The Serum

The Imprint

What happens when you choose wrong? You slowly go mad.

Uncle Charlotte having one of the good days. It's okay to visit. I've seen her on those bad days. She plays with her hair on the good days and asks me if I've been good and how I'm treating my parents. On the bad days, she sobs uncontrollably they have to restrain her from hurting herself. Uncle Charlotte chose wrong. A cautionary tale for me and my siblings. I'm "Second". "First" took the name Jesse when he selected to be Male. I've got one more month to decide. Male or Female. At the age of 13 we pick. It's how it's always been.

The decision weighs heavily on my mind. Uncle Charlotte chose to be female. Took the name Charlotte after my Great Grandmother. Nobody ever explained to me why she went insane. All they said was that her mind couldn't handle everything about being female. When you choose. The serum is given to you and your dormant sex organs become active. For women, they grow breasts and their organs slowly form into a vagina and ovaries. For men, their testicles form and descend and grow a penis. It happens over a period of 18 to 24 months. Puberty, we call it.

We choose our names and gender in an elaborate ceremony where everyone celebrates the gender you choose. Some people that decided not to choose or chose too late had to spend the rest of their lives as eunuchs or what we call Halflings. Failing to choose meant you were sterile and wouldn't develop like everyone else. Halflings were spurned by society. It’s better to choose wrong, than not choose at all. Choose wrong and you would go crazy, but at least you were cared for.

Halflings? You may as well throw yourself into the river and hope you drown. You were thought of as a non-productive members of society. You wouldn't be able to hold a name beyond your number designation. You would be considered a drain on society because people wouldn't hire someone who couldn't even choose their own gender.

Jesse's almost 2 years into puberty. He's looking really good. His friend Marshall is already done. He grew two and a half feet from when he started. He's 6 feet 10 inches now. Jesse's not too far behind. He's 6 foot 7 inches. Both are “all muscle”. My friend Celeste, obviously chose female. It's been tough on her but, I think she's pretty happy overall. There were points in time where the cramps got to her. They have medication for that. She became really pretty though. Her blonde hair now cascades down to her shoulders. She's happy to stay in skirts and dresses too. She’s also ecstatic now that she gets to have a more colorful wardrobe.

I'm a bit envious of her. The rest of us are all in gray or green shirt dresses. It only when we choose to be males that we may begin to wear pants and shorts. "Third"-Anderson another of my friends tells going choose male. Anderson's birthday is 2 days before mine. We've already started to refer to "him" by "his" prospective name “Grant”.

I’ve been pouring through this decision for almost a year now. While I love the idea of be one of the macho guys, there’s something alluring about having a baby and being a mother. While we are growing up we are kept pretty gender neutral so that we can all decide at the proper time. But fathers can’t help wanting their child to be men and mothers can’t help wanting their child to be young women. It’s natural to want to have someone to take after you.

It’s actually frowned upon to allow binary-ing your kid before the age of 12-1/2. Everyone has a relative in the asylum that "chose wrong" because of too much influence by one parent or the other. I think that’s what happened to Uncle Charlotte. They’ve got her on hormone blockers but they can only work for so long. For those that choose wrong, flood of estrogen or testosterone always wins in the end. For some on the extreme they have their organs removed. It helps a bit but the damage is done.

“My my child. You are getting so big!” Uncle has a great big smile on her.

“Uncle Char!” I beam as I give her a hug then take a seat next to her on the couch. We call her “uncle” because referring to her as anything but male makes her sad. “So someone has a birthday coming up right?” She cheerfully adds. “Yes and it’s the big one!” I say with a smile. “Ohhh! So it is. So it is. Well I hope you’ve given it a lot of thought.” Uncle Char give me that looks of concern. “I have Uncle but I really want to be sure.” I say with caution in my voice. “indeed! You know your brother Jesse had the same concerns when he spoke to me before his 13th birthday.” She says waiting on me to seek her counsel.

“Do you have any advice for me?” I pose to her. “Child, I’ve known you since your birth. I’ve seen you grow up all these years and am confident you know in your heart what the right answer is.” She says with a smile. I frown. She sees the look on my face and frowns back. “What’s the matter?” she moans. “I… I don’t know which I want to choose.” my voice becoming more distraught. “It’s a lot of pressure and… I don’t know if I can handle it.” Tears beginning to well up in my eyes. “And… I don’t want to…” I being to sob. “Oh! Honey! Don’t cry.” She pulls me into her arms. I’m in a full cry now… I haven’t cried like this since I was really young. Grant pushed me down the stairs. I broke my arm I didn’t stop crying until I reached the hospital. “Honey, you know the answer… You just have to listen to the voice inside you that’s telling you.” She coos. “What if I choose wrong? What if I don’t...” I continue crying. She hushes me my head on her shoulder her chin resting on the crown of my head.

“Honey, there’s a secret to all of it” she says in a hushed tone. I pull back from her, “really?” I ask matching her whisper. “Yes child. There is.” The shock wears off. “What is it?” Here imminent revelation dancing in my head. “The serum is the same regardless of which you choose.”

“What? I don’t understand… How can it be the same? We… We all come out different…” my mind is trying to process it all. “Why? Why would they put us through that? It makes no sense!” my voice is trembling.

“It’s the way our society works. We used to have the gender binary at birth. Children were born as "boy" or "girls". Along the way, people were identified as being the opposite gender from their gender assigned at birth. We learned along time ago to let children decide for themselves who they wanted to be.” She says to me with all the care of one guarding a precious secret.

“So there’s no way to choose wrong?” the tears drying from my eyes. “Does everyone know this?” She looks at me “no child. But the roots of who you are were sown into you before your birth. It takes time for your mind to decide whether it’s masculine or feminine. The serum overrides the hormone blockers in our food and water supply. But it is your mind that determines which characteristics emerge. When you announce it, you affirm what it is your mind wants you to be.” I smile at her… “There’s the smile I’ve been looking for!” Uncle Char says returning to her happy grin.

Nearly a month later, it’s my celebration. My mom and dad throw an elaborate choosing party. I keep my decision as a closely guarded secret. I walk into the banquet hall. It’s filled with people. My friend and family are all anxious to know what I have chosen. I circulate the room taking it all in. I mingle greeting everyone thanking them for attending. Unlike most birthdays there are no presents.

The appointed hour strikes and I’m seated at the chair in the middle of the ballroom. A table with two syringes await. One with a pink liquid and the other blue. The county minister enters the room with much a fanfare. “Choosing day!” he announces to the delight of everyone. He flashes me a smile. My parent approach from either side of me as the minister approaches the table. “So child” he announces to the room. “What have you decided?”

I awake in the middle of the night screaming… The nurses rush in to try to sedate me. I’m struggling. The madness returns. “WHY?!?!? It wasn’t supposed to matter!” They’ve got my arms holding me down. “IT WASN’T SUPPOSED TO MATTER!!!” I’m in hysterics. A needle is shove into my arm. I begin to calm down. My arms are fitted into the restraints. It’s been ten years in the Asylum. I curse my Uncle Charlotte as I return to my slumber.

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This story is 1589 words long.