Even in Ihrne, young men idle together about the street, but something so ordinary becomes even more complicated when Harper learns why Mama wishes him to befriend anyone but Nevolin ein Yinne.
He’s never understood why people treat attraction as so powerful, constant and all-encompassing that it must be indulged beyond rationality.
Setting: Marchverse, two years before the beginning of the war referenced in Their Courts of Crows. The Different in Other Ways stories introduce a brand-new set of characters and circumstances; readers don’t need any familiarity with my other works.
Getting to Be takes place some days after Men Bound by Blood but, due to change of narrator, can (probably) be read with no prior knowledge of the first three stories. Readers should note, however, that this piece isn’t a stand-alone. In other words: many questions are raised, few are answered.
Content Advisory: References to classism; references to misogyny, cissexism, and heterosexism; casual references to sex and sexual attraction; casual references to romance, kissing and dating; vague/veiled/non-specific references to self-harm; casual references to blood, death, necromancy and decomposition.
Length: 3, 101 words.
Is there any difference between the masks Harper wears as male server in a downwall tavern and wore as a female attendant in a noble house? He scowls at the bubbled piece of glass serving as a mirror, checking the dappling of colour across his jaw as best he can in the dim light. Six months ago, he smoothed spots, lengthened lashes and brightened lips, for noble employers display wealth by hiring for skill and beauty alike. Today, he conceals scale, thickens eyebrows and paints shadow, for Boneyard folks think masculinity defined by a singular type of body. Woman or man, Harper’s skin vanishes beneath powder and artistry; man or woman, he dons a world-required mask.
Try as he might otherwise, he still obliges expectation to gain precarious existence.
He sighs, dabbing at his nose with a scrap of cheesecloth. Paint shouldn’t make him less a man, even though downwall men scorn artifice as feminine and Harper loathes its necessity. Not when, on the other side of the wall, men employ scores of attendants and tailors to transform their raw humanity into polished nobility! Why strive to justify his manhood when Ihrne can’t release gender from power and domination? Why scry for rationality when oceans unfathomable divide people by more than a single wall? Why feel misgendered by his own skill?
Such logic fails to ease him, not when every bone in his body knows that powder, clothes and bindings should be a choice. Expression, not obligation.
Mama’s stories, after all, promised freedom.
“Damn you,” he whispers, more at his own thoughts than at Ihrne. Enough! He stows the mirror and pots of colour in his chest, clicking it shut before returning the cord-threaded key to its hiding place beneath his shirt. Now, his room reveals only a bed, a side-turned crate as a table for the unfashionable chest so-graciously gifted by his former employer, a cardboard box for stockings and underclothes, a collection of glass jars housing pungent unguents, and an assortment of wall-hammered nails bearing shirts, caps and neckcloths. Now, his room shows nothing for another man to take askance … as if he’ll ever invite someone here to look!
Such a small, simple thing.
Snorting at his self-pitying foolishness, he squeezes between the bed and the crate, grabs his satchel from the floor and studies the section of wall housing his neckcloths. Dull blues or greys are always safest, but he reaches for one of his favourites: a bright, verdant green. If must disguise and contort his body to match other people’s sense of masculinity, he’s going to wear colours. Harper may be a man, but he won’t surrender himself to boring.
If he admits that he enjoys Nevo’s appreciative stares at his clothes, what of it?