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The Dean of Anthropology Is Writing a . . . What?

June 04, 1986|DICK RORABACK | Times Staff Writer

Everything's up to date on Oxymoron.

No wars on the little two-mooned planet halfway across the universe. No strife. No jealousy, no power struggles, no family wrangling, no pecking order.

Mainly because, on Oxymoron, there are no sexes.

Oh, there is sex, to be sure, but they don't call it that. It's hard to have "sex" without sexes. The Oxies call it "hibiscating," and it's terrific. You can do it with anybody, anytime, without a hint of hang-up. It's not promiscuous, either, not in the context.

"Promiscuous" doesn't apply here. It's a Terran word, after all, a Terran concept , like "guilt" and "macho" and "women's work" and "homosexuality"--all based on the overriding reality of Earth being divided into two sexes.

So too, the Terran words (and concepts of) "love" and "romance" and "motherhood" and even "dating." They don't exist on Oxymoron either. You can't have everything.

Prof. Paul Bohannon, who is writing a science-fiction novel, "Orgy on Oxymoron," in order to better understand his own wayward species, is not particularly sorry for the Oxies. After decades of study and field work, he knows better than to apply the value systems of one society to another.

"It's not that they miss romance, or the child/parent relationship, or any of the joys--and horrors--of a two-sex society," he says. "It's just that they lack them. There's a world, or a planet, of difference."

One of the basic premises of human life is that there are two sexes; so basic, Bohannon says, that we take it for granted.

"Our whole psychological identification grows out of the fact that we are of one sex or another," he says, "and if you don't have this, what in hell is left?

"The answer is, 'Not much, really.' But only if you're looking at it from a Terran point of view. It's obviously possible to live a rewarding and dignified life on Oxymoron, without sexes.

"The second question is, what have they got that I haven't got. I must confess that I'm not sure yet.

"The problem is, there's nobody to ask."

Dr. Bohannon, 66, full-time god of Oxymoron (modestly, he prefers "creator") and part-time dean of anthropology and communications at USC, came to his planet the long way around:

"For more years than I can count I have been writing books--anthropology books, history books, stuff like that. I got to the point, frankly, where I was bored with it; tired of footnoting stuff, of having to be right in the sense that I could prove where I got everything I know.

"I got to thinking the most sensible thing I could do would be to apply anthropological questions to a non-world, something you could look at without being hemmed in by the data. . . . "

"I think the time has come that I can learn a helluva lot more this way than I can by going out and studying another set of yahoos, about whom nobody gives a tinker's dam anyhow."

Bohannon began by wondering what life would be like with no division of tasks, no division of "how one experiences life. So logically, you have to dream up a society where there are no men or women."

Hence Oxymoron. Hence: "I'm learning so much about anthropology you wouldn't believe it."

Obviously, a species must reproduce or roll over. Just as obviously, the Oxies have no "sexual" appendages as such.

What they have is an organ that resembles a hibiscus in the position where their belly buttons would be. (No navels on Oxymoron, of course. For that matter, no navel warfare.)

"They do maintain the whole business of erotism," Bohannon hastens to add. "Who would want to give that up?"

The Oxies hibiscate whenever the spirit moves, exchanging genetic material in the process--another requisite of species survival. For story purposes, hisbiscating also rejuvenates. ("Among humans," Bohannon remarks, "sex gives you the illusion of being younger. Alas, it's only an illusion.")

During regular rituals, based on juxtaposition of their moons, mature Oxies gather to hibiscate for reasons beyond pleasure. "Egg-like things" are formed, between but out of the participants' bodies. The eggs are borne off and tended by specialists, until they are mature enough to enter society, at a future ritual. . . .

At what point is an Oxy--and by extension, a child--mature enough to take his/her/its place in society?

"Age is irrelevant. It's based on intellectual development," Bohannon says, conceding, with a sigh, "Eggheads will be eggheads."

"My feeling," the professor says, "is that everybody knows when the 'child' is ready. That is true in our own society. People know ."

The topic segues, as it will with anthropologists.

"No," Bohannon says, "I don't think that human parents know for their children. Parents never know anything .

"If they could truly focus on their children. . . . But they don't. They have great difficulty in seeing their children separate from themselves. They are not very good judges of their children, of the kids' readiness to do anything.

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