**Involves quote summary in the interest of making the post public.
Not having access to Joanna Russ’s responses to James Tiptree, Jr. makes it hard to gauge the reception of Tiptree’s writing. As a third-party observer– with the 20/20 hindsight that Tiptree is truly female Alice Sheldon– Tiptree’s male self-depiction veers all over the map.
Tiptree begins a letter in February 1975 with an over-defiant stab at manliness, proclaiming that, of course, zhe knows of the possibility of ejaculation without orgasm. Because all men know that, right?
In the same letter, Tiptree has the poignant insight that only an extremely empathetic man could make: that women are the only slaves whose captors (men) cannot afford to kill them, and who have absolutely no means of escape.
Zhe concludes this letter in a confused near-plea to Russ, asking if Russ would have invented men if they did not already exist. While somewhat less provocative than Tiptree’s wielding zher non-existent penis, this desperate question seemed to me the saddest and most poignant bit I’ve read. Zhe is asking for Russ’s unknowing approval of the invention of the Tiptree alias. Indeed, by this letter’s end, Tiptree writes that zhe’s feeling unreal– possibly humoring zher way out of a rocky topic, or a larger lament that zher avatar is losing its viability.
Perhaps Tiptree was tiring of being in a man in a world where feminism increasingly permitted women freedom and acceptance. Or– on the contrary– perhaps the inconsistencies stem from zher frustration at being unable to become fully male.
Box 10, File 29, Correspondence with Tiptree, James Jr., Joanna Russ Papers, Coll 261, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Or.