Saturday, July 15, 2017

Monvesian Culture: Elfish Gender

Since the creation of the setting, the elves of Monvesia have been a sexual other.  Though there was an elf character in the first campaign, his player merely played him as a sexual addict and predator.  A valid interpretation of the race, particularly for a faun among humans, but not the ideal representation. The magnitude of elfish sexuality and gender always hung at the back of my mind, undeveloped beyond cohorts and mentorships.  By exploring the nature of half-elves in Monvesia, the following was developed.
Gender is a cultural concept related to physical sex, but not bound to it.  Layered within gender are separate concepts of gender identity/expression and gender role [keep in mind, I am over-simplifying]. Among the humans of Monvesia, issues concerning sex and gender are comparable to the same in modern society.  These issues repeat in pretty much the same way among dwarves, gnomes, rakasta, and goliaths--where cultural norms are basically the same with minor variation.  Among elves, however, there is greater variation.

The elves of Monvesia are have a more striking sexual dimorphism than other races in the world--males (fauns) and females (nymphs)  have drastic physical differences beyond their sexual organs.  Because of this, the race has somewhat rigid gender roles--and the two sexes even live in their own communities.  A third sex (dactyls) also lives among the other two, with far more muted features than their exotic counterparts.  Until puberty, however, these differences are virtually irrelevant--for prepubescent elves have no physical sex.  They have no distinguishable sexual organs or secondary characteristics.  Juvenile elves just look like rounder, squatter versions of their mothers ... without flowers or leaves in their hair.

It is not that elflings completely lack genitalia.  The basic biological structures are present, they are merely not specialized one way or the other.  It is after completion of the Crossing ceremony, when the elfling briefly enters the Plane of Yore, that more advanced structures begin to develop.

The Crossing

Every elfling has the opportunity to experience the Crossing early in their lives--biologically, on the onset of adolescence.  An elfling may outright refuse the Crossing, or else delay it; after too long of a delay, however, the opportunity to experience the Crossing is forever lost.  Even after the commencement of the ceremony, the elfling will still have the opportunity not to complete it.

When an elfling comes of age, the local fauns and dactyls are called to join the elfling's cohort at a nearby fairy ring.  The dactyl of the cohort, or of a neighboring cohort, will officiate the Crossing.

While in the Plane of Yore, the elfling is visited by the Archfey--or at least by representations or agents of the Archfey.  Each of these present to the elfling the sexes and aspects that one may choose to become:
  • Äiti the All-Mother, seelie nymph (High or Light elf)
  • Neito the Forest Maiden, balanced dactyl (Half-elf)
  • Noitia the Witch Queen, unseelie nymph (Wild or Shadow elf)
  • Sarvipäinen the Horned King, unseelie faun (Wild or Shadow elf)
  • Vihreät the Green Man, seelie faun (High or Light elf)
Whether an elfling may choose to become a Light or Shadow elf depends on if the fairy ring used for the Crossing is located in a seelie (Light) or unseelie (Shadow) location.

An elfling may make one's choice at the first Crossing, or may delay making one's choice until a second Crossing.  This can be done, for instance, in order to locate a seelie or unseelie ring; or else to confer with one's elders.  As with the initial Crossing, this second cannot be delayed too long, or the option is lost.
The initial Crossing can be made as early as the elfling's 40th year, though this is considered early.  It typically occurs between the elfling's 50th and 55th year.  The Crossing ceremony must be completed (both ceremonies, if appropriate) no later than the elfling's 65th year.
When the choice is made, the elfling will begin to grow into one's chosen sex.  Elves who never complete the Crossing (by choice or delay) grow into adulthood as dactyls; they remain half-elves for the duration of their lives.

Young nymphs will remain with their cohorts.  Young fauns will be adopted by a faun who is not his father.  Young dactyls will be adopted by an adult dactyl, and either taken into a solitary life or to live with another cohort.

Fauns & Mentorships

While all elflings live with females as children, cohorts (nymph family groups, see below) typically "banish" fauns at the Crossing.  Once a total abandonment to the wilds, it is now little more than a ritual separation between the male and his birth family.  Ceremonially, it is part of the Adoption ritual that unites a young faun with an older "mentor."

The faun's mentor is a matter of choice between the two partcipants.   Adults chosen to mentor adolescents tend to be young adults not too far removed in age from the minor--adults who are not yet fathers, or else are fathers to very young elflings.  Though non-familial mentorships are common, it is not unheard of for a faun to be mentored by an older brother, cousin, or even young uncle. The mentor need not be close in age to the minor, though many minor prefer younger mentors.  The only requirement is that the mentor not be the minor's father--or potentially his father.  This limitation is because adolescent fauns and their adult mentors will develop a pederastic relationship.

The mentor will instruct the minor in matters of survival, self defense, and some will even share the secrets of the druidic Circle of the Land.  Though a faun's intellectual education is not as extensive a nymph's, he is still expected to know about elfish history and culture.  Since they are wanderers, fauns also typically learn the languages of nearby peoples.  The faun learns how to live on his own, and to trust himself and his instinct.

It is also the duty of the mentor to instruct the minor in sexual matters and mating law, both one-on-one and with cohorts.  While pederasty among fauns is both expected and encouraged, a mentor will also take a minor with him during mating visits to a cohort.  During these visits, the young faun is encouraged to pursue the maiden nymphs of that cohort (should any be willing).  Some mentors even have sexual visits with dactyls, and if a young dactyl is present, the minor is encouraged to explore with them as well.

Upon the minor reaching adulthood, the formal mentorship ends, and the fauns cease to travel together regularly.  The bond formed between mentor and minor is a lifelong commitment, however; and sexual activity between the two may continue well into the minor's adulthood, though with far less frequency.
An elf attains adulthood around one's 100th year.  A mentorship can end as early as a faun's 80th year, but may last as late as a faun's 120th year.  Typically, a mentorship ends between a faun's 100th and 110th years.  Earlier is often seen as a bad pairing; later is often seen as excessive attachment by one or both parties.
A faun will only have a single mentor, but may himself mentor any number of minors.  At any given time, a faun is limited to mentoring no more than two minors, but may take on more minors when those are grown.  The majority of fauns do not pursue further mentorships after completing young adulthood.  The minority that does is typically seen as being immature, but they are not prevented from doing so.
A faun may become a mentor as early as his 105th year, but cannot become a mentor himself until the 10th year after his own mentorship has ended.  It is after a faun's 300th year that he is considered to be "immature" if he continues to seek new mentorships with minors.

Nymphs & Cohorts

Young nymphs will return to their birth cohorts after their Crossing, where they will be taught by their mothers.  They will help their mothers raise elflings, train in the defense of the cohort, and some will even explore the mysteries of the druidic Circle of the Fountain.  Nymphs are trained to be self-sufficient while also learning to rely on each other.  With multiple adult teachers, a maiden nymph has an extensive intellectual education, though their relative seclusion limits the languages a nymph may learn.

For nymphs, the implications of homosexuality are no less blatant than with fauns.  As cohorts mingle, the daughters of one cohort are encouraged to form close, saphhic relationships among the daughters (or even wives) of other cohorts.  Sexual education is a matter of encouraging the maiden nymphs to explore with each other.  Should a young dactyl also be present in the cohort, they are included among a maiden's available sexual partners.

When a faun visits a cohort with a minor faun, the maidens and the minor are also encouraged to explore their sexuality with each other--under strict rules of mutual consent.  Sexual contact is not prohibited between youths, and sometimes a maiden may becomes pregnant.  Typically, magic protections have become common into order to allow the younger elves to explore their bodies safely.

When maiden nymphs come of age, they will leave their mothers to join another cohort--or even form a new one.  As with the Mentorship Adoptions, the local dactyl will officiate the rite of Bonding, blessing the union between the new "sister wives."  There is no social requirement that sister-wives of the same cohort be of similar age, so a maiden may choose to join a cohort of older nymphs.  She is only forbidden from joining her mothers' cohort.
A nymph is considered of age to join a cohort as young as her 80th year, though typically does so after her 105th year.  There is no age at which a nymph is "banished" from her mother's cohort, though not doing so by one's 300th year is considered a social taboo.
A cohort may include as few as three bonded nymphs, or as many as 13.  While these numbers are traditional, they are not a matter of law--though cohorts of two or 14 or more are very rare.  Four to six members is most common, typically when a cohort is newly bonded.  With common consent, wives may be added (or removed) over time.  A cohort that grows particularly large may even split into two or more new cohorts.  Ceremonially. these events are marked by a ritual Dissolution, followed by new Bondings.

Elderly nymphs whose cohorts dwindle often bond with younger cohorts to be cared for.  She does not join the cohort as just a dependent, but as a full sister-wife with equal responsibility of the entire cohort's welfare.  Similar to maiden nymphs striking off of their own, the only cohorts an elderly nymph is forbidden from joining are those of her children (nymph or dactyl).

Dactyls & Mating Law

Young dactyls, either upon choosing to remain sexless or else at the close of their 65th year, are mentored by an adult dactyl.  This mentorship is similar in most respects to faun mentorship.  The education provided depends on the adult dactyl's living situation (as a faun or among nymphs).  Those dactyls who practice the druidic Circle of Dream may even pass this on their their youths.

Though they lack distinguished genitals, a dactyl is just as much a sexual being as a nymph or a faun.  As per the mentorship model, a mentor and youth may be sexually active with each other; while an adult may be sexually active with other adults, and a youth may be active with other youths (as described above).  For elves, sexual activity is about pleasure first, so lack of procreative ability does not make one a sexual pariah.  Offspring are a result of sexual activity, and not the intent.

Upon reaching adulthood, a dactyl will leave one's mentor to seek a life of one's choosing--solitary or with a cohort.  If with a cohort, a dactyl must not live with one's mentor; though this has more to do with the tradition of no cohort hosting more than one adult dactyl than it does with parental taboos.  The bond between mentor and youth is as strong as with fauns--so there will be visits between the two later in life.

While the term dactyl is most often used to identify the third elfish sex, it has also been translated by humans as "judge." This is because datyls are responsible for maintaining mating law.  Over time, the customs and expectations of mating visits have become ritualized. No longer does a faun steal away a nymph and force himself on her in the woods before returning her to her cohort. Now, there is courtship (albeit brief) and consent. Should an elf of any gender ever engage in sexual activity without consent, there are harsh punishments. It is the local dactyls who are responsible for overseeing these punishments.

As part of their authority over mating law, dactyls also officiate all ceremonies of elfish culture: Crossings, Adoptions, Bindings, Disolutions, etc.
This does not mean that a dactyl is necessarily an "oracle."  Any elf may be an oracle by seeking initiation into one of the elfish druidic circles.  While each of the druidic Circles of elfish tradition are associated with and dominated by a particular gender, the other genders are not forbidden from being initiated into the Circle of their choosing.

Image result for fantasy shaman

Gender Identity & Expression

Though the Crossing is presented as a "choice," most elflings are already aware of their gender before they begin the ceremony.  Some elflings will delay their Crossing  just to make sure their instinct is correct.  There is no guarantee that what feels right in childhood will still feel right in adulthood, however.  Elves are a bit more open-minded than other races when this happens.
As these situations are rare, there are no standing traditions in elf culture. Dactyls  already have the freedom to live among nymphs or fauns.  Therefore, an elf who presents themself as a gender other than their Crossed gender is typically treated as a dactyl.  A trans-faun is a dactyl living as a faun, even if one Crossed as a nymph.

For those elves who feel they need a physical change after the Crossing, there are some complications.  Because of the metaphysical nature of elfish puberty, there is a limit to the effectiveness of polymorph magic:  no spell can modify an elf's primary sex characteristics.  Secondary sex characteristics are fair game, however.
I have been sitting on this post for over a year now.  I welcome any critique on the concept.  All advice on how to expand or explore this will be considered.
Edited August 29, 2017 [lares renames dactyls] 

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