Bizarre Alien Sexes

aka: More Than Two Sexes
An alien species' sex system is very bizarre in comparison to terrestrial ones. Perhaps it has two sexes that are not identifiable as either "male" or "female" in terrestrial terms, or perhaps it has three or more sexes, each of whom is indispensable for the species' reproduction process.

Of course, Earth has a few bizarre examples of its own. Some species of fungi have more than two sexes (although only two at a time are required for reproduction). There's a species of fish that only has one sex, and among seahorses, the male bears the children. But this only scratches the surface of what writers can imagine.

Supertrope of Extra Parent Conception and One-Gender Race. Subtrope of Bizarre Alien Reproduction. May lead to Pronoun Trouble. Compare Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism. Contrast No Biological Sex.


Examples

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    Comic Books 
  • In Phil Foglio's Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire's "The Gallimaufry" storyline, a male alien Pog member named Qvakk states that he loved Oort, another male member of his race/species, and was "gonna take him home, make lots of eggs".

    Literature 
  • Known Space:
    • Jotoki are amphibious and look sort of like starfish. They have an immature aquatic stage, and five sexes. Each limb starts as a separate non-sapient creature, which meet and join at maturity, then develop intelligence just before they breed.
    • The Puppeteers from the same series claim to have 3 sexes for PR reasons. The ugly truth is that the "mother" is actually a different species that is parasitized by the Puppeteers in a manner not unlike the larvae of a tarantula hawk.
  • Tar Gibbons from Rod Albright Alien Adventures by Bruce Coville insists on gender neutral pronouns because referring to it as male or female is offensive to it. No details are given.
    Gibbons: I am neither male nor female. I'm a farfel.
    Rod: Is that more like a boy or more like a girl?
    Gibbons: Actually, it's more like a pippik than anything.
    • The My Teacher Is an Alien series by the same author has Hoo-Lan, whose species needs five different genders just to get an egg, and three more to hatch it.
  • In The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, the Boov aliens who attempt to enslave the human race have 7 sexes that translate in English to: girl, boy, boygirl, girlboy, boyboygirl, and boyboyboyboy.
  • Star Trek Expanded Universe:
    • In the TOS-era novels by Diane Duane, there is one race, the Sulamid that is described as a bundle of bright purple tentacles about six to seven feet high, topped off with a sheaf of pink-stalked and tentacled eyes with triangular pupils and a purplish, "bloodshot" look. According to Dr. McCoy, they have twelve sexes, and all of them claim to be "male," especially the ones that bear the children. The Enterprise has at least three of them among the crew, Mr. Athende in Maintenance, Lt. Meshav from Data Management, and ensign Hwa'vire from Engineering.
    • The squales in the Star Trek: Titan novel Over a Torrent Sea have four sexes.
    • The Jelna Rigelians have four sexes too—endomale, endofemale, exomale, exofemale. Contrast with Zami Rigelians, who have the usual two sexes, and Rigelian Chelons, who are hermaphrodites but accept gender identities due to centuries of cultural imposition by the Jelna and Zami.
  • In Last and First Men, the Last Men, our many-millions-of-years descendents, have evolved and/or engineered themselves to have several different sub-sexes.
  • The Jokka created by M.C.A. Hogarth have three genders, anadi (female), emodo (male), and eperu (neuter). They can also change genders up to twice in their lives, the causes aren't entirely clear.
  • There is a story by Stanislaw Lem about aliens who, among other things, have five sexes.
  • In the short story Hop-Friend by Terry Carr, Martians (or "Marshies") are mentioned to have three sexes.
  • The listeners from The Stormlight Archive have four sexes, with almost any given individual belonging to two of them over the course of its life.
    • More specifically, the listeners have the standard two genders (masculine and feminine), but these are each further subdivided into fertile males and females and infertile malen and femalen. To make matters more confusing, the listeners are limited shapeshifters, able to assume any one of several forms to fill various social roles. One of these is the fertile and sex-obsessed mateform.
  • Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness takes place on a planet (called "Winter") where people have no permanent sex. They are sexless and asexual most of the time, but from puberty on, and they turn into a male or a female once a month to reproduce. The same person can be male or female on different occasions, so basically everybody on the planet is both a male and a female and neither.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek:
    • In Star Trek: Voyager the hostile "Species 8472" is reported to have as many as has five distinct sexes, at least according to Voyager's medical hologram but he admits they don't know anything else about their reproduction.
  • The Goa'uld in Stargate SG-1 are a two-sex race that doesn't match up with Earth norms. The majority of Goa'uld appear to be biologically male but tend take the gender identity of their host, with a very small minority being biologically female "queens" that produce larvae. While queens can reproduce asexually, fertilization by a male passes his genetic memory to the offspring; for this reason, what few queens exist are kept as trophy wives by powerful system lords.

    Music 

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Myriad Song Elvers have four sexes, male, female, midwife and neuter. Elvers are all born neuter and change to one of the breeding sexes at twenty based on the gender composition of the surrounding community, individuals isolated from others of their species may be neuter for life. Midwife carries fertilized eggs in a pouch and provides hormones.

    Video Games 
  • The Real-Time Strategy Achron has the Grekim, a race of Time Travelling alien cyborg squid with three sexes (octo, pharo, and sepi) and three "classes" (basic, pod, and ligo). Any two members of different sexes may "progenerate" a member of the third sex of the same class or the next one up (e.g. a pharo and a sepi can produce an octo or an octopod, or an octopod and a pharopod can produce a sepipod or a sepiligo). This is the species' primary method of producing units; although the exact details are unclear, a certain amount of proximity is needed but it does not require physical contact. Ligo cannot "progenerate", but can "split down" into two basic units of the remaining genders (e.g. an octoligo can split down into a pharo and a sepi).
  • Cthulhu Saves the World has party member Paws, a cat-like alien, explain that his species technically has every member as a unique gender. However, for sake of convenience, he allows the party to refer to him as "he".

    Web Original 
  • Civilized space in Orion's Arm recognizes six genders, approximately defined as male, female, hermaphrodite, female pseudohermaphrodite, male pseudohermaphrodite, and genderless.
  • The speculative alien species Triaformica has three sexes, due to being descended from fungal ancestors. Likewise, only two sexes are needed to reproduce at any one time.

    Real Life 
  • The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans consists of males and hermaphrodites instead of males and females. In the event that a hermaphrodite cannot find a male to mate with, it can self-fertilize.
  • The Iberian minnow (Squalius alburnoides) consists of two distinct but linked lineages, one consisting only of diploid males and the other consisting of triploid males and females. The diploid males mate with triploid females to produce only diploid male offspring.
  • Fungi have over 36,000 sexes, (technically called mating types - think sex-lite) but only two are needed at any one time to reproduce.
  • The white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) is moving towards four genders. Males and females are either white-striped or tan-striped. White-striped males are big philanderers that don't care for their young, butt into others' territory and have high testosterone. White-striped females are aggressive nymphomaniacs who palm off the child-rearing responsibility onto their mates. They're monogamous, though. They always mate with tan-striped birds and the tan-striped birds are more devoted parents, less aggressive and not as horny. And it looks like the chromosome responsible for these differences is turning into a sex chromosome.
  • The Cape honeybee (Apis mellifera capensis) reproduces by parasitically cuckolding the better known "killer bee." The Cape honeybees have a unique caste known as a pseudoqueen, which don't work like workers but don't reproduce as often as dedicated queens, which use mind control pheromones to trick the killer bees into killing their own queen and caring for the Cape honeybees. When the host colony eventually dies, the pseudoqueens fly off to find new host colonies and repeat the process.

Alternative Title(s):

More Than Two Sexes