What would the world look like if gender norms weren’t a thing? Not just for America, but for the world? What would this world look like if the idea that one gender was better at one thing than the other, that there were only two true genders, that everything about one gender was to be used as an insult…

How would that world look?

Men, from infancy, are taught that they are wrong or sissies or wussies or not real men if they express great emotion. They’re not allowed to cry when they’re upset. They’re told to suck it up. They’re told to grow some balls or a backbone. They’re told to stop being women. As insults, they’re called pussies, twats, tits, cunts, bitches, and more. If there are any “male” terms they use as insults, they generally take on an “emasculating” tone about their dicks or their inherent manliness—dickhead, cocksucker, asshole, or called names like gay, or faggot, or anything that suggests they are anything BUT a normal, healthy man with normal, healthy emotions and emotional responses, regardless of their gender assignation, preference, and regardless of their sexual preference or lack thereof.

Think on that for a minute. We, as a society, for as long as we can remember, have held that women are the nurturers, that they must bear children. That they must be submissive to their husbands. That they must be the maid, chef, kid incubator, childcare, and sounding board for the man, and the man must be the “bread winner.” The man must be of great strength and virility. He must be powerful, successful, rich, fit, emotionally distant, and have the emotional stability of a tank.

But that isn’t how real people work.

Imagine a world without all that.

I did.

Valis grew up as an abused farm boy. He grew up terrified. His dad was not only physically abusive, but mentally and emotionally, too. His own mother knew he was supposed to be sacrificed and did nothing to save him. She barely even tried to coddle him.

But when Valis is brought into Avristin, everything just goes on its head. There are no differences between the sexes. They all share the same duties. There are actually more female Aesriphos than male. There are more male healers than female. Their Sovereign Priest is intersex, chooses to present as female, and Valis, who is stunned and awed by what he assumes is a very pretty man is corrected gently like they’re saying the day is Tuesday, instead of something that would, in our world, gain a huge stink for the sovereign priest to not only be known to have both sets of genitals, but to also have them and hold the highest position of power in the religion and military force (other than the Grand Master Aesriphos, who were women).

He’s like a scared child.

Tell me… when you hold a little boy, a toddler… do you put them aside and ignore them? Or do you coddle them when they’re sad? Rock them to sleep when they’re scared? Sing to them when they’re fussy and upset? Kiss their little foreheads and hands and toes and bellies just to make them smile? Give them tight hugs and hugs of comfort and hugs of safety and hugs of joy and hugs of grief?

When I had my son, I was taught that “skin time” and “skin contact” was immensely important to develop a bond with my child, to improve brain development (yeah, that threw me!), and to improve their emotional security.

When do we, as parents and siblings and aunts and uncles and a community, stop loving on these touch-starved children?

When do we stop providing that emotional security for our boys? We don’t usually deprive our girls from it. Why do we neglect our boys? Why do we refuse that connection, refuse to help keep them emotionally stable through touch?

Imagine a world where there weren’t safety concerns with such things, because in Valis’s monastery, there are not. Imagine a world where people touched you to help you reconnect with the world in a healthy way, much like a parent would do for a toddler. Imagine a world where it was okay and normal to be gay, or asexual, or a masculine-presenting female, or a feminine-presenting male. Imagine a world where it was normal and healthy to comfort a crying man, instead of shaming him for his tears.

I wanted Valis’s world to be nothing like ours. And since the biggest complaint is that they “touch too often,” I believe I succeeded, and I am proud as shit of that. Thank you.

And yes. Almost all of my worlds will be like this—free of toxic masculinity where characters touch freely and love openly and where gender isn’t the driving force behind society. If you can’t handle that, you can’t handle me or my stories.

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