Transgender Basketball Club
By Kim Bi
Translated by Victoria Caudle
My life was destroyed. That is, if I ever had a life. If I ever had been given a moment of equality like when the whistle blows, the jump ball is tossed, and me and the person standing before me jump up at the same time. Now, it seems that I am not even permitted to breathe. Why is anesthetic sleep different from everyday sleep? I close my eyes and lose memory in both, so why do I feel that I have not been woken but rather broken?
“Are you awake? Open your eyes.”
The nurse pinched my side. I dragged my eyelids up. I could not see because of the flood of light in front of me. I tried to nod, but I kept collapsing to one side. It was an unscheduled sleep. It seemed like evening, and it seemed like daytime, too. I was a body with only one head.
“Wake up now. We’re going to move you to the recovery room.”
She pushed forward two more arms and lifted me up. What I thought was one woman split into two. They carried a body not my own, lifting it up and down, moving it onto a bed shaped like a coffin. If only someone would blow a whistle, I could focus my thoughts.
My body was hot as lava, but kept feeling chilled. I wanted to at least pull up a blanket, but couldn’t. After all, there are no blankets in coffins. Even if there were a blanket, I have no arms to reach for it. Now, even though my eyes are shut, I must hurry up and come to my senses. Sticking out my tongue, I wet my lips. Thirsty for life.
After turning forty, it seemed there was no going back. Life that once appeared to go on endlessly now creaked and squeaked in the face of the number forty. Like a sign. Sometimes like an alarm, sometimes like a reveille.
Coming home from work, I would be pushed out onto the veranda, pursued by the boredom of daily life, and then one day I saw a strange sight. As the darkening evening sky was pushed up, the scenery beyond the 13th floor window appeared beneath my feet. A long, straight pillar shaped like a black tombstone swiftly grew skyward. I shook my head thinking it must be a side effect of long-suffered insomnia, but the thing sprouting bulkily, slowly overlapped my inverted body. I heard the giiiik giiiik mechanical noise much later.
Even as I watched the pillar sprout up and latch midair onto something above my head, eying a plank laden with moving boxes sliding up and down and up and down, it still seemed to me to be the iron mace which shattered my cowardly quotidian. A train I had long believed to be sent on its way was steaming back from the opposite direction. It brought me back to a center point on my timeline and hung long-overdue questions right before my eyes. Where are you going? There will be no turning back now, are you sure?
The catalyst that began the surgeries to reclaim my destroyed life was, absurdly, the business of shaving. I happened to be a pretty hairy person, and the hair in that area was particularly thick and stubborn. When my basketball friends pointed at my two white legs swollen with hair, I felt so ashamed I could sink into the ground. It was always like that. Me the hirsute, me with the jutting Adam’s apple; All I wanted was to avoid by any means the things which called out the me that wasn’t me. In my eyes, all of those changes were not natural signs of development but wounds. Suffering from an accident called Birth, wounds blossomed over my entire body.
Nowadays there are places where you pay for hair removal, but I did not want to show that place to any other person. A situation so horrifying and distressing, I hate to even imagine it. But it was no easy task shaving hair off the tender flesh that covered that place. It was on a different level from shaving a moustache or a leg. The hair grew not on a base of muscle and bone but on wrinkled flesh, and pushing razor blades over it was not an easy task. Bending at the waist with a mirror placed on the floor, taking the dangling flesh in hand, stretching and shearing, tugging and shaving, tears sprung to my eyes. It was shameful, but in that moment, the naked skin between my two legs was so pitiful. That place, stripped bare of its coarse hair, looked as long and exhausted as the forty years that I had used all my strength to endure.
How did you get there? Why did you come to me? I helped you live for such a long time, now please let me live. Please save me. As I stroked the drooping flesh, I quietly made my farewells to my most deeply rooted wound.
The nurse who came to check my temperature diligently jotted down the digits every hour. After tightly winding the tube that pushed who-knows-what drugs into me, I could barely open my eyes. The more I moved my finger and my arm, the more a pain which had been just a numb buzz tore through my skin, washing over me. It felt like a diaper had been put between my legs, and a metal stake seemed to have been pounded into the line of my back. There was no reason for a nail to be in the soft hospital bed, but my back felt as if it would split, so I moved restlessly. My temperature must have kept rising because the steps of the nurse writing it down grew busier. As she gave me more medicine and stuck another needle in my arm, she stroked my face.
“Don’t worry. This is happening because the anesthetic is working its way out of your system. It’s alright.”
However, I was too deep in my fevered haze. The one whose face was colored with worry was hers. As soon as the nurse left, the pain which had been slowly climbing suddenly began slashing at my whole body. It felt as if I were being thinly sliced from my thighs to the bottoms of my feet. The pain which had been throbbing in my back now began anew, relentlessly grinding. A rake full of sharpened skewers scratched continuously inside my lower belly. Perhaps it was because of my soaring fever, but my breath grew short.
The nurse came in again, checked my temperature, and ran out. She returned with several ice packs that she put in my armpits and shot more medicine into my IV. My whole body violently shivered because of the fever and pain. The nurse no longer told me that everything was alright. Avoiding my gaze, she bolted from the hospital room as though running away.
Save me. Please save me. I’ve helped you live for forty years, so please let me live. Save me.
Mumbling noises that weren’t quite cries, nor were they screams, I barely clung to the metal handrails on the bed. I hit the rails. I clenched my teeth to keep from being eaten alive by the pain that chewed through my whole body. I screamed and struggled and I prayed and prayed. They might not even have been prayers but screams. They might not even have been screams but pleas. They might not even have been pleas but rather a writhing and lingering single shot of a shout. No, not a shout—a prayer. No, a plea! No, a cry! No, a scream! No, a prayer! Please, please, please!
My body was dying. In order to stay alive, it was dying with all its might.
Lifting a ball bigger than my head, dribbling the ball, shoving those blocking my path, and being pushed in turn by them, without falling, dodging bodies every which way, and sinking the ball into the basket hanging above. I started this sport when I was in 6th grade. There was a girl in my class who was taller than me; we were in the same class in 5th grade, to be precise. I went to the basketball court with the girl-who-came-from-America’s cousin, and it was there that I first saw her dribble, pass the ball back and forth, and sink it into the basket. I found out later that it was thanks to her being taller than all the other kids our age that she became a member of the school basketball team. She and her cousin skillfully passed the ball to each other and tossed it into the hoop, but I just held it to my chest since I couldn’t dribble. I wasn’t even passing, yet the ball still dropped through my arms, and every shot I made didn’t come close to the basket, flying through the empty air.
Being that even if I got the ball I couldn’t pass properly, they propped me up on the court and played the whole game passing the ball between just the two of them. The opponents were three, we were three, but two. In order to fill the gap left by me foolishly standing stock still, the two of them jumped even higher, moved even more. When the two of them miraculously defeated the opposing three, instead of cheering with satisfaction from winning, they turned on me, the one who had stood by uselessly, and showered me with curses. Pointed at me and shouted, you fucking dare to call yourself a man!
It was then I knew. For the first time, I realized that in a game which seems to consist of nothing but victory and defeat, to some there can be something more harrowing than a loss.
I picked up basketball again in middle school in an effort to become normal like the other boys. The school I attended was an all-boys school. My height had suddenly shot up, but to the other boys who called me ‘Miss Oh’, I was their plaything. It was a game for them to follow me to the bathroom, pull down my pants and underwear, and ogle what was between my legs. Jeering at and attacking me—the kid who lagged behind everyone in social skills—became a way for all the other boys and the teachers to relieve their stress. There was nothing I could do but let them use me as a punching bag. There was no one to tell me everything would be okay. There were only people cursing and yelling at me or asking things like “How do you plan on living?” and sighing. Young and old, teacher or not-teacher, all the “humans” I met during that time fell into one of two categories. It seemed that I alone was not human.
Since there was no way to improve without dribbling, I learned how to dribble, and when I realized that if you don’t pass, the ball won’t get passed back to you, I practiced throwing that heavy ball, using all my strength without holding back. Once I threw the ball, even if my tiny body was knocked about, I made sure to gather all my power in my fingertips to push the ball further. As always, my ball didn’t come close to reaching the basket and flew through empty air, but I picked up the ball and threw it above my head again. Other children may have pointed at me and shouted at me once again for ruining the game, but that was nothing new to my everyday life. And the next time they played I joined in with the other kids and threw the ball, and if they didn’t let me join in I threw the ball by myself. No matter what happened I didn’t give up, and again I would dribble, use all my strength, and throw the ball through the air.
In those days, holding a ball and jumping manifested my desperation to be like all the other boys. It was a plea and a scream, and it was also a prayer. No matter what happened, I did not want to be pushed into that awful abyss that was so much worse than defeat, and this was my young self’s last reserve of strength.
The pain held constant for nearly twenty-four hours. It started around early evening the day before, and by the afternoon of the next day, I lost consciousness. After crying all night and swallowing my screams, I was discovered by a doctor who was just clocking in and he prescribed another medication. Their promises that it would get better soon were as foul as their breath.
As noon passed, I lost consciousness as my body became overwhelmed by sleep. Unable to eat, I fell into a faint-like sleep until the next day. I didn’t even dream. My body, surging with terrible pain, wasn’t allowed the peaceful state of dreaming.
It felt as if the tube in my side were the weapon causing all my pain and I asked if it could be removed, but the doctor said that it was thanks to this tube that the pain was as low as it was. The doctor added that I would continue to receive shots of pain medication so the pain would not be the same as the beginning, but this belated declaration left me desolate. When I was once again laid on the operating table to remove the compression bandages and pad that were wrapped down there, my body violently shivered as if it were reliving a recurring nightmare.
The doctor explained that I had lost a great deal of blood and the treatment area was not clean, so they would have to wait and see what happened next. The doctor explained in detail how artful the surgical process was; how the male genitals were cut and the epidermis was used to form labia, and the area between the anus and urethra was penetrated to create the vagina; but in my mind, the doctor’s fingers, which were sharply steepled, were fearsome weapons. The doctor stroked my shoulder and said, you can relax—the surgery went well, now all you have to do is complete your treatment and recover and there will be no problems. But when the doctor’s hand touched me, my whole body shook harder than when I was laid upon that operating table.
The pain had receded some as the doctor said it would, but the scraping pain below my waist continued. The pain continued to push me down to sleep in whatever position I curled up in but could just as easily pull me up from it again. It already felt as if I had not slept for days, but midnight had only just passed and it was 2 a.m.
The next day when they told me they would do my dressings for the first time, I knew that it meant they would be sterilizing the wound. However, it was not such a straightforward procedure, as they had to spread my legs and scoop out an enormous amount of blood drenched cotton. Then they had to fill the space with a pointed silver tool that resembled the genitals that had been sliced apart. They had to keep stuffing me with cotton soaked in antiseptic and scrape out the wounded area. To get rid of the pooled blood, they had to let even more antiseptic pour and repeat the procedure over and over again. The doctor had clearly stated that the pain would not be the same as before, but the nurses had to hold back each of my legs and once again I wailed and screamed. My legs shook in the nurses’ arms as I clung to the handrails.
Save me. Please save me. Since I let you live, now please let me live. I prayed and prayed with my face buried in my forearms, slick with cold sweat as if offering my naked body as a sacrifice. I pleaded and pleaded. Until the nurses left with a plastic bag filled to the brim with bloodied waste, until the space deep between my two trembling legs was once again stuffed with an enormous amount of cotton.
I was not human. I was a blood drenched doll stuffed with batting spun from pain.
“Why didn’t you come last week?”
“Um, some…stuff came up…”
“What’s got you so busy? You can’t even manage to come out for exercise once a week? It’s no fun for me if you’re not there, hyung. No one passes like you do, these CoCoCo jerks never pass to me. They’re telling me I’m old and should just go shrivel up. Jerks. They should change the group’s name. It’s so corny, I mean, Community Court Corps? What’re they thinking, right?”
Every time he’s upset about something he takes the opportunity to take a jab at the group’s name.
“Well, what would you call it then?”
“Uh, Trash Basketball Club? From all the crap they pull, you know. They’re trash, ain’t that the truth? It has an impact, and using English sounds fancy—Baseuketbol Keulleop. But enough about that, why on earth can’t you come out, hyung?”
“I just… can’t.”
I don’t know his name. I only know him by the nickname he uses in the CoCoCo group text. I also only told him my nickname, not my real name. When I started getting hormone shots, my stamina decreased rapidly. So it was the first time in a long time that I had picked up a ball when we traded numbers. I saw him and his teammates at the basketball court for nearly a year. When I joined in their games, sometimes we won and sometimes we lost. But I never knew them and they never knew me.
I didn’t think it mattered. I no longer stood powerless on the court and I never let fly any air balls.
“You’re definitely coming this week. Got it, hyung?”
“I don’t know…things might not turn out….”
“That’s bullshit. Come out. You’ve got to come. I dreamt about you the other day. So you have to come, got it?”
“You dreamt about me?”
“I did! You were surrounded by hundreds of cats, and I guess you were scared or something ‘cause you kept shaking. So I grabbed a bat, swung it around, and chased them all off. I knocked out every cat that caught my eye. I did all of that for you. That’s how it is between us, so don’t forget and come out this Sunday. Got it?”
What does it mean when you appear in someone’s dream? Why do some dreams never come true no matter how desperate you are, and some dreams come true at the most unexpected moment? He was a mechanic at a Korean-based factory for an imported car brand. I met him when my wife’s car, not even a year old, had to be brought in with a wiring problem. I had seen him around at the basketball court a few times, but when he called me hyungnim and sat down next to me, it was the first time I saw his hands in daylight. You couldn’t see them in the evening at the outdoor courts, but the tips of his fingernails were stained black with the remnants of motor oil. A stain that he could not prevent even if he wore gloves while working; an oil stain that would not come off no matter how hard he scrubbed with a nail brush. When he accepted a lifetime of living with those black stains, was he sad? Was he calm? He was not embarrassed, nor did he try to hide it. The hand he reached out and shook mine with, offered coffee with, and enthusiastically dribbled the ball with was so beautiful. In that moment, I wanted to take his hand and smell it.
“You’re grateful, aren’t you?”
“You’re grateful that I’m thinking about you and looking after you, aren’t you? You’re grateful, right?”
As my basketball skills improved little by little I believed that I was becoming more like the other boys. When they no longer yelled at me or pointed at me anymore, and when they came looking for me to ask if I would join their game, I thought I had finally overcome my alienation. I didn’t know then that my life was not as free as that ball, and that a win-or-lose game was not in my future. The me that no longer stood powerless and could move faster than anyone else to put a ball in a basket was just me, not a transformed or leveled-up me. I was just myself. Still damaged me.
“Yeah, I guess I am grateful. Truly…thank you.”
“Eh? What’s that all about? Do you think I want to hear mushy crap like that, like you’re going to die tomorrow? Buy me a drink. Alcohol. Let’s drink all night, get shitfaced and play some basketball to sober up. If you’re grateful, treat me nice. Very nice. Don’t just mysteriously smile to yourself like you always do.”
How will he react to the changed me? I should still be able to pass and shoot and get the ball to him the fastest just as before, but will he still play a game with the changed me? The only thing we need is someone to play a game with, that’s life on the court and that’s what our relationship should be.
“Okay, I’ll buy. Let’s meet up later and have that drink.”
He gruffly said a bit more, but I didn’t hear him properly. A new pain stung as it pincered its way between the pains that already racked my whole body. It didn’t even come close to competing with the pain I had suffered these past few days, but it smoldered for a long time. The longer it went on, the deeper it burned.
My wife was an incredible woman. If I get to live as a woman, I want to be a woman like my wife. I made thousands of resolutions and thousands of decisions to live like an ordinary man, but when I met her for our first date, my longstanding decisions and resolutions were swept away swiftly. I entered the place with my hair in what was then the most fashionable men’s style, wearing the most popular men’s jacket. I wore them like armor, but my wife disarmed me with her words.
“Wow, you look just like a WNBA player!”
My wife opened up a whole new world. She surpassed all my uncultured ideas. Until that point, I viewed others as those who might suss me out, who must be avoided and feared, but my wife was the first “other” that made me curious and made me want to get closer. If I think about it now, it might have been that I wanted to be like her. It must have been the pleasure of observing right before my eyes—the woman’s life I could never have. All of the actions and formalities that people call “love” were only the happiness I felt taking one step closer to her. If a marriage between two people was understood as the pleasure of two different beings becoming one, then my marriage to her could be understood as my pleasure becoming one with a being of the same sort as myself. It was for that reason I married her as soon as I graduated from university, at the age of twenty-three. As it is in all love, I too wanted to be with her as long as possible.
I have never once changed my mind about her. Even now I believe that she and I could live together for the rest of our lives. That is, if my wife would stay at my side, it would be all the easier for my dream of living like her to come true.
No, not a shout—a prayer. No, a plea! No, a cry! No, a scream! No, a prayer! Please, please, please!
But every marriage has points where your wishes and expectations don’t match and forced ties come loose. Our relationship didn’t last. The closer I felt to her the more alienated she felt from me. I never once thought that I deceived her, but she said that I had done so from the moment we met. Meeting her, marrying her, and having a baby with her were all things that required great courage and determination for me. Yet still she shouted, shaking with fury, that I was a coward. I believed our relationship could overcome the mold society had made, but when she stared back at me with a cigarette between her lips, her eyes told me she was all too conventional.
“Now, when you take out the catheter you will have to practice urinating. Since your urethra is now much shorter than before, if you don’t practice going to the bathroom earlier, you could develop a big problem. Therefore once you have healed to a certain degree you must remove the catheter and practice urinating comfortably.”
The catheter was a hose that stuck out between my legs like a shriveled, erect penis. I fumbled around between my legs with my hand for the first time. Until just a few days ago, being aware of the “absence” of what used to exist there stirred up indescribable emotion. It was different from “loss” which is necessarily accompanied by regret. And of course it was different from “relief,” which must be built on a base of comfort. They say that amputees get phantom feelings; will I get phantom feelings, too? If so will it feel like an erection, or will it feel soft? From what point is it hallucination, and to what extent is it a disappeared existence?
Divorcing my wife was only natural. There was nothing to settle and there wasn’t much to mediate. My wife had her business and I had mine, so we merely went from traveling the same path to going our separate ways. Though she demanded that even if I went through with the surgery that I continue to send child support, the choice of putting off surgery after the divorce was down to me. I was not afraid of living alone, but sometimes I missed my wife. I dressed and spoke like her, wore my hair like her, and met men at bars, but none of that destroyed the emotion in the slightest and the feeling of missing my wife remained. No matter which way you look at it, my desire to live with my wife even after surgery was clearly selfish, but I was certain that my feelings for her had never changed, not even by so much as fingernail. Whether or not it was love, I can only swear that my feelings for my wife—from the very first moment till now and going forth—will never change. I stake my life, and even my second life on it.
Even if it isn’t love, it would be fine, wouldn’t it? Isn’t missing her enough? After getting divorced these open wounds of questions had me sleeping fitfully for a long time. My own heartbreak, brought about by my own selfishness, was no different from the suffering any couple goes through when the split up. Be it husband and wife, or wife and wife.
Around the time I adjusted to sleeping when it was time to sleep and waking when it was time to wake, I tried to get up from my bed and stand for the first time and ended up collapsing on the floor. I had been told that now I needed to practice standing up little by little, so I got up. But as soon as I placed my feet unsteadily on the floor, sound disappeared from my ears and I started to feel sick. I moved my body to take one more step, but the world was flipping as if rejecting my existence. My body fell hard toward the wall.
Even after I was pulled up and laid back on the bed by a surprised nurse, I could not catch my breath for quite some time. The nurse once again had to stick me with an IV and after a while my vision cleared. My body was sticky with cold sweat. The doctor took a look at my wound to make sure nothing had gone wrong and said that these things happen when you try to stand up after lying down for so long. It can happen to anyone, he said, no one can avoid it.
On that day, in the afternoon, I had a wholly unexpected visitor. Speaking of something that can happen to anyone and something that no one can avoid, the relationship between that child and myself is probably a special case. I don’t know if I was a mysterious figure to that child, but he was undeniably my son.
“What’s with this tiny room? Are you sure this place is handling the surgery properly?”
Avoiding my now more sunken eyes, he kept looking around the small hospital room. When he was in elementary school, he caught me leaving the house wearing women’s clothes a few times. I couldn’t bring myself to acknowledge it first, so I didn’t mention anything about it to him and he didn’t mention it either. Afterward, he did suddenly stop talking to me very much, but I didn’t want to explain every little detail of myself. That was never possible to start with. I don’t know what passed between him and his mother, but perhaps that is why when faced with our divorce, he was unusually calm.
“It wasn’t mom who told me to come.”
I know that she wouldn’t have. I also know that I am not her wife. So coming face-to-face with my son in that tiny hospital room was all the more unexpected.
“My girlfriend. She said since my dad had surgery, I had to come.”
“What did you go telling her that for?”
After tossing out the question, I thought that in this moment I might have looked the most like a normal dad. While we lived together as parent and child, I wonder how many times the child discovered me, his father, like that. Or perhaps it was the same as discovering me, his mother?
“There are no secrets between us. We aren’t going to change. We even wrote a marriage certificate. Well, a fake one at least.”
A seventeen-year-old boy. My wife seemed to relax as she saw him growing up to be so very different from me. Since this isn’t a disease or a disorder, I didn’t believe for a moment that the boy would resemble me in that way, but it was a sensitive issue for my wife.
“So you’re good at listening to your girlfriend, then?”
“She’s really wise, ya’ know. She’s never wrong. Her mom and dad split up, too. She’s on her dad’s side; even she thinks her mom is difficult.”
That bag with juk he brought was probably her idea as well. She might have even told him it would be pointless to bring soda or vitamin drinks, commenting that if you’re going to bring something, it might as well be this and picked herself which juk from the menu to bring.
“She put it like this. No matter what happens, if you’re willing to throw away everything you’ve lived for up till this point, then you must have been going through pain we can’t imagine all on your own. No matter how hard it was for me those ten or so years because of you, if your pain measures up to that, then I have to recognize and accept it.”
Suddenly the dizziness pinged back. Times that I had forgotten were resurfacing. I opened my eyes wide and turned away from him. Whether I’m his father or his mother, I never wanted to show him such an ugly appearance so much as right now.
“She’s really wise, isn’t she? My girlfriend.”
I couldn’t even nod my head. I tried to settle my rolling stomach but just kept clearing my throat.
“But, Dad, you better not do anything like ask me to call you mom. You will always be dad to me.”
I looked up and tried not to cry.
“It’s like how no matter which body you had you always thought of yourself as a woman, Dad. It’s the same for me, no matter what body you have, you will always be my father. I have one mother and one father; those are the two people who I call family. I’m not some kid who was adopted by a homosexual couple and it’s not like I have two moms, so let’s keep that clear.”
As he said the word “clear” he divided the air with his palms.
“So…I’ll probably call you ajumma, just like I would any other random woman. If we meet outside, that’s how we’ll have to do it. There is no other option. So don’t get upset about it, Dad. You’ve got accept this at least.”
I looked at the IV bag suspended above me. The vinyl bag was full to bursting with urine-yellow tears. I was thankful. My whole body trembled with appreciation that the boy was planning on seeing me again, no matter what the conditions were.
“Anyways, you need to hurry up and get better, and play basketball with me. My skills have improved a ton. You’ll be shocked, dad.”
“I—I don’t think…I’ll be able to do that anymore.”
I wanted to be clear like he said, so I managed to mumble that, but suddenly he glared down at me.
“Why? Why can’t you? Is there a law that women can’t play basketball? Now that you’ve had surgery you can’t even play basketball? Of course women can play!”
He spent a long time insisting that we must play together again. He didn’t forget to add that he’d go easy on me now that my stamina has gone down. He nattered on saying that normally when he plays a girl they get two points for every basket, but he won’t do that for me. Even if I get my gender legally changed, he was drawing the line there. He backed up his decision quoting an article he read somewhere about a foreign transgender tennis player who is the subject of debate as to whether she can join the women’s tennis league.
Then he continued to brag about his girlfriend, and then talked about his shooting form. He said that he doesn’t really like LeBron James, that he thinks Steph Curry is the shit, and gave a huge thumbs up. He then heaped praise on his girlfriend again before talking about the new NBA uniforms, then about his plans to marry his girlfriend, and then about his basketball position. I was still dizzy from his chattering, but strangely my mind was clearer. The fuzzy confusion that had been strangling my mind all day completely dissipated. My son left and I fell deep asleep. The deepest sleep I’ve had in a long time.
Right before I was discharged from hospital, I got my dressings changed for the last time. I was laid down on the table, and I saw for the first time that place reflected back at me from a tipped over lampshade. The doctor was working hard, digging between my legs, and every time he looked up I saw deep red blood flowing from between my split open thighs. Even though I was looking at it reflected back at me in from the mirror-like backside of a lamp, I recognized it immediately. It wasn’t the soft pink genitals seen in pornography but a wound hastily stitched up after a mutilation, covered in clotted blood.
Every time the doctor looked up to say that everything was looking much better, my heart kept tearing. I knew that what I hoped for was a long way off, but seeing the wound with my own two eyes was all too grisly. I promised that I wasn’t so foolish as to believe I would become a woman immediately after surgery, but the shredded place between my legs was cutting down my determination and resolution slice by slice.
The doctor said that since the wound has not completely healed yet I need to take the prescribed antibiotics and come back to the hospital when possible for disinfection. The doctor insisted that I needed to take good care of the area because if the cotton-filled, man-made vaginal canal becomes too narrow, then the difficult surgery would be a waste. The doctor looked at me sharply and said, “I know that as you start your new life there are many things you want to do, but you have to put looking after your health first. You mustn’t drink or smoke or exert yourself in any way.” The doctor smiled and added, “Congratulations,” but I couldn’t bring myself to smile back. The name stitched onto the doctor’s left side pocket had a ripped seam. “Chunghui,” the doctor’s name, was ambiguously missing its surname.
I stood up after changing into the loose tracksuit I had prepared and felt nausea well up again. Remembering how I collapsed before, I held tight to the handrail until it passed. It seemed that I would be waddling for a long time because of the compression bandages and pad strapped between my legs. I felt reassured that the pain had almost completely subsided, but the wounds impressed in my mind had hardly been erased at all.
I could do as the doctor suggested; I didn’t have to make any new plans. After quitting the company, my whole life was my part-time job of translating manuscripts for ₩3,000 per page, which helped me eke out a living. Since I had spent all of my severance fee on the surgery, I had in essence become penniless. Before going through with the surgery, things like living expenses, rent, and child support felt vague and unreal, but now that the procedure was over, the ideas I had believed so strongly seemed more unreal. If I could at least still do my translation work, then perhaps I could even get a job copyediting some supplementary study books. But if I couldn’t, then I resolved to get work at a restaurant or in the kitchens. I should have been able to use what money I had left over from the surgery to cover my rent and expenses for at least a little while and from that point forward I would have to start dreaming of a new future. I say new, but I mean an unknown future. A future so unknown that it is frightening. One that I must go towards, no matter how frightening.
Since I have been married, it will be difficult to get the gender of my entry on the family registry changed, but now at last I feel as free as if I were fully naked. As if I could now easily wear whatever skin I have and just as easily take it off again. The game is not finished, not yet.
The nurse who had asked me if I would be able to cope on my own spoke to me as I clutched my purse. I wanted to tell her how grateful I was, but she held out a small box. It was panties. A single pair of panties peppered with a busy floral pattern.
“You must be happy from now on. I’ll be rooting for you.”
I wanted to leave the hospital without crying, but the tears burst out in the end. Holding the box, I pushed my arms deep past her armpits and pulled her into a tight hug. The heat of her body stroked my trembling back. I patted her on the back as well. I promised myself that no matter where or how I lived that I would never forget her support.
That is how I left. It was not a rebirth and it was not a new life. It was just another Wednesday when a person completed the treatment they needed and was discharged from the hospital.
Two tall poles facing one another, each biting a small circle. I am now standing between them. Middle of the day on a weekday, the silent but not peaceful space seemed to be filled with tension. Everything is frozen, just like the moment before the whistle is blown. The court which I had not been at in such a long time feels larger and further back than before. Since I happen to be wearing a tracksuit, I feel the urge to run over to one of the hoops. But which hoop? Where should I run?
Buzz buzz, I pick up my phone and see his nickname on the screen. The guy who chased off so many cats for me.
“Hyung, where are you? I heard you had some surgery? Is it true?”
“Yeah, it is true…”
That short silence stunned me as much as half my life.
“Are you feeling…better?”
I hesitated a little. What response does he want from me, what would be the best thing to say at this moment for a relationship like ours?
“How about we play some ball…sometime soon?”
For him and for me there are still so many games left to be played. Since the game has not yet finished, I have to jump again. I have switched uniforms just to be fair.
“Sounds good. I’ll see you soon.”
The sound of his voice accepting the game was simple and cheerful. I can’t yet send a ball flying to the hoop, but I can still pass like he wants me to. Waddling, I can pick up on his movements, see when he has found an open spot and pass the ball to him. Now that I am no longer confused and my eyes have cleared, I might even be able to make sharper passes than ever before. No matter what I look like, I won’t go back to being the me that stood by powerlessly or frantically ran forward without looking.
Breeet! I hear a whistle, coming from somewhere, like a hallucination. My legs, which can’t yet jump, heat up. It might be a symptom of infection, like the doctor warned me about. In the worst case scenario, it could be a sign that all I worked for will come to nothing.
But right now, I am in the middle of the court, and I need to focus only on the game. The whistle has already been blown, and I, together with my team, have our eyes glued to that one basketball and we need to jump with all our might. This fever burning up my body is strength enough. In my whole life I have never once been so absolutely ready.
Okay, game on.
Originally published in Jakgawa Sahoe [Writers and Society]. Spring 2017
〈성전환 바스켓볼 클럽〉 –《작가와 사회》 中
Kim Bi [김비] debuted in 1998 when her short story was published in Buddy, an LGBT+ monthly periodical. In 2007, her novel “Plastic Woman” was chosen for Women’s Donga’s novel contest. Since then, Kim has published the English translation of her novel “Tree of Lips” and translated The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love’s Prophet. Along with her novels and short stories published online, she has also served as an advisor for the movie Like a Virgin.
Portrait by Kim Min-yeong (김민영)
Featured image is licensed under CC BY 0