Five new sexes for your fantasy campaign
I wrote this when I was annoyed, and I fear that annoyance rather overshadowed the content. So I’ve re-edited it to put the content first and the annoyance last.***
Also long after this, Scrap Princess wrote a gorgeous post about kathoey and other non-binary, non-Western-familiar genders that is here. It is better than this post below, but maybe one day I can think through combining the two of them.
How do these sexes come about in your campaign? Maybe they’re just there alongside the usual ones and nobody bats an eye, or maybe they’re novelties for your players to discover. Or maybe, in traditional pulp fantasy style, they’re found only in places of high magical potential (i.e. atomic horror), as products of ancient curses (moral horror), as victims of magical experimentation or other powerful weirdos (Frankensteinian creation-horror), or as spontaneous and joyful outgrowths of nature (not found in popular pulp fantasy literature).
1. Spemales can impregnate or be impregnated by any other sex, through the medium of saliva – a process over which they have no control. Where you’d say he/she (n.) or his/her (a.) for males and females, you call spemales hein (n.) and heiner (a.). They have a reputation as weak, clumsy, stupid, sickly cowards who nonetheless possess an irresistible charm.
2. Trenails (n. spuiker, a. rebite) reproduce by gathering bits and pieces from one or more hosts (a sample of blood, bone, hair or scales, skin, fat) and incorporating them into their own abdomen, buttocks, upper arm or neck. Their children bud off them after a few months as small, unintelligent homunculi, which must be fed for several more months on the body parts of animals that make up for those that were not included in their initial seed-package. They have a reputation for impatience and forgetfulness except where slights and revenge are concerned. They are also imagined to have a special affinity for fire, plants, the ground and psychic disturbances.
3. Yenimales (n. ein, a. yeinne) are not easily identified – indeed, they can spend many years believing themselves to be members of other sexes. They cannot be impregnated and cannot impregnate anyone else: they reproduce instead by creating an intense longing in the mind of a pregnant individual of another sex. This longing modifies the child growing in the individual into a yenimale, but does not change their physical appearance. Yenimales are broadly regarded with suspicion and amulets against them can be bought on street corners. They are nonetheless generally consulted before declarations of war and peace, and believed to be gifted with the power to predict the weather.
4. Hermanes (n. huee, a. liuer) change sex throughout their lives, based on environmental influences, regular rhythms or mood. Several of the other sexes imagine that hermanes must be inordinately pleased with their lot, but in fact for most hermanes the changes are accompanied by wild mood swings, which if left untreated can lead to a spiral of ever more rapid sex changing and mood instability. Legends abound that such a spiral can lead to a condition of radical sexual instability or indeterminacy, or even the production of entirely new sexes: it is a testament to the stupidity of society as a whole that such a basic question should remain unanswered. They are thought to be irresponsible with money and can never work in the financial sector or government.
5. Seamagrails (n. siney, a. spnue) can be impregnated by thoughts or sincerely held beliefs. Following gestation (which obeys no regular rules whatever regarding duration or progress) their children burst out of their hearts or heads, Athena-style. This is utterly debilitating for the parent for one whole day, after which the parent is entirely healed and can go back to life as before. The children thus born, who may be of any sex, always spring into life fully-formed and with mature capabilities, although they are only rarely born at their full, adult size. They are believed to have no sense of direction and are famous for taking on more than they can handle, drawing unwilling bystanders into their schemes. The idea of seamagrails wearing bracers or leg armour is hilarious.
Of course, all the sexes have some kind of genitalia and have found ways to have intercourse in every imaginable combination. The exact mechanics of this, and of the genitalia, are left up to the discretion of each DM.
* I use “sex” rather than “gender” here because I misunderstand Judith Butler. I was rather worried Jeff Rients might have scooped me on this whole topic in his wonderful Carcosan character builder (which I will certainly be using for my very next DnD character) but I bet with a bit of squeezing we could all fit together, like some kind of… jigsaw puzzle or something.
** note how I cleverly worked 5 into this post? That’s all I’m saying about it.
*** This post was prompted by recent discussions about humans-first as a value, which set me thinking – in particular Matthew Slepin’s comment that fantasy racism is victimless, since no elves or hobbits complain about it at his table – if it’s all good clean fun to indulge in some racism against imaginary beings, why shouldn’t we get to indulge in some victimless sexism too? So I wrote up these imaginary sexes* as a thought experiment: would it be safe to denigrate them at your gaming table, since no members of your gaming group would take it all personal? Should that denigration ever take rule-mechanical form? Is it actually better to say you’re imagining an intolerant society and leave it at that, or is that a cop out, since you’re choosing to imagine it anyway? I dunno.