"What the Words Would Have Been"
The people of Tiresia were born
neither male nor female,
and most of them transformed
at puberty, one way or the other.
There were a few shapeshifters
who could go back and forth,
but even they had a preference,
so they tended to pick one
and stick with it.
For those who did not change
with the passage of time alone,
there was the passage through
the Hermes Gate instead.
It was said that the jumpgate
could somehow read your spirit
to see what your body should be
and would give you the form
that you were meant to wear.
Milan was happy until the teen years
brought a never-ending spate of questions.
"Are you changing yet? Have you changed?
What gender do you want to be?"
The problem was that neither fit.
The people wouldn't shut up, though,
so Milan took to teasing them.
"My gender is cactus," said Milan.
"That's ridiculous," everyone said.
"You're a person, not a plant."
"My gender is anemone.
My gender is forum.
Of course they're ridiculous,"
said Milan. "They're as wrong
as masculine or feminine."
For everyone else,
it seemed to be easy,
guessing who they would be --
and they were rarely wrong.
For Milan it was difficult even to talk about,
hard to imagine what the words would have been
when they didn't exist in the first place.
What do you call yourself when
you're not a child anymore,
but your gender is still, "Umm ...?"
Milan was more interested in being awesome
than in being any particular gender, too.
So when the time came that Milan's relatives
insisted on a trip to the Hermes Gate,
Milan grumbled but went along --
for this was the path to adulthood, and
it wasn't as if gender mattered that much,
so whatever it wound up being
would have to suffice.
Milan felt a little sorry for the poor jumpgate, though,
about to get someone else's dirty laundry
dumped through the hoop.
As it turned out, the Hermes Gate
had seen it all before.
The impression of that was very distinct.
Milan had not expected the transit
to feel so appealing.
It was like the time
they'd all gone swimming
in a hot spring that bubbled
and fizzed all around them.
Something inside Milan settled then,
went still and quiet instead of sliding around,
in a way that felt strange and new,
surprisingly comfortable and complete.
There was no need to give up anything
in order to get anything else.
There were no big boobs
to declare her a woman.
There was no big dick
to declare him a man.
There was, in fact,
no outward change at all
in Milan's androgynous body.
"This is me," said Milan,
"and what makes me a me
In the face of that,
even the relatives could do
nothing but throw up their hands
and mutter that surely the Hermes Gate
must know what it was doing
since it always had.
Milan smiled a secret smile
and said nothing about
the jumpgate's silent opinion
of a teenager who didn't feel
drawn to become either
a man or a woman, who was
neither and both altogether.
It was just a feeling,
instead of actual words,
but this time, Milan knew
what the words would have been:
Well, what do you think *I* am?
* * *
The name Tiresia comes from the story of Tiresias.
Hermes is a messenger god and the father of Hermaphroditus.
Sex and gender come in many more variations than the common masculine/male and feminine/female. (Sex is biological, gender is sociological, but they interrelate so some people conflate them.) Androgyny spans a range of mixing or omitting sex/gender traits. A hermaphrodite has both male and female sexual organs, or in some species, the capacity to develop as either male or female (and sometimes even switch). Agender can refer to a neutral gender or to identifying with no gender at all.
Plenty of plants and animals use asexual reproduction., including some cacti and anemones.
Latin has masculine, feminine, and neuter words. Forum is a neuter noun.
People often debate what makes someone a man or a woman. While sex organs are not the only traits that matter, they do leap readily to mind when the question comes up; most women feel uncomfortable without a vagina and breasts, as most men feel uncomfortable without a penis and testicles (or facsimiles thereof if natural ones are unavailable). Just as transfolk often desire to change their bodies to match their identity, so too cis people want their parts reconstructed if lost or damaged. But for genderless or gender-neutral people, they may want a combination of sexual characteristics, or none at all, or just not care. As you can see from the linked discussion, gender identity interacts with body in many different ways!
In this setting, the jumpgates do not have the human concept of masculine/male feminine/female identity. A few of them can perceive it, though, and assist with alignment if there is a problem.