WARNING: This poem contains some touchy topics. Highlight to read the more detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. The Northerners are very tolerant of recreational sex, but for survival reasons, very concerned about reproductive sex. The usual relationship dynamic is heterosexual serial monogamy, and in practice, most of the queer couples follow the same pattern. The beads on a woman's necklace indicate her current partner for the month, so they can track genetics. In order to maintain the population, or more accurately, to lose ground less quickly, there's a lot of pressure on people to reproduce if they can. That's hard on the ones who can't, although if they make an honest attempt, eventually the Elders and/or healers will quietly declare that they tried to do their duty and everyone should quit nagging them now. Most queer people cope with that by taking a "duty-month" now and then, and after they've had one child that's usually counted enough for them. Of course, some queerfolk want kids of their own, and have procreative sex for that reason, with great determination if not much enthusiasm. But some queerfolk are either minimally capable, or completely incapable, with a wrong-sex partner. Other than that stressful bit of background, much of the poem is pretty sweet, and it shows some of the solutions people come up with to make the best of their situation so they can enjoy life despite the hardships. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"Raising the Future"
Demaree had little chance
of becoming a father.
Oh, he understood the necessity
of producing enough children
to keep their tiny population alive,
especially when so many of them died.
Some of the women were patient
with his fumbling attempts at lovemaking,
but his heart wasn't in it and -- all too often --
that meant other essential parts weren't either.
They had better beads to spend a month on.
So Demaree turned twenty without
having added a single life to the tally,
which made the grandmothers and grandfathers
nag him summer in and winter out about it.
He noticed that the infant deaths came
not just from disease or weaning too young,
but also from accidents -- there were just too many
things for them to get into, and parents
who didn't really want to be parents
didn't always keep a close enough watch.
When his sister Danaar's baby died
less than a month after she weaned him
and went back to herding the snow-unicorns
whose company she greatly preferred to that of humans,
Demaree had an idea.
He put on the bright blue dress
that Danaar had so happily left behind.
He cut a thong and made himself a necklace
like the ones the women all wore,
and tied a "not looking" knot in the center.
Then he gathered up everyone with young children
and said to them, "We are going to pick a house
and make it completely safe for infants.
I will stay in that house and take care of them
so that parents who only had children out of duty
can go back to doing whatever they actually care about.
I think more of the infants will survive that way."
"You'll need extra firewood to keep them warm,"
said Alaharn as he handed Demaree his son.
"I will go chop and haul some for you."
"You'll need baby-safe medicines,"
said Tikava as she handed him her daughter.
"I will go gather some for you."
Melaina laughed and kept her toddler on her hip.
"I'll help you find a house and baby-proof it," she said.
So they made the first infant house,
and Demaree became the first raiser.
At the next festival, when he dressed up
in a woman's dancing gown as golden as sunrise,
untied the knot so he could string Neelor's bead on his necklace,
and spent the night in the other man's bunk,
the elders counted up the six living infants
and decided not to say anything.
* * *
The Northerners, or Snow-Unicorn Riders, use beads to convey social messages such as sexual availability.
Some gay men are fully functional with women if not enthused about it, many are semi-functional, and some can't perform at all. In our world, same-sex couples have multiple options for starting a family of their own. In Northern culture, queerfolk who want children usually have a duty-month with an opposite-sex partner and/or become raisers.