It is not possible to say whether Frank Herbert had a queer agenda in mind or not when he envisioned Dune (1965), but his idea of the savior as the Kwisatz Haderach whom his main character Paul Atreides, is discovered to be, is a perfect metaphor for the current rhetoric surrounding queer, trans and non-binary bodies. While Mr. Herbert’s magnum opus has been analyzed and dissected in countless ways and through the lenses of many different philosophical, anthropological and social studies, it is important to point out that ultimately, the author has rested the fate of his galactic world on the hands of a human who transcends gender. The Kwisatz Haderach, the savior of the Empire is a trans/non-binary person, and it is actually because and through this subject’s trans-ness that they are meant to bring peace to the universe. 

Within the magical world of Dune (1965), it is prophecized by the elite sisterhood of space witches, the Bene Gesserit, that a male will be born who will be part of the sisterhood one day and bring an end to the thousand-year-long feud between royal houses. Since the women who belong to the sisterhood can only access the female and maternal side of their consciousness and eternal memory, this male will tap into both the male and female regions of knowledge. And thus, the Bene Gesserit embark on a hundreds-of-years-long breeding program to finally produce the Kwisatz Haderach (which actually translates as “Shortening of the Way” in the fictional ancient language of Chakobsa (Herbert, 104)). This is the moment when Herbert’s hero comes in. Paul Atreides is the prophet who will have both a female and male consciousness and bridge time and space. With the rupture of Paul’s gender also comes insurmountable knowledge and power; The key lies in the dismantling of the binary, in the merging of the genders. As Elana Gormel says in Science (Fiction) and Posthuman Ethics: Redefining the Human. The European Legacy (2011) “The postman subject is both a vision of the future and an echo of the past.” (p340) Thus Paul becomes a non-binary posthuman entity capable of all knowledge. 

If gender is indeed “a norm” as Judith Butler says in Undoing Gender, “Gender Regulations,” (2004) and a norm operates within social practices as the implicit standard of normalization.” (p41) Then Paul can be seen as the echo of the gender binary that produced him and dictated his life until he assumes the opposite gender’s consciousness, which in turn allows him to see all the possibilities of futures. However, the parallels between Paul and the trans experience do not end here; not only is Paul a non-binary conscientious human, but he is also exiled to the margins where such subjects have historically been thought of inhabiting. Paul doesn’t only think like a trans person, but much like the trans women of color and non-binary folk in any given city and at any point in history, he is pushed to the limits of where humans can live, to the ghetto of the Arakis planet (which is already the ‘ghetto’ of planets so to speak). But after many years living, and creating a community with all the other unfortunate souls who are forced to hide in the middle of an unending desert, (and the parallel of community should also be acknowledged), it is Paul’s reintroduction to the system that exiled him that brings an end to an era of terror. 

To quote Judith Butler once again, “Persons are regulated by gender. To veer from the gender norm is to produce the aberrant example that regulatory powers […] may quickly exploit to shore up the rationale for their own continuing regulatory zeal.” Imitation & Gender Insubordination (1990) (p317). And so, it is ultimately this rejection of knowledge codification gender regulations by the posthuman non-binary subject and their subsequent reification within these regulatory powers that the subject acts as a bug within the system, blurring the lines of its confines, dismantling it, breaking it, and introducing new modes of thought to replace them. And this is precisely what the Kwisatz Haderach does. After years living on the “outside,” Paul comes back to the palace he once inhabited and confronts the royals, the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, and the powers that expulsed him, in order to assert his place as the rightful ruler of the planet and as a key subject for the functioning of all other planets.

Consequently, this is where the metaphor between Paul and the trans experience reaches its apogee. If we could reintroduce the trans and non-binary bodies that have historically been displaced by the binary powers that govern us and give them agency within these powers, we could perhaps bring stability to the increasingly unequal and unbalanced social and economic structures that oppress us. Frank Herbert thought of the savior for his world as the Kwisatz Haderach, (ironically) unaware that there was already one in the real world, beyond the dunes of queerdom. 

Herbert, F. Dune. (1956) Chilton. 

Butler, J. “Imitation & Gender Insubordination” (1990)

Butler, J. Undoing Gender. in Gender Regulations. (2004)

Gormel, E 2011. Science (Fiction) and Posthuman Ethics: Redefining the Human. The European Legacy (2011)