That morning, Guragie and Anubitu stood on the edge of the Ri Maajon pool. This was their first visit of the day. They planned to go there in the afternoon and early evening too, on this, their last full day as Sybillae.
Anubitu said-"Gu, it's hard to believe that this is one of the last times we will do this-remember when we were cadets we were so jealous of the Sybillae because they could do this and we could not and maybe we never could if we didn't graduate to be one of them." Guragie blinked. The long run on sentence without a pause for breath was so typical of Anubitu when she was excited. She was very eager for tomorrow to come.
"We were never going to fail to become Sybillae. We were too good. First and second in our class." said Guragie sullenly. Anubitu went on ignoring her friend-"Remember the third in our class? Lyrinas? She dropped out, remember? Her father died and she had to go home. Without her father's wages they couldn't pay the academy fees. Old Instructor Olisaf was most put out about it. Said she had the makings of a fine Sybilla."
"I know " said Guragie with a tone of weary resignation. "I was there, remember?". Anubitu went on, "That's why my mother said girls from poor families should never be Sybillae. You know I don't agree with that, Gu, and I never have. She's so old fashioned. It's a drag."
"She's very traditional, your mother." said Guragie with the inflection of one who was having a conversation she had had many times before. "Yeah well, she just missed out on being Sybilla Aurea. Halcon beat her by five marks on the final flying exam. She's always been bitter about that. Every time I go home it's "-oh if only I had done this, done that, performed that turn, done that more difficult ri maajon. Then she would have been Sybilla Aurea and not Halcon."
"And she would have been vice-chair of the Council and Halconf-who would still be Halcon of course, would be a lowly housewife like her." said Guragie like a child reciting a particularly dull list of dates of historical battles.. "Yeah, something like that." Said Anubitu thoughtfully. "How can she know that Halcon would not have chosen to be male if she had not won Sybilla Aurea? Mama can't possibly know that. It's between you and Onashia."
"Yes well, she could have chosen to become male herself. She could have got a good job in the Theocratic Military or Government hiarachy if she had wanted. I don't understand why she's so shrill about it." said Guragie. "That's the thing, the other thing she's so bitter about. Met my father, didn't she? Back in the days when they had more than two words a day to say to each other. Sacrificed her chance at a prestigious military career for love. He had already been to see Onashia before they met, he had already chosen to be a man.. She had to become a woman. But a maiden can't continue in the The-Mil (Guragie winced at Anubitu's use of the slang short form of Theocratic Military. Gu hated vulgar talk.) if she chooses to be a woman. Maidens are the only females allowed, which I think is ridiculous but there you go."
"You know the reason why" said Guragie, "if all the good jobs were open to women, no-one would ever choose to become male, and this planet would be taken over by the lizardings in three generations. Our species would die out. Remember what Olisaf said? Better a few women do washing and cooking and regret it than lizardings feasting on our bones."
"I always thought that was dinga poop." said Anubitu. "Olisaf always was melodramatic. He really should have chosen to be a woman when he went to the Spring a thousand years ago, he's such a wailing fishwife. Anyway, speaking of Mama, last time I went back to see her and Da, I heard about Lyrinas." "oh really?" said Gu. "Well", said Anu, "I should say, Lyrinasif." Guragie gasped a little, in spite of herself. "no-she became male? I don't believe it!" "Believe it-her family needed a man's wages, she pretty much had no choice but to ask Onashia to make her a man. Her two older sisters had already chosen to be women, she was the last one in the family who could support them. A seamstress or laundress's wages wouldn't keep Lyri's mama in the style to which she had become accustomed."
"Apparently she was in pieces about it, crying herself to sleep every night for a week before her Springday. But she had no choice. Womens' wages wouldn't pay the mortgage on the house. If she didn't become a man, her little nieces would be out on the street. Bad luck that her sisters' husbands were killed in the last war with Plumbum or she wouldn't have had to have added the old f". Guragie rolled her eyes at Anu's use of the rather silly slang term for choosing the male gender. "And of course it means that she might get called up when the next inevitable war starts and then, quite possibly, she-I mean he, will share the fate of his brother-in-law's, and then one of his nieces will have to get effed when; she doesn't want to. And so on and so forth."
"I can't imagine Lyri as a man."said Guragie. Did you see her-him?" she corrected herself quickly. Calling a Newman(even if you had known him in Maidenhood) by the female pronoun was considered extremely rude. "What does he look like? Does he look good as a man?" Gu and Anu both knew that the female-male transition was kinder to some than to others. Everyone knew Newmen who had looked better or worse as maidens. It was one of the things that young maidens would giggle about when they played 'When I go to the Spring'-will I look weird? Will I look better? The request for a kind transition was one of the traditional Springday Eve prayers, for those maidens who had made up their minds to be men.
"Didn't see him in person, but Mama showed me a lightdrawing, he looks much like she did when we knew her. Apart from the short hair. (Guragie recalled how Lyrinas' long braided hair had been her pride and joy-she imagined the newly named Lyrinasif's Springday feast. Just back off the train from the spring, his eyes streaming with tears at the traditional haircutting ceremony for Newmen...) He only went to the Spring five months ago, the transition's barely begun. Still got his boobs and everything." Anu did a slightly vulgar mime, Lyrinas' breasts had been larger than Anu's. Gu shot her a very disapproving look. Anu laughed. As ever, shocking Gu was hilarious.
Must have been hard on your Mama, after all she's a woman who regrets not becoming a man and Lyri is a man who regrets not staying a woman."
"I know, she must be steaming about it. But you know, everyone knows someone with a story like that."
"Yes", said Guragie as she looked down into the vast freedom of the Ri Maajon pool.
The reason why Anu's mama had to be female is because of the much hypothesised in Simoun fandom taboo against post-Spring same sex relationships. She didn't 'have' to be female in reality of course. But not if she didn't want to be an outcast in her rather rigid society. A lightdrawing is my Simulcrum word for a photograph. (which means 'light drawing' in Greek, of course).
I know that technically a Simulcrum maiden is not a woman although she is female. but the 'man who regrets not staying a woman' line was too good to weaken by substituting 'woman' with the more accurate 'female'. It would have lost the symmetry with the 'regrets not becoming a man' line. It still bugs me a bit though, because a Simulcrumese maiden who becomes a man has never been a woman, strictly speaking. I'll put it down as an error made when the translator first translated the text from the original Simulcrumese into English..!
This is about people in the Simoun world who made choices they regretted. Not everyone in that world regrets their choice. This little story is not anti-transgender in any way! I really hope it hasn't given that impression! I wanted to explore the characters' attitudes towards the gender change and the cultural influences on them. That's what really makes the Simoun world interesting to me.
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