Courtship Rituals, Sexual Reproduction, and Power Structures in Purniscan Society
The three biological sexes present in the sole technological species of Purnisc provide a unique opportunity to study the intersections of biological and social development within a planetary culture, especially when contrasted with the more common bisexed form of sexual reproduction, or even the more common forms of asexual or stochastic reproduction.
The three sexes can be described in short as:
- Birther -- The sex which becomes pregnant and births children.
- Generator -- The sex which only provides genetic material to be used by the other sexes.
- Incubator -- The sex which takes on roles depending on the sexes of the three individual partners contributing to creating a child.
(Note: The names for the sexes are a translation of the etymological roots for terms from a single Purniscan culture, and extrapolation of semantic and social significance from their meaning in Universal Scientific Communication Standards is a fool’s game, as always.)
Any pregnancy requires three partners, one and only one of whom must be a Birther. The other two partners can be any combination of the other two sexes, and this combination dictates the sex of the future offspring: If the non-Birther partners are the same sex, then there will be at least two offspring, all of the same sex as the non-Birther parents; if non-Birther partners are of different sex, then the (usually single) offspring will be Birther-sexed.
(Details on the biological aspects of conception are [ed. note: will be] noted in postscript below in order to spare delicate sensibilities, as they are only tangentially related to the topic of primary interest. They are recommended, however, as such details may provide deeper insight into courtship rituals that vary significantly from those found in bisexed societies.)
It was gratifying, though not surprising, to see the Standard Model of Kyriarchal Development (Sex-based) validated, as Purniscan cultures overwhelmingly tended to put the sine qua non Birther sex at the bottom of such hierarchies. Beyond that, there is a startling diversity in how the other two sexes relate in status and power across Purnisc, especially when complicated by considering the dozen or so genders that exist within various cultures that do not easily map to one another. It’s purely speculative as to whether the disproportionate number of genders throughout Purnisc results more from having three sexes or from the ambiguous nature of the Incubator’s role in conception, but one thing that can be assured is that these mutual exclusive social structures have contributed to the relative lack of globalization given the state of technological advancement. This also makes Purnisc somewhat unique, in that it provides a space for socio-cultural research at a scale in between planetary and the more tribal-based regional paradigms commonly employed, such as nation-state-focused, spiritual/corporate, or ethnocultural.
A couple of illuminating examples of sexual kyriarchy are provided below through description of a relevant courtship ritual, followed by the results of an intervention into one such society.
With Incubators being the dominant sex, Culture 1 is similar to the global culture developed by the sequentially hermaphroditic Mnomn after their Fourth Cataclysm, and while that event and the subsequent limited-bandwidth communication between the two may have shaped one another, it is generally accepted that the two cultures can be considered independently developed for all intents and purposes. Both have proven remarkably stable. Society is organized by units of extended kinship, with Incubators having the most influence and power at the upper end of these networks. While this foregrounds Incubators as ultimate decision makers, these networks are generally egalitarian in structure and outcome, with great emphasis on consensus-building and fairness.
Courtship is initiated and orchestrated by an Incubator for any children they have personally contributed to creating, but with input from most members of their kinship networks with propinquity. Incubators are expected to arrange relationships such that the interests of the network of primary kinship are forwarded through both the current relationships under consideration, and any future relationships that children would provide, and it is rare that Incubators do not consider how this impacts their chances of becoming a prominent elder someday. As these Incubators are generally of middling status, there is great pressure on the outcome of matches, and that intricate social rules are obeyed in making matches.
Naturally, this type of courtship tends to produce more Incubators more often than not. Birther children, requiring extensive negotiations and being required to produce any offspring at all, are prized and afforded high status, though little power, akin to a family treasure that regularly gets put on display.
Generators, on the other hand, tend to enjoy great agency, though comparatively little status. Unlike Incubators and Birthers, they are only rarely afforded adult status, and even then it is through enacting an Incubator-like transgender identity. Generators considered children (regardless of their age) are therefore not dissimilar to property owned by their Birther parent. When an Incubator performing matchmaking desires a Generator and has decided on one of interest, they inform the Birther parent and pay a pre-set fee that cannot be refunded.
While Generators don’t have adult status and are not seen as capable of making decisions on their own, this is one decision where they have absolute agency as enshrined by law, and in practice this norm is almost always followed and respected, no matter how much headache it causes for matchmakers. One reason why a Generator may be selective in this decision is that their kinship is considered much more fluid than others, so a match to a network of higher status creates the possibility of adoption into that network and access to the better life that provides--something that is practically impossible for other sexes.
When a match is settled upon, the participants engage in a marriage-like ritual and are then expected to have sexual relationships only with each other until the ritual contract runs out--typically a span of time roughly equivalent to 13 solar months. After this, the partnership is considered over whether a child is produced or not, and all involved are free again for matchmaking.
Explicitly hierarchical, Culture 2 is a caste-like system that conflates economic role, social status, and sex. At the top are the Generators, who fill leadership roles and those functions that do not require much in the way of physical labor. Incubators are the second tier, and are comprised of what is considered “honest” work: artisanal labor, food production, sex work, and so on. Birthers (or more commonly known as the derogatory “Breeders”) are given the work that is considered dirty or unwanted, which is anything related to cleaning, unskilled maintenance, child rearing, education, and corpses.
Life-long partnerships akin to solar marriage are generally entered into by same-sex Generator or Incubator couples, and these are usually for financial or status-related reasons. Heterosexual relationships are considered taboo, though regularly engaged in; heterosexual marriages are explicitly illegal.
When a couple wants to have a child, they engage the services of a surrogate Birther, who then carries the child, and is usually expected to raise it under the guidance and requirements of the couple; in return, the Birther is adopted for life by the couple and it is expected that their needs will be cared for in perpetuity. Because of this custom, Incubator couples typically only bring one Birther into their house for all of their children, while Generators will often have multiple Birthers under their auspices. Birthers experience great cultural pressure to become parents in this way, as it’s considered one of the few socially acceptable ways to get access to the society and resources of the higher castes, and many media products are related to Birther attempts to attain high society in this way--though whether as protagonist or antagonist depends on the mood of the culture at the time.
Because of this, Birthers who engage in homosexual relationships are explicitly disparaged, unlike the other sexes. In fact, while discreet heterosexual relationships are generally considered an embarrassment and usually have a blind eye turned towards them or are more frequently the source of gossip, homosexual relations between Birthers are frequently met with outright hostility and even violence.
The exception to the heterosexual taboo is through a carefully prescribed religious ceremony designed around centering the authority of the Generators, with a secondary objective of ensuring more Birthers are created.
During an annual holiday, Birthers are required to report to their local church--though it should be mentioned that “local” in impoverished regions can mean a distance so great that it contributes to the cycle of poverty for those forced to undergo the journey. At the church, Birthers are essentially auctioned off to individual Incubators, who then take their acquisition to a Generator of their choosing and present the Birther as a “gift.” If the Generator accepts, they customarily then have sex with the Incubator and Birther, creating a social tie between the Incubator and more powerful Generator. The relationships formed by this ritual are one of the few ways that the castes interact with one another, and provides an unseen social network of obligation and nepotism underlying all of Culture 2.
Naturally, Birthers rarely if ever benefit from this. While there is scripture about the Generator’s responsibility to both Incubator and Birther in this partnership, rarely does it extend beyond the Incubator. Additionally, any children that come from this ceremony are typically the sole responsibility of the Birther parent, contributing to general oppression of the sex as a class.
Intervention in Culture 2
Initiated by the legendary stellar explorer, paradigm-shaking academic in multiple fields, and anarcho-feminist Dr. Hai-Lee Kiyoko, the Society for Counterfactual Empiricism has carried on her work in observing the results of her intervention. As the agent of first contact with Purnisc, she initially met with representatives of Culture 2. At first, she had thought of it as a queer utopia, as she was not even aware that the Birther sex existed for the majority of her time on planet. When she discovered that there were, in fact, a third subordinate sex, she seeded political dialogue calling for the liberation of the subjugated Birthers--quickly leading to her expulsion from all nations within Culture 2.
While her approach could not benefit from the lessons of later scientists within the Society, observation since of Culture 2 has been nonetheless incredibly fruitful. All nations involved have experienced considerable tension and have resolved it in various ways that mostly fit the cultureways for liberation and re-subjugation within the Standard Model of Kyriarchal Development (Sex-based). The divergences from the Model have been hotly debated, but have also been instrumental in refining it.
More observations will undoubtedly provide great gains for the field of socio-cultural science.