Quinn had nir first and only crush when ne was eighteen, in nir freshman year of college. Quinn’s sib Charlie, who was two years older and had decided to stay newt, said it was just a phase that every eft went through. “If you’re smart, you’ll just make friends with him and leave it at that,” ne said. “But I doubt you’re that smart, so go ahead, get your heart broken.”
The boy’s name was Kendal. He was in Quinn’s judo class, and he fascinated nir. He was just so immensely physical, like a boulder or a baseball bat, something whose existence and purpose was beyond question, especially by himself. He was tall, light of skin but dark of hair, and if he didn’t shave for a day or two the dark stubble stood out on his chin. When he thought something, he didn’t hesitate to say it even if it might be perceived as critical of someone, like when he told Quinn that nir stance wasn’t right, that ne was leaning forward when ne should be leaning back.
When they practiced together, ne could feel his strength. Kendal held back a bit out of consideration for nir, although Quinn was the closest to a match he had in class. One Thursday Quinn almost got him in a lock, and thought of how ne would like it to continue, pressing nir body against his, nir arms around his neck, Quinn’s smooth cheek brushing against his soft bristles. This must be what sex is like, ne thought. Somewhere between wrestling and dancing.
After class, in the changing rooms, Quinn gathered up nir nerve and asked him if he wanted to get something to eat.
It was near lunchtime, and there was no requirement at their school that they stay there. “Sure, I guess. How about a burrito?”
They went to a place on the mall, and talked about school, and their teachers, how their judo teacher, Mr. Akers, had written a fantasy book called Dragondance and how terrible it was. “I tried to read it,” Quinn laughed. “It was like, half martial arts manual and half bad video-game narrative. He seriously could barely write a sentence. Like, did he just ignore all the red lines his computer was putting under everything?”
“In his defense, he’s basically a P.E. teacher,” said Kendall, also laughing. “I mean, no expects an English teacher to be good at track and field, right? At least he’s trying to broaden his horizons.”
After that, they went out most Thursdays for lunch. Soon Kendall invited Quinn out on weekends with some of his friends, who weren’t a bad bunch, even if Quinn was the only eft among them. Ne didn’t think ne had ever spent so much time with cissies. But that’s what college was for, ne thought. To broaden your horizons.
Kendal wanted to do something grand with his life. He was studying environmental engineering with a focus on geothermal energy. “All this energy’s already there,” he’d say excitedly. “It’s just buried, waiting in the earth. We just have to tap into it.”
They drank often and thoroughly, smoked weed sometimes. Quinn lived in the dorms, but Kendal shared an apartment with three other cis males. One Saturday night late in the semester they were over there getting drunk, until one by one all the others went home or went to bed. Finally just Quinn and Kendal were left.
“Ready for the belt test on Monday?” Quinn asked.
Quinn was sitting more or less upright on the couch, but Kendal was draped loosely on a filthy gold armchair. “Hm. Not really. I don’t quite get this side-control hold we’re supposed to know. They showed it in that class I missed a couple weeks ago.”
“It’s easy. Here, get up, I’ll show you.” Quinn stood up.
Kendal looked at nir skeptically. “Seriously? It’s… almost three in the morning.”
“Might be your only chance.”
“Fair enough. Though I’m so drunk, I probably won’t even remember it.” But he set down his beer and stood up too.
Quinn moved the coffee table. Their Ikea carpet was littered with dirt, food particles, a gum wrapper, but oh well, they were wearing clothes. For now, came the unbidden thought, and Quinn’s pulse quickened.
“I’ll show you first,” Quinn said. “Then we’ll switch. Here, lie down on the ground. So first I take your arm, pin it by my side, and hook your shoulder here. Then I let you pull away, but push forward and turn, so it’s pinned against your chest. Then I take my left, wrap it around your neck, and squeeze.”
As they moved ne could feel Kendal beneath nir, lying passive but still strong, sensing the tightness of his abdomen and shoulders through the thin indigo T-shirt he wore. The side control ended with their faces close together, in this one-sided embrace. Quinn’s cheeks were flushed.
“Got it?” ne said.
“I think so. Let me try.”
But before he could move, Quinn tilted nir head and kissed him on the lips. Gloriously, for just a few seconds, he responded. It was like ne had been invited into a special world.
Then he pulled away, shaking his head. “Look. This isn’t going to work.”
“Why not?” Quinn asked, still in close.
“Come on, let me up.” Ne did and they sat facing each other on the carpet. “You’re an eft.” It was not really a question.
As was increasingly common, Quinn’s parents had elected to have nir be born an eft, a genetically neuter child. Nir had a urethra, internal gonads, and the small sensitive protusion that could be a penis or clitoris. The postponement of sexual development, it was felt, allowed for the greatest range of choice for the child in nir self-expression.
As they aged, efts could choose to receive genetic and hormonal treatments to become male, female, hermaphroditic, or, if sexuality itself held little appeal, simply remain as they were, an adult eft: a neuter, or newt.
“Sure,” ne said uncomfortably. “So?”
“So physically, it won’t work.” Quinn began to protest, but Kendal overrode nir. “I know, there’s lots we can do without vaginal intercourse. And I know, you can still orgasm, like anyone else. Believe me, I know.”
Quinn stared, not quite getting it. Finally it sunk in. “You’re an eft, too.”
“Was. I chose when I was fifteen.”
“Can I see?” Quinn asked, then immediately sensed how rude the question was.
“No. And look, obviously you’re wanting something, trying to figure out who you really are. But I don’t want to influence you. I don’t want you to choose one sex or the other because of what I want. It needs to be your decision.” He stood up.
“What if this is what I want?”
“Then I’ll see you on the other side. But until you decide, I think we should stop hanging out.”
“Seriously. I’ll see you in class.”
Walking back to the dorms, Quinn’s thoughts were in turmoil. Was Kendal releasing nir or scorning nir? Was he right, or just a giant jerk?
Finally ne decided on the latter. Kendal seemed to want something concrete, a label to apply, but that was false. Quinn wasn’t one thing. Quinn was just nemself. It wasn’t something you could pin down.