The Matter of Seggri by Ursula K. Le Guin


Tags: Sample, maturity, Education, Family, Gender Roles, Heterosexuality, Population, Power, Pressure, Privilege, Prostitution, Wife, Childhood, Division of Labor, mother, homosexuality, history, planet, Relationships, ostracization, independence, labor


The first recorded contact with Seggri was in year 242 of Hainish Cycle 93. A Wandership six generations out from Iao (4-Taurus) came down on the planet, and the captain entered this report in his ship’s log.

CAPTAIN AOLAO-OLAO S REPORT

We have spent near forty days on this world they call Se-ri or Ye-ha-ri, well entertained, and leave with as good an estimation of the natives as is consonant with their unregenerate state. They live in fine great buildings they call castles, with large parks all about. Outside the walls of the parks lie well-tilled fields and abundant orchards, reclaimed by diligence from the parched and arid desert of stone that makes up the greatest part of the land. Their women live in villages and towns huddled outside the walls. All the common work of farm and mill is performed by the women, of whom there is a vast superabundance. They are ordinary drudges, living in towns which belong to the lords of the castle. They live amongst the cattle and brute animals of all kinds, who are permitted into the houses, some of which are of fair size. These women go about drably clothed, always in groups and bands. They are never allowed within the walls of the park, leaving the food and necessaries with which they provide the men at the outer gate of the castle. They evinced great fear and distrust of us. A few of my men following some girls on the road, women rushed from the town like a pack of wild beasts, so that the men thought it best to return forthwith to the castle. Our hosts advised us that it were best for us to keep away from their towns, which we did.

The men go freely about their great parks, playing at one sport or another. At night they go to certain houses which they own in the town, where they may have their pick among the women and satisfy their lust upon them as they will. The women pay them, we were told, in their money, which is copper, for a night of pleasure, and pay them yet more if they get a child on them. Their nights thus are spent in carnal satisfaction as often as they desire, and their days in a diversity of sports and games, notably a kind of wrestling, in which they throw each other through the air so that we marveled that they seemed never to take hurt, but rose up and returned to the combat with wonderful dexterity of hand and foot. Also they fence with blunt swords, and combat with long light sticks. Also they play a game with balls on a great field, using the arms to catch or throw the ball and the legs to kick the ball and trip or catch or kick the men of the other team, so that many are bruised and lamed in the passion of the sport, which was very fine to see, the teams in their contrasted garments of bright colors much gauded out with gold and finery seething now this way, now that, up and down the field in a mass, from which the balls were flung up and caught by runners breaking free of the struggling crowd and fleeting towards the one or the other goal with all the rest in hot pursuit. There is a “battlefield” as they call it of this game lying without the walls of the castle park, near to the town, so that the women may come watch and cheer, which they do heartily, calling out the names of favorite players and urging them with many uncouth cries to victory.

Boys are taken from the women at the age of eleven and brought to the castle to be educated as befits a man. We saw such a child brought into the castle with much ceremony and rejoicing. It is said that the women find it difficult to bring a pregnancy of a manchild to term, and that of those born many die in infancy despite the care lavished upon them, so that there are far more women than men. In this we see the curse of GOD laid upon this race as upon all those who acknowledge HIM not, unrepentant heathens whose ears are stopped to true discourse and blind to the light.

These men know little of art, only a kind of leaping dance, and their science is little beyond that of savages. One great man of a castle to whom I talked, who was dressed out in cloth of gold and crimson and whom all called Prince and Grandsire with much respect and deference, yet was so ignorant he believed the stars to be worlds full of people and beasts, asking us from which star we descended. They have only vessels driven by steam along the surface of the land and water, and no notion of flight either in the air or in space, nor any curiosity about such things, saying with disdain, “That is all women’s work,” and indeed I found that if I asked these great men about matters of common knowledge such as the working of machinery, the weaving of cloth, the transmission of holovision, they would soon chide me for taking interest in womanish things as they called them, desiring me to talk as befit a man.

In the breeding of their fierce cattle within the parks they are very knowledgeable, as in the sewing up of their clothing, which they make from cloth the women weave in their factories. The men vie in the ornamentation and magnificence of their costumes to an extent en, swhich we might indeed have thought scarcely manly, were they not withal such proper mtrong and ready for any game or sport, and full of pride and a most delicate and fiery honor.

The log including Captain Aolao-olao’s entries was (after a 12-generation journey) returned to the Sacred Archives of the Universe on Iao, which were dispersed during the period called The Tumult, and eventually preserved in fragmentary form on Hain. There is no record of further contact with Seggri until the First Observers were sent by the Ekumen in 93/1333: an Alterran man and a Hainish woman, Kaza Agad and G. Merriment. After a year in orbit mapping, photographing, recording and studying broadcasts, and analyzing and learning a major regional language, the Observers landed. Acting upon a strong persuasion of the vulnerability of the planetary culture, they presented themselves as survivors of the wreck of a fishing boat, blown far off course, from a remote island. They were, as they had anticipated, separated at once, Kaza Agad being taken to the Castle and Merriment into the town. Kaza kept his name, which was plausible in the native context; Merriment called herself Yude. We have only her report, from which three excerpts follow.

FROM MOBILE GERINDU’UTTAHAYUDETWE’MENRADE MERRIMENT’S NOTES FOR A REPORT TO THE EKUMEN, 93/133

34/223 Their network of trade and information, hence their awareness of what goes on elsewhere in their world, is too sophisticated for me to maintain my Stupid Foreign Castaway act any longer. Ekhaw called me in today and said, “If we had a sire here who was worth buying or if our teams were winning their games, I’d think you were a spy. Who are you, anyhow?”

I said, “Would you let me go to the College at Hagka?”

She said, “Why?”

“There are scientists there, I think? I need to talk with them.”

This made sense to her; she made their “Mh” noise of assent.

“Could my friend go there with me?”

“Shask, you mean?”

We were both puzzled for a moment. She didn’t expect a woman to call a man “friend,” and I hadn’t thought of Shask as a friend. She’s very young, and I haven’t taken her very seriously.

“I mean Kaza, the man I came with.”

“A man — to the college?” she said, incredulous. She looked at me and said, “Where do you come from?”

It was a fair question, not asked in enmity or challenge. I wish I could have answered it, but I am increasingly convinced that we can do great damage to these people; we are facing Resehavanar’s Choice here, I fear.

Ekhaw paid for my journey to Hagka, and Shask came along with me. As I thought about it I saw that of course Shask was my friend. It was she who brought me into the motherhouse, persuading Ekhaw and Azman of their duty to be hospitable; it was she who had looked out for me all along. Only she was so conventional in everything she did and said that I hadn’t realized how radical her compassion was. When I tried to thank her, as our little jitney-bus purred along the road to Hagka, she said things like she always says —”Oh, we’re all family,” and “People have to help each other,” and “Nobody can live alone.”

“Don’t women ever live alone?” I asked her, for all the ones I’ve met belong to a motherhouse or a daughterhouse, whether a couple or a big family like Ekhaw’s, which is three generations: five older women, three of their daughters living at home, and four children —the boy they all coddle and spoil so, and three girls.

“Oh yes,” Shask said. “If they don’t want wives, they can be singlewomen. And old women, when their wives die, sometimes they just live alone till they die. Usually they go live at a daughterhouse. In the colleges, the vev always have a place to be alone.” Conventional she may be, but Shask always tries to answer a question seriously and completely; she thinks about her answer. She has been an invaluable informant. She has also made life easy for me by not asking questions about where I come from. I took this for the incuriosity of a person securely embedded in an unquestioned way of life, and for the self-centeredness of the young. Now I see it as delicacy.

“A vev is a teacher?”

“Mh.”

“And the teachers at the college are very respected?”

“That’s what vev means. That’s why we call Eckaw’s mother Vev Kakaw. She didn’t go to college, but she’s a thoughtful person, she’s learned from life, she has a lot to teach us.”

So respect and teaching are the same thing, and the only term of respect I’ve heard women use for women means teacher. And so in teaching me, young Shask respects herself? And/or earns my respect? This casts a different light on what I’ve been seeing as a society in which wealth is the important thing. Zadedr, the current mayor of Reha, is certainly admired for her very ostentatious display of possessions; but they don’t call her Vev.

I said to Shask, “You have taught me so much, may I call you Vev Shask?”

She was equally embarrassed and pleased, and squirmed and said, “Oh no no no no.” Then she said, “If you ever come back to Reha I would like very much to have love with you, Yude.”

“I thought you were in love with Sire Zadr!” I blurted out.

“Oh, I am,” she said, with that eye-roll and melted look they have when they speak of the sires, “aren’t you? Just think of him fucking you, oh! Oh, I get all wet thinking about it!” She smiled and wriggled. I felt embarrassed in my turn and probably showed it. “Don’t you like him?” she inquired with a naivety I found hard to bear. She was acting like a silly adolescent, and I know she’s not a silly adolescent. “But I’ll never be able to afford him,” she said, and sighed.

So you want to make do with me, I thought nastily.

“I’m going to save my money,” she announced after a minute. “I think I want to have a baby next year. Of course I can’t afford Sire Zadr, he’s a Great Champion, but if I don’t go to the Games at Kadaki this year I can save up enough for a really good sire at our fuckery, maybe Master Rosra. I wish, I know this is silly, I’m going to say it anyway, I’ve been wishing you could be its lovemother. I know you can’t, you have to go to the college. I just wanted to tell you. I love you.” She took my hands, drew them to her face, pressed my palms on her eyes for a moment, and then released me. She was smiling, but her tears were on my hands.

“Oh, Shask,” I said, floored.

“It’s all right!” she said. “I have to cry a minute.” And she did. She wept openly, bending over, wringing her hands, and wailing softly. I patted her arm and felt unutterably ashamed of myself. Other passengers looked round and made little sympathetic grunting noises. One old woman said, “That’s it, that’s right, lovey!” In a few minutes Shask stopped crying, wiped her nose and face on her sleeve, drew a long, deep breath, and said, “All right.” She smiled at me. “Driver,” she called, “I have to piss, can we stop?”

The driver, a tense-looking woman, growled something, but stopped the bus on the wide, weedy roadside; and Shask and another woman got off and pissed in the weeds. There is an enviable simplicity to many acts in a society which has, in all its daily life, only one gender. And which, perhaps — I don’t know this but it occurred to me then, while I was ashamed of myself — has no shame?

34/245. (Dictated) Still nothing from Kaza. I think I was right to give him the ansible. I hope he’s in touch with somebody. I wish it was me. I need to know what goes on in the castles.

Anyhow I understand better now what I was seeing at the Games in Reha. There are sixteen adult women for every adult man. One conception in six or so is male, but a lot of nonviable male fetuses and defective male births bring it down to one in sixteen by puberty. My ancestors must have really had fun playing with these people’s chromosomes. I feel guilty, even if it was a million years ago. I have to learn to do without shame but had better not forget the one good use of guilt. Anyhow. A fairly small town like Reha shares its castle with other towns. That confusing spectacle I was taken to on my tenth day down was Awaga Castle trying to keep its place in the Maingame against a castle from up north, and losing. Which means Awaga’s team can’t play in the big game this year in Fadrga, the city south of here, from which the winners go on to compete in the big big game at Zask, where people come from all over the continent — hundreds of contestants and thousands of spectators. I saw some holos of last year’s Maingame at Zask. There were 1,280 players, the comment said, and forty balls in play. It looked to me like a total mess, my idea of a battle between two unarmed armies, but I gather that great skill and strategy is involved. All the members of the winning team get a special title for the year, and another one for life, and bring glory back to their various castles and the towns that support them.

I can now get some sense of how this works, see the system from outside it, because the college doesn’t support a castle. People here aren’t obsessed with sports and athletes and sexy sires the way the young women in Reha were, and some of the older ones. It’s a kind of obligatory obsession. Cheer your team, support your brave men, adore your local hero. It makes sense. Given their situation, they need strong, healthy men at their fuckery; it’s social selection reinforcing natural selection. But I’m glad to get away from the rah-rah and the swooning and the posters of fellows with swelling muscles and huge penises and bedroom eyes.

I have made Resehavanar’s Choice. I chose the option: Less than the truth. Shoggrad and Skodr and the other teachers, professors we’d call them, are intelligent, enlightened people, perfectly capable of understanding the concept of space travel, etc., making decisions about technological innovation, etc. I limit my answers to their questions to technology. I let them assume, as most people naturally assume, particularly people from a monoculture, that our society is pretty much like theirs. When they find how it differs, the effect will be revolutionary, and I have no mandate, reason, or wish to cause such a revolution on Seggri.

Their gender imbalance has produced a society in which, as far as I can tell, the men have all the privilege and the women have all the power. It’s obviously a stable arrangement. According to their histories, it’s lasted at least two millennia, and probably in some form or another much longer than that. But it could be quickly and disastrously destabilised by contact with us, by their experiencing the human norm. I don’t know if the men would cling to their privileged status or demand freedom, but surely the women would resist giving up their power, and their sexual system and affectional relationships would break down. Even if they learned to undo the genetic program that was inflicted on them, it would take several generations to restore normal gender distribution. I can’t be the whisper that starts that avalanche.

34/266. (Dictated) Skodr got nowhere with the men of Awaga Castle. She had to make her inquiries very cautiously, since it would endanger Kaza if she told them he was an alien or in any way unique. They’d take it as a claim of superiority, which he’d have to defend in trials of strength and skill. I gather that the hierarchies within the castles are a rigid framework, within which a man moves up or down issuing challenges and winning or losing obligatory and optional trials. The sports and games the women watch are only the showpieces of an endless series of competitions going on inside the castles. As an untrained, grown man Kaza would be at a total disadvantage in such trials. The only way he might get out of them, she said, would be by feigning illness or idiocy. She thinks he must have done so, since he is at least alive; but that’s all she could find out — “The man who was cast away at Taha-Reha is alive.”

Although the women feed, house, clothe, and support the lords of the castle, they evidently take their noncooperation for granted. She seemed glad to get even that scrap of information. As I am.

But we have to get Kaza out of there. The more I hear about it from Skodr the more dangerous it sounds. I keep thinking “spoiled brats!” but actually these men must be more like soldiers in the training camps that militarists have. Only the training never ends. As they win trials they gain all kinds of titles and ranks you could translate as “generals” and the other names militarists have for all their power-grades. Some of the “generals,” the Lords and Masters and so on, are the sports idols, the darlings of the fuckeries, like the one poor Shask adored; but as they get older apparently they often trade glory among the women for power among the men, and become tyrants within their castle, bossing the “lesser” men around, until they’re overthrown, kicked out. Old sires often live alone, it seems, in little houses away from the main castle, and are considered crazy and dangerous — rogue males.

It sounds like a miserable life. All they’re allowed to do after age eleven is compete at games and sports inside the castle, and compete in the fuckeries, after they’re fifteen or so, for money and number of fucks and so on. Nothing else. No options. No trades. No skills of making. No travel unless they play in the big games. They aren’t allowed into the colleges to gain any kind of freedom of mind. I asked Skodr why an intelligent man couldn’t at least come study in the college, and she told me that learning was very bad for men: it weakens a man’s sense of honor, makes his muscles flabby, and leaves him impotent. ” ‘What goes to the brain takes from the testicles,'” she said. “Men have to be sheltered from education for their own good.”

I tried to “be water,” as I was taught, but I was disgusted. Probably she felt it, because after a while she told me about “the secret college.” Some women in colleges do smuggle information to men in castles. The poor things meet secretly and teach each other. In the castles, homosexual relationships are encouraged among boys under fifteen, but not officially tolerated among grown men; she says the “secret colleges” often are run by the homosexual men. They have to be secret because if they’re caught reading or talking about ideas they may be punished by their Lords and Masters.

There have been some interesting works from the “secret colleges,” Skodr said, but she had to think to come up with examples. One was a man who had smuggled out an interesting mathematical theorem, and one was a painter whose landscapes, though primitive in technique, were admired by professionals of the art. She couldn’t remember his name.

Arts, sciences, all learning, all professional techniques, are haggyad, skilled work. They’re all taught at the colleges, and there are no divisions and few specialists. Teachers and students cross and mix fields all the time, and being a famous scholar in one field doesn’t keep you from being a student in another. Skodr is a vev of physiology, writes plays, and is currently studying history with one of the history vevs. Her thinking is informed and lively and fearless. My School on Main could learn from this college. It’s a wonderful place, full of free minds. But only minds of one gender. A hedged freedom.

I hope Kaza has found a secret college or something, some way to fit in at the castle. He’s strong, but these men have trained for years for the games they play. And a lot of the games are violent. The women say don’t worry, we don’t let the men kill each other, we protect them, they’re our treasures. But I’ve seen men carried off with concussions, on the holos of their martial-art fights, where they throw each other around spectacularly. “Only inexperienced fighters get hurt.” Very reassuring. And they wrestle bulls. And in that melee they call the Maingame they break each other’s legs and ankles deliberately. “What’s a hero without a limp?” the women say. Maybe that’s the safe thing to do, get your leg broken so you don’t have to prove you’re a hero any more. But what else might Kaza have to prove?

I asked Shask to let me know if she ever heard of him being at the Reha fuckery. But Awaga Castle services (that’s their word, the same word they use for their bulls) four towns, so he might get sent to one of the others. But probably not, because men who don’t win at things aren’t allowed to go to the fuckeries. Only the champions. And boys between fifteen and nineteen, the ones the older women call dippida, baby animals — puppy, kitty, lamby. They use the dippida for pleasure. They only pay for a champion when they go to the fuckery to get pregnant. But Kaza’s thirty-six, he isn’t a puppy or a kitten or a lamb. He’s a man, and this is a terrible place to be a man.

Kaza Agad had been killed; the Lords of Awaga Castle finally disclosed the fact, but not the circumstances. A year later, Merriment radioed her lander and left Seggri for Hain. Her recommendation was to observe and avoid. The Stabiles, however, decided to send another pair of observers; these were both women, Mobiles Alee Iyoo and Zerin Wu. They lived for eight years on Seggri, after the third year as First Mobiles; Iyoo stayed as Ambassador another fifteen years. They made Resehavanar’s Choice as “all the truth slowly.” A limit of two hundred visitors from off world was set. During the next several generations the people of Seggri, becoming accustomed to the alien presence, considered their own options as members of the Ekumen. Proposals for a planetwide referendum on genetic alteration were abandoned, since the men’s vote would be insignificant unless the women’s vote were handicapped. As of the date of this report the Seggri have not undertaken major genetic alteration, though they have learned and applied various repair techniques, which have resulted in a higher proportion of full-term male infants; the gender balance now stands at about 12:1.

The following is a memoir given to Ambassador Eritho te Ves in 93/1569 by a woman in Ush on Seggri.

You asked me, dear friend, to tell you anything I might like people on other worlds to know about my life and my world. That’s not easy! Do I want anybody anywhere else to know anything about my life? I know how strange we seem to all the others, the half-and-half races; I know they think us backward, provincial, even perverse. Maybe in a few more decades we’ll decide that we should remake ourselves. I won’t be alive then; I don’t think I’d want to be. I like my people. I like our fierce, proud, beautiful men, I don’t want them to become like women. I like our trustful, powerful, generous women, I don’t want them to become like men. And yet I see that among you each man has his own being and nature, each woman has hers, and I can hardly say what it is I think we would lose.

When I was a child I had a brother a year and a half younger than me. His name was Ittu. My mother had gone to the city and paid five years’ savings for my sire, a Master Champion in the Dancing. Ittu’s sire was an old fellow at our village fuckery; they called him “Master Fallback.” He’d never been a champion at anything, hadn’t sired a child for years, and was only too glad to fuck for free. My mother always laughed about it — she was still suckling me, she didn’t even use a preventive, and she tipped him two coppers! When she found herself pregnant she was furious. When they tested and found it was a male fetus she was even more disgusted at having, as they say, to wait for the miscarriage. But when Ittu was born sound and healthy, she gave the old sire two hundred coppers, all the cash she had.

He wasn’t delicate like so many boy babies, but how can you keep from protecting and cherishing a boy? I don’t remember when I wasn’t looking after Ittu, with it all very clear in my head what Little Brother should do and shouldn’t do and all the perils I must keep him from. I was proud of my responsibility, and vain, too, because I had a brother to look after. Not one other motherhouse in my village had a son still living at home.

Ittu was a lovely child, a star. He had the fleecy soft hair that’s common in my part of Ush, and big eyes; his nature was sweet and cheerful, and he was very bright. The other children loved him and always wanted to play with him, but he and I were happiest playing by ourselves, long elaborate games of make-believe. We had a herd of twelve cattle an old woman of the village had carved from gourd-shell for Ittu — people always gave him presents — and they were the actors in our dearest game. Our cattle lived in a country called Shush, where they had great adventures, climbing mountains, discovering new lands, sailing on rivers, and so on. Like any herd, like our village herd, the old cows were the leaders; the bull lived apart; the other males were gelded; and the heifers were the adventurers. Our bull would make ceremonial visits to service the cows, and then he might have to go fight with men at Shush Castle. We made the castle of clay and the men of sticks, and the bull always won, knocking the stick-men to pieces. Then sometimes he knocked the castle to pieces too. But the best of our stories were told with two of the heifers. Mine was named Op and my brother’s was Utti. Once our hero heifers were having a great adventure on the stream that runs past our village, and their boat got away from us. We found it caught against a log far downstream where the stream was deep and quick. My heifer was still in it. We both dived and dived, but we never found Utti. She had drowned. The Cattle of Shush had a great funeral for her, and Ittu cried very bitterly.

He mourned his brave little toy cow so long that I asked Djerdji the cattleherd if we could work for her, because I thought being with the real cattle might cheer Ittu up. She was glad to get two cowhands for free (when Mother found out we were really working, she made Djerdji pay us a quarter-copper a day). We rode two big, goodnatured old cows, on saddles so big Ittu could lie down on his. We took a herd of two-year-old calves out onto the desert every day to forage for the edta that grows best when it’s grazed. We were supposed to keep them from wandering off and from trampling streambanks, and when they wanted to settle down and chew the cud we were supposed to gather them in a place where their droppings would nourish useful plants. Our old mounts did most of the work. Mother came out and checked on what we were doing and decided it was all right, and being out in the desert all day was certainly keeping us fit and healthy.

We loved our riding cows, but they were serious-minded and responsible, rather like the grown-ups in our motherhouse. The calves were something else; they were all riding breed, not fine animals of course, just villagebred; but living on edta they were fat and had plenty of spirit. Ittu and I rode them bareback with a rope rein. At first we always ended up on our own backs watching a calf’s heels and tail flying off. By the end of a year we were good riders, and took to training our mounts to tricks, trading mounts at a full run, and hornvaulting. Ittu was a marvelous hornvaulter. He trained a big three-year-old roan ox with lyre horns, and the two of them danced like the finest vaulters of the great castles that we saw on the holos. We couldn’t keep our excellence to ourselves out in the desert; we started showing off to the other children, inviting them to come out to Salt Springs to see our Great Trick Riding Show. And so of course the adults got to hear of it.

My mother was a brave woman, but that was too much for even her, and she said to me in cold fury, “I trusted you to look after Ittu. You let me down.”

All the others had been going on and on about endangering the precious life of a boy, the Vial of Hope, the Treasurehouse of Life, and so on, but it was what my mother said that hurt.

“I do look after Ittu, and he looks after me,” I said to her, in that passion of justice that children know, the birthright we seldom honor. “We both know what’s dangerous and we don’t do stupid things and we know our cattle and we do everything together. When he has to go to the castle he’ll have to do lots more dangerous things, but at least he’ll already know how to do one of them. And there he has to do them alone, but we did everything together. And I didn’t let you down.”

My mother looked at us. I was nearly twelve, Ittu was ten. She burst into tears, she sat down on the dirt and wept aloud. Ittu and I both went to her and hugged her and cried. Ittu said, “I won’t go. I won’t go to the damned castle. They can’t make me!”

And I believed him. He believed himself. My mother knew better.

Maybe some day it will be possible for a boy to choose his life. Among your peoples a man’s body does not shape his fate, does it? Maybe some day that will be so here.

Our Castle, Hidjegga, had of course been keeping their eye on Ittu ever since he was born; once a year Mother would send them the doctor’s report on him, and when he was five Mother and her wives took him out there for the ceremony of Confirmation. Ittu had been embarrassed, disgusted, and flattered. He told me in secret, “There were all these old men that smelled funny and they made me take off my clothes and they had these measuring things and they measured my peepee! And they said it was very good. They said it was a good one. What happens when you descend?” It wasn’t the first question he had ever asked me that I couldn’t answer, and as usual I made up the answer. “Descend means you can have babies,” I said, which, in a way, wasn’t so far off the mark.

Some castles, I am told, prepare boys of nine and ten for the Severance, woo them with visits from older boys, tickets to games, tours of the park and the buildings, so that they may be quite eager to go to the castle when they turn eleven. But we “outyonders,” villagers of the edge of the desert, kept to the harsh old-fashioned ways. Aside from Confirmation, a boy had no contact at all with men until his eleventh birthday. On that day everybody he had ever known brought him to the Gate and gave him to the strangers with whom he would live the rest of his life. Men and women alike believed and still believe that this absolute severance makes the man.

Vev Ushiggi, who had borne a son and had a grandson, and had been mayor five or six times, and was held in great esteem even though she’d never had much money, heard Ittu say that he wouldn’t go to the damned Castle. She came next day to our motherhouse and asked to talk to him. He told me what she said. She didn’t do any wooing or sweetening. She told him that he was born to the service of his people and had one responsibility, to sire children when he got old enough; and one duty, to be a strong, brave man, stronger and braver than other men, so that women would choose him to sire their children. She said he had to live in the Castle because men could not live among women. At this, Ittu asked her, “Why can’t they?”

“You did?” I said, awed by his courage, for Vev Ushiggi was a formidable old woman.

“Yes. And she didn’t really answer. She took a long time. She looked at me and then she looked off somewhere and then she stared at me for a long time and then finally she said, ‘Because we would destroy them.’ ”

“But that’s crazy,” I said. “Men are our treasures. What did she say that for?”

Ittu, of course, didn’t know. But he thought hard about what she had said, and I think nothing she could have said would have so impressed him.

After discussion, the village elders and my mother and her wives decided that Ittu could go on practicing hornvaulting, because it really would be a useful skill for him in the Castle; but he could not herd cattle any longer, nor go with me when I did, nor join in any of the work children of the village did, nor their games. “You’ve done everything together with Po,” they told him, “but she should be doing things together with the other girls, and you should be doing things by yourself, the way men do.”

They were always very kind to Ittu, but they were stern with us girls; if they saw us even talking with Ittu they’d tell us to go on about our work, leave the boy alone. When we disobeyed — when Ittu and I sneaked off and met at Salt Springs to ride together, or just hid out in our old playplace down in the draw by the stream to talk — he got treated with cold silence to shame him, but I got punished. A day locked in the cellar of the old fiber-processing mill, which was what my village used for a jail; next time it was two days; and the third time they caught us alone together, they locked me in that cellar for ten days. A young woman called Fersk brought me food once a day and made sure I had enough water and wasn’t sick, but she didn’t speak; that’s how they always used to punish people in the villages. I could hear the other children going by up on the street in the evening. It would get dark at last and I could sleep. All day I had nothing to do, no work, nothing to think about except the scorn and contempt they held me in for betraying their trust, and the injustice of my getting punished when Ittu didn’t.

When I came out, I felt different. I felt like something had closed up inside me while I was closed up in that cellar.

When we ate at the motherhouse they made sure Ittu and I didn’t sit near each other. For a while we didn’t even talk to each other. I went back to school and work. I didn’t know what Ittu was doing all day. I didn’t think about it. It was only fifty days to his birthday.

One night I got into bed and found a note under my clay pillow: in the draw to-nt. Ittu never could spell; what writing he knew I had taught him in secret. I was frightened and angry, but I waited an hour till everybody was asleep, and got up and crept outside into the windy, starry night, and ran to the draw. It was late in the dry season and the stream was barely running. Ittu was there, hunched up with his arms round his knees, a little lump of shadow on the pale, cracked clay at the waterside.

The first thing I said was, “You want to get me locked up again? They said next time it would be thirty days!”

“They’re going to lock me up for fifty years,” Ittu said, not looking at me.

“What am I supposed to do about it? It’s the way it has to be! You’re a man. You have to do what men do. They won’t lock you up, anyway, you get to play games and come to town to do service and all that. You don’t even know what being locked up is!”

“I want to go to Seradda,” Ittu said, talking very fast, his eyes shining as he looked up at me. “We could take the riding cows to the bus station in Redang, I saved my money, I have twenty-three coppers, we could take the bus to Seradda. The cows would come back home if we turned them loose.”

“What do you think you’d do in Seradda?” I asked, disdainful but curious. Nobody from our village had ever been to the capital.

“The Ekkamen people are there,” he said.

“The Ekumen,” I corrected him. “So what?”

“They could take me away,” Ittu said.

I felt very strange when he said that. I was still angry and still disdainful but a sorrow was rising in me like dark water. “Why would they do that? What would they talk to some little boy for? How would you find them? Twenty-three coppers isn’t enough anyway. Seradda’s way far off. That’s a really stupid idea. You can’t do that.”

“I thought you’d come with me,” Ittu said. His voice was softer, but didn’t shake.

“I wouldn’t do a stupid thing like that,” I said furiously.

“All right,” he said. “But you won’t tell. Will you?”

“No, I won’t tell!” I said. “But you can’t run away, Ittu. You can’t. It would be — it would be dishonorable.”

This time when he answered his voice shook. “I don’t care,” he said. “I don’t care about honor. I want to be free!”

We were both in tears. I sat down by him and we leaned together the way we used to, and cried a while; not long; we weren’t used to crying.

“You can’t do it,” I whispered to him. “It won’t work, Ittu.”

He nodded, accepting my wisdom.

“It won’t be so bad at the Castle,” I said.

After a minute he drew away from me very slightly.

“We’ll see each other,” I said.

He said only, “When?”

“At games. I can watch you. I bet you’ll be the best rider and hornvaulter there. I bet you win all the prizes and get to be a Champion.”

He nodded, dutiful. He knew and I knew that I had betrayed our love and our birthright of justice. He knew he had no hope.

That was the last time we talked together alone, and almost the last time we talked together.

Ittu ran away about ten days after that, taking the riding cow and heading for Redang; they tracked him easily and had him back in the village before nightfall. I don’t know if he thought I had told them where he would be going. I was so ashamed of not having gone with him that I could not look at him. I kept away from him; they didn’t have to keep me away any more. He made no effort to speak to me.

I was beginning my puberty, and my first blood was the night before Ittu’s birthday. Menstruating women are not allowed to come near the Gates at conservative castles like ours, so when Ittu was made a man I stood far back among a few other girls and women, and could not see much of the ceremony. I stood silent while they sang, and looked down at the dirt and my new sandals and my feet in the sandals, and felt the ache and tug of my womb and the secret movement of the blood, and grieved. I knew even then that this grief would be with me all my life.

Ittu went in and the Gates closed.

He became a Young Champion Hornvaulter, and for two years, when he was eighteen and nineteen, came a few times to service in our village, but I never saw him. One of my friends fucked with him and started to tell me about it, how nice he was, thinking I’d like to hear, but I shut her up and walked away in a blind rage which neither of us understood.

He was traded away to a castle on the east coast when he was twenty. When my daughter was born I wrote him, and several times after that, but he never answered my letters.

I don’t know what I’ve told you about my life and my world. I don’t know if it’s what I want you to know. It is what I had to tell.

The following is a short story -written in 93/1586 by a popular writer of the city of Adr, Sem Gridji. The classic literature of Seggri was the narrative poem and the drama. Classical poems and plays were written collaboratively, in the original version and also by re-writers of subsequent generations, usually anonymous. Small value was placed on preserving a “true” text, since the work was seen as an ongoing process. Probably under Ekumenical influence, individual writers in the late sixteenth century began writing short prose narratives, historical and fictional. The genre became popular, particularly in the cities, though it never obtained the immense audience of the great classical epics and plays. Literally everyone knew the plots and many quotations from the epics and plays, from books and holo, and almost every adult woman had seen or participated in a staged performance of several of them. They were one of the principal unifying influences of the Seggrian monoculture. The prose narrative, read in silence, served rather as a device by which the culture might question itself, and a tool for individual moral self-examination. Conservative Seggrian women disapproved of the genre as antagonistic to the intensely cooperative, collaborative structure of their society. Fiction was not included in the curriculum of the literature departments of the colleges, and was often dismissed contemptuously — “fiction is for men.”

Sem Gridji published three books of stories. Her bare, blunt style is characteristic of the Seggrian short story.


LOVE OUT OF PLACE by Sem Gridji

Azak grew up in a motherhouse in the Downriver Quarter, near the textile mills. She was a bright girl, and her family and neighborhood were proud to gather the money to send her to college. She came back to the city as a starting manager at one of the mills. Azak worked well with other people; she prospered. She had a clear idea of what she wanted to do in the next few years: to find two or three partners with whom to found a daughterhouse and a business.

A beautiful woman in the prime of youth, Azak took great pleasure in sex, especially liking intercourse with men. Though she saved money for her plan of founding a business, she also spent a good deal at the fuckery, going there often, sometimes hiring two men at once. She liked to see how they incited each other to prowess beyond what they would have achieved alone, and shamed each other when they failed. She found a flaccid penis very disgusting, and did not hesitate to send away a man who could not penetrate her three or four times an evening.

The castle of her district bought a Young Champion at the Southeast Castles Dance Tournament, and soon sent him to the fuckery. Having seen him dance in the finals on the holovision and been captivated by his flowing, graceful style and his beauty, Azak was eager to have him service her. His price was twice that of any other man there, but she did not hesitate to pay it. She found him handsome and amiable, eager and gentle, skillful and compliant. In their first evening they came to orgasm together five times. When she left she gave him a large tip. Within the week she was back, asking for Toddra. The pleasure he gave her was exquisite, and soon she was quite obsessed with him.

“I wish I had you all to myself,” she said to him one night as they lay still conjoined, languorous and fulfilled.

“That is my heart’s desire,” he said. “I wish I were your servant. None of the other women that come here arouse me. I don’t want them. I want only you.”

She wondered if he was telling the truth. The next time she came, she inquired casually of the manager if Toddra were as popular as they had hoped. “No,” the manager said. “Everybody else reports that he takes a lot of arousing, and is sullen and careless towards them.”

“How strange,” Azak said.

“Not at all,” said the manager. “He’s in love with you.”

“A man in love with a woman?” Azak said, and laughed.

“It happens all too often,” the manager said.

“I thought only women fell in love,” said Azak.

“Women fall in love with a man, sometimes, and that’s bad too,” said the manager. “May I warn you, Azak? Love should be between women. It’s out of place here. It can never come to any good end. I hate to lose the money, but I wish you’d fuck with some of the other men and not always ask for Toddra. You’re encouraging him, you see, in something that does harm to him.”

“But he and you are making lots of money from me!” said Azak, still taking it as a joke.

“He’d make more from other women if he wasn’t in love with you,” said the manager. To Azak that seemed a weak argument against the pleasure she had in Toddra, and she said, “Well, he can fuck them all when I’ve done with him, but for now, I want him.”

After their intercourse that evening, she said to Toddra, “The manager here says you’re in love with me.”

“I told you I was,” Toddra said. “I told you I wanted to belong to you, to serve you, you alone. I would die for you, Azak.”

“That’s foolish,” she said.

“Don’t you like me? Don’t I please you?”

“More than any man I ever knew,” she said, kissing him. “You are beautiful and utterly satisfying, my sweet Toddra.”

“You don’t want any of the other men here, do you?” he asked.

“No. They’re all ugly fumblers, compared to my beautiful dancer.”

“Listen, then,” he said, sitting up and speaking very seriously. He was a slender man of twenty-two, with long, smooth-muscled limbs, wide-set eyes, and a thin-lipped, sensitive mouth. Azak lay stroking his thigh, thinking how lovely and lovable he was. “I have a plan,” he said. “When I dance, you know, in the story-dances, I play a woman, of course; I’ve done it since I was twelve. People always say they can’t believe I really am a man, I play a woman so well. If I escaped — from here, from the Castle — as a woman — I could come to your house as a servant — ”

“What?” cried Azak, astounded.

“I could live there,” he said urgently, bending over her. “With you. I would always be there. You could have me every night. It would cost you nothing, except my food. I would serve you, service you, sweep your house, do anything, anything, Azak, please, my beloved, my mistress, let me be yours!” He saw that she was still incredulous, and hurried on, “You could send me away when you got tired of me — ”

“If you tried to go back to the Castle after an escapade like that they’d whip you to death, you idiot!”

“I’m valuable,” he said. “They’d punish me, but they wouldn’t damage me.”

“You’re wrong. You haven’t been dancing, and your value here has slipped because you don’t perform well with anybody but me. The manager told me so.”

Tears stood in Toddra’s eyes. Azak disliked giving him pain, but she was genuinely shocked at his wild plan. “And if you were discovered, my dear,” she said more gently, “I would be utterly disgraced. It is a very childish plan, Toddra. Please never dream of such a thing again. But I am truly, truly fond of you, I adore you and want no other man but you. Do you believe that, Toddra?”

He nodded. Restraining his tears, he said, “For now.”

“For now and for a long, long, long time! My dear, sweet, beautiful dancer, we have each other as long as we want, years and years! Only do your duty by the other women that come, so that you don’t get sold away by your Castle, please! I couldn’t bear to lose you, Toddra.” And she clasped him passionately in her arms, and arousing him at once, opened to him, and soon both were crying out in the throes of delight.

Though she could not take his love entirely seriously, since what could come of such a misplaced emotion, except such foolish schemes as he had proposed? — still he touched her heart, and she felt a tenderness towards him that greatly enhanced the pleasure of their intercourse. So for more than a year she spent two or three nights a week with him at the fuckery, which was as much as she could afford. The manager, trying still to discourage his love, would not lower Toddra’s fee, even though he was unpopular among the other clients of the fuckery; so Azak spent a great deal of money on him, although he would never, after the first night, accept a tip from her.

Then a woman who had not been able to conceive with any of the sires at the fuckery tried Toddra, and at once conceived, and being tested found the fetus to be male. Another woman conceived by him, again a male fetus. At once Toddra was in demand as a sire. Women began coming from all over the city to be serviced by him. This meant, of course, that he must be free during their period of ovulation. There were now many evenings that he could not meet Azak, for the manager was not to be bribed. Toddra disliked his popularity, but Azak soothed and reassured him, telling him how proud she was of him, and how his work would never interfere with their love. In fact, she was not altogether sorry that he was so much in demand, for she had found another person with whom she wanted to spend her evenings.

This was a young woman named Zedr, who worked in the mill as a machine-repair specialist. She was tall and handsome; Azak noticed first how freely and strongly she walked and how proudly she stood. She found a pretext to make her acquaintance. It seemed to Azak that Zedr admired her; but for a long time each behaved to the other as a friend only, making no sexual advances. They were much in each other’s company, going to games and dances together, and Azak found that she enjoyed this open and sociable life better than always being in the fuckery alone with Toddra. They talked about how they might set up a machine-repair service in partnership. As time went on, Azak found that Zedr’s beautiful body was always in her thoughts. At last, one evening in her singlewoman’s flat, she told her friend that she loved her, but did not wish to burden their friendship with an unwelcome desire.

Zedr replied, “I have wanted you ever since I first saw you, but I didn’t want to embarrass you with my desire. I thought you preferred men.”

“Until now I did, but I want to make love with you,” Azak said.

She found herself quite timid at first, but Zedr was expert and subtle, and could prolong Azak’s orgasms till she found such consummation as she had not dreamed of. She said to Zedr, “You have made me a woman.”

“Then let’s make each other wives,” said Zedr joyfully.

They married, moved to a house in the west of the city, and left the mill, setting up in business together.

All this time, Azak had said nothing of her new love to Toddra, whom she had seen less and less often. A little ashamed of her cowardice, she reassured herself that he was so busy performing as a sire that he would not really miss her. After all, despite his romantic talk of love, he was a man, and to a man fucking is the most important thing, instead of being merely one element of love and life as it is to a woman.

When she married Zedr, she sent Toddra a letter, saying that their lives had drifted apart, and she was now moving away and would not see him again, but would always remember him fondly.

She received an immediate answer from Toddra, a letter begging her to come and talk with him, full of avowals of unchanging love, badly spelled and almost illegible. The letter touched, embarrassed, and shamed her, and she did not answer it.

He wrote again and again, and tried to reach her on the holonet at her new business. Zedr urged her not to make any response, saying, “It would be cruel to encourage him.”

Their new business went well from the start. They were home one evening busy chopping vegetables for dinner when there was a knock at the door. “Come in,” Zedr called, thinking it was Chochi, a friend they were considering as a third partner. A stranger entered, a tall, beautiful woman with a scarf over her hair. The stranger went straight to Azak, saying in a strangled voice, “Azak, Azak, please, please let me stay with you.” The scarf fell back from his long hair. Azak recognised Toddra.

She was astonished and a little frightened, but she had known Toddra a long time and been very fond of him, and this habit of affection made her put out her hands to him in greeting. She saw fear and despair in his face, and was sorry for him.

But Zedr, guessing who he was, was both alarmed and angry. She kept the chopping knife in her hand. She slipped from the room and called the city police.

When she returned she saw the man pleading with Azak to let him stay hidden in their household as a servant. “I will do anything,” he said. “Please, Azak, my only love, please! I can’t live without you. I can’t service those women, those strangers who only want to be impregnated. I can’t dance any more. I think only of you, you are my only hope. I will be a woman, no one will know. I’ll cut my hair, no one will know!” So he went on, almost threatening in his passion, but pitiful also. Zedr listened coldly, thinking he was mad. Azak listened with pain and shame. “No, no, it is not possible,” she said over and over, but he would not hear.

When the police came to the door and he realized who they were, he bolted to the back of the house seeking escape. The policewomen caught him in the bedroom; he fought them desperately, and they subdued him brutally. Azak shouted at them not to hurt him, but they paid no heed, twisting his arms and hitting him about the head till he stopped resisting. They dragged him out. The chief of the troop stayed to take evidence. Azak tried to plead for Toddra, but Zedr stated the facts and added that she thought he was insane and dangerous.

After some days, Azak inquired at the police office and was told that Toddra had been returned to his Castle with a warning not to send him to the fuckery again for a year or until the Lords of the Castle found him capable of responsible behavior. She was uneasy thinking of how he might be punished. Zedr said, “They won’t hurt him, he’s too valuable,” just as he himself had said. Azak was glad to believe this. She was, in fact, much relieved to know that he was out of the way.

She and Zedr took Chochi first into their business and then into their household. Chochi was a woman from the dockside quarter, tough and humorous, a hard worker and an undemanding, comfortable lovemaker. They were happy with one another, and prospered.

A year went by, and another year. Azak went to her old quarter to arrange a contract for repair work with two women from the mill where she had first worked. She asked them about Toddra. He was back at the fuckery from time to time, they told her. He had been named the year’s Champion Sire of his Castle, and was much in demand, bringing an even higher price, because he impregnated so many women and so many of the conceptions were male. He was not in demand for pleasure, they said, as he had a reputation for roughness and even cruelty. Women asked for him only if they wanted to conceive. Thinking of his gentleness with her, Azak found it hard to imagine him behaving brutally. Harsh punishment at the Castle, she thought, must have altered him. But she could not believe that he had truly changed.

Another year passed. The business was doing very well, and Azak and Chochi both began talking seriously about having children. Zedr was not interested in bearing, though happy to be a mother.

Chochi had a favorite man at their local fuckery to whom she went now and then for pleasure; she began going to him at ovulation, for he had a good reputation as a sire.

Azak had not been to a fuckery since she and Zedr married. She honored fidelity highly, and made love with no one but Zedr and Chochi. When she thought of being impregnated, she found that her old interest in fucking with men had quite died out or even turned to distaste. She did not like the idea of self-impregnation from the sperm bank, but the idea of letting a strange man penetrate her was even, more repulsive. Thinking what to do, she thought of Toddra, whom she had truly loved and had pleasure with. He was again a Champion Sire, known throughout the city as a reliable impregnator. There was certainly no other man with whom she could take any pleasure. And he had loved her so much he had put his career and even his life in danger, trying to be with her. That irresponsibility was over and done with. He had never written to her again, and the Castle and the managers of the fuckery would never have let him service women if they thought him mad or untrustworthy. After all this time, she thought, she could go back to him and give him the pleasure he had so desired.

She notified the fuckery of the expected period of her next ovulation, requesting Toddra. He was already engaged for that period, and they offered her another sire; but she preferred to wait till the next month.

Chochi had conceived, and was elated. “Hurry up, hurry up!” she said to Azak. “We want twins!”

Azak found herself looking forward to being with Toddra. Regretting the violence of their last encounter and the pain it must have given him, she wrote the following letter to him:

“My dear, I hope our long separation and the distress of our last meeting will be forgotten in the joy of being together again, and that you still love me as I still love you. I shall be very proud to bear your child, and let us hope it may be a son! I am impatient to see you again, my beautiful dancer. Your Azak.”

There had not been time for him to answer this letter when her ovulation period began. She dressed in her best clothes. Zedr still distrusted Toddra and had tried to dissuade her from going to him; she bade her “Good luck!” rather sulkily. Chochi hung a mother-charm around her neck, and she went off.

There was a new manager on duty at the fuckery, a coarse-faced young woman who told her, “Call out if he gives you any trouble. He may be a Champion but he’s rough, and we don’t let him get away with hurting anybody.”

“He won’t hurt me,” Azak said, smiling, and went eagerly into the familiar room where she and Toddra had enjoyed each other so often. He was standing waiting at the window just as he had used to stand. When he turned he looked just as she remembered, long-limbed, his silky hair flowing like water down his back, his wide-set eyes gazing at her.

“Toddra!” she said, coming to him with outstretched hands.

He took her hands and said her name.

“Did you get my letter? Are you happy?”

“Yes,” he said, smiling.

“And all that unhappiness, all that foolishness about love, is it over? I am so sorry you were hurt, Toddra, I don’t want any more of that. Can we just be ourselves and be happy together as we used to be?”

“Yes, all that is over,” he said. “And I am happy to see you.” He drew her gently to him. Gently he began to undress her and caress her body, just as he had used to, knowing what gave her pleasure, and she remembering what gave him pleasure. They lay down naked together. She was fondling his erect penis, aroused and yet a little reluctant to be penetrated after so long, when he moved his arm as if uncomfortable. Drawing away from him a little, she saw that he had a knife in his hand, which he must have hidden in the bed. He was holding it concealed behind his back.

Her womb went cold, but she continued to fondle his penis and testicles, not daring to say anything and not able to pull away, for he was holding her close with the other hand.

Suddenly he moved onto her and forced his penis into her vagina with a thrust so painful that for an instant she thought it was the knife. He ejaculated instantly. As his body arched she writhed out from under him, scrambled to the door, and ran from the room crying for help.

He pursued her, striking with the knife, stabbing her in the shoulderblade before the manager and other women and men seized him. The men were very angry and treated him with a violence which the manager’s protests did not lessen. Naked, bloody, and half-conscious, he was bound and taken away immediately to the Castle.

Everyone now gathered around Azak, and her wound, which was slight, was cleaned and covered. Shaken and confused, she could ask only, “What will they do to him?”

“What do you think they do to a murdering rapist? Give him a prize?” the manager said. “They’ll geld him.”

“But it was my fault,” Azak said.

The manager stared at her and said, “Are you mad? Go home.”

She went back into the room and mechanically put on her clothes. She looked at the bed where they had lain. She stood at the window where Toddra had stood. She remembered how she had seen him dance long ago in the contest where he had first been made champion. She thought, “My life is wrong.” But she did not know how to make it right.

Alteration in Seggrian social and cultural institutions did not take the disastrous course Merriment feared. It has been slow and its direction is not clear. In 93/1602 Terhada College invited men from two neighboring castles to apply as students, and three men did so. In the next decades, most colleges opened their doors to men. Once they were graduated, male students had to return to their castle, unless they left the planet, since native men were not allowed to live anywhere but as students in a college or in a castle, until the Open Gate Law was passed in 93/1662.

Even after passage of that law, the castles remained closed to women; and the exodus of men from the castles was much slower than opponents of the measure feared. Social adjustment to the Open Gate Law has been slow. In several regions programs to train men in basic skills such as farming and construction have met with moderate success; the men work in competitive teams, separate from and managed by the women’s companies. A good many Seggri have come to Main to study in recent yearsmore men than women, despite the great numerical imbalance that still exists.

The following autobiographical sketch by one of these men is of particular interest, since he was involved in the event which directly precipitated the Open Gate Law.


AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH BY MOBILE ARDAR DEZ

I was born in Ekumenical Cycle 93, Year 1641, in Rakedr on Seggri. Rakedr was a placid, prosperous, conservative town, and I was brought up in the old way, the petted boychild of a big motherhouse. Altogether there were seventeen of us, not counting the kitchen staff — a great-grandmother, two grandmothers, four mothers, nine daughters, and me. We were well off; all the women were or had been managers or skilled workers in the Rakedr Pottery, the principal industry of the town. We kept all the holidays with pomp and energy, decorating the house from roof to foundation with banners for Hillalli, making fantastic costumes for the Harvest Festival, and celebrating somebody’s birthday every few weeks with gifts all round. I was petted, as I said, but not, I think, spoiled. My birthday was no grander than my sisters’, and I was allowed to run and play with them just as if I were a girl. Yet I was always aware, as were they, that our mothers’ eyes rested on me with a different look, brooding, reserved, and sometimes, as I grew older, desolate.

After my Confirmation, my birthmother or her mother took me to Rakedr Castle every spring on Visiting Day. The gates of the park, which had opened to admit me alone (and terrified) for my Confirmation, remained shut, but rolling stairs were placed against the park walls. Up these I and a few other little boys from the town climbed, to sit on top of the park wall in great state, on cushions, under awnings, and watch demonstration dancing, bull-dancing, wrestling, and other sports on the great gamefield inside the wall. Our mothers waited below, outside, in the bleachers of the public field. Men and youths from the Castle sat with us, explaining the rules of the games and pointing out the fine points of a dancer or wrestler, treating us seriously, making us feel important. I enjoyed that very much, but as soon as I came down off the wall and started home it all fell away like a costume shrugged off, a part played in a play; and I went on with my work and play in the motherhouse with my family, my real life.

When I was ten I went to Boys’ Class downtown. The class had been set up forty or fifty years before as a bridge between the motherhouses and the Castle, but the Castle, under increasingly reactionary governance, had recently withdrawn from the project. Lord Fassaw forbade his men to go anywhere outside the walls but directly to the fuckery, in a closed car, returning at first light; and so no men were able to teach the class. The townswomen who tried to tell me what to expect when I went to the Castle did not really know much more than I did. However well-meaning they were, they mostly frightened and confused me. But fear and confusion were an appropriate preparation.

I cannot describe the ceremony of Severance. I really cannot describe it. Men on Seggri, in those days, had this advantage: they knew what death is. They had all died once before their body’s death. They had turned and looked back at their whole life, every place and face they had loved, and turned away from it as the gate closed.

At the time of my Severance, our small Castle was internally divided into “collegials” and “traditionals,” a liberal faction left from the regime of Lord Ishog and a younger, highly conservative faction. The split was already disastrously wide when I came to the Castle. Lord Fassaw’s rule had grown increasingly harsh and irrational. He governed by corruption, brutality, and cruelty. All of us who lived there were of course infected, and would have been destroyed if there had not been a strong, constant, moral resistance, centered around Ragaz and Kohadrat, who had been proteges of Lord Ishog. The two men were open partners; their followers were all the homosexuals in the Castle, and a good number of other men and older boys.

My first days and months in the Scrubs’ dormitory were a bewildering alternation: terror, hatred, shame, as the boys who had been there a few months or years longer than I were incited to humiliate and abuse the newcomer, in order to make a man of him — and comfort, gratitude, love, as boys who had come under the influence of the collegials offered me secret friendship and protection. They helped me in the games and competitions and took me into their beds at night, not for sex but to keep me from the sexual bullies. Lord Fassaw detested adult homosexuality and would have reinstituted the death penalty if the Town Council had allowed it. Though he did not dare punish Ragaz and Kohadrat, he punished consenting love between older boys with bizarre and appalling physical mutilations — ears cut into fringes, fingers branded with red-hot iron rings. Yet he encouraged the older boys to rape the eleven- and twelve-year-olds, as a manly practice. None of us escaped. We particularly dreaded four youths, seventeen or eighteen years old when I came there, who called themselves the Lordsmen. Every few nights they raided the Scrubs’ dormitory for a victim, whom they raped as a group. The collegials protected us as best they could by ordering us to their beds, where we wept and protested loudly, while they pretended to abuse us, laughing and jeering. Later, in the dark and silence, they comforted us with candy, and sometimes, as we grew older, with a desired love, gentle and exquisite in its secrecy.

There was no privacy at all in the Castle. I have said that to women who asked me to describe life there, and they thought they understood me. “Well, everybody shares everything in a motherhouse,” they would say, “everybody’s in and out of the rooms all the time. You’re never really alone unless you have a singlewoman’s flat.” I could not tell them how different the loose, warm commonality of the motherhouse was from the rigid, deliberate publicity of the forty-bed, brightly-lighted Castle dormitories. Nothing in Rakedr was private: only secret, only silent. We ate our tears.

I grew up; I take some pride in that, along with my profound gratitude to the boys and men who made it possible. I did not kill myself, as several boys did during those years, nor did I kill my mind and soul, as some did so their body could survive. Thanks to the maternal care of the collegials — the resistance, as we came to call ourselves — I grew up.

Why do I say maternal, not paternal? Because there were no fathers in my world. There were only sires. I knew no such word as father or paternal. I thought of Ragaz and Kohadrat as my mothers. I still do.

Fassaw grew quite mad as the years went on, and his hold over the Castle tightened to a deathgrip. The Lordsmen now ruled us all. They were lucky in that we still had a strong Maingame team, the pride of Fassaw’s heart, which kept us in the First League, as well as two Champion Sires in steady demand at the town fuckeries. Any protest the resistance tried to bring to the Town Council could be dismissed as typical male whining, or laid to the demoralizing influence of the aliens. From the outside Rakedr Castle seemed all right.

Look at our great team! Look at our champion studs! The women looked no further.

How could they abandon us? — the cry every Seggrian boy must make in his heart. How could she leave me here? Doesn’t she know what it’s like? Why doesn’t she know? Doesn’t she want to know?

“Of course not,” Ragaz said to me when I came to him in a passion of righteous indignation, the Town Council having denied our petition to be heard. “Of course they don’t want to know how we live. Why do they never come into the castles? Oh, we keep them out, yes; but do you think we could keep them out if they wanted to enter? My dear, we collude with them and they with us in maintaining the great foundation of ignorance and lies on which our civilization rests.”

“Our own mothers abandon us,” I said.

“Abandon us? Who feeds us, clothes us, houses us, pays us? We’re utterly dependent on them. If ever we made ourselves independent, perhaps we could rebuild society on a foundation of truth.”

Independence was as far as his vision could reach. Yet I think his mind groped further, towards what he could not see, the body’s obscure, inalterable dream of mutuality.

Our effort to make our case heard at the Council had no effect except within the Castle. Lord Fassaw saw his power threatened. Within a few days Ragaz was seized by the Lordsmen and their bully boys, accused of repeated homosexual acts and treasonable plots, arraigned, and sentenced by the Lord of the Castle. Everyone was summoned to the Gamefield to witness the punishment. A man of fifty with a heart ailment — he had been a Maingame racer in his twenties and had overtrained — Ragaz was tied naked across a bench and beaten with “Lord Long,” a heavy leather tube filled with lead weights. The Lordsman Berhed, who wielded it, struck repeatedly at the head, the kidneys, and the genitals. Ragaz died an hour or two later in the infirmary.

The Rakedr Mutiny took shape that night. Kohadrat, older than Ragaz and devastated by his loss, could not restrain or guide us. His vision had been of a true resistance, longlasting and nonviolent, through which the Lordsmen would in time destroy themselves. We had been following that vision. Now we let it go. We dropped the truth and grabbed weapons. “How you play is what you win,” Kohadrat said, but we had heard all those old saws. We would not play the patience game any more. We would win, now, once for all.

And we did. We won. We had our victory. Lord Fassaw, the Lordsmen and their bullies had been slaughtered by the time the police got to the Gate.

I remember how those tough women strode in among us, staring at the rooms of the Castle which they had never seen, staring at the mutilated bodies, eviscerated, castrated, headless — at Lordsman Berhepl, who had been nailed to the floor with “Lord Long” stuffed down his throat — at us, the rebels, the victors, with our bloody hands and defiant faces — at Kohadrat, whom we thrust forward as our leader, our spokesman.

He stood silent. He ate his tears.

The women drew closer to one another, clutching their guns, staring around. They were appalled, they thought us all insane. Their utter incomprehension drove one of us at last to speak — a young man, Tarsk, who wore the iron ring that had been forced onto his finger when it was red-hot. “They killed Ragaz,” he said. “They were all mad. Look.” He held out his crippled hand.

The chief of the troop, after a pause, said, “No one will leave here till this is looked into,” and marched her women out of the Castle, out of the park, locking the gate behind them, leaving us with our victory.

The hearings and judgments on the Rakedr Mutiny were all broadcast, of course, and the event has been studied and discussed ever since. My own part in it was the murder of the Lordsman Tatiddi. Three of us set on him and beat him to death with exercise-clubs in the gymnasium where we had cornered him.

How we played was what we won.

We were not punished. Men were sent from several castles to form a government over Rakedr Castle. They learned enough of Fassaw’s behavior to see the cause of our rebellion, but the contempt of even the most liberal of them for us was absolute. They treated us not as men, but as irrational, irresponsible creatures, untamable cattle. If we spoke they did not answer.

I do not know how long we could have endured that cold regime of shame. It was only two months after the Mutiny that the World Council enacted the Open Gate Law. We told one another that that was our victory, we had made that happen. None of us believed it. We told one another we were free. For the first time in history, any man who wanted to leave his castle could walk out the gate. We were free!

What happened to the free man outside the gate? Nobody had given it much thought.

I was one who walked out the gate, on the morning of the day the law came into force. Eleven of us walked into town together.

Several of us, men not from Rakedr, went to one or another of the fuckeries, hoping to be allowed to stay there; they had nowhere else to go. Hotels and inns of course would not accept men. Those of us who had been children in the town went to our motherhouses.

What is it like to return from the dead? Not easy. Not for the one who returns, nor for his people. The place he occupied in their world has closed up, ceased to be, filled with accumulated change, habit, the doings and needs of others. He has been replaced. To return from the dead is to be a ghost: a person for whom there is no room.

Neither I nor my family understood that, at first. I came back to them at twenty-one as trustingly as if I were the eleven-year-old who had left them, and they opened their arms to their child. But he did not exist. Who was I?

For a long time, months, we refugees from the Castle hid in our motherhouses. The men from other towns all made their way home, usually by begging a ride with teams on tour. There were seven or eight of us in Rakedr, but we scarcely ever saw one another. Men had no place on the street; for hundreds of years a man seen alone on the street had been arrested immediately. If we went out, women ran from us, or reported us, or surrounded and threatened us — “Get back into your Castle where you belong! Get back to the fuckery where you belong! Get out of our city!” They called us drones, and in fact we had no work, no function at all in the community. The fuckeries would not accept us for service, because we had no guarantee of health and good behavior from a castle.

This was our freedom: we were all ghosts, useless, frightened, frightening intruders, shadows in the corners of life. We watched life going on around us — work, love, childbearing, childrearing, getting and spending, making and shaping, governing and adventuring — the women’s world, the bright, full, real world — and there was no room in it for us. All we had ever learned to do was play games and destroy one another.

My mothers and sisters racked their brains, I know, to find some place and use for me in their lively, industrious household. Two old live-in cooks had run our kitchen since long before I was born, so cooking, the one practical art I had been taught in the Castle, was superfluous. They found household tasks for me, but they were all make-work, and they and I knew it. I was perfectly willing to look after the babies, but one of the grandmothers was very jealous of that privilege, and also some of my sisters’ wives were uneasy about a man touching their baby. My sister Pado broached the possibility of an apprenticeship in the clayworks, and I leaped at the chance; but the managers of the Pottery, after long discussion, were unable to agree to accept men as employees. Their hormones would make male workers unreliable, and female workers would be uncomfortable, and so on.

The holonews was full of such proposals and discussions, of course, and orations about the unforeseen consequences of the Open Gate Law, the proper place of men, male capacities and limitations, gender as destiny. Feeling against the Open Gate policy ran very strong, and it seemed that every time I watched the holo there was a woman talking grimly about the inherent violence and irresponsibility of the male, his biological unfitness to participate in social and political decision-making. Often it was a man saying the same things. Opposition to the new law had the fervent support of all the conservatives in the castles, who pleaded eloquently for the gates to be closed and men to return to their proper station, pursuing the true, masculine glory of the games and the fuckeries.

Glory did not tempt me, after the years at Rakedr Castle; the word itself had come to mean degradation to me. I ranted against the games and competitions, puzzling most of my family, who loved to watch the Maingames and wrestling, and complained only that the level of excellence of most of the teams had declined since the gates were opened. And I ranted against the fuckeries, where, I said, men were used as cattle, stud bulls, not as human beings. I would never go there again.

“But my dear boy,” my mother said at last, alone with me one evening, “will you live the rest of your life celibate?”

“I hope not,” I said.

“Then… ?”

“I want to get married.”

Her eyes widened. She brooded a bit, and finally ventured, “To a man.”

“No. To a woman. I want a normal, ordinary marriage. I want to have a wife and be a wife.”

Shocking as the idea was, she tried to absorb it. She pondered, frowning.

“All it means,” I said, for I had had a long time with nothing to do but ponder, “is that we’d live together just like any married pair. We’d set up our own daughterhouse, and be faithful to each other, and if she had a child I’d be its lovemother along with her. There isn’t any reason why it wouldn’t work!”

“Well, I don’t know — I don’t know of any,” said my mother, gentle and judicious, and never happy at saying no to me. “But you do have to find the woman, you know.”

“I know,” I said glumly.

“It’s such a problem for you to meet people,” she said. “Perhaps if you went to the fuckery… ? I don’t see why your own motherhouse couldn’t guarantee you just as well as a castle. We could try — ?”

But I passionately refused. Not being one of Fassaw’s sycophants, I had seldom been allowed to go to the fuckery; and my few experiences there had been unfortunate. Young, inexperienced, and without recommendation, I had been selected by older women who wanted a plaything. Their practiced skill at arousing me had left me humiliated and enraged. They patted and tipped me as they left. That elaborate, mechanical excitation and their condescending coldness were vile to me, after the tenderness of my lover-protectors in the Castle. Yet women attracted me physically as men never had; the beautiful bodies of my sisters and their wives, all around me constantly now, clothed and naked, innocent and sensual, the wonderful heaviness and strength and softness of women’s bodies, kept me continually aroused. Every night I masturbated, fantasizing my sisters in my arms. It was unendurable. Again I was a ghost, a raging, yearning impotence in the midst of untouchable reality.

I began to think I would have to go back to the Castle. I sank into a deep depression, an inertia, a chill darkness of the mind.

My family, anxious, affectionate, busy, had no idea what to do for me or with me. I think most of them thought in their hearts that it would be best if I went back through the gate.

One afternoon my sister Pado, with whom I had been closest as a child, came to my room — they had cleared out a dormer attic for me, so that I had room at least in the literal sense. She found me in my now constant lethargy, lying on the bed doing nothing at all. She breezed in, and with the indifference women often show to moods and signals, plumped down on the foot of the bed and said, “Hey, what do you know about the man who’s here from the Ekumen?”

I shrugged and shut my eyes. I had been having rape fantasies lately. I was afraid of her.

She talked on about the offworlder, who was apparently in Rakedr to study the Mutiny. “He wants to talk to the resistance,” she said. “Men like you. The men who opened the gates. He says they won’t come forward, as if they were ashamed of being heroes.”

“Heroes!” I said. The word in my language is gendered female. It refers to the semi-divine, semi-historic protagonists of the Epics.

“It’s what you are,” Pado said, intensity breaking through her assumed breeziness. “You took responsibility in a great act. Maybe you did it wrong. Sassume did it wrong in the Founding of Emmo, didn’t she, she let Faradr get killed. But she was still a hero. She took the responsibility. So did you. You ought to go talk to this Alien. Tell him what happened. Nobody really knows what happened at the Castle. You owe us the story.”

That was a powerful phrase, among my people. “The untold story mothers the lie,” was the saying. The doer of any notable act was held literally accountable for it to the community.

“So why should I tell it to an Alien?” I said, defensive of my inertia.

“Because he’ll listen,” my sister said dryly. “We’re all too damned busy.”

It was profoundly true. Pado had seen a gate for me and opened it; and I went through it, having just enough strength and sanity left to do so.

Mobile Noem was a man in his forties, born some centuries earlier on Terra, trained on Hain, widely traveled; a small, yellow-brown, quick-eyed person, very easy to talk to. He did not seem at all masculine to me, at first; I kept thinking he was a woman, because he acted like one. He got right to business, with none of the maneuvering to assert his authority or jockeying for position that men of my society felt obligatory in any relationship with another man. I was used to men being wary, indirect, and competitive. Noem, like a woman, was direct and receptive. He was also as subtle and powerful as any man or woman I had known, even Ragaz. His authority was in fact immense; but he never stood on it. He sat down on it, comfortably, and invited you to sit down with him.

I was the first of the Rakedr mutineers to come forward and tell our story to him. He recorded it, with my permission, to use in making his report to the Stabiles on the condition of our society, “the matter of Seggri,” as he called it. My first description of the Mutiny took less than an hour. I thought I was done. I didn’t know, then, the inexhaustible desire to learn, to understand, to hear all the story, that characterizes the Mobiles of the Ekumen. Noem asked questions, I answered; he speculated and extrapolated, I corrected; he wanted details, I furnished them — telling the story of the Mutiny, of the years before it, of the men of the Castle, of the women of the Town, of my people, of my life — little by little, bit by bit, all in fragments, a muddle. I talked to Noem daily for a month. I learned that the story has no beginning, and no story has an end. That the story is all muddle, all middle. That the story is never true, but that the lie is indeed a child of silence.

By the end of the month I had come to love and trust Noem, and of course to depend on him. Talking to him had become my reason for being. I tried to face the fact that he would not stay in Rakedr much longer. I must learn to do without him. Do what? There were things for men to do, ways for men to live, he proved it by his mere existence; but could I find them?

He was keenly aware of my situation, and would not let me withdraw, as I began to do, into the lethargy of fear again; he would not let me be silent. He asked me impossible questions. “What would you be if you could be anything?” he asked me, a question children ask each other.

I answered at once, passionately — “A wife!”

I know now what the flicker that crossed his face was. His quick, kind eyes watched me, looked away, looked back.

“I want my own family,” I said. “Not to live in my mothers’ house, where I’m always a child. Work. A wife, wives — children — to be a mother. I want life, not games!”

“You can’t bear a child,” he said gently.

“No, but I can mother one!”

“We gender the word,” he said. “I like it better your way… But tell me, Ardar, what are the chances of your marrying — meeting a woman willing to marry a man? It hasn’t happened, here, has it?”

I had to say no, not to my knowledge.

“It will happen, certainly, I think,” he said (his certainties were always uncertain). “But the personal cost, at first, is likely to be high. Relationships formed against the negative pressure of a society are under terrible strain; they tend to become defensive, over-intense, unpeaceful. They have no room to grow.”

“Room!” I said. And I tried to tell him my feeling of having no room in my world, no air to breathe.

He looked at me, scratching his nose; he laughed. “There’s plenty of room in the galaxy, you know,” he said.

“Do you mean… I could… That the Ekumen…” I didn’t even know what the question I wanted to ask was. Noem did. He began to answer it thoughtfully and in detail. My education so far had been so limited, even as regards the culture of my own people, that I would have to attend a college for at least two or three years, in order to be ready to apply to an offworld institution such as the Ekumenical Schools on Hain. Of course, he went on, where I went and what kind of training I chose would depend on my interests, which I would go to a college to discover, since neither my schooling as a child nor my training at the Castle had really given me any idea of what there was to be interested in. The choices offered me had been unbelievably limited, addressing neither the needs of a normally intelligent person nor the needs of my society. And so the Open Gate Law instead of giving me freedom had left me “with no air to breathe but airless Space,” said Noem, quoting some poet from some planet somewhere. My head was spinning, full of stars. “Hagka College is quite near Rakedr,” Noem said, “did you never think of applying? If only to escape from your terrible Castle?”

I shook my head. “Lord Fassaw always destroyed the application forms when they were sent to his office. If any of us had tried to apply… -”

“You would have been punished. Tortured, I suppose. Yes. Well, from the little I know of your colleges, I think your life there would be better than it is here, but not altogether pleasant. You will have work to do, a place to be; but you will be made to feel marginal, inferior. Even highly educated, enlightened women have difficulty accepting men as their intellectual equals. Believe me, I have experienced it myself! And because you were trained at the Castle to compete, to want to excel, you may find it hard to be among people who either believe you incapable of excellence, or to whom the concept of competition, of winning and defeating, is valueless. But just there, there is where you will find air to breathe.”

Noem recommended me to women he knew on the faculty of Hagka College, and I was enrolled on probation. My family were delighted to pay my tuition. I was the first of us to go to college, and they were genuinely proud of me.

As Noem had predicted, it was not always easy, but there were enough other men there that I found friends and was not caught in the paralyzing isolation of the motherhouse. And as I took courage, I made friends among the women students, finding many of them unprejudiced and companionable. In my third year, one of them and I managed, tentatively and warily, to fall in love. It did not work very well or last very long, yet it was a great liberation for both of us, our liberation from the belief that the only communication or commonality possible between us was sexual, that an adult man and woman had nothing to join them but their genitals. Emadr loathed the professionalism of the fuckery as I did, and our lovemaking was always shy and brief. Its true significance was not as a consummation of desire, but as proof that we could trust each other. Where our real passion broke loose was when we lay together talking, telling each other what our lives had been, how we felt about men and women and each other and ourselves, what our nightmares were, what our dreams were. We talked endlessly, in a communion that I will cherish and honor all my life, two young souls finding their wings, flying together, not for long, but high. The first flight is the highest.

Emadr has been dead two hundred years; she stayed on Seggri, married into a motherhouse, bore two children, taught at Hagka, and died in her seventies. I went to Hain, to the Ekumenical Schools, and later to Werel and Yeowe as part of the Mobile’s staff; my record is herewith enclosed. I have written this sketch of my life as part of my application to return to Seggri as a Mobile of the Ekumen. I want very much to live among my people, to learn who they are, now that I know with at least an uncertain certainty who I am.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s