sexuality, her own internalised whorephobia, and more – all come into play in the novella; The XY Chromosome talks about Japanese internment camps, about Roswell, about Erich von Daniken’s racism and more, all from the point of view of this Asian-American lesbian stripper.

The XY Chromosome, from all I’ve said above, might sound a bit preachy, but it isn’t, any more than a David Eddings novel is; it just has a different model of the normative from that which one might consider mainstream. Selke’s given us a great piece to start any number of conversations, and just a brilliant piece of fiction.

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