The Doctor notices. People don’t think she does, most of the time, because she talks so much. Always rambling off on something – but that’s the trick you see, talk and talk, make sure they’re distracted and watch . She watches Yaz’s quick correction to her father – police officer, not police woman – an interesting distinction, she thinks. In that moment, Yaz’s fist clenches hard and fast, releasing quickly enough that the Doctor doesn’t think anyone else has noticed. She had never particularly understood the hang-ups about human gender – that tends to happen when you’ve grown up in an advanced society that changes their outward appearance often – each new body was a transition for a time lord, a new experience while remaining fundamentally the same person. Bill had explained it, or tried to at least. It was difficult, thinking about the things that Bill had taught her – she inevitably thought of Bill’s face, and her laugh, and how she had failed to protect her in the end. But this was important, understanding her new friends, not getting anything wrong.
She notices more after that – they’re headed towards the TARDIS and Graham says “you girls go ahead” and, barely perceptible, Yaz flinches. Miles (and years) away from home, someone addresses Yaz as “Ma’am” and the Doctor thinks about the flash of discomfort that she sees on Yaz’s face for days. “Some people, they just, don’t feel like they’re men or women,” Bill had said. “Like they’re in the middle – or outside, depending who you talk to.” It had stuck with the Doctor, even if he was too stoic to admit that then. She regrets that sometimes, regrets that he had used all of his energy to push his emotions down, that he hadn’t told Bill that she was brilliant while he still had time to do so. She supposes that taking the lessons Bill had taught her and using them to help... That would have to do. And she makes sure to tell them all that they’re brilliant, Graham and Ryan and especially Yaz.
She doesn’t really fit into human gender, even if people assume she does most of the time. It makes sense – she isn’t human, after all. Bill had been the first one who had asked about it, after he’d made that quip about time lords and gender. “So what about you?” She had asked. “Do you feel on either side?”.
“I just am,” He had replied, and Bill had rolled her eyes. It was a fond roll, one that he had seen quite a few times when he was travelling with her. It was the ‘I know you have emotions, you daft old man, even if you won’t say it’ eye roll – words that echoed somewhere at the back of his mind. Clara’s words, the echoes told her. She thinks sentimentally sometimes, that she is – well, she now because of Bill. Without that question - that reminder that she did not have to conform to human standards - she doesn’t know what form she would have taken.
That’s not the problem at hand though. The problem at hand is making sure that her friends – her family – feel safe and comfortable and loved. That’s the most important thing – that Yaz feels loved. If she decides that their next adventure is going to involve a trip to a planet with peoples of 8 fluid and undefined genders – well, that’s just her prerogative isn’t it? She still proceeds carefully – contrary to popular belief, she’s not a complete idiot, and she knows that this is a delicate subject. Sometimes people don’t realize things about themselves, and the Doctor didn’t particularly want to foist some identity onto Yaz – of course, she could just talk to Yaz, but somehow this is far too a complicated subject to breach with her companion. She talks to the TARDIS about it – walks the ship through her plan, and makes sure to never call Yaz a woman.
She tries it out the next time they’re having to introduce themselves – “This is Ryan, he’s studying for his NVQ, smart boy. And Graham, Ryan’s grandad, he’s wonderful,” She pauses before saying it. “And this is Yaz, they’re absolutely amazing.” She makes sure to say it in English - doesn’t want to have her Gallifreyan muddled up in the translation. She continues quickly – ‘going off on one’, as Ryan would say, and to the casual observer her focus seems to jump from one thing to the next, never stopping at any thing too long. The fact of the matter is that all of her senses are trained on Yasmin Khan, waiting for a reaction. The reaction that the Doctor is looking for is practically immediate – Yaz’s eyes dart towards the Doctor in... Surprise? Confusion? Relief? Whatever the feeling, what matters to the Doctor is that there isn’t the flinch that accompanies every time that someone refers to Yaz as ‘she’ and that’s all that really matters at the moment. It’s not a problem either – she chose to use those pronouns in this place and time for a reason – the people around her continue, for the rest of their visit to use neutral pronouns for Yaz, no questions asked. She catches a few more glances from Yaz throughout the day, accompanied always by a furrowed brow.
Yaz doesn’t say anything though, not even when they are in the TARDIS, safe and alone, aside from Graham and Ryan. It is only when Graham and Ryan have shuffled off to bed – with a detour to the kitchen first if Graham has anything to do with it – that Yaz speaks up.
“Why did you do that today?” Yaz asks. “The pronouns thing I mean – I mean I’ve never, well…”
The Doctor waits – she doesn’t want to force the direction of this conversation (she doesn’t want Yaz to walk away from this, as she knows might be the case if it isn’t allowed to just flow).
“I’ve never told you guys about that – I mean how did you even know?”
“I noticed,” the Doctor replies. “The first time when you flinched when your dad called you a policewoman - and every time after that I guess. When someone calls you ‘her’. Or a woman. And not like how I react, where I’ve forgotten I’m a woman now, but like you’re uncomfortable and I figured that maybe I could give you that comfort – everyone should be able to feel that you know, comfort in their own bodies, in their own persons. Bill told me that --- well, anyway, did you? Feel more comfortable I mean?”
“Er, yeah – it’s what I prefer. I’ve told my dad a few times but he doesn’t really… get it and I got tired, I guess of having to explain it to people. Usually people, they don’t even know what I’m talking about, much less which pronouns to use,” Yaz looks up at the Doctor with a twisted smile on their face. “It just... Gets to be too much of a hassle sometimes.” There’s still a question in their eyes though, and the Doctor decides that she can speak now.
“I had this friend – Bill – and she explained, you know, about the human gender thing. She was good like that, you know, teaching me things even though she thought she was the student. She’s the reason I have this body… Well I say reason as if it’s that straightforward—”
“Doctor,” Yaz interrupted, placing her hand on top of the Doctor’s. “You’re going off on one again… But, thank you Doctor, really.”
The Doctor flipped her hand over, entwining her fingers with theirs, “Oh Yaz, it’s my pleasure.”