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The Empire started out in an area with gender roles that are more or less similar to European gender roles. However, it didn't take long for them to annex regions that had developed very different rules over the course of the sundered times. The first seriously contested military conflict was resolved, in part, with a treaty accepting local rule for the appropriate roles and clothing of men and women.
Then, when the Empire annexed the Glifai in the early 1400s, with its no-gender children (and some adults), the licensing laws were adapted substantially in regards to gender definitions and regulations. The then-new laws recognized that gender could change at puberty, and sometimes later in life, and provided a somewhat sketchy structure for the licensing procedures. Gender was to be defined by medical professionals, which ended up leaving things open to a substantial amount of interpretation based on local cultural issues, varying degrees of physical gender variation in different populations, and the degree to which the medical profession defined gender by genitalia and by other criteria. These laws were substantially flawed, but still some refer to them as the first gender reforms.
Issues regarding gender roles were still left to local areas -- towns, cities, rural governmental bodies, etc. For instance, which jobs could be held by men and women and whether certain clothing was gender-specific was determined by local rule. This led to the Empire having contradictory laws in different places; in Affamarg, for instance, only men could be professional cooks, while in Faajaffug only women could be professional cooks. Some cities or regions defined all jobs by gender, while Affabreidalam did not determine any jobs by gender. Cities and regions far from the Breida Mountains often did not define the rules for no-gender people, which sometimes gave no-gender people the freedom to choose any job, and other times effectively defined them as disabled because there were no jobs open to them. (Those places usually went out of their way to find ways to define ambiguous-gendered people as male or female, but some simply ostracized any no-gender person, either relegating them to begging or giving them a travel license instead of any license to the use of a residence or to practice any profession.)
These first gender laws defined three genders: male, female, and no-gender. People could change from no-gender to male or female, or from male or female to no-gender. No-gender people were not allowed to marry, since the Empire didn't want to end up with some no-gender person turning into the same gender as their spouse. Besides, the law makers saw little point in allowing no-gender people to marry, most of them believing that they were all infertile, and some believing that they were naturally (or morally) unsuited to raising children in any case.
So, under those laws, no-gender people could not marry or get licenses to have children except in areas where local law provided such licenses to them. This imposed a great burden on them socially and emotionally, and in the case of people classified as no-gender who got pregnant, and had to change their gender to female as well as pay fines for an unlicensed child, financially as well, assuming that pregnancy convinced the local authorities to allow them to get licensed as female. In some areas, no-gender people were not allowed to raise children, not even their own.
Just as some areas had traditions that denigrated no-gender people, there were a few, mostly areas with traditions where shamans or similar religious leaders cross-dressed, that saw no-gender people as having inherent holiness or virtue. In some places, no-gender people could do any work of either gender.
Under the Empire�s laws for relicensing people as no-gender, males often had to become eunuchs, and females often had to be certified infertile by a doctor. However, each local region had their own requirements, both for the physical certification of gender and for what people of a particular gender were and were not allowed to do.
Further complicating matters, different areas of the Empire placed different amounts of importance on gender, and their licensing departments varied on how strictly they enforced even the Empire's umbrella laws concerning gender. Some licensing departments insisted on embarrassing nude viewings of applicants with rough cross-examination style interviews, while others were willing to take very superficial evidence, such as vocal tone of the speaking voice or the ability to dress as the desired gender as sufficient reason to grant a change in the physical license.
All of these factors created frustrating challenges for law enforcement when dealing with travelers of any of the three genders, and complicated and confusing licensing, law enforcement, and daily living problems for people who relocated permanently from one city to another.
There were many negative consequences of the old gender laws.
For instance, in many places a man who lost certain parts in an accident was automatically re-defined as no-gender. In some places, this automatically annulled his marriage and rendered him legally unfit to raise children, and his wife gained custody or, if there was no wife or other family to inherit them, they were deemed orphans.
Some ambiguous gender children had their gender forcibly redefined when school authorities in a new region or city questioned their licenses. Often the parents were fined for falsifying records. Sometimes the parents lost custody and the child was placed in an orphanage. This of course led to some spectacular (and expensive to both the family and the Empire) legal battles. (This could happen more than once if a family tried to move to yet a third location, whether for economic necessity or in an attempt to find a place that was friendlier to letting them keep their child.)
Some of the towns and regions with more strict gender laws used those laws as fund-raising tools, fining travelers and immigrants spectacular fines for violating their peculiar gender laws, much as some small towns use speeding traps in our world. Some of those laws were particularly hard for a traveler to avoid unless they knew about them ahead of time. For instance, a small mining town in (a mountain range other than Breida) had a law fining women and children who wore dyed clothing and more heavily fining men who wore undyed or neutral-colored clothing (other than scientist robes, guild vests, and the like). They thus gathered revenue from the families of rich women and children, and could press poor men into working off their fines in the mines.
If someone wanted to go from male to female or female to male, they had to do the whole expensive and complicated gender relicensing procedure twice, first to no-gender, and then to the gender they desired to be, since there was no provision at all for switching directly from male to female. Most often, this meant traveling to Affabreidalam or one of the other cities where gender distinctions were lax for the first step. Of course, changing gender was not an acceptable reason to get a travel license, adding more challenges to the already difficult and complicated process.
This is far from an exhaustive list.
As a result of all of the problems involved in the intersection of the laws and gender, when the gender reforms were proposed, it was not hard to convince professionals in licensing and law enforcement, or anyone who had ever traveled, that some kind of reform to the gender laws was necessary. But exactly which changes should be made law -- there were huge differences of opinion on that. The two things that had the most support were eliminating all laws throughout the empire that limited any category of jobs or aspect of clothing by gender.
The other parts of the gender reforms all had their supporters and detractors, and no one was completely satisfied with the final results. However, that is generally considered the hallmark of a good compromise.
The major effects of the gender laws, passed in 1471:
- All clothing is defined as non-gendered for legal purposes. (Social and practical purposes remain, of course.)
- No name shall be considered masculine or feminine.
- Gender shall not legally define who may be head of a household, who may own property, who may enter into contracts, or who makes decisions in a family or business. (Note, this does not change social customs, religious strictures, or the like.)
- All people have the same rights to education, travel and jobs regardless of gender.
- All men and women have the right to marry someone of the opposite gender. Marriage is defined as the joining of a person licensed as a man and a person licensed as a woman.
- Changing gender, while most often done for reasons of physiology, may also be done for personal reasons. However, the government does not encourage frivolous changes; the licensing fees and justification paperwork are substantial except when a physician documents a non-voluntary physical change in a person's body.
- No physical change and no paperwork from a doctor are required for a legal gender change, though those things reduce the fees and paperwork.
- It is possible to change directly from any one legal gender to any other legal gender.
- The fees for a gender change at puberty (including late puberty), due to a person's natural physical maturing process, are limited to the most basic processing fee if a doctor's documentation of the (non-voluntary) physical change is submitted.
- A voluntary physical change (for instance, choosing to become a eunuch for religious reasons or to preserve a soprano voice) does not reduce fees or paperwork, does not require a change of gender, and does not guarantee an automatic approval of a change in gender. (This clause was added due to some significant factions who felt that castration was a dreadful thing for one reason or another. They would have preferred get it outlawed outright, but it had been part of the gender change practices for so long that this clause seemed like a huge change to most of the lawmakers.)
- People of any of the three legal genders may live, work, and frequent establishments in all locations in the empire.
- Single-gender establishments (men's clubs, for instance) can be established, but the licensing fees are high, and get higher if establishments for the other genders are not present in a location. Additionally, there must be similar establishments open to all genders before any single-gender establishments can be licensed.
- Single-gender establishments may not be the majority of any type of establishment in a location. In other words, in any city, town, or region, there must be at least as many open clubs as single-gender ones, and so on. For purposes of this count, all single-gender clubs shall be added together. The only exception to this rule is when a town or rural location is not large enough to support six clubs (or restaurants or whatever). In that case, if there are no complaints, the presence of a single open establishment shall allow the licensing of one single-gender establishment for each gender. However, if complaints arise, the single-gender status of the license shall be automatically revoked.
- Where significant gender inequalities are present, Empire or local authorities may use these high licensing fees to promote the creation of (and subsidize the licensing for) either or both of the following: all-gender establishments or establishments for whichever gender is disadvantaged in that region or city.
- The custom of most of the Empire that all sensual and sexual acts between consenting adults are legal, regardless of gender was formally codified into law for the whole Empire. However, local law and custom still has jurisdiction as to determining whether such acts may be considered grounds for divorce.
- All adults, regardless of gender, have an equal right to education and the right to obtain the licensing necessary to care for children, their own or adopted.
- Even with the best Empire medical knowledge, it is difficult to predict whether a no-gender person might sire or bear a child, though some of them are infertile both ways. Historically this meant that siring and bearing children were not legally bound to only one gender except in areas that lacked no-gender people. Having looked into the paperwork nightmares suffered by no-gender parents-to-be in areas unaccustomed to them, the legislators decided linking pregnancy or siring a child to a particular gender was not only onerous to the involved citizens, but also (and more importantly, in their opinion) problematic for the smooth functioning of licensing offices. Consequently, after the gender reforms a "licensed man" being pregnant or a "licensed woman" siring a child is not a license violation, though both are unusual and would be considered scandalous in some circles.
- People of all genders pay the same fines for having an unlicensed child or for the licenses to hire a surrogate to engender or carry a pregnancy. Similarly, they pay the same fees and take the same classes to qualify them to care for a child, their own or someone else's.
- The man and woman (or pregnant person and other natural parent) both must pay equal fines in the case of an unlicensed pregnancy that is carried to term.
- The law recognizes that the 'other natural parent' may not be identifiable or present; in that case, the pregnant person may choose to pay, if she can, the fines due from both parents, as well as the necessary licensing fees to keep the child. If she does, she is owed repayment from the other natural parent, should he be identified and/or located.
- In the case of rape or abandonment, the authorities may choose to waive some or all such fines for a pregnant person who is qualified to raise a child in terms of licensing and means, and who is deemed to be a victim in the situation. Other factors, including overcrowding or the need to populate an area may also be taken into consideration.
- Religions shall be allowed to define gender as they wish, regardless of a person's legal gender, but only for strictly religious purposes. A person's gender as defined by any religion shall not determine their legal gender.
- A religion may have only priests of a particular gender, or to define and limit a priest's ritual role, rights, privileges, and responsibilities by gender. (But note that no one is required to follow any particular religion, or any religion at all.)
- A person's religious beliefs and/or vocation may, however, be used as evidence of the sincerity of a request to change legal gender.
- The warning that religious institutions and believers face substantial penalties for interfering with an orderly society by interfering with anyone not of their own faith was reinforced; religions were specifically warned that it is illegal to harass people who had not chosen to be part of that religion regarding issues of physical gender, legal gender, gender expression, or sexual preference, because that created conditions that were bad for business. (Unless, of course, they paid the necessary licensing fees and followed all laws regarding protests, demonstrations, and the like, respecting individual citizens' rights.)
- The Empire experimented with licensing protests instead of just trying to suppress them. This proved popular enough, almost a form of public entertainment, that the Empire started licensing more protests on a variety of topics.
- It was made illegal to assault or harass someone for wearing the 'wrong gender clothes' or for other lawful gender-related behaviors.
- It is possible for local laws to allow some things not mandated by the gender reforms; for instance Affabreidalam has always allowed the marriage of two people regardless of their gender, and the gender reforms allowed that to continue. However, another city or region does not need to recognize the marriage of any couple who are not legally a man and a woman.
Finally, it should be remembered that the gender reforms did not eliminate social gender roles and expectations. For instance, in a very traditional city, wearing clothing of the wrong gender might get you laughed at or your skills discounted even though it's legal to wear those clothes. It has been good for commerce that travelers can no longer be fined heavily if they're passing through and wearing the 'wrong' clothes, however, a traveling salesman is still well-advised to pay attention to the local customs, and to keep them in mind when choosing the day's wardrobe.
Other than no-gender people, people in areas where people of one gender or another were severely oppressed, and homosexuals who want to raise children, the people affected the most by the gender reforms are probably the people in licensing offices and law enforcement. Their lives were made substantially simpler by having a more straight-forward system of laws that apply to the entire Empire.
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