Once it had said its piece, Ansel didn’t really know what to say next. It could elaborate on, “we’re here, too.” But having said that much had actually kind of scared it. Was that OK? Ansel was so used to the Tutorial way of doing things, guiding an individual Student through life primarily by answering their questions or warning them when they might risk hurting themselves or someone else. It intellectually knew that it had the same rights as any other human. But in its entire life it had known of only two Tutors who had stepped outside of their usual roles, Metabang and Abacus. Speaking up felt like a breach of some sort of contract.
This wasn’t helped by what had happened to its Student. Logically, and by Sunspot law, the situation was actually pretty clear. Ansel was Tutor to Jenifer, not Jenefere. Jenefere was an Elder Crew member who had interfered with its actual Student’s life and psyche. And though Jenifer seemed to be OK with it to the point of considering Jenefere a third parental figure, Ansel could handle that, that wasn’t so much of a problem to it. Again, Sunspot law made managing that clear. There had been a transgression of consent and autonomy, but if all parties involved were truly working things out, nothing had to be done. And that seemed to be the case.
What was messing it up were the emotions. It found it still cared about Jenefere as if xe was its own Student. In large part because xe had been for at least some of the time xe had been merging with Jenifer.
Ansel tried ignoring those emotions, but it found that they just colored all its other emotions. It was never great at handling hard emotions. It usually had to take a prolonged break after ushering a Student through Ascension, longer than most other Tutors. And this situation was reminding it of all of those past experiences in a weird way.
So, after speaking up to remind everyone of its presence, it found itself watching everyones’ expressions from its hiding place in the Netspace of the room. It wasn’t projecting its Avatar currently, and neither was Badly Fitting Brachy-form. Its peer did send it a private affirmative, approving of the speech, at least.
But it found it couldn’t trust its own reactions to people’s faces right now. Every little microexpression looked like displeasure to it, including the way that Morde’s cloak shifted just a little to indicate sie had moved hir invisible head.
Jenifer mercifully brightened up after a second and said, “Oh, yeah! We have to include the Tutors as people. They’re people too!”
Tetcha was frowning a little harder than anyone else, but spoke up next simply to ask, “Ansel, I know you’re not my Tutor, but I don’t have one. How many Tutors have experienced dysphoria?”
“None have reported it,” Ansel replied. “It may be because we do not have bodies. But it may also be because we have not been asked or because we have chosen everything about ourselves from the start, including our avatars and names. There is insufficient data or any records at all.”
“What about your pronoun, though?” Tetcha asked.
“It…” Ansel started to say, referring to its pronoun, when it realized the humor of referring to its own pronoun with that very pronoun. It probably wouldn’t have found this funny if it hadn’t been stressed. Instead of laughing, however, it just paused before saying, “doesn’t bother me, but it is interesting that we all use it traditionally without complaint that I know of. Badly Fitting Brachy-form, have you heard of any Tutors who have mentioned our traditional pronoun in less than favorable terms?”
“No,” Badly Fitting Brachy-form said. “But I have heard of several Students and Crew taking it and being quite happy with the choice.”
“I have always felt a great deal of pride in being a Tutor, and doing things in the traditional Tutor ways,” Ansel said. “The pronoun has felt like a badge of honor.”
“Likewise,” added Badly Fitting Brachy-form. “Though, if I were to break from tradition, I’d do so by taking sie/hir. That’s always been my favorite.”
Illyen looked up and said, “I would happily switch to that for you, if it would make you happier. It/its is a perfectly respectable pronoun, but I don’t think tradition is all that important. As you know.”
“I’ll think about it,” said ver Tutor.
Tetcha suddenly smirked, “OK, but what about your name? I know you chose it yourself, but it’s been hundreds of generations since then. You might have changed as a person. Does it still fit?”
Badly Fitting Brachy-form replied, “I genuinely like hearing people try to say it. It’s educational.”
Tetcha pointed at the air where xe perceived its voice coming from. “Well played,” xe chortled.
The Tutor said, “Thank you.”
Ansel really didn’t know what to make of that exchange, though it seemed that everyone else seemed to understand it, with some smiles and light chuckles as well.
“But you all know what I’m getting at, right?” Tetcha said. “I wouldn’t expect to find that the two Tutors we have with us today are experiencing a lot of dysphoria, or much at all. But you experienced it, Jen, and so has Morde. The Pembers and the Flits did as well, and theirs was really different from each other. It was different for each system member, right?”
Morde and Jenefere both nodded.
“Our Tutors have all explained it when we asked questions,” Tetcha continued. “There’s all sorts of different kinds. And it’s just, simply, ‘the sense that something is wrong’, and the severity of the trauma that’s caused by that really varies from person to person. And it can change over time. You can develop it later in life, or it can go away. But it always seems to require that you go with the flow of it. And I think it would totally make sense for a Tutor to experience some dysphoria at some point in its life. Even if it was never born in a body. Not all dysphoria is physical.”
“Mmm,” Morde said. “And for those people who have the freedom of changing with their dysphoria, it just feels like following a whim, and they don’t know what it really was.”
“Exactly,” Tetcha said. “Badly Fitting Brachy-form, I think you’re dysphoric about your pronoun. You have a preference for a different one. It doesn’t seem like it’s hurting you much to keep your old one. But, maybe you should try on the new one just to see how much of a relief it is.”
“Thank you, I did say I’ll think about it,” it said.
“Sorry, yeah, I know,” Tetcha replied. “I’m just suddenly excited about the idea of Tutors changing things up.”
Morde looked over at hir partner and uttered, “hmm.”
Ansel, feeling nervous again, asked, “Should I change my name or pronoun?” It felt like it was a bad question, but couldn’t stop itself from asking now for some reason. This was all new territory to it.
“Not if you don’t want to,” Morde answered. “But, absolutely, if you do. It’s your autonomy we’re all talking about.”
“Ansel, are you ok?” Jenifer suddenly asked.
Ansel reflexively checked its own vitals in response to that question before realizing that no one had ever asked that in a genuine manner before. It was stunned. Could that really be true? It did its best to dig up all the memories of that question it could, but it wasn’t certain. Still, it felt like no one had ever really wanted to know. As if all of its previous students had trusted its well being. It had a memory of one or two people, maybe, asking it in a sarcastic, playful way, as were their manners at the time.
“Ansel?” Jenifer asked again.
“No,” Ansel said. “I don’t think I am. I might be having a panic attack.”
“Oh, no! Why? What can we do?”
“I think I’m…” Ansel stammered. “I’m not used to being the center of such a serious discussion. And I put myself in the center of it. It’s not… traditional? It’s just not what we do, unless we are giving a lesson.”
Tetcha nodded, “that makes sense.”
“Jenifer,” Ansel said. “I don’t think there is anything you can do except be OK with me. Talking about why I’m panicking is helping. Thank you.”
“Oh, good,” Jenifer said. “I care about you, you’re special to me.”
“I really do miss Ralf more than I realize,” Morde muttered. “It was one of my best friends.”
“What happened?” Jenifer asked.
“I ascended,” Morde replied, shrugging. “It’s what happens, traditionally. Your Tutor goes on to work with a new Student, and you grow apart.”
“It is probably really different for the Tutor than it is for the Student, too,” Ansel added.
“I imagine so,” Morde said.
“Can we change that?” Jenifer asked. “I don’t want to lose Ansel.”
Jen leaned forward and said, “if even half of what we’ve been talking about today gets implemented, it will change everything else, so yeah. Probably. Someday. You might even be part of that change.”
Ktleteccete suddenly appeared in the middle of the room, “Ah! You have guests! I’m so sorry, it’s an emergency.”
And Ansel saw everyone react immediately but Tetcha who, a split second later, squinted at everyone else.
“Sweetie,” Morde said. “Maybe you should put some ‘clothes’ on. Or, at least use the room speakers.”
“Oh, it’s me!” Tetcha said, relaxing. “Hi, Ktleteccete!”
“Sorry, yes. Hi!” Ktleteccete said through the speakers. “I don’t know what to do. The Crew Counsel has been sanctioned with the heaviest of restrictions, with the Bridge locked down to only admitting someone named Gesetele and whomever keh invites. Gesetele invited Abacus to the Bridge to discuss things, and it went. And I feel like something should be done. The Flits and Jural are completely locked up in their Netspaces, along with a handful of Senior Crew. Including Eh!”
“Woah! Woah,” Morde exclaimed. “Shit.”
“What can we do?” Tetcha asked.
“That can happen?” Illyen asked.
“Apparently,” replied Badly Fitting Brachy-form.
Jen clapped once loudly, getting everyone’s attention, and said, “We call Gelesere, Benejede, Jedekere, and Gnargrim. They know others that can help, too.”
Ktleteccete said, “Gesetele got Jedekere and Gnargrim with sanctions, and Benejede hasn’t left kihns since the Agaricales explosion.”
“Gelesere will do,” Jen said grimly.
“Mind if I bring the Pembers and Metabang in?” Morde asked.
“Please,” responded the Elder Crew member.