Transitioning in Sacaan (Worldbuilding)

This isn’t about the experience of being trans in Sacaan – that’s another post entirely – but more a quick look at exactly how someone who wanted to physically change their body as part of their transition would go about doing that.

Unlike in our world, ‘medical’ transition in Sacaan is achieved by way of an enchantment – a powerful permanent spell tied to the soul of the person it’s cast on and sealed with a sigil tattooed onto their skin. The enchantment which allows gender transition is also the only enchantment which survived through the centuries since the Fall, since it was and is part of a religious ceremony and so the words, gestures, components and sigils needed for the spell have persisted as ritual where those needed for other enchantments have been lost or corrupted by time and distance.

Unsurprisingly, the deity whose priests are entrusted with the knowledge of this ritual is Ashkenta, the goddess of transitions, borders and liminal spaces (also knowledge, hunting, and medicine, though those are not quite as important for this specific context). Societally, Ashkenta’s priests are all considered to be neither male nor female (there’s a specific ‘they’ pronoun in Sacaask used for them which would translate out as something like ‘priest-they’ or ‘sacred-they’) and many of them are non-binary or agender in their personal conception of themselves as well.

Transition via the ritual is available to anyone who visits the temple, provided that they’re a) an adult and b) consenting in full understanding of what they’re asking for. There’s some flexibility on the first of those criteria, depending on the individual involved, but no flexibility on the second – if someone is not in a position to consent to a permanent physical change to their body, the temple will not allow them to go through with the ritual. In many temples, a nominated priest will meet with the person who wishes to go through the ritual a few months in advance, both to talk to them about what it entails and ensure they’re prepared, and also to start building a rapport so that, when the time comes, they know at least one of the people involved in the ritual.

When the day comes, the person who is the subject of the ritual arrives at the temple a few hours before sunset. They strip, wash themselves (first using a basin and ewer, then fully immersing themselves in a pool specifically for ritual cleansing), and re-dress themselves in a plain grey novice’s robe provided by the temple, belting it with a red cord on which they hang their belt-knife and a small pouch containing anything they want to have with them in the ritual space.

Then, once they’re re-dressed and comfortable, they’re taken through to a smaller sanctuary behind the main space of the temple. Some request family or friends to be present, others (by choice or necessity) go alone, but in both cases they’re met by a small group of priests, all in full ceremonial garb. They lie on an altar at the centre of the room, surrounded by candles, and the most senior of the priests gives them a wooden bowl containing a drink mixed from certain herbs and medicinal plants.

This is not a painkiller, or a sleeping draught. Instead, it is a drink which lowers their body’s natural defences to magic and, for want of a better term, opens their soul to allow the priests to work the enchantment. The secret of the drink’s preparation is guarded exceptionally carefully by the priests of Ashkenta, who are all too well aware what could happen if it ended up in the wrong hands – while it is only one part of the ritual, and not the most important, it is still powerful enough by itself to do a great deal of damage.

The enchantment itself is a complex magical working, which must be begun exactly at sunset. For the person in the middle of it, it often passes in a blur of muttering voices, incense, smoke and light, shot through with pain as the tattoo is slowly built up over the course of the ritual. Most find themselves passing out or falling asleep halfway through, but the few who stay awake and conscious for the entire procedure find themselves helped off the altar at the end and led down a short corridor to a room which has already been prepared for them, where they fall asleep almost immediately as the second stage of the ritual’s effects begin to take hold.

Whether they stayed awake for the whole thing or not, they wake the next day to find their body changed – shifted to match how it feels as though it should always have been. There is a limit to what can be changed – the general description is that people tend to end up looking rather like the twin of their old appearance, with only minor variations in things like eye colour, hair colour, and height ever being recorded – but within that limitation there’s more variation than might be expected (not everyone wants a body that conforms to standard cisgender human configurations, after all).

While there’s no physical trauma (other than the tattooing), those who’ve gone through the ritual often find themselves drained and weak for the next few days as their bodies adapt and rebuild strength. As such, the temple generally keeps anyone who has gone through the ritual as a guest for at least a full week after their transition (though, if they really want to leave, they won’t be restrained from doing so), and most temples request (though don’t require) that they come back after a month for a check-up.

Once the enchantment has been bound to someone, it cannot be reversed while they are still alive (except by another ritual, twinned to the first and also known only to the priests of Ashkenta). Destroying or removing any part of the tattoo will not reverse the enchantment (though it can have fairly severe effects on the person’s health until the tattoo is repaired or redone).

When someone who has been through the ritual dies, however, the enchantment will reverse as it is bound to the soul and not the body. This is something that the priests of Ashkenta have been attempting to rectify for years, given the distress it has the potential to cause, but they have not yet found a way to do so.

The tattoos themselves possibly deserve a post of their own, given their cultural and historical significance. For now, I’ll add only that they don’t have to be in a specific location on the body – many people choose to have them somewhere not generally visible (often hips or thighs), but others are happy to show them off – and that it’s generally considered a massive cultural faux pas to comment on someone’s possession of one of these tattoos unless they’ve raised the topic themselves.

(EDITED TO ADD: Since this post seems to be getting a lot of eyes on it outside folks who normally read my stuff – first off, hi! Second off, if you’re looking for more about this world, more worldbuilding lives here and the drafts of the trilogy of novels set in Sacaan live here (Book 1) and here (Book 2, currently in progress))

One thought on “Transitioning in Sacaan (Worldbuilding)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s