Sometimes, Internet comments just beg to be made into short stories. Here is one such comment.
“There’s my special one!” Mother says as I enter the kitchen. “What would you like for breakfast this morning? Eggs? Bacon? Pancakes? Oatmeal? Toast?”
“Some toast, I guess,” I say, mostly to make her stop listing foods than anything. My stomach lurches at the thought of each of them.
I take a seat at the kitchen table, next to my little brother. “Hey, kid,” I say to him by way of greeting.
“Shut up,” he says, and goes back to stuffing cereal in his mouth.
“Now,” Mother says, handing me a glass of orange juice. “That’s not very nice.”
“Don’t care,” my brother says. “Don’t wanna go to the stupid shrine today.”
Mother tsks at him as she pops a couple of pieces of bread into the toaster. “This is the biggest day in Blake’s life so far. The least you could do is show some respect. Blake will be taking you to the shrine for the Identity Ceremony before you know it.”
“Don’t care,” my brother says again.
Mother sighs and turns back to the toaster, which is making an odd whistling noise.
“We don’t have to take you all the way to the shrine,” I tell my brother, to twit him. Getting him riled up seems like a good distraction from the roiling in my stomach. “We can drop you off at the Gestation Center and get them to switch you for another kid. One who actually cares about stuff.”
“Go ahead,” my little brother says, defiantly. “This family is stupid.”
I look up at Mother, expecting her to say something about this, but she’s buttering the toast and doesn’t seem to hear us.
I’d like to drop him off at the Gestation Center, I think, picturing the huge blue building in my mind, the way it looks as we pass it every day on the way to school. There are actually two Gestation Centers in the city, the same way there are in every city now. The blue building clones humans with XY chromosomes; the pink building, XX.
When I was about my brother’s age and my parents had just brought him home from the Gestation Center, I asked my mother why the building was blue. The building and everything that came out of it: my brother had been sent home with a blue blanket, blue clothing, blue diapers and bottles of shampoo, and even a blue stuffed animal.
“It’s so people know that he’s an XY,” my mother said.
This made very little sense to me. “He’s color-coded so people know which chromosomes he has? Why does it matter?”
“It matters a great deal.” She patted the couch beside her, where she was sitting and rocking the sour-milk bundle that was my new sibling. “Sit down. You’re old enough to know now where babies come from.”
“Once,” my mother said, “long ago, before your grandparents were born, humans had an extra set of organs that they don’t have today. These were called genitalia. Their purpose was to make babies.”
“How?” I asked. I had a vague mental image of humans hooking up these organs – whatever they were – to incubators like the ones I had seen in the Gestation Center, the way that cows were hooked to automatic milking machines.
“No one really knows,” my mother said. “What we do know is that, in addition to making babies, these organs bestowed people’s identities upon them. There were two main sets that doctors looked for when a baby was born, and the baby was color-coded according to which set of genitals they had.”
“Did the genitals match their chromosomes?” I asked.
“Sometimes,” my mother said, “but not always. A lot of babies with XY chromosomes had one set of the organs, and a lot of babies with XX chromosomes had the other set. But this wasn’t always the case. Rather than do genetic testing, which was much more expensive and difficult in those days, doctors simply color-coded babies based on what they could see between the babies’ legs.”
Now, of course, I know more. I know what happened to babies whose organs didn’t look like what the doctors were expecting to see. I also know what happens to babies today who have more than two identity chromosomes. Neither outcome is pretty.
Back then, though, I just asked “What happened to those organs?”
“A long time ago, humans were much more violent and confused,” my mother said, “and they blamed the organs for a great deal of their misbehavior. So they found a way to get rid of them, and to make humans directly from the cells of other humans. That’s why we have Gestation Centers today.”
“What did the organs look like?” I asked.
My mother switched my sleeping brother to her other arm. “They’re hard to describe,” she said. “I’ve only seen them once. But in a few years, you’ll be old enough to see for yourself. Do you know what the Identity Ceremony is?”
I scrunched up my face. One of my friends at school had been talking about it: her sister had recently gone through the Identity Ceremony, and was now telling anyone who would ask that she was a Straight. I had no idea what it meant.
“Not really,” I said.
“There are two genitals,” my mother said. “Just two left, in the entire world. They’re kept at the Holiest Shrine, in a special room. When you are twelve years old, you’ll enter that room and see them. The genitals you find yourself attracted to determine your identity. The priests will explain it all when you get there.”
I shrugged. I was only six years old. I’d have to live another whole lifetime before the Identity Ceremony. It seemed impossibly far off.
Now, of course, it’s here.
I try to eat the toast Mother hands me, but even with the generous amount of butter she has slathered over it, it’s like trying to eat sandpaper. I manage about half of one piece.
At six years old, none of this seemed to matter. Today, I’m terrified. What is my identity going to be? Who am I? Will I be able to hang out with my friends if we’re all different identities? What’s going to happen?
I struggle into my coat and follow Mother and my little brother out of the house and down the street to the hover platform. On the way to the shrine, I look at the other people in the transport car, wondering what their identities are.
I wonder about the whole thing, really. Identity is a very personal subject, and the source of a lot of speculation and gossip. It’s considered very rude to ask about another person’s identity – and, perversely, much less rude simply to assume that everyone is a Straight. The Straights are, by far, the loudest about their identity, though I can’t tell if there are actually more Straights than everyone else, or if they just make the most noise about it.
“We’re here,” Mother says. Her voice shakes me out of my reverie.
I follow her and my brother out of the transport car and onto the platform. You can tell how much money the shrine has by the way that it has an entire transport stop all to itself, right on the edge of the city block the building fills.
My hands are clammy, and I don’t know what to expect. For weeks, visions of some kind of arcane ceremony, with robed priests and some kind of ceremonial bath or incense and background chanting have filled much of my waking moments and many of my dreams as well. But if I’m expecting, or even hoping, for any of that, my hopes are disappointed.
Our tickets for the Identity Ceremony are taken by a gruff-looking priest wearing a blue robe.
“That way,” the priest mutters, jerking a thumb toward a small door, half pink and half blue, that I have never noticed before. Except for the robe, I’d never be able to guess which chromosomes the priest had.
Mother steers me gently to the door. There’s a line of parents there, all of whom are accompanying a child who looks to be about my age. Some of them have brought entire families.
“What’s going to happen?” I ask Mother.
“We’re going to go through that door,” she says, “and you’re going to walk straight down the hallway with the others. I’m going to go through a door on the right with your brother, and I’ll meet you at the end of the hallway.”
This doesn’t sound promising, but I swallow hard and nod.
The hallway is dark, and filled with shuffling feet and the sound of chattering kids. Mother smiles at me and walks through the door to the right with the other parents and kids who are here for a sibling’s Identity Ceremony.
I follow the others straight down the hallway. After about ten feet, the room opens off to our left. There’s an altar there, softly lit by electric versions of candles. I’ve never seen a real candle, only pictures, but these do a good job of convincing me they’re made of real fire.
On the altar are two jars. Floating in each jar is a discolored mass of…what?
I stare. These both look like some kind of organic matter, maybe something that came off a human body, but for the life of me, I can’t tell what they’re supposed to be. If Mother had not mentioned that the genitals used to be between the legs, I could never have begun to guess what part of the body they were supposed to attach to. Even now, I can’t make heads or tails of them.
The line presses in on my left, and I continue walking.
As I exit the hallway, my mother and brother reappear by my side, in the crowd. “Well?” my mother asks.
“I don’t get it,” I say.
A slight frown creases her forehead, but she smiles a moment later. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, they don’t make any sense. They’re just…specimen jars,” I said.
“Which one were you attracted to?” my mother asks.
This question makes even less sense than the spectacle I just saw. “Attracted?”
“The one you are attracted to determines your Identity,” my mother says. “Straights are attracted to the one that less commonly accompanied their chromosome designation. Gays are attracted to the one that was more commonly possessed by those with their chromosomes. And Bis are attracted to both.”
I shrug. “Neither, I guess.”
Mother’s frown deepens. She lets go of my brother’s hand and takes me by the shoulders.
“I need you to think very carefully,” she says. “Are you sure you don’t feel any kind of attraction to either of them? At all?”
I think hard, but there’s nothing. Just a vague sense of curious revulsion.
I shake my head. “Not really.”
“Oh dear.” Mother lets go of my shoulders and straightens, glancing about the room as if afraid someone has just heard what I said. “Oh dear. Oh dear.”
“Why does it matter?” I ask. “It’s not like I can do anything about it. None of us can.” I wave a hand in the direction of the space between my legs. I’m built there just like every other human: smooth, featureless, except for a single hole for waste elimination.
“It matters,” she says, and her voice is so low I can barely hear her, “because it means you don’t have an identity. And without an identity, you don’t exist.”
“Oh,” I say, and disappear in a puff of binary logic.