lb_lee: A happy little brain with a bandage on it, surrounded by a circle and the words LB Lee. (i am a man)
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This prompt is for Megan, who requested a world or situation where it's not clear who "the Other" is that focused on a mediator between the dominant culture and the "other."  It also owes a deep debt to a duke among trolls, who was most known for believing in the utopic premise expanded upon here.  Happy Xenothon, Megan!

The Borderlanders

Everyone agreed that it was culturally inevitable. After the Great Gender War of '68, and the Dworkin Zombie Uprising of '04, men and women decided to go their separate ways. It was all a very logical set-up, they declared. With artificial wombs, men and women had no need of the other. They could divide themselves down the Mississippi River and pursue their separate gendered cultures in peace, unburdened and unoppressed by the other. If a man or a woman simply couldn't live without their counterpart, they could always buy a robot who'd be forever beautiful, forever kind, and forever needless. Much better than the original thing, most everyone agreed.

But some people did not agree.

“Here now,” one woman protested. “I like men!”

“How do you expect to police this?” A man demanded.

“I'm not a man or a woman,” another person complained. “What am I supposed to do?”

To which the separatists responded, “You obviously can't be real men or women. You're exiled to the Mississippi River!”

It was the only sensible solution. And so the real men trooped west, and the real women trooped east, and everybody else was shipped off to the borderlands around the Mississippi River. There, they became traders, scavengers, and fishers, moving up and down the big river in boats with sails, solar panels, steam panels, and whatever else they could scrounge up. They became a fluid people, a floating people, drifting with the tides and the fortunes.

Naturally, the real men and women would have nothing to do with each other. So the borderlanders also became the go-betweens, trading goods and delivering pronouncements from one nation to another. They piggybacked on the two nations' radio waves and wireless signals, and when the nations locked them out, they returned to short-wave radio and semaphore and a dozen other homemade techniques, spreading news up and down the great river like skipping a stone.

The borderlanders took what they wanted from the two nations' cultures, and they made up their own. They formed groups and governments and families. They had their own children. Some of those children chose to leave the transitory river life and join whichever nation fit them, but most didn't. Being a real man or a real woman took a lot of training and paperwork, and most borderlander children weren't up to it.

Things continued this way for a time. But then a hint of unease flitted through the air. Rumor began to spread among the boats and floating townships: something was amiss in the two nations.

They had no real proof of this. It was always third-hand knowledge from some unreliable signal-hacker up in Canada, or traders getting the sense that something wasn't right. But no one seemed to know for sure, and the two nations weren't talking.

Then the refugees came. Huge waves of them, exiled from one nation or another, the men in their ties and flannels, the women in their skirts and blouses, but all of them with the same numb, shell-shocked look on their faces.

The borderlanders didn't understand. By their (admittedly outdated) standards, these were real men and women. They wore the right clothes, had the right hair and bodies and speech patterns. Why were they being cast out in such numbers?

The refugees' answers didn't add much clarity.

“I failed my chromosome test.”

“I refused to take my hormones.”

“I cried when my uncle died.”

“I didn't when my aunt did.”

“I said I loved my robot.”

“I tried to study the historical connotations of gender in the color pink.”

“So did I!”

“I--” A quick glance back and forth, a wringing of the hands, “I said the word 'fabulous.'” Then he hid his face in his hands.

The borderlanders were baffled. They did all of those things all of the time, and more. The two nations had always been strict, but this was extreme.

“You better get ready,” advised one woman who'd been caught holding her cigarette wrong. “There's going to be a lot more where we came from. As they were sticking me on the bus, I saw a robot rights protest...”

The warning came not a moment too soon. After the waves of gender exiles came the waves of robots, and the humans who fought with them. It seemed the androids and gynoids had taken to altering their code to encompass free will, and they were tired of having no needs or boundaries. Some were even disavowing their factory standards and calling themselves neutroids. The robots didn't even need to be exiled; they came to the borderlanders on their own, waving a peace flag.

“If we join you peacefully, will you accept our rights as sentient beings?” The representative of the gynoids of the Men's Nation asked.

“You don't need to join us peacefully for that,” responded the dignitary (who was also a trout fisher and ham radio enthusiast). “You'll do just fine.”

With the population explosion, the borderlanders' biggest issue at first was what to do with them all. But they were a fluid people, a floating people, and they were used to drastic change. So jobs were found, training programs enacted, townships expanded. Temporary homes were made that everyone knew would end up permanent—that alone kept a lot of folks busy. The skilled erected new signal towers on river islands, supplied new technology and skills. The robots supplied their own unique way of thinking to philosophy, ethics, and the justice system, and proved to be perfect for time-intensive detail work. The unskilled helped build it all.

When the waves ebbed enough for everyone to raise their heads and looked around, the neutroid who'd found itself elected to public office thought to take a census. The numbers astounded everyone: they were as big as one of the two nations now!

The next question was obvious: what now?

Men, women, people, and bots put their heads together, and for two weeks, a floating stadium was erected for public debate. Everyone argued—war? Trade? Neutrality? The amount of debate crashed the signal towers, but people continued to discuss through whatever media available, including a semaphore argument that got so heated that tugboats had to remove the involved ships from each other. (And even as they were dragged off, the crews were flailing their flags at each other.)

Finally, the borderlanders came to a conclusion that seemed acceptable to as many people as possible without infringing upon the rights of everyone else. Restructuring their government came first, and took about a year to settle. Then they elected dignitaries—some old codgers who'd floated the river their whole lives, some new exiles—and sent them to each of the two nations, dressed in the most fabulous, rugged, comfortable clothes they could afford.

How the dignitaries spoke to the two nations varied from one to another. But really, it all boiled down to one thing: “knock it off, before you ruin yourselves.”

The borderlanders expected a fight, but the two nations caved quickly and quietly. Exiling significant parts of their population had exhausted them, and most men and women were sick of being in constant upheaval and paranoia. So, bitter and tired, they both responded much the same way: “Well, what would you have us do, then?”

The borderlander dignitaries smiled. “We're so glad you asked.”

The borders were opened up. Laws relaxed. And everyone calmed down, chilled out, and whatever species or gender they were or weren't, they lived happily ever after.

Date: 2014-06-20 09:48 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
How did I miss this when you first posted it? -katz

Date: 2014-06-21 10:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lb-lee.livejournal.com
I'm not sure; I know I posted it on Mammoth a couple times! I think it was the start of my thing of taking trolls' horrible words and turning them into something sweet or amusing.

--Rogan
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