Genderpunk 2077: Five

“Oh wow, this looks really good! Who’d have thought you could get food like this here?!”

I sighed internally again. You’d think Tide had never been in a restaurant before, but of course mey had, just not in a gray district. It wasn’t a cheap meal either; this all cost me 68 marks… But it wasn’t as if I could spend those marks on my debt, so what did it matter?

“You watched me order off the menu,” I answered incredulously. “What did you think they’d bring?”

“I don’t know,” Tide admitted. “Greasy street food, or something. I guess I didn’t think about it.”

Gendered people never thought about gray districts. They’d get inaccurate, unflattering, and wrong ideas from news or fiction and left it at that, not bothering to learn the truth. Usually I’d see that version of gray districts in a video on my phone or read about it in some article, but sitting here with a person who actually believed things like that made the experience harder to dismiss. It honestly made me a little upset.

It was ironic, wasn’t it? I hated Underview when I lived here. I spent years trying to find a way out, and when I finally did, I swore to myself that I’d never go back. I wanted to leave that part of my past behind forever… And yet I still get defensive about how gendered people see this place. Why couldn’t my brain make up ner mind?

I took a big bite of my food and tried to chew my feelings away. It was a good meal, and I didn’t want to spend it in a foul mood. I’ll bet I could distract myself from this rumination with a little help.

“Why Underview?” I asked suddenly.

Tide stopped to look up at me. “Hm?”

“Why come here to Underview? Outsiders never come here without a reason. Do you have relatives here or…”

“Oh!” mey answered excitedly. “I heard that Vixx was working on a secret project, and Comet said se saw Vixx here, so I came to see them!”

“Sorry, vicks?” I asked.

“Yeah, Vixx!” I had no idea what mey were talking about. “You know, Vixx? Or like, He/She/They? Twisted Constellation?”

I blinked vacantly, confused.

“Gracious stars!” Tide exclaimed, shocked. “Have you never heard of Genderpunk!? What do you listen to?”

Genderpunk? I guess these were all musical acts. “I don’t really have time for music.”

Tide looked heartbroken. “Oh no, I’m so sorry! Music is my everything. The first time I heard Vixx it changed my life,” she said wistfully.

“So Vicks is a band?” I said, trying to catch up.

“Vixx is a person,” Tide answered. “V-I-double X. Like ‘vixen.’”

“Like a fox?”

“Yeah! That’s why vixxens… That’s us, their fans, vixxen with two x’s… That’s why we wear these ears.”

“And you like Vixx’s music enough to follow a rumor of them into a gray district,” I surmised.

“I like their message, not just their music,” Tide corrected. “But yeah, I guess I do. And then I got turned around and… I guess that’s where you found me.”

Something was bothering me about Tide’s story, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. “And you couldn’t find your way back to station? Is your phone’s map not working?”

A look of surprise washed over Tide’s face, giving way to embarrassment. “Oh I… I forgot about the map,” mey admitted. I was trying to figure out where Vixx was based on what Comet had posted. I wasn’t using the map for that, and I got really overwhelmed by the Market, so it just kind of… Slipped my mind. I’m really sorry.”

“It’s fine,” I said absently. It wasn’t really; I sort of felt used, but it didn’t feel like Tide tricked me on purpose. I took a few more bites of my meal, and my dining companion was still eating, albeit a little more slowly. Mey must have been pretty hungry.

Suddenly I realized what was bothering me about Vixx… Neutral pronouns. “Hey Tide, I’m confused about something. You said Vixx was one person, but you keep saying ‘they,’ like you’re talking about a group.”

“Right, Vixx is Genderpunk,” mey answered.

“I thought Genderpunk was music?” I questioned, trying to catch up.

“Oh yeah, you wouldn’t know. Genderpunk is a way of life,” Tide explained. “Being Genderpunk is understanding that gender is just a label. Aries, Leo, Virgo, they’re just words. What matters is how you feel in your heart.”

That sounded like privileged gendered bullshit. “What about licenses?” I retorted. “You can’t just say you’re a Virgo and get an apartment in an earth district. They’d kick you right out.”

“The government would figure out some other way to oppress people, I’m sure,” mey dismissed. “I’m talking about who you are as a person. Your gender is supposed to be an expression of your entire self. I was gendered when I was thirteen years old, Spica. Are you trying to tell me that the government has some way to know who I was going to be for my entire life? At thirteen years old?”

“They have that test,” I offered.

“I listened to Sparklepop at thirteen,” Tide responded, disgusted. “Sparklepop.

My vacant expression must have told Tide that mey weren’t really getting through to me. “Listen,” mey continued. “You’re what, an Aquarius?”

My breath caught as soon as the word Aquarius touched my ears. I’d often thought that if I’d had a chance to be gendered, I’d be an Aquarius. I had the personality for it, and I’ll bet I’d make a great artist, or whatever other Aquarius job I could find. But I was never gendered, and I didn’t have the licenses to try anything like that… So I took a chance on the first opportunity that seemed to meet my needs.

“Gemini,” I answered vacantly, pretending my single provisional license was enough to claim an entire gender.

Tide must not have noticed that I spaced out for a bit, because mey plowed ahead. “Gemini, sorry. I’m a Cancer. But if I’m being honest with myself…” Mer voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “I feel like I’m really a Scorpio.”

There was a world of difference between Tide and I. Mey had a full set of licenses, and I doubt mey could even conceive of the difficulty I had with day-to-day life. Even though mer Genderpunk ideology seemed to lack any consideration for the ungendered (naturally), I still felt for Tide. Mey were stuck in the wrong gender too, and mey couldn’t get tested for a new one any more than I could.

“So Vixx wants to be another gender too?” I imagined their music would be some pretty sad stuff.

“No!” Tide’s face lit up like an advertisement at night. “Vixx refuses government gender completely! Their songs are all about tearing down the system, being any gender you want, or even every gender at once! Their act is in your face, and they wear every color at once, and their shows are incredible!”

Now that sounded like privileged gendered bullshit. They “refused government gender,” but I’ll bet they still used their licenses all the time. I guess that was the difference between Vixx and I. Vixx rejected gender, whereas gender rejected me.

Tide calmed merself down as mey finished mer explanation. “Anyway, that’s why Vixx uses they/them pronouns. You ought to listen to their music, it’s really good!”

“I’ll look into it,” I answered noncommittally. The rest of the meal slipped by uneventfully, and I was content with feeling full—it was the first time in a while that I’d actually had a proper meal. I was still facing down a load of debt I somehow had to deal with, but at least this meal and Tide’s company let me feel like a person for a little bit instead of like a corporate machine.

“I need to pay you back somehow,” Tide said as I was walking mer to Underview Station.

“It’s no problem, really,” I answered. I even felt sincere about that statement, which surprised me.

“It is a problem,” mey insisted. “Vixxens look out for each other. Hey, that’s it! I can get you into the Den!”

“The what?” I answered, confused again.

“Vixxen’s Den,” mey repeated, pulling out mer phone. “It’s a Circle for fans of Vixx. Maybe someone there can help you the way you helped me.”

“You really don’t have to…” I protested, but mey waved that away dismissively.

“It’s no problem! I just sent you an invite,” Tide insisted. “Check it out when you get the chance! Thanks again for everything, Spica!”

Tide wrapped mer arms around me in an enthusiastic hug. I tried to return mer hug, but it was an awkward effort at best. Then, without another word, mey ran off into the station. What a strange wave.

A note on the politics of Genderpunk 2077

By 2077, neoliberal ideology has cemented its hold as the dominant political framework in Sidereal City. Every aspect of life is controlled by public/private partnerships, where the government has delegated power to one or more major corporations. In turn, the corps act as custodians, gatekeepers, landlords, and arbiters, all in one. Government representatives hold legal power and influence while passing all accountability to the corporation, and corporations extract profit from everybody while making unilateral decisions and deflecting accountability back to the government.

In situations where the government won’t or can’t cede responsibility, the situation is handled by the Social Services office. In the past there were many different departments and organizations that handled social welfare, but repeated waves of austerity and consolidation shuttered one department after another. Every time a social program was shut down, responsibility for managing that function was transferred to an ever-expanding police, until at some point the organization rebranded as Social Services and became the entire executive arm of city government. Social Services officers might be assigned to one division or another, but all are armed with lethal weapons and all of them have the authority to arrest noncompliant individuals. As a result, marginalized individuals (such as ungendered people) tend to avoid interacting with them as much as possible.