I recently just got done rereading The Giver, and I have to say that this book is one of the scariest stories I have ever read. Although it’s presented as a utopia, The Giver shows us a world under total government control, where people’s individuality has been stripped from them. Using a combination of medicine, technology, and genetic programing, the people of the Community have lost their unique traits. Everyone has the same birthday, ethnicity, so on and so forth. One thing that has also been taken from the people is their gender and sexual identities.
The Giver gives us a very structured world where no one is different, and if they are different, or if they break the rules too often, they are Released, which in this case means given a lethal injection. One such rule is that people have to take medication every day. The medicine does two things—it takes away people’s ability to form strong emotions such as love or lust, and it also takes away their sexual desires. The people have no concept of dating or sex, and matches between two people—a man and a woman—are arranged by the Community Leaders. In order to get a match, a person must put in a formal application for a spouse. Once together for three years, they can put in a formal application for a child. Couples are only allowed a total of two children, a boy and a girl. Additionally, these children are born by women who are artificially inseminated; the children are then assigned to family units. At no point do they ever get to meet their birthmothers. Essentially, people don’t have spouses or children; they’re assigned spouses and children.
Because of this setup, specifically in regards to matchmaking, the Community has instituted a system that indoctrinates people into living and accepting life as pseudo-heteroromantic asexuals.
To start off, the Community is both heterosexist and cissexist. All matches take place between a presumably cis man and cis woman. Considering the society the people live in, it is entirely possible that anyone who isn’t cisgender is either killed or so detached from their own sense of identity that they simply accept themselves as being cisgender. This mindset is so engrained that even when Jonas, our main protagonist, learns about people Elsewhere who experience desires and make their own choices regarding loved ones, it never occurs to him to question why matches in the Community are always between men and women. He also never questions whether or not there are other genders.
We know that matches are not arranged as they are for the purpose of making children, since couples themselves will never engage with each other sexually. We know it is not due to attraction, since the people are incapable of experiencing attraction. What we do know is that male-female relations are considered normal, and can therefore infer that same-sex relations are considered abnormal. They’re “different”, and people who either feel or are considered different are likely Released.
On top of that, we also know it is normal in the Community to be either “male” or “female”. In some ways, the Community also attempts to erase gender identity as well. People do not refer to themselves as “boy”, “man”, “woman”, “girl”, and instead call themselves “a male” or “a female”. While the people of the Community recognize a physical difference between the two genders, gender does not play a role in their sense of identity, because they’re not allowed to have individual identities. At certain times reading the book, I almost felt as though the medicine people were on was forcing them to be agender, while in other regards society was forcing them to be cisgender—the fashion dictated for boys and girls is very gender oriented. For instance, girls are forced to wear their hair in braids.
Furthermore, it is also important to note that none of the people in the story are actually asexual from what we learn about them in the source material. Additionally, due to their inability to establish emotional connections with one another, they are not actually heteroromantic either. In some ways, because they are also incapable of romantic attraction, we could argue that the Community is forcing its people to be aromantic asexuals. However, relationships are still presented in a heteroromantic light. And it’s terrifying to even imagine a medicine that attempts to “cure” people by suppressing their Stirrings—their sexual desires—and emotions and thus dictate their sexual orientation.
What we end up with is a disgusting façade of actual human relationships, gender identity, and sexual orientation—and that’s why it’s so hard to figure out how the Community wants the people to appear. It doesn’t want them to be agender, since it holds onto cissexist ideals. And it doesn’t want them to be aromantic, since it dictates matches between people. But our gender identity and sexual orientations are intrinsic to who we are as people. They help define us. I take pride in my asexuality because I am actually asexual, and that is an important part of my individual identity—but that is not true for the majority of people in the Community. Forcing the people to adhere to asexual, aromantic, and agender norms, ones that they most certainly would not identify as without the medication, is one of the many ways The Giver highlights how barbaric and evil the Community actually is.