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Identity and attack helicopters

  • 22 November 2023
Last week, a photograph circulated on social media showing an Israeli soldier holding a Pride flag, standing on what appeared to be the rubble of Gaza, with the hashtag #IsraelFightsForLove. The image evoked many responses, as you might imagine, but one of the most poignant was from someone who recalled a controversial short story from a few years ago with the provocative title, ‘I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter’.

The science fiction story, by Isabel Fall, was published in Clarksworld magazine in January 2020, although it’s now only available in online archives. It tells of a woman who chooses to undergo ‘tactical role gender reassignment’ surgery, changing her brain patterns and senses so that she no longer feels like a woman, but feels and responds to the world like a machine of war. It’s done to allow the protagonist to better undertake the missions her superiors give her, which in the story involves bombing a school. During that mission her co-pilot, who has also undergone the reassignment, starts to question their role. The protagonist wonders if she should report them for ‘dysphoria’.

The story was attacked for being transphobic, its author harassed, and eventually it was removed from publication. It was later revealed that the author was trans herself, and that she’d written it in part to reclaim the anti-trans phrase. But to see it as pro- or anti-trans is to miss the point. What the story’s really about is how something that so many people might see as positive and life-giving can still be taken and twisted into something inhumane and destructive – in this case, convincing someone to turn themselves into an instrument of death.

'The way to reconnect with our humanity, involves disconnecting these symbols from the needs and desires of states, and reconnecting them with the deeper personal desires that they originally grew from.'

We already know this dynamic well. The conflict between Israel and Palestine itself is a conflict involving two worldviews grounded in something good and life-giving. Both Judaism and Islam offer followers a pathway to a peaceful and loving existence, of right relationships with God, each other, and creation. And yet in the conflict between groups from these traditions over who gets to seek that life in a particular geographical space, those worldviews become twisted. It might sound insane to say that someone’s gender is ‘attack helicopter’, but is it any less perverse to claim that someone’s