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On Being Female

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It began, as did so many bewilderments small and large, with a declaration by Captain Carrot. Vimes contemplated and digested it for a while before picking out the bit he felt most qualified to deal with.

"The Dwarf Women's Guild," he said.

"Yes, sir," Carrot said brightly. "Corporal Littlebottom had the idea of forming a sort of support group, to talk about dwarf women's issues and increase visibility."

Vimes had always thought Cheery did quite a good job of being visible all by herself. "And now they're a guild." That had Carrot's fingerprints all over it - or rather, if closely examined, would turn out not to have any trace of his fingerprints anywhere. Carrot never set out to organise things; instead, they tended to become spontaneously organised around him, and leave in their wake a trail of bemused volunteers who had previously believed a community spirit was something you drank from a punch bowl.

"Well, once word went out in The Ankh-Morpork Times it all rather cascaded*. We thought it was important to involve some of the more traditional dwarfs as well as the progressives, to show that there's a whole spectrum of being female - that it's not just about dressing and acting in certain way, but about claiming the word for yourself, even if it's only in your head."

There was a world of danger in that 'we', Vimes thought. With anybody else, that 'we' would have been a thinly disguised 'I', but Carrot somehow had a way of speaking for the group that didn't involve shouting other people's opinions down, rather projecting his own outwards so that when they opened their mouths to have their say they found they already agreed.

"All right," he said. "So, where do you fit in?"

Carrot raised his chin, which left Vimes, still seated at his desk, staring up at a particularly nobly posed stretch of neck. "Well, I thought that since a lot of the traditional dwarfs were a bit reluctant to be associated with the guild at first, I should be the one to get the mineshaft started as it were."

And so they came to the crux of the matter. "By joining the Dwarf Women's Guild," he checked.

"Well, yes." Carrot blinked, as if uncertain why there should be any doubt.

Vimes found himself momentarily stymied. Carrot's personal slant on reality had a way of tilting everything in the immediate vicinity, leaving you wondering if you were the one who'd been standing at a funny angle all along.

"You don't feel that you're lacking... certain essential attributes?" he tried.

Carrot cocked his head in innocent curiosity. "In what way, sir?"

"Erm." Sybil would have told him this required a delicate touch, but Vimes' diplomatic skills had never extended much past Making Enquiries. "I understood that membership of the Dwarf Women's Guild would require, well... being a woman," he said.

"That's right, sir." Carrot nodded. "I know Ulf Rockbinder was disappointed that he wouldn't be able to join, but we felt it was best if he formed a separate Dwarfs Who Are Not Women But Support There Being a Women's Guild Guild, in order to keep the main membership restricted to those who share our core identity."

"Of... femaleness."

"Yes, sir."

Vimes regarded the guard captain standing before him: all six foot six broad-shouldered muscle mountain of him. If Leonard da Quirm had drawn an illustration of what 'male' looked like, Carrot could have had the starring role.

"You don't, ah, appear to be...?" he ventured eventually.

"Ah!" Carrot said brightly. "That's because I'm a traditional dwarf."

There were so many things Vimes could see wrong with that statement that, never mind certain well-known equations with regard to the summing of wrongs, it would take several hours of complex equations to determine whether it in fact made a wrong, a right, a left, or a right bloody mess.

"Right," he said helplessly.

"As I say, sir, I thought it was important for those of us who still follow traditional dwarf practises to join the guild as well, to demonstrate that claiming a statement of gender doesn't necessarily have to mean abandoning the old ways."

"And you're stating that you're... female." Well. Dwarfs did things differently, didn't they? And Carrot... Carrot did things very differently. Vimes rallied. Halfway. "Will there need to be, erm... pronouns?" He wasn't sure how well the city as a whole would cope with pronouns, though if anyone could get the people of Ankh-Morpork blushing and stammering apologetically every time they messed up, it was Captain Carrot.

"Oh, no, sir." Carrot looked slightly alarmed. "That's a bit... drastic, don't you think? I mean, I know some of the women feel it's an important part of femaleness, but, er-"

"You'd rather... assert your right to be acknowledged as female by not doing anything traditionally associated with being female," Vimes said.

The captain radiated relief. "Yes, that's it exactly, sir."

"Well, fair enough." Vimes shuffled his paperwork, more out of a vague hope that some of it might miraculously slip out of the pile and vanish into the depths than any desire to organise it.

A stray thought sidled in, and, despite its ill-advised nature, refused to be ejected until it had been asked.

"So, er... Sergeant Angua doesn't mind you being female at all?" he said carefully.

Clear, guileless eyes met his. "Why would she?"

"These things can be," Vimes waved an awkward hand, "complicated. I hear." He couldn't really say that his own romantic history had ever been particularly complicated. An emotional rollercoaster, yes, but not one of those ones with loops and upside-down sections and unexpected twisty bits. Just a series of rapid plunges, interspersed with periods of steady uphill chugging where he clutched the sides and waited in fearful anticipation of the drop.

"I don't see why, sir," Carrot said.

No, of course you don't, Vimes thought.

"So, she hasn't mentioned having any issues?" he said.

"It doesn't really come up."

"Er," said Vimes. He decided he wasn't touching that comment. As it was he'd waded far enough into these rocky emotional waters for someone who was, at best, capable of a few frantic seconds of emotional doggy-paddle. "Well... very good," he said, straightening up. "Er, carry on, then. As you were."

Carrot departed, and there were a few moments of blessedly undisturbed silence before the "bingely-bongely beep" that heralded the morning's next appointment.

The odds were depressingly small that this would turn out to be his strangest conversation of the day.


* Dwarfs aren't big on snowball metaphors**. They tend to take a dim view of structures formed from building materials prone to inopportune melting. To quote the famous last words of Gunnolf Underhammer, "See, if I hold the lamp too close to it, the whole thing's just going to- aargh!"

** Or anything else, really.