“First the iClickers, and now this?”
Taylor and Jean stood at the entrance to the university bookstore, each with a ‘Required Materials’ list in their hands. Jean was studying their list for the fifth time, silently mouthing the name of each textbook as though they were unsavory curses. Taylor’s list hung limply from their fingertips. They were busy staring at the enormous display of pastel-colored boxes in the center of the bookstore.
To say that the display was an inconvenience was an understatement. The shelves of textbooks had been rearranged to accommodate the table, and the line of students at the counter flowed around it like a river around a boulder. Even though it was the day after the start of semester, meaning the bookstore had been recently ransacked by hordes of returning students, this display seemed nearly full. Taylor imagined a limitless supply of boxes hidden somewhere in the bookstore, ensuring no student had to go without one.
Jean grabbed one of the pink boxes and threw it into their backpack without a second thought. Taylor was less accepting, grabbing a blue box and scrutinizing it from all angles.
“You ever have to buy one of these things before?” they asked Jean, who was already walking away from the display, headed back toward the BIO section of the bookstore.
“No, but professors are always assigning weird stuff,” Jean shrugged. “They probably get a cut of the profits.”
“This is different,” Taylor insisted, pressing the blue box into Jean’s face. “This thing was marked as ‘Required’ for every one of my classes, even the Gen Eds!”
“Same here, so what?”
“So it’s a load of crap. I’ll buy books written in Greek and workbooks I’ll never touch, but this is the last straw.” Taylor squinted harder at the uniform blue box, which was labeled with just a single word: ‘Boy’. “What the hell do I need a Gender for?”
“Everyone else is getting one,” Jean said as they continued filling their backpack with books. Alongside the pink box, labeled ‘Girl’, they now had an Organic Biology textbook and a lab manual to match.
Taylor huffed. They turned the box over once more, checking for any extra information. “Does it even matter which one we get?”
Jean paused, then shrugged. “No idea. Guess we could ask.”
The line to checkout was long as ever, but luckily there wasn’t anyone at the information desk. Taylor and Jean put their Genders on the counter.
The worker behind the desk smiled plastically, “I’m afraid you can’t make purchases here, you’ll have to wait in line for a turn at the register.”
“I’m not purchasing something until I know what it is,” Taylor said, lip curling at one side.
The worker blinked, then pointed graciously at the one-word label on Taylor’s box. “That right there is a male Gender. What more do you need to know?”
Taylor sputtered, “What–what does it do? What’s it for?”
The worker gave Taylor a gleeful, criminally exaggerated shrug. “It’s just something you have! Easy as that!”
Taylor noticed Jean stiffen, and wondered if it was because of the worker’s patronizing attitude or because they were starting to have the same doubts Taylor did. “There has to be a point, though. If the point is to just have one, why are there different options?”
“That’s just the way it is!” The pitch of the worker’s voice was rising steadily, as was the energy they put into their gestures. “‘Boy’ and ‘Girl’, since always!”
“Uh-uh, it says here that there’s way more than those two,” Taylor jabbed at their list. “Your display only has the blue and pink ones, where are the others?”
The worker’s energy dimmed, their hands retreating back behind the desk. “But of course we have alternative options available. We are an all-inclusive university, after all.”
“So where are they?”
“Oh, we’ll need to put out a special order,” the worker articulated with a tap of their pen. “I should warn you, you’ll only have access to about a tenth of the bathrooms on campus. And you’ll need to pick a ‘Girl’ or ‘Boy’ in the meantime until your order comes in.”
Jean narrowed their eyes. “And how long does that take?”
The worker only smiled. This seemed to be most honest answer the two had gotten so far.
“Is there even a difference?” Taylor pressed. “They’re labeled differently, but my requirements say that any Gender is fine.”
“Yes, yes, either one, don’t worry about it! We treat both genders equally,” The worker waved their hand dismissively.
“That can’t be true,” Jean said, studying their list intently. “For all my STEM classes, they recommend a ‘Boy’, why is that?”
Before the worker could answer, Taylor noticed the price tags on the boxes. “Yeah, and why is the ‘Boy’ $100 when the ‘Girl’ is only $68?”
The worker’s smile froze in place. Their eyes unfocused, as though a one-way barrier had risen between them and the two students. “If you have any further questions about your class requirements, I suggest you take it up with your professors. Have a nice day.”
Jean and Taylor looked at each other in disbelief for a long moment, then threw the boxes into their backpacks.
“What a load of crap,” Taylor muttered, stuffing their Gender to the bottom of their bag to make room for their textbooks.
“It’s a conspiracy, like I said,” Jean answered. “They’re just trying to wring as much cash out of us as they can.”
“Yeah, well I’m not keeping it,” Taylor said, crushing the blue box beneath A People’s History of the United States. “I’m selling it to some freshman sucker first chance I get.”