Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Goa'uld and Yeerk Sexuality (Stargate/Animorphs)

So, I’ve watched all of Stargate SG-1, and I’m confused about the sexuality of the Goa’uld (and Tok’ra, which I’m just going to call Goa’uld because it’s easier1). How do they reproduce? Do they have genders? If they do have genders, how are they distinguished? This confusion is worsened by exposition that seems to change the nature of the Goa’uld physiology over the course of the show, retroactive continuity change that isn’t clearly resolved, specifically in regard to the Goa’uld queens.

I approached Stargate from the point of view of an Animorphs fan, so I regarded the Goa’uld of Stargate the way I did the Yeerks of Animorphs. The Yeerks are incredibly similar to the Goa’uld, being alien parasites that crawl inside a person’s head and enslave them, and having a branch-off movement of Yeerks who work for a symbiotic relationship between Yeerk and host ala the Tok’ra. They have a few clear differences, such as the Goa’uld being based off of snakes and Yeerks based off slugs, but these differences are primarily superficial as Goa’uld behave in many ways like the Yeerks. One more confusing way Yeerks and Goa’uld are distinctly separate species are their separate manners of reproduction.

Yeerks are asexual aliens who reproduce in a way alien to us humans. The Yeerk named Aftran describes in book #19 how Yeerks reproduce: three individual Yeerks merge together into one being, and this super-Yeerk then fragments into numerous grubs that grow into Yeerks; the parent-Yeerks are killed in the process. This is a thoroughly alien concept possibly drawing from the reproduction of flatworms, an Earthly slug-like parasitic creature that fragments if not merges. The Goa’uld… are a bit different.

At this point, though, it might be best to discuss the nature of the Yeerks’ genders, or lack thereof. While some fans contend that Yeerks have three sexes, Yeerks are generally considered to be asexual because Aftran never talks about specific Yeerks having certain functions in the merge and no Yeerk ever claims to have a gender. Yeerks do have preferences of gender in hosts based on compatible personality traits, though, so a Yeerk who likes female hosts is generally referred to as female and vice versa. There is an exception, however, to Yeerks who are never seen in a body of differing gender as is the case with Aftran. Aftran specifically expresses a dislike of female hosts, but is only ever seen in a female body so Aftran is given a female gender insofar as the pronouns go. This is why I consider the Yeerks to be genderless and gendered pronouns more of a way for humans to relate to them. The gender-neutral pronoun ‘it’ has a bit of a subordinate status and is generally used to refer to objects, so the gendered pronouns allow the Yeerks to be dubbed as people in English grammar even if it’s not quite appropriate to their physiology.

So, I came at Stargate expecting Goa’uld to be much the same. Goa’uld actually tend to be more similar to humans, though. While Yeerks reproduce in a very unique way, Goa’uld either utilize sexual reproduction or just asexually reproduce clonally in a recognizable form of pregnancy. The Goa’uld are first introduced via Apophis (as opposed to Ra in the movie, who wasn’t distinctly Goa’uld and was based off of the grey alien characters later used to make the Asgard), who implants a symbiote he refers to as his “queen” in the body of Sha’re. From this it sort of looks like Goa’uld gendering is arbitrarily based on what body they possess at the time. Actual sexual reproduction is later depicted in the episode “Hathor”.

“Hathor” introduces us to a Goa’uld queen specifically described as designated to produce Goa’uld larva. Hathor, the goddess of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, takes over the SGC and rapes Daniel. Before actually raping him, she explains a bit about Goa’uld physiology in regards to reproduction. “We must first have the code of life from the juices of the species intended as the host in order to ensure compatibility for the Goa’uld child and the host,” Hathor explains, using the royal ‘we’ to indicate herself. “We do so enjoy the method of procuring the code in your species. It is much more pleasurable than most.”

Well, what does that mean? They have sex with a member of a host species to ensure compatibility? I guess that works when it’s Hathor inside a human woman, but what about Goa’uld that don’t have a host? It’s like they need a host to get a host. How did it happen the first time? Did Goa’uld symbiotes manage to restrain and rape an Unas all with the power of their little snaky bodies? It doesn’t seem very plausible.

“It doesn’t seem physically possible!”
–Repeated line, Red vs. Blue

So, anyway, Hathor rapes Daniel and acquires the “code of life” aka DNA, and she settles down in a Jacuzzi to give birth to a bunch of Goa’uld larva through her host’s womb, which doesn’t make an ounce of sense, but never mind. Carter fights her off, torches the larva, and Hathor runs away to turn and fight another day. While cleaning up, Daniel notes to Dr. Fraiser that she’s unlikely to get any useful DNA samples from the dead larva because it’s mostly his. From this depiction of Goa’uld reproduction, it would seem that Goa’uld who infest female hosts are given the female task of giving birth to larval Goa’uld, which suggests that some Goa’uld are of female genders. This suggestion is subverted by the depiction of Selmak—Stargate’s analog to Aftran, incidentally—migrating from a female host into the male host Jacob.

The Tok’ra named Selmak is first introduced in the body of an old human woman named Saroosh. Saroosh refers to Selmak with female pronouns and Selmak speaks out of this feminine person, so Selmak at first appears to be feminine in nature. When Selmak enters Jacob orally, she even has Jacob kiss her host. While this undoubtedly aids in migrating orally, it is framed as if it is a bond between a female entity and a male entity. In later episodes, though, Jacob refers to his mental roommate as male. This seems to make clear that Goa’uld have no gender and, like Yeerks, are referred to with gendered pronouns only in the basis of what host body they possess. Also like Yeerks, the Goa’uld could have preferred genders of their hosts, explaining why some consistently take female bodies. In the sixth season episode “Cure”, however, we are shown a physically female Goa’uld queen absent of a host body.

Egeria, the queen of “Cure”, is visibly quite different from the normal symbiotes we see. She is a good deal larger and has an appearance more akin to a sea slug than a snake. She, unlike Hathor, is a female Goa’uld who produces larva from her own body instead of a host. The course of the episode’s plot reveals that Egeria is actually the lost queen of the Tok’ra. It was she who bred the existing Tok’ra, and without her they cannot propagate. This implies that there is some innate biological property that allows some Goa’uld the ability to procreate, supporting the hypothesis that some are of the female sex and others like Selmak are not. Well, what does that say about normal skinny symbiotes? Are they male? That would put an entirely different spin on Apophis’ beloved queen. Seriously, though, what does that imply about Goa’uld reproduction?

What it comes down to is an inconsistency in the depiction of Goa’uld queens. Egeria and later queens are large in their natural state (about the size of a large cat) and seem implausible to function as parasites within a host body, while Hathor makes use of a host for normal use as well as reproduction. It seems likely that Hathor would have to be a normal skinny symbiote. Does this mean that Goa’uld queens come in two variants? If so, then there would be effectively three different variants of Goa’uld: asexual symbiotes, skinny queens, and fat queens.

What I suspect is the real answer is that the writers realized they screwed up with Hathor’s description of Goa’uld sexuality and decided they had to change it. Like how the zat guns stopped vaporizing the bodies probably because that was too convenient, they realized that Hathor’s description made no sense and retconned Goa’uld reproduction to introduce sexes in the actual parasite species. As for how this could possibly make sense in-universe, I’ll fanwank it and say that Hathor told Daniel a story to make him feel important while she seduced him filled him up with date-rape nish’ta and molested him.

Well, anyway, that’s my little analysis of Goa’uld sexuality. It’s a convoluted, contradictory thing. As for genders, it’s what body they’re in, what body they spend most of their time in, or what their physical sex is if they have one. I’m still not clear if male Goa’uld exist, but female ones definitely do.

1Technically, there’s no name for the symbiote species. The faction that desires to enslave and rule by fear is called the Goa’uld, and the faction that wants to live in harmony with their hosts is called the Tok’ra. The Tok’ra insist very firmly that they are not Goa’uld, but that makes it hard to talk about their species. It seems like they would have named themselves before someone had the bright idea to pass as gods, but whatever.


Anonymous said...

the queen go`uld does not need a male mate to reproduce watch season six sg1 episode cure

Anonymous said...

I think it's more of a hive thing - only the 'Queens' reproduce regardless of the drones' and workers' (and so on) genders. And yes - the rest of them are probably asexual.

Whats more important here: if you take a good look at Egeria you'll see she's a normal symbionte attached to a birthing sack of some kind. Considering the whole size vs quantity of offspring it'ss understandable that a queen need to create one if she doesn't have one in a host (and I'm not going near the 'connect to the host womb' problem :/)

searose said...

I agree with most of the above but I think it is important to note a few things. For one thing Hathor used the words ensure compatibility. That does not mean that a Goa'uld cannot take a host without DNA from the host's people. It means that the Goa'uld is playing the odds without the DNA it could work or it could kil them. Another thing is that both of the Queens that we see late in the shows run were being overbred. It is possible that there larger size was to compensate for that. Hope this helps