My Midwest Childhood As a Trans Korean-American: An Essay by NoSo
This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Atwood Magazine has invited artists to participate in a series of short essays in observance and celebration of the month’s significance. Everyday at my predominately white school, I’d bring pack lunches my mom would spend hours in the morning making. At a lavish Bat Mitzvah in downtown, I wore my mom’s dress. I felt a pang in my chest, and suddenly became very aware of the fabric of the dress I was wearing. I watched everyone grab their partners while I remained on the sidelines. “Do you see in wide-screen? Does your family believe in Buddha? Are you from North Korea?” A girl at my Wisconsin theatre camp asked curiously in front of the whole cabin, while in line at canteen. I was suddenly no longer hungry; instead, I wanted to crawl into the Twizzler bar I was unwrapping and hibernate there until my eyes were blue.
“He has a crush on you, as soon as you left he was talking about trying to learn guitar so he can impress you. “… Really?” I asked, distracted while watching a girl from my art class walk by. I had moved from Chicago to LA in my junior year of high school and was suddenly immersed in a diverse school, with half the student population being Asian. “You have another suitor, look at you!” He cackled, while eating bokkeumbap. Am I… not ugly? Am I not a heinous troll living underneath a bridge slicing people’s ankles as they cross? No boy had ever expressed interest in me before in Chicago, Wisconsin theatre camp, anywhere. I hid on a shelf in my bathroom, hugging my knees to my chest while weeping. In my 20s, I felt like I had made a lot of progress with my identity: I stood up for myself more than I ever thought I could muster, I was learning Korean on my own for years to connect more with my culture I used to resent, I loved my eyes, and I liked myself.
But when I saw a picture of that new girl, with celestial, cherub-like features, I felt dirty. “I don’t want to feel this way anymore, I want it to be done. After we hung up, I remained in the dark in my bathroom, wiping my nose. I took long, deep breaths, tapping my fingers at my sides rhythmically. I walked out of the bathroom, hearing laughter bubbling from the living room.
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