I recently completed my playthrough of Mass Effect 2. I really loved it, but I was a bit put off by the strip clubs. It really highlights that even in this universe, lady aliens are sexy. Apparently, there cannot possibly be a universe in which aliens will not be objectified by their gender. All the women aliens have breasts, which doesn’t make any sense considering the improbability of aliens following a similar evolutionary path as humans. No one is even sure why humans have evolved breasts!
I see similar trends in just about every kind of media that includes aliens. I can excuse it when it happens in old Star Trek or other sci-fi media when special effects and CGI were still so new and there were limits on how much a human actor’s appearance could be changed. Otherwise, it’s clearly just a transparent attempt at appealing to the supposedly most valuable demographic of cis heterosexual men. Not only is this alienating to many who do not fall into that demographic, it’s also cliché and boring. I think it would seem more realistic and interesting to draw inspiration not from what humans find appealing, but instead from other species.
Very often with aliens, there is noticeable sexual dimorphism. There’s nothing inherently wrong with giving aliens sexual dimorphism, and it is very common on our planet. However, I notice that even aliens tend to have similar sexual dimorphism as humans do in that the males are bigger. If we look away from humans and towards other forms of life on our planet, very often the females are bigger. I’d love to see an alien race where that is the case. There is no reason to stick to the same patterns we see in humans.
In case insects are a little too unrelated to humans, we can look at hyenas as an example. In hyena packs, females are dominant and larger than the males. Why not have an alien race where the females are more dominant over the males?
Anglerfish already look alien enough, so they would be a great inspiration for an alien race. Female anglerfish are what everyone pictures when asked to think of anglerfish. This is because the males are reduced to little more than sacks of sperm that the females can then use to fertilize her eggs. How about a race of aliens where the females are the ones seen, and the males are little more than gamete producers?
Part of the issue I had with the strip clubs in Mass Effect and ME2 was the fact that only aliens who are women were ever performing. With so many animals like peacocks and songbirds on our planet, we can take inspiration from them and have aliens who are men dancing, singing, or using other ways of performing to attract other aliens.
5. Who needs a gender binary at all?
There could be a race of aliens who have no concept of gender. They could come in two or more forms, except they do not categorize themselves by those forms, but instead something else which may not even be noticeable to humans. This could help players learn not to assume, and to ask for and respect whatever pronouns an individual alien requested.
So far, we have only discussed aliens who fall into a binary, but there is no reason to limit them to having two genders (besides the unfortunate fact that this is what most people are comfortable with). I say we should push the boundaries and come up with aliens who only have one gender or more than two.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. There are so many options for how gender can be addressed in alien species. We have barely broached the complex topics of biology, sex, and gender. In addition, we have no reason to limit ourselves to how humans view and treat gender. I thought it would be interesting to draw inspiration from other species that are already on our planet as a bridge between our limited human ideas and unlimited imaginative ideas. I would just love to see any ideas besides bigger aliens who are men and smaller aliens with breasts who are women, or leaving out lady aliens entirely and having the player character only ever interact with the men of the species. We need to stop keeping ourselves so limited in our ideas about gender and reach out for new ideas.