Transgender Day of Visibility: Yoon Ha Lee

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Laurie and Debbie say:

Today is the 10th annual Transgender Day of Visibility. In contrast to the better-known Transgender Day of Remembrance, TDOV, as created in 2009 by Rachel Crandall, focuses on the living. With a multitude of excellent choices in front of us, we decided to tell you about Yoon Ha Lee.

Yoon Ha Lee is a Korean-American science fiction and fantasy writer with a B.A. in math from Cornell University and an M.A. in math education from Stanford University. He mines his background in math for his stories and novels, including the acclaimed Machineries of Empire Series. Ninefox Gambit, the first Machineries of Empire novel, won the Locus Award for best first novel in 2017. He lives in Louisiana with his husband and daughter.

We always look for embodied writing here at Body Impolitic, and Yoon certainly delivers. Here’s an excerpt from his flash fiction piece, “The Mermaid’s Teeth”:

… the mermaid was possessed of great determination and creativity. She shaped her words through the tension of her throat, forced them into seduction-verses.

Through all this she combed out her hair. It was beautiful hair and she didn’t see why she should neglect it because of a little bad luck with a sailor. It hung heavy and dark and ripple-sheened. Her lovers had told her that they could see the colors of the sea caught in it, or luminous moon-weave; they had told her about its silk, its salt perfume, the way it tangled them almost as surely as her kisses. The mermaid kept a diary of these compliments, written in the vortices around her island. Only the most ardent and perceptive sailors could navigate those vortices to embrace her.

Ah: here came a sailor. She sang louder, tossing the comb toward him so that the sun flashed against its curve. I wear nothing but the salt spray, she sang. I am cold on my island. Also, as long as it has been for you, I guarantee that it has been longer for me. Come and clasp my cold limbs, come and help me comb out my hair, explore the tide pools of my body.

Richard Dutcher, friend of this blog and occasional poster, has this to say about Lee’s work:

Yoon Ha Lee’s fantasy and space opera are embedded in Korea’s culture and history (which is every bit as deep and complex as any Euro-American country’s). I know some small things about both, but nothing like what people raised in it do. That means I get to read stories unlike the hundreds I have read since I was 5. I don’t know how his characters are going to react, I don’t know what changes he is ringing on old themes, I don’t know what is going to happen! I love that.

For instance, his space-opera empires are built on technologies based on the control of calendars and time-keeping. I have no idea whether that concept comes from someplace in Korean culture, or from Yoon Ha Lee’s own fertile imagination–or both. Perhaps at some convention I will be able to ask him. In the meantime, he offers a sense of wonder I often miss in the tales from the cultures I know best!

Yoon is only one of many, many transpeople who should be more visible today — and every day.