Genderpunk 2077: Four

Underview Station is nothing like Cumulo Station. Whereas Cumulo Station is the commercial center of its district, the area around Underview Station is pretty dead, awash with empty storefronts. Even the Social Services office, a legally required fixture in every district, has been shuttered for years. The only similarity between the Underview Plaza and Cumulo Plaza was the Astral Orthodox Church; they actually operated a branch in every district, and they made sure to keep them all open. Because stars forbid anyone forget their overbearing presence.

Whenever you saw gray districts in fiction, it was always in scenes like this: empty storefronts, boarded up windows. Sometimes the sound of Social Services sirens drifting in from afar. Everyone was dirty and dressed in gray (because they were ungendered, you see) and the (always gendered) protagonist had to make their way through this lawless wasteland, usually to find someone hiding out there for whatever reason.

In reality, Underview was a lot like Cumulo. Sure, people here didn’t have as many shields to go around, and the area around the station was pretty bare. But Underview station isn’t built up like Cumulo’s because outsiders don’t come to this district, and the residents don’t have anywhere else to go. The district still had a sort of “center”, it just wasn’t the train station.

As soon as my feet touched the street they instinctively started to carry me towards the Market. Gray markets showed up in fiction too: dangerous, cutthroat places where you could buy anything if you knew who and how to ask. That story… Wasn’t entirely made up, if I’m honest. Not the cutthroat part; the danger of simply existing in a gray district was always greatly exaggerated in fiction. Still, the law was somewhat thin here, so certain less-than-legal enterprises did exist. That said, unless you were interested in them, they weren’t interested in you.

The first thing anyone noticed about the Market was the rainbow of colors on display. Whereas everything in Cumulo was painted in shades of purple and white, the ungendered had no ties to any particular gender presentation beyond that which ne took for nemselves, so ne dressed nemselves in whatever colors ne liked. Market stalls and signs were likewise done up in bright, flashy colors to attract eyes, and hopefully interest.

I didn’t have the time or desire to shop around though. My stomach was quick to remind me that we were here to eat, and I had just the place in mind, assuming it was still there. Though why wouldn’t it still be there? I’d only left Underview three months prior. It felt like a lifetime ago, like the naive nil who took the train out of Underview twelve weeks past bore no resemblance to the one standing at the entrance to the Underview Market now. If I can’t get the shields to pay this debt today… Well, I’ll be a completely different person yet again, one that felt just as foreign to me.

Shaking my head clear, I stepped into the Market. The stall keepers near the entrance immediately took notice of me, but none of them spent much effort trying to get my attention. They knew they’d be wasting their time; after years of experience living in Underview, I knew how to carry myself in a way that deterred unwanted attention (all attention in my case). In fiction, the protagonist always stands out in markets; the only person dressed in color among a sea of gray. They’d be made to fight through scams and shifty shopkeepers, since those scenes were always used as an excuse to show off how clever they are… Or an excuse to show how much better they are than the ungendered people around them.

Hah, I’d like to see one of those protagonists in this market. They’d be absolutely bewildered by the smattering of color swirling around them. They’d still stand out, but it wouldn’t be as simple as “spot the color”; it’d be more like “spot the confused idiot who thought they knew everything about gray districts.” That at least was true; visitors were pretty easy to spot for anyone who knew what to look for. You look for their confused expressions, or the glassy look in their eyes, or the way they’d walk around slowly and aimlessly. You look for people who, despite dressing in whatever they want like everyone else here, still manage to look completely out of place… Like that wave over there.

The wave was leaving against a wall, looking like mey were trying to blend into it. It wasn’t a bad effort; the wall featured an abstract mural and the blue clothing mey was wearing blended in somewhat. Still, mey still stood out to anyone who took more than a glance at mer, and not just because of the blue animal ears mey were wearing. Mey didn’t look like a determined fiction protagonist; instead mer expression betrayed feelings of anxiety and shock.

Mey were none of my business, but my body must have thought otherwise because I soon found myself standing near mer. I was busy, I didn’t have time for distractions like this, I needed to get food…

“Are you okay?” I said against my will, my better judgment conspiring against me.

“Huh?” The wave jumped with a start. It took mer a moment before mer eyes focused on me. “Oh sorry, I’m not…” mey trailed off, mer eyes going glassy again.

“It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you,” I said, trying to reassure mer. “You just look lost; like you could use a hand.”

“Oh,” mey replied, defeated. “Yeah, I guess… I’m lost.” Mey looked exhausted, as if mey wanted to collapse but adrenaline would let mer.

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know,” mey admitted. “I was trying to meet someone in this district, but I couldn’t find them. I got turned around and now I don’t know where I am.” Wait, what was mey saying?

“Are you sure this was where they said they’d be?” I couldn’t get past the idea that someone worth traveling to meet would be in Underview. It had to be some sort of mistake.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” mey confirmed. “But now I’m tired and hungry and I just want to go home.” Mey looked like mey were going to break down in tears. “Do you know how to get to the station from here?”

I sighed internally. Was I really going to go out of my way to help this wave? Mer story was none of my business. But I knew what it was like to be stuck here against your will, and even though this wave had likely only been here hours and not years, I still felt for mer. Besides, I had the marks to buy food for both of us, and it’s not like I’ll be able to spend them after today anyways.

“Look,” I started apologetically, “I’m really hungry too… I came to the Market to get some food. I can get us both a meal if you want, and when we’re finished, I’ll walk you to the station.”

The wave’s eyes grew wide with hopeful surprise. “You’d do that? So you like, live here or something?”

“No, I…” I answered evasively, stopping myself from elaborating further. “It’s complicated. But yeah, I can help.”

“Okay, if you’re sure,” mey said, eager to accept my generosity. “What’s your name, by the way? I’m Tide.”

Ugh, what an aggressively gendered name. “Spica.”

“Oh, like the star!”

“Yes, like the star,” I answered mechanically. “Come on, let’s go get something to eat.”

A note on gender expression in Genderpunk 2077

Gender expression in Sidereal City is fairly strict. While not technically enforced by law, social custom is strong enough among gendered individuals that a person presenting their gender inauthentically (e.g. an Aries presenting as a Pisces) is considered extremely disingenuous and disrespectful. As such, people nearly always wear clothing associated with their gender, or rather, their element: clothing is divided by element, whereas individuals wishing to represent their precise gender might wear a pin, necklace, bracelet, or other accessory with their gender’s symbol on it.

Decades ago, differently gendered clothing might have featured different cuts, show off more or less skin, or consist of different articles entirely. Since gender is now assigned by government’s test, all twelve genders include individuals of varying sizes and body types. Thus, people tend to wear shirts, pants, skirts, dresses, or other clothes as per their desire and fit. Instead, a person’s element (and by extension their gender) is expressed primarily by the colors used in their clothes:

Fire: Red and orange
Earth: Green
Wind: Purple
Water: Blue
Ungendered: Gray

The element colors are used far beyond clothing. In particular, buildings are often painted in element colors to indicate the genders of people welcome there. This is most prominent in residential districts, which are typically restricted to residents of a single element. In those districts, nearly all buildings are painted with the colors associated with their element, and many of the things sold there are often similarly colored. Ungendered individuals tend to be an exception to this social rule, as they have no gender to authentically present. They often wear whatever colors they like, and buildings in gray districts are likewise painted in whatever color the occupant wants. Gray districts are not so named for the color of their buildings, but for the color of its residents’ genders (or rather, the lack thereof).