Middle - Part I

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  • Dedicated to Elizabeth Aitken

HE HAS CHOSEN TO be a "he."

Humans use pronouns to distinguish between individuals of specific genders. They have two genders among his people as well, of course — almost every copulating species does — but they aren't as finicky about labelling them. They don't dwell on sexuality and gender performance on his world...or rather, they did not.

He has the reproductive organs of a male, or what the humans categorize as such, so he has decided that it is easiest to simply submit to the use of the aligned pronoun instead of insisting on the neutral.

Here, he must be careful to do and say the right things, the things that are associated with the performance of the male gender, which he has decided to embrace. It is often times confusing and yet one more thing he must constantly remember to do in order to avoid attracting the wrong sort of attention. Reminders to himself are so constantly buzzing within the confines of his skull that he marvels that he has enough automatic memory left over to continue to breathe the too-cool, over-oxygenated air of Earth. Odd, that there are some things that he cannot say or do, things he is not meant to enjoy, simply because of his biology. To pretend that he does not take as much pleasure in preparing meals as he does...did. To take up a sporting team to support.

Human faces are hard to read, but he's been assured that there are distinctive differences between the males and females: broader jaws, softer cheeks, longer lashes or fur on chins. He will learn to see these differences when he gets used to interpreting their eyebrows, the curl of flabby lips, the flat flashes of herbivore-like teeth. He will become accustomed, given enough time.

And he will have nothing but time with these people.

His race's faces are rarely so different from each other as to require gender pronouns; but everyone sounds and feels different. Each person is unique in the way they transmit their physicality, so each person is granted unique address: everyone is referred to by their name. A woman's smell is only distinguishable from men when she is seeking a Unit; no less attractive, but different all the same. Simply an evolutionary sexual signal, and no reason to refer to a body rather than to a brain.

To be addressed for his genitals, rather than his individual personality...it is another thing that he has to learn to become accustomed to; to accept.

They cannot go back.

"He" follows his guide up the corridor, lit with bulbs that make his skin hurt, glowing with a humming, audible brightness. His feet slip on the too-smooth floor, and he has to grip with the wide pads of his toes, feel the click of curving claw nails against the ridiculously shiny tiles, coated with too much polished wax. It is either that or suffer the dead feeling of deafness that he gets when he wears the shoes the Specialists have given him. This place, with its glaring whiteness and its stark right angles, is nothing like the buildings at home and everything is just all wrong.

He aches for what is gone with every broken fragment of himself. He should feel lucky, he knows that. He has skills that the humans can use, there is something he can do to help, something that he can give to this new planet of theirs to make life a little better for everyone.

He can repay.

It had been easy to say and think that when the Specialists met them. It had been easy to stand in the grassy field and stare at the too-blue sky and swivel his ears towards the diminutive, fat pink creature that had come to greet them, stumbling through the speech in the new language that was so foreign to all of them. The hordes of diminutive, fat, multicoloured creatures that shaded from pale peach to dark blackish brown, that stood behind the first. It had been easy to volunteer and easy to speak up about his expertise. Easy to step forward and say "me," just to get away from the stink of the ships, the crying children, the gazes starved for explanations and comfort and sunlight, the desperation clinging all around everyone in a dark cloud, the soot that no one could quite get out of their eyelashes, fearing to wash it away lest it was all that remained of a loved one.

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