The four of us, plus Yarwain, were eating dinner together tonight. I had the ill consideration to say of Dustweed, "The only way zie could be less popular with Herethroy is if zie was a both-female." This elicited quite an intense reaction: a careful and clearly intentional changing of the topic from everyone at the table.
A surprising and little-known fact: Zi Ri are not the only hermaphrodites among the primes. We are not even the most common hermaphrodites among the primes. I knew this in theory, of course. I never expected to pay it any attention in practice.
For those of you who pretend to be monsters, remember that six of the eight prime species have two sexes (male and female, though I don't imagine 'male' for a Khtsoyis is the same as 'male' for a Cani). Zi Ri are all hermaphrodites. (For those imagining exotic tangled geometries of organs and appendages, go look at an anatomy book and observe the elegant reality.) And Herethroy have three or possibly four sexes: male (20%), female (50%), and co-lover (30%).
And the "possibly four" is the Herethroy hermaphrodite: the both-female, who may operate as either a female or as a co-lover. There are very few both-females; perhaps one birth in a thousand, or in ten thousand. There are still more both-females than Zi Ri, simply because there are so many Herethroy.
Now, females are the strong common ones in Herethroy society, the workers and generally the ones in charge. [Humans can consider them "masculine". -bb] Co-lovers are the gentle maternal ones, also the beautiful attractive ones. [Humans can consider them "female". -bb] (Males, of course, are in the middle, but that's neither here nor there.) This leaves both-females in rather an awkward position, just in principle.
That's in principle. In practice, it's worse.
Herethroy don't like both-females, not at all. They generally make them act as females. It is an ordinary thing for a female Herethroy to never get married, and simply be relegated to a life of fieldwork and occasional snatched adultery (though both-females would only get the fieldwork) -- I think that as many as one woman in five winds up that way. (Males marry twice, co-lovers once or twice, females once or not at all. Official village marriages are all heterosexual and capable of breeding, around here at least.)
I think they were created for the irony of it. They can do right by any Herethroy ... but no Herethroy wants them. This is not official Virid theology of course.
(As an aside: the both-females who are not made to act as females are generally killed at birth.)
I asked Dustweed about it later, when we were both in bed. (To be specific: zie was in zir bed, and I was draped artistically over a smouldering log in the fireplace. I do not want it thought that I share a bed with Dustweed.) I suppose that one rarely asks such a question unless one knows the answer. In any case, zie is one.
I am very nearly the last person in Vheshrame to learn about it. Every Herethroy knows, of course -- perhaps they can tell by some subtle signs that Dustweed cannot or will not conceal, or perhaps zie is simply notorious. Havune and every Cani can tell instantly, by zir scent. I don't know how Thery and Yarwain found out; perhaps one of them was here two years ago when it became a matter of public scandal.
Dustweed didn't want to tell me. I think zie is just a touch jealous: we are both hermaphrodites, but oh! how very, very different! Also, zie somehow got the impression that I am fussy about certain niceties. When I refused at the last moment to accept Iska into the apartment, Dustweed realized that zie might do best not to bring zir deformity to mention.
And I am afraid that zie was right.
I imagine I should be more pleased if Dustweed were simply a both-female who knew zir place and acted female and stays aside. But Dustweed is not that both-female. Dustweed has decided that zie is better suited to the co-lover's lot in life -- and indeed, zie looks much more the co-lover than the female -- and chooses to dress and comport zirself as one. Zie is the firstborn child of a Great Baron, from a region with a long and unshakeable tradition of primogeniture, and so zie has rank and wealth enough to protect zirself and do what zie wishes, society be damned. And zie is cursed with a strong degree of personal pride and self-determination.
So, wherever Dustweed goes, scandal goes as well. Scandal in the subtle bitter Herethroy style, which a rather more energetic Zi Ri might well miss.
Dustweed's side of the story.
That is why Dustweed's parents gave zir such an unappealing name.
That is why Dustweed is so unpopular among Herethroy. Zie is a both-female, and hence, perforce, unpopular. Zie is not willing to do what proper both-females are supposed to do, and hence squaredly unpopular. And zie is, at some point, going to rule several villages -- and what could possibly be worse than being ruled by a both-female? -- and hence cubedly unpopular.
That is why Dustweed will never be able to marry. Zie can hardly marry much beneath zir class. Yet, who of zir class or anywhere close to it would marry a both-female?
That is why Dustweed is so distressed about Tethezai. Tethezai enjoys zir because zie is both-female. Not to put too fine a point on it, Tethezai is a libertine -- and a libertine's libertine. Dustweed would prefer to be loved as a co-lover, or, perhaps, simply as a person. One may consider this overly fussy, as zie is unlikely to be loved for much at all, but one should certainly appreciate the desire. Tethezai's first interest in Dustweed is more that of a Rassimel collector to an exotic specimen.
That is why other Herethroy occasionally assault Dustweed. Zie is a rebel against the true and proper order of Herethroy society.
My side of the story
I am rather distressed by this. I had of course wanted to have some nice straightforward lesser nobility for apartment mates. (You remember Iska, whom I refused rather rudely for being too foreign and common.) Now it turns out that my roommate -- not simply my apartment mate, but my very roommate -- is a rebel and tradition-breaker of the most indisious sort short of actually doorwaying or some actual crime.
I gather that my half-sister long ago decided that I chose Dustweed as roommate intentionally, with full knowledge (for it was a matter of some public note, two years before I came to Vheshrame), as a specific act of rebellion and defiance. I doubt that I will ever persuade zir otherwise.
What does one do in a situation such as this?
I fear that I temporized: I made my apologies for my comment that Dustweed may have found ungracious, and even listened sympathetically to such of zir life's story as zie saw fit to tell me in the dark, much after every bedtime. I imagine that I should have done something rather different and dramatic -- storming from the apartment in a flutter of wings and raspy tail, breathing flames into the midnight air. I thought about that for some while, but the thought of getting out of a nice warm bed simply as a matter of etiquette seemed too much work. By now the moment has passed... and in any case clearing my name of association with Dustweed's will probably take years.
[OOC comment: no, this isn't you. No, it's not you either. It's not even me. This is just the story that was tickling around in the back of my head when that confusing line from the World Tree book "Herethroy have three (or arguably four) genders" trickled out of my fingertips many years ago, and I had to make sense of it somehow. --bb]
[Other OOC comment: Bard does not agree with Sythyry's rather prejudiced, racist and classist views. --bb]