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« Gender Bending Entry #2 The Ballad of Sophie Nu | Main | Gender bending along with a contest »

Gender Bending Entry #1 by Jamie Sears

Due to large amounts of spam, I have to moderate all comments. Don't panic if you don't see your comment show up immediately. I'll release them as soon as I can and they will show up in batches.

Please don't break my website.

Here we go ... remember the rules: comment on whether you believe the author of this excerpt is male or female.

Bearna by Jamie Sears

Bearna waited outside the Norki's tent, knees in the dirt, back straight. The faint smell of marking-paint drifted towards him from the other side of the flap, and the after-taste of clan magic lay heavy and sharp in the back of his throat. Thoma was sitting by the spirit-fire inside, discovering his calling. When the Norki was finished with Thoma, it would be Bearna's turn. Bearna was the last; five friends had gone in before him.

Bearna had looked forward to this day for two years. Two years ago he'd become a man in the eyes of his People, and the Norki had begun watching him for the signs. He might emerge from that tent a healer, a farmer, maybe even a soldier. Only Norki knew what was to come. Bearna had done his best to do a bit of everything, but he knew what he liked best; he liked to make things. He made his Na's bracelet so it wouldn't fall off anymore. He made a better grinding stone, tied to a stick, so the women's arms didn't get so tired. Bearna couldn't guess what calling the Norki would choose for him. There was no such calling as "maker."

A pebble dug into Bearna's kneecap. He didn't dare shift. His Na and Da watched from under the western stone-tree. This day was the culmination of all their efforts with him, their proudest day, as long as Bearna brought them no shame. Bearna knew that his Da wanted him to be a fisherman, like himself. Being a fisherman would not be so bad. Bearna liked the cool feel of the water against his legs, the achievement of pulling in a net full of fish. But if he were marked as a fisherman, he would create some better tools.

The tent flap moved and Thoma walked out into the clearing. His narrow face showed the marks of a soldier. Bearna smiled; that was what Thoma had wanted. Thoma never stopped talking about the others downriver, how they had cheated during their last raid. Thoma longed to sneak up on the others the same way, take their nut stores and smash their cooking pots. And if there was fighting, well, so much the better. Thomas smiled at Bearna and moved to the side where his parents waited.

Bearna swallowed and stood. He walked toward the Norki's tent with even steps. Once marked, his future would be set. Suddenly he missed the last two years and their freedom and possibility. His stomach twisted inside him, but his feet were sure. He moved aside the flap painted with purple birds and brown toads. Inside, smoke rose lazily from a small fire. The Norki sat cross-legged, rocking back and forth, his head thrown back so far that his white hair brushed the dirt. He was speaking to the spirits; Bearna must not interrupt. He took his seat with as little noise as possible.

Enough time passed for a song, and yet the Norki continued to rock. Bearna wondered what the spirits said and how they said it. Bearna could only see what was there in front of him and hear what was plain to hear, though he'd seen signs of spirit-talk in Thoma. Thoma could tell when a storm was coming and where the snakes were in the jungle, but he was better with his spear. Bearna smiled again, remembering Thoma's soldier marks and his joyous face.

So much time passed that Bearna began to think of climbing the northern stone-tree and looking over tops of the trees. He thought of the clouds, and how they drifted across the mountain tops so far away. He wondered if there were truly a lake on the other side too big to cross. In truth he believed no lake too big to cross. The problem clearly lay with the water-crafts. People needed better rafts. If a raft could cut through the water as a spear cuts through the air, it would go faster.

The Norki stopped moving and stared into the fire, drawing Bearna away from his makings. Surely the Norki could see in him some possibility. Why had it taken so long?

At last the Norki shifted and looked up at Bearna. His eyes, light as gold, shone in the firelight. He raised one bony finger, still colored with red paint, and pointed. "No marks," he said.

Bearna sat and listened to the spirit-crackle between them. He didn't understand what the Norki had said.

"No marks," the Norki repeated, lowering his hand.

"I must have a calling," Bearna said, feeling childish for pointing out something so obvious.

"No calling," said the Norki. The wrinkles around his eyes deepened as he spoke, as if it made him sad.

"Then what shall I do?" Bearna felt the panic rising now, chilling his stomach and drawing tight around his throat. "What shall I tell my Na and Da?"

"That is for you to decide. I have spoken."

"I can't go back outside." Bearna's fingers dug into the skin of his legs. "Not without marks."

The Norki sighed now and lifted a clay pipe from a bed of leaves. "Share with me first, then." He lit his pipe with a straw. Earth-flavored smoke puffed around his mouth. As Bearna accepted the pipe he tried not to let his hands shake. This was simply a nightmare, a bad imagining. When he drew that harsh smoke into his lungs, he would wake on his hammock in his family’s tent.

He coughed. The acrid weed tickled Bearna's mind and buzzed in his ears, but still he sat inside the Norki's tent. Still he had no marks. He puffed on the pipe a second time, for courage. He remembered once, many years ago, a young man had left the tent with no marks. Eyes glassy, he'd stumbled directly into the jungle, never to be seen again. Bearna had been very young at the time, and whenever he had thought of it, he reckoned the young man had done something terrible and deserved his naked face.

"It is time," said the Norki. "Go to the place that has called you."


"You know where."

Bearna stood on shaky legs. He didn't want to shame himself by asking a second time, or worse, by begging for some marks to display. He thought of his friends and envied every one. They were proud members of the clan now, with jobs to do. Bearna moved toward the flap, his throat too tight to swallow. He pushed it aside and stepped out into the sunshine.

He heard someone gasp. As he took another step, he heard a whisper and running feet. He didn't look, instead turning toward his parents. They stood as they had before, under the stone-tree, their eyes now wide with alarm. Na's smooth golden hand covered her mouth. Da reached out and gathered Na close to him, speaking to her in a low voice. Na shook her head no, but Da kept talking, looking at Bearna's approach out of the corner of his eye. A tear slid down Na's cheek, but at last she nodded.

Bearna stopped in the shadow of the gray stone and breathed a sigh of relief. They would be able to tell him what to do. They would tell him where to go, and when he could come home again. But as he came to a stop, Da and Na turned their backs to him, facing the tree. Though Na's shoulders shook with sobs, they did not acknowledge him. He was not clan. Bearna felt like a wood-tree that had been eaten inside-out by ants, except for his heart. His heart was still there, heavy and wounded, filling up the empty space.

A rock hit Bearna's shoulder. He turned, not raising a hand to protect himself. He no longer cared about that, but he was curious who had hurt him.

Thoma stood ten paces away, another rock waiting in his hand. "Leave now, animal," he said. His dark eyes showed no compassion, no memory of life before the marks. The red paint on his face had dried. Tomorrow it would flake away, but the color would remain forever.

"Thoma, it's me."

Thoma sneered. "Does the animal speak?"

Bearna shrugged and shuffled to his family’s tent. There was nothing to say, no way to prove his worth, now that the Norki had sent him out with a naked face. He went to his hammock and gathered his things, paltry as they were. A few stone tools for small makings. A smooth, flat rock he'd found useful in the past. His knife and slingshot. Shells that he used to trade with the others, when there was no fighting. He wrapped it all up inside of a skin, grabbed his spear, and left.

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Reader Comments (231)

December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSamuel S.
Female, because of the amount of internal reflection and the lack of resolution. I think female authors have a different definition of "the end" than male ones a lot of the time.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie
My first thought was female and strengthened as I read it.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJimH
This is really interesting! And maybe even more so seeing that so many people have guessed female for the author. For my own part, I really couldn't tell, anything would be a guess. I think the subject matter makes it easier to guess female, but nothing about the writing says so for me particularly. I am going to guess male, because if I were to guess on the way it was written rather than the topic, I'd think it was a man. But I will not be at all surprised to be wrong. :)
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNightfall
I'd like to see the results of this. I really enjoyed this piece and would definitely keep reading if it were a longer story!

As for the writer's gender? I would have to guess female. I'm not really sure but if I had to choose, it would be female. It reminds me of a simpler version of Jean M. Auel. Of course that could just be the clan theme going on in the story.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJesse
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterzac
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbenjicat
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergreyarea
My guess is female.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenn
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEric Rosenfield
I've seen more male "Jamies" than female, so ny initial stance was to plump for female... But in the end, the prose dragged me towards:

December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaal Rosser
Female, though I can't really put my finger on why.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew
*votes female*
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiz Bourke
Female. Just on instinct.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames
This is difficult. At first I thought male, based mostly on the topic, then I thought "Ah, but if I was a female and looking to fool people on a 'gender bender'...." But, I'll assume that for experimental purposes the authors didn't try to do that, so I'll assume a straight play and say....

December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterArila
I would guess female.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPJ
My first inclination is female. I think a male would have spent more time on the entry into manhood, the various jobs and such, and would not have mentioned things like fixing the bracelet and collecting the shells prior to leaving. Very interesting, though. It was fun to try and find reasons for one vote versus the other. To my limited understanding, there are no clear indicators.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHankBidu
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ.P.
I would guess female
Like many others have said there is no rational basis for this. It could just as easily be a man who wrote it.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSJN
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew
Female, on instinct.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteven
Male. Mostly because it reminds me of a book I read recently, which was written by a male author. Of course, I'm just guessing. I didn't really see anything in the text that made me think the writer was male or female. But I did like it.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTolkienizer
I believe it was female. I think i as partially shaded by the fact the Author Pseudonym was Jamie, which i identify with as female a lot. Reading it with that initial impression I couldn't shake the idea that this was a female author
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulian Johnson
Not sure why... But I believe this was written by a woman.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermaheshkb
My guess is female. No reason. The first paragraph just made me think of Mary Robinette Kowal. I don't think there's any way to tell for sure, however.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergmvader
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeah Petersen
Female. Not sure exactly why, but it just feels that way.

Can you tell us who wrote these afterwards? I want to read more by this author.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJason
I have to go with a female author
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Rodriguez
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSGC
Now I won't to know what happens to poor Bearna, the awfulness of his name aside. I say MALE, purely because the author seems to hew heavily toward feminine themes, etc., and we should expect some subversion from this, no?
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHerb
Also, thanks for doing this. I'm looking forward to good reading and attempted analysis.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCookie
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermarciepooh
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTy Margheim
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaty K
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJean
Male. Maybe? I really want to know what happens next!
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSPC
The opening reads female, the close reads male... I'm having a really hard time calling it, but I'll go with my first instinct and say 'female'.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGryphon
I am gonna say female.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDesertdwells


- The first few images are not visual, but rather involve smell, taste, and touch. There is far less visual imagery overall than that of other senses.
- The phrase "he'd become a man"--it just comes off strangely here. I never hear men say this IRL, but that's just my experience.
- The examples of the things Bearna makes show high awareness of women and their needs (a bracelet for Na, tools for the female laborers). This must be a sensitive, thoughtful man...
- Thoma and Bearna smiling at each other: it's a stereotype, but men tend not to smile at each other as easily or as often as women. This struck me as strange.
- Bearna's nervous tics: swallowing, stomach twisting. Again, it's a stereotype, but I'd expect his heart to race, to see some form of excitement rather than anxiety.
- "Bearna smiled again" - another open expression of affection for Thoma.
- "feeling childish for pointing out something so obvious" - shows a great deal of self-awareness and humility, which seems unusual for a typical male in a hunter/gatherer tribe...
- Bearna's acceptance of his fate without anger--not anger at himself for not having a traditional skill to be marked with, not anger at the Norki, his parents, Thoma...again, a stereotype, but contrast Thoma's cliche hyper-aggressive reaction to Bearna's passive, accepting one.


- "He didn't want to shame himself by asking a second time, or worse, by begging for some marks to display." This strikes me as a more stereotypically male POV. However, when weighed against the female tells above, it's not enough to sway me.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeah
@clearian - Agreed, female, for the same reason.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOlema
Male, maybe trying to sound less male?
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCait
I should say a woman, because of the empathy... But something says male.

So, male.

I am a good lab rat, am I not? ;)
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElena
Male. (Tough call!)
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOverand
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhuntece
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMonbeau
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClaudia
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAdam
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAFOdom
Methinks the author is female
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClem Taylor
female, I think.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTucker
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