[Media prompt] Newborn baby may be the first to be registered ‘gender unknown’ because its mum insists only the tot can decide what sex it wants to be.
The Genus Forty-Fours sat in neat rows, their hair reeking of singed barley grass. One hundred and ninety-two of them; twelve to a bench. The smell was more than the magister could tolerate. He coughed once, quietly, to get their attention. They turned and faced him, the buzz of their conversation dying in their larynges. A fate they had themselves deserved, for the magister saw no evidence before him that the colony would have suffered unduly had they aborted the entire cohort.
The lone chorister on the choir loft started the aria on his nod. Not even the magister fully comprehended the words, but it was the context that counted. He closed his eyes as the organist joined in. His father and grandfather had listened to the same song, seated on the same wooden benches, the very same cushions in front of them on the floor. At moments like this he glimpsed why the ancients had so fervently believed in their God.
When the song ended, the Forty-Fours kneeled on the cushions, bowing their heads in preparation for the sacrament. After a death by poisoned wafer last year, the council had decided to forgo the ceremonial ingestion of the loaf of life, but had preserved the sacred sip. Under the magister’s watchful eye, they arose bench after bench to queue and receive his blessing.
“The colony accepts you,” he said, as each of them drank at the goblet filled with the blood of a begetter sacrificed for the occasion. “May the blood of your progenitors nourish you.”
The sun, dipping below the copse of withered trees behind the cathedral, shone through the stained glass window, its dusty rays flowing into the apse like a stream of contaminated water.
“Rise,” said the magister, after the last of them had supped from the cup. It was time for them to choose genders. He glanced at the walls of the nave, where the sixty-three time honoured gender identity plaques hung, from masculine homosexual man to androgine bisexual hermaphrofemale. The magister recalled the day he made the solemn walk so as to stand beneath the bronze plate that marked him a masculine bisexual androfemale.
“Choose righteously,” the magister intoned. “For today you pass into adulthood and become full members of the colony, with all the rights thereof.”
At first, the magister thought it was a statistical anomaly. The first two Forty-Fours chose feminine heterosexual woman. The next chose masculine heterosexual man, followed by another feminine heterosexual woman. But after a dozen had arrayed themselves beneath the two most conservative plaques, he knew it was no coincidence. For the first time in history, a graduation class of Genera was choosing gender on the basis of genitalia.
The council would have something to say about it, except … Except as the magister surveyed the Forty-Fours standing silently in lines, he realised there were more masculine heterosexual men among them than in the entire colony. And that, he thought, was going to present a problem.