Breaking Boundaries, Finding Happiness: Being Transgender In Korea

Transgender author KIM Bee at the Empathy Monthly Forum.

"I want to become a person who breaks down boundaries. There are many walls and boundaries in people's hearts and minds that separate them from other people. I want to be a person who breaks down those invisible walls and boundaries," transgender author KIM Bee said at the Empathy Monthly Forum.

After I decided I would write something about her talk, I found myself staring at the blinking cursor for a good hour without writing anything. Her life was too intense and too beautiful to encapsulate on a page. I wanted to write about KIM Bee the person, and not just KIM Bee the transgender author.

For some people, 'transgender' may mean male-to-female, someone who was born a male but is leading a female life, or female-to-male, someone who was born a female but is leading a male life. However, I felt that a transgender person exists on the boundary with regards to their gender, and they face discrimination and hatred coming from the either side of that boundary.

"She felt as though love was lethal for sexual minorities."
They face discrimination because they walk down an irregular path. KIM Bee shared her experience at the forum, and it was clear that she has endured pain and sorrow. It was also clear how she had found freedom, and in that freedom, she found joy.

As KIM Bee calmly narrated her life after surgery, I felt as though she was touching the hearts of people on all sides of the boundary. She spoke about the physical pains she had to endure, and about feeling as if she was losing her lower limbs, and her sense of isolation post surgery. She also talked about the time she spent working as an English instructor for 15 years just to make enough to get by, the times she tasted frustration and disappointment after choosing a gender-less profession to 'write,' and the times she was wounded by her loved ones. She felt as though love was lethal for sexual minorities.

I felt emotional and teary-eyed when she said that being different allowed her to be free; I felt that her path must have been very lonely.

Transgender author KIM Bee at the Empathy Monthly Forum.

For people of all ages, for criminals and for innocents, the word "mom" holds emotional significance. For KIM Bee, the word "mom" brings back memories. Her mom insisted on taking KIM Bee to a public bathhouse, and whispered the following as she scrubbed her daughter's back.

'You look fine. I think you look good enough to go to a bathhouse. It must have been so difficult to not even be able to take baths in public before. You can go comfortably now.'

This memory left no dry eye in the audience. I can't fully relate, because I am not yet a parent, but there was something about the image of this mom scrubbing her daughter's back that came across as deeply touching and warm.

"I saw the resilience and strength in her eyes; they reflected a desire to survive and persevere."

Her agony must have been different from KIM Bee's. She couldn't experience pain the same way KIM Bee was experiencing it; all she could do was to quietly scrub her daughter's back. I can only imagine the state of a helpless mother's heart. I teared up. The pain they were going through was of a completely different dimension.

"Dear transgender people, please persevere and survive. The very fact that we continue to exist and live is the biggest show of 'activism' of our lives."

Transgender author KIM Bee at the Empathy Monthly Forum.

Not too long ago, I came across an obituary of a member of the LGBTQ community. As I agonized over the overwhelming amount of pain the individual must have gone through, I quickly dismissed the conclusions I was coming to, as I realized that I could not even fathom the weight of the hardships the individual had experienced.

However, I knew that one 'being' had been lost forever, and saw how the lives around this individual were shaken. Because of this experience, I was able to nod and agree with KIM Bee's statement.

"Living as a 'sexual minority' in Korea forces individuals to climb a steep and precarious stairway to happiness."

I was able to sense how troubled she was by the question of 'how' to live life without being overly consumed with gender. I saw the resilience and strength in her eyes; they reflected a desire to survive and persevere.

Just because you are a part of a sexual minority does not mean you need to give up on the desire to 'live happily.' You are a human being and an individual. However, living as a 'sexual minority' in Korea forces individuals to climb a steep and precarious stairway to happiness.

KIM Bee used her life as an example that happiness can be achieved. I can see how the name 'KIM Bee' in itself must serve as a comfort and a sign of courage for 'sexual minorities' who live under unreasonable discrimination and pain.

In my eyes, her life looks much happier than those who are perpetually distressed under the banner of being "ordinary." We will always support and root for KIM Bee who makes sure to break down invisible boundaries in this boundary-less land.

This post was written by YOON Dahora.

This post was originally published on HuffPost Korea. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.