Exploring the art of prose


The Dress by Tim Raymond

Image is a black-and-white photograph of the binary signage for man and woman; title card for the new short story, "The Dress," by Tim Raymond.

In the mesmerizing story, “The Dress,” Tim Raymond immediately places the reader in scene where Jamie, the main character, is discovered by the wife, Daisy, wearing the titular dress as well as her bra and underwear. What unfolds is an incandescent and unpredictable story about self-discovery. Though written in first-person point of view, this piece reads as though we are observing the narrator observing someone else. Part of the distance stems from how Jamie is characterized in the story: “I’m autistic, which matters for a few reasons, but mainly it’s that the diagnosis ushered in other aspects of my identity.” Mostly, the narrative voice—and by default the main character—creates this sense of separation. The voice is thoughtful, but sometimes impersonal and even clinical. For example, when Daisy says to Jamie, “So you’re transgender,” in Korean, Jamie doesn’t consider the possible ramifications for their relationship, but focuses on the word itself: “In Korean it was never just trans, the single syllable. It seemed always to be all three.”

The story is poignant and feels deeply personal. Raymond creates this sense of intimacy not only from writing Jamie’s self-discovery mainly in scene, but also through voice and tone. The scenes allow the reader to explore the implications and uncertainties for someone who does not conform to society’s expectations as though we are experiencing it ourselves—we are present for Jamie’s many firsts. Raymond creates deeply affecting moments by brilliantly using voice and tone as an effective counterpoint to the microaggressions Jamie experiences. In one scene, Jamie goes out in public wearing a dress. When Jamie reflects on the responses from the onlookers, the voice is dispassionate and the tone is upbeat, as though Jamie is attempting to form a verbal camouflage over an insult: “The dress was pretty, the ducks on it were funny, the eyeliner was expert, and oh no, what is wrong with you?, which is a playful and warm question that only sounds disparaging once it’s been translated into English.” The almost-innocent hope in Jamie’s voice and tone accentuates the hurt.

This tender and intimate story centers on self-discovery and identity, but “The Dress” is also a story about a marriage, about gender norms and society, and ultimately, about love and acceptance. As Tim Raymond, who is autistic, underscores in his author’s note regarding stories about autistic people: “They’re hungry for stories, these folks. So what is it we can give them? Joy, for one. Sex. Euphoric moments. Growth. Connection. Complexity, empathy, and second chances. Self-understanding and acceptance.”  —CRAFT


It was raining that day, and when Daisy came home early from work she found me not only in the sundress I’d bought in secret from the underground market at Sadang Station, but in her bra and a pair of panties as well. I don’t believe in origin points in general, but this is more or less how it started.

For a lot of that night, we didn’t talk. She had lessons to prepare for the new semester, and I had juice to make, to be sold at the café where I worked. The next morning, we got up early and went our separate ways, she to the high school in Bundang to lecture in English and I to Jukjeon, near Danguk University, to wait for customers and serve occasional lattes.

At home that evening, Daisy asked me, “Are you gay?”

“No,” I said. “Is that what you’re worried about?”

“So you’re transgender,” she decided, which always sounded so weird to me. Not the word itself, or concept, but that in Korean it was never just trans, the single syllable. It seemed always to be all three.

“I’m not sure what I am,” I admitted. “Are you going to react badly to that?”

“I think it’s nice,” she told me, pausing. “I just think it’s, um.”

And here another great pause.

“Hard?” I offered.

“Yes, hard.”

True enough, it was and would be. This was around the time of the late-pandemic, pre-election cycle in the States, when all the antitrans bills started cropping up. All the culture-war legislation.

Of course, we didn’t live in America. We lived in Korea, where transness wasn’t even in the conversation, not beyond the one hill of clubs in Itaewon, Seoul’s international district, where I couldn’t go because the colors and noise and crowds proved overstimulating. Plus, it was far, and I struggle with being on buses or trains for that long.

I’m autistic, which matters for a few reasons, but mainly it’s that the diagnosis ushered in other aspects of my identity. I was diagnosed late at thirty-four, and at thirty-five I was caught in the act.

“They’re connected,” I explained to Daisy eventually. “The gender, the brain stuff. I buried the one because I didn’t understand the other.”

“I know,” she said back.

“Oh, you know already?”

“I know.”

Some levity, perhaps. We did have our jokes.

“The teacher is smart,” I said.

“The student learns.”

It took a few more weeks, but then something Daisy did for me that I’ll never forget and will forever appreciate is, she found some nail polish, blue, the only color I ever wear, and put it carefully on my nails. She taught me how. How to be even and ensure the nails can breathe. And she laid me down on our bed in our small room and applied eyeliner in thick enough lines that one might almost be distracted from how unladylike, how masculine, my cheekbones and jaw are.

And then, right afterward, she showed me how to remove everything.

I don’t know how to talk about fear. To unmask as a newly discovered autist is traumatic, certainly, but it’s also much simpler, especially for expats. A majority of my weirdness could just hide behind the foreignness, my white Americanness, for instance if I was repeating random sentences I overheard while at the café, or if I was staring blank-faced and burned out at a hoeshik dinner with coworkers from the middle school where I used to teach and then mercifully quit. Yet I can’t pass as a cis woman, and no amount of foreignness can shield a person from my conservative neighborhood, the older men there with their cigarettes and expensive watches, or the college boys who, it pains me to say it, helped vote in a president who ran in no small part on outright misogyny and quote-unquote tradition.

“We need to visit my parents,” Daisy was saying.

“To tell them?” I wondered, confused.

“No, it’s my dad’s birthday.”

In the car to Daejeon, she said it was my choice whether we told them, for which my gratitude was palpable. I could at the same time tell by how quickly she uttered it in Korean that her preference would be to disclose nothing. It would be: mask the trans, nonbinary whatever, exactly how I would with the autism and anxiety.

“But it’s draining to mask like that,” I reminded her.

“I know, and I’m sorry.”

What is it about gender that feels so vital and tragic? Suppressing an autistic trait sometimes to become more palatable is inescapable, I do understand this fact, as when years ago I smiled kindly at my well-intentioned in-laws, who upon hearing about my new disability said they would pray for me. To God, for my recovery. Suppressing a gendered trait meanwhile feels like annihilation.

I’d say the birthday party was awful, but what is awful? With enough constant low-level devastation, isn’t everything? I want always to be fair to other people, who are only trying to make their way like I am. It’s nobody’s fault really that I had to brook the men-be-like, women-be-like jokes. The assumptions about what marriage is and what the roles are: how odd and wonderful of me to be a doer of dishes! The insistence that my hair was getting kind of long, and probably I should get a cut here soon. Still, I sighed too loud in the car again once we’d departed for Seoul.

So, our first argument since my coming-out. Had I come out? When you’re closeted for decades, all rooms start to feel the same.

“Am I not allowed,” Daisy posed, “to assume that the person I married will be mostly the same during the marriage?”

“Am I not allowed,” I countered, “to pursue whatever change feels genuine to me, regardless of the choices I’ve made before?”

“It’s too big,” she said. “To become a woman.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Which part?”

Indeed, which? It was a matrix we were working through. So many avenues to misunderstanding. The cultural, the neurological, the linguistic, and spiritual. And also the generational, for she’s a few years older than I am.

“It’s just a part of me, the woman part,” I said to her. “And I didn’t become it. I always was it. I just didn’t sense it for a long time.”

But I knew she knew that already. To become a woman. On what does that word become turn? Transformation? Awareness? It doesn’t matter and never did.

This is the woman who saved my life, I thought. The person who held me, who got me out of my house, who proffered a lifeline right when I was realizing I was at the end of my rope. Couldn’t make it in America, couldn’t hack it as a teacher in a school, couldn’t tolerate being a human. I was very close to the ledge of my window in my tenth-floor officetel apartment, paid for by my school. Then I stepped back. A year after meeting her I was married, retired from a career I’d invested fifteen years of torment into, and living in the villa where later I’d, among other things, do a psych evaluation over Zoom and steal her hottest undies.

What were we now? What were we becoming?

The following weekend, we chose to take some time for ourselves. She turned her phone off, and I put a notice up on Naver that the café would be closed for unavoidable personal reasons. Reasons being, we were going to go on a date like how we used to, back before, as always happens, we and life got busy.

Probably my favorite thing to do back then was go to swanky, overpriced cafés around Seoul and complain via whisper about whatever sampler we’d decided to order. So we did that, at a hanok-styled spot in Pangyo’s Avenue France, which I despised for its superficial flair and awful brunches.

I was dressed in tight yoga shorts and an old V-neck that showed some midriff if I stretched sufficiently dramatically. I had my index and middle fingers painted that blue, a baby step, and I felt good. I felt light. Beautiful like a feather on Seoraksan’s trees in the fall, or like the idol boys without flaws or gender from the massive poster adorning the Lotte Department Store across from my old building. And because the latte art was lazy and the espressos sour, I had an absolute field day, to the extent that I spit accidentally in Daisy’s ear while issuing my criticism.

“You like the blend?” the barista asked with confidence, the poor woman, her awards plastered on three walls.

Afterward, we walked to Central Park between Sunae and Seohyun and climbed the hill to where the family of white rabbits lived. Down below us were tombstones. Over that way a gazebo, above the free outdoor fitness equipment.

“Jotda,” she said finally.

“Yeah.” Good.

“I want tteokbokki.”

“All right.”

Instead of eating that or anything else, we walked home and ravaged each other. I don’t know what about the sex was so bewildering and erotic then, but I was out of my body. I was wavering. An irresolute and brackish water flowing from out of the inlands and into an ocean. She was on top of me and also between my raised legs, somehow, and rubbing against me much rougher than she ever had before. “Come on,” she kept saying, without specification. “Come on.” So, clueless, I came on.

I was her body as well as mine, I suppose. I saw myself in her breasts, her nipples the color of my hair and not hers, the feminine fingers and taut skin over jaunty hip bones. Those smooth thighs were mine. The delicate collarbone. That angel up there was me.

We finished together, a rare feat for us, and as the passion dissipated and I returned to myself I began to feel soulfully weak. I wanted to be snapping that bra back on. I wanted to excuse myself to pee, to worry about UTIs, to saunter back to bed and nestle my forehead into her armpit.

“Do you want a divorce?” I asked her then. “I mean, have you thought that yet?”

“Yet?” she said.

“Yeah, have you thought that?”

“No,” she told me. “I haven’t thought that. Yet.”

“Because of me,” I pressed, “or the world?”

“I’m not sure.”

Here is the nature of teaching as I’ve experienced it and had it explained to me over the years: a homeroom teacher in South Korea is overworked but celebrated, a celebrity in fact, and, by virtue of this status, necessarily cannot possess a visible life of their own. Public school teachers do not, put simply, get divorced. Nor do they marry disabled queers or get sad or go to therapy ever. Lest, that is, they become the subject of gossip and disdain. An easy target for disgruntled, put-upon, and bored parents.

Pain and time can exaggerate anything, no doubt, but status is real there, and worse then than it is now, and Daisy has always loved what she does.

“Do you think that’s wrong of me?” she was saying.

“No,” I assured her. “Not at all.”

“Good, because I don’t either,” she went on. “I don’t think it’s wrong to sacrifice something in order to do what you want. The world isn’t perfect.”

“Yeah, I agree,” I told her.

“I think Americans can be idealists,” she suggested.

“Not me. I’ve never been hopeful about anything.”

We laughed at this, yet was it fair? Was I cynical by disposition, in other words, or by circumstance? My horrendous decades-plus of remaining unacquainted with myself.

“Do you want one?” she wondered later, over the tteokbokki we did finally order. We were seated in the living room on opposite sides of the splattered coffee table.

“A divorce, you mean?” I asked.


“I don’t think so,” I said. “No.”

“How romantic. You don’t think so.”

“I’m just being honest here.”

“I know.”

“I don’t think so,” I repeated, because how could I want one? What would a split mean for me anyway? A change in visa status, for one, meaning a switch from the F-6 permanent resident type to the temporary D-10, which is six months and technically for people looking for work. Would I look seriously for work and/or a sponsor? What I have come to learn and accept about myself is that disability for me means working almost full-time at an establishment owned by Daisy’s friend, who doesn’t need the café to make much money, so it doesn’t. I also sketch characters sometimes and upload them to Kakao to sell as emoticon sets, which people occasionally purchase, though not often.

I could return to America, I mused, the place I left because I had no idea how to function there. Maybe now I would know. I could join a Starbucks and not have meltdowns in their bathroom.

“Hey,” Daisy said to me.

Live with my parents again. Figure out insurance. Figure out bathrooms. Measure out how often I felt dysphoric versus how often I felt right and okay as a man, as a person with penis, then determine if I should transition in some fashion. Figure out hormones. Pray my state wouldn’t also go the route of fascism.

Hey,” she said.


“Are you going to cry?”

Well. The question was, I concluded, how one might subsist on only a few breaths of real and fresh air here and there, a few high-altitude fucks a year. A broken spine and broken mountain, under which I came of age. Wyoming, my legacy.

“It’s okay,” Daisy told me, in her soothing instructor voice. Daisy, whose English name came from the novel she wrote her undergraduate thesis on.

The thing about gender is that, whatever it is, it gets to be insistent, like a drug except healthful. Like food and water. One day while heading home after work—an entire shift of eight customers—I stopped off at a vintage women’s clothing shop and informed the clerk that my wife’s proportions were very similar to mine, and were there any unassuming items for tall, thin people in grayish or blue that she could show me? A potential gift among spouses? She nodded and brought five.

The next morning, I strolled past that same shop in that same dress I bought, that same knee-length cottony one-piece with white ducks on it for some reason, which I cherished. The day proceeded without incident. I had sandals on. Free toes. The eyeliner. I’d rubbed lotion into my face and hands. And the responses I netted were merely this—that the dress was pretty, the ducks on it were funny, the eyeliner was expert, and oh no, what is wrong with you?, which is a playful and warm question that only sounds disparaging once it’s been translated into English.

Then I walked home. Around the second intersection, around 5 p.m., the sun still set firmly in the sky, a man padding along the crosswalk in the opposite direction leered at me and enacted a complete 180-degree turn, after which while maintaining a moderate-enough distance he trailed me all through Jukjeon’s café street and to the subway station, where he too boarded a north-bound train.

Nothing happened. No confrontation, no fight or argument, and for all I know he was autistic like I am or otherwise neurodivergent and was only curious about someone doing the thing he wished he could also do. The freedom he’d been denied. The freedom from the wrinkled suit and sharp glasses and close-cropped hair and whatever nine-to-five employment.

And yet, by the time I got home after walking the Tancheon stream from Yatap’s subway station to our farmy little neighborhood, it was dark and I’d heard him grunt. I heard the camera on his phone snap photos, and I’d even heard his footsteps quicken heavily until a pair of bikers emerged from under a bridge to buttress me.

“Yeah,” Daisy replied, having heard the story. “I’m sorry.”



Not that I’d not heard her own stories. The stories all women have. “This is life for a woman,” she was reminding me. “For a girl.” When she was young, older men on the train rubbed their crotches against her during rush hour or groped her neck or hips while disembarking. An uncle pulled her into a room at a family gathering once and simply wouldn’t let her leave. She’d had boy students put cameras in the girls’ bathroom and then blame the girls when the shame from getting caught gave them anxiety disorders.

“This is what you want,” she stated.

“No, no, this is not what I want. I only want to feel like myself.”

“You choose one thing, and you also choose the other. I’m only saying what’s true.”

“I want to feel like myself and be left alone, Daisy.”

“Oh, come on,” she smirked.

“And I want you to think I’m pretty,” I blurted out, for that was what I wanted. All day, I’d been curious about it. When I got home and saw her, would she think I was pretty?

“Of course,” she said, in her rapid-fire Korean, and again I knew the truth of it. I was attractive in my masculine way, but in feminine terms I was ugly, and in Korea to be ugly was sin.

Which, fair. All that time I spent smoking, grinding my teeth, not caring for myself, not moisturizing, not sleeping enough, not wearing sunscreen, not trimming my eyebrows or oiling my hair correctly—it all catches up to you. Eventually, you are what you’ve done.

A few months passed. My wife decided she wanted something new as well and so began taking muay tui lessons at a studio near Migeum. I fit womanhood into my weeks in ways that felt increasingly safe, appropriate, and affirming. Mostly, this meant nail polish and shaved legs always and either the duck- or sun-dress every Sunday. Things were fine, if cold. If quiet around the house. I remember it was September now because the day after the Chuseok holiday a stray cat limped into the café like a regular and waited for me to react.

And oh, I did and wholeheartedly. I fed her every morning for weeks, including on my off days, on which I showed up to the storefront just to wash her bowls and put out more kibble. I tended to her when she arrived with a broken leg, sat with her at the vet’s clinic that ultimately put her down, and cried to her and said earnest and stupid things. That she was beautiful. She was brilliant. She didn’t deserve to be homeless or to suffer simply because the world was built without her in mind.

She was the first of three that year. The second looked a lot like the first, at least in their bone structure, or maybe I wanted them to be siblings. This one had no tail at all. The third was very young and followed Daisy and me along the Tancheon while we walked one evening. It got so close to us and mewed so plaintively that I began to talk fate and family.

“You’re obsessed,” accused Daisy. “What is it with you?”

“With me?”

“With them. I’m very allergic. We can’t help every creature out there, you know.”

I had thought plenty about this, as of course I think plenty about everything. What was it? Like rumination, reverence for animals is a common autistic trait. Resonance with any living being who experiences harshness and injury without comprehending the convoluted systems that produce both is a trait of the sensitive. The traumatized. The feeler, empath, or whatever. It wasn’t these. It was that something else had been knocked loose in me. Another piece of my identity. I wanted desperately to mother.

“No,” Daisy said. A resounding retort.

“I know we agreed not to have kids.”

“No,” she said again. “It isn’t fair. How can I do my muay tui?”

I don’t blame her for this narrow, shortsighted response. She was only reeling from the revelation. Like I was.

Looking back, it’s striking that this very traditional affair, the children, was what did us in. It wasn’t my dresses, my pilfering more of her panties, my being caught by her while trying to learn to tuck in the bathroom, or her students who saw me out—and I do mean out—and told their parents and everybody else. The other students and teachers. Anyone who’d listen to them. No. It was to rear or not rear the baby.

The divorce, inevitable now, was difficult but not acrimonious. We agreed it was fair. I did get myself another visa, the D-10 after all, then just let it expire after the six months had elapsed. My last day in Korea, I cashed out my meager pension at the airport, took enough benzos to topple a horse, and flew the three planes to Casper, Wyoming, where my parents picked me up and marveled at how little baggage I had brought with me. That, after twelve whole years?

A joke? My nails were painted sky blue.

“What’s this?” Mom asked of them.

So I came out to them, right there in the parking lot. Eleven p.m. and cloudy. Too tired not to, perhaps.

“So is that why?” Dad asked me. “The breakup?”

“No, it really was the baby thing,” I shared. “Weird, right?”

“Well, it’s a big decision to make,” offered Mom, who embraced me.

So what’s left for me to say? Life is a dumb journey. I’m learning how to modulate my voice when I want to. I’m discovering how to play with myself. I hike all the time now on the trails on Casper Mountain and feel like a superhero, even when I was with Dad that time snowshoeing the Hogadon and sprained my ankle like an amateur. Tore right through the ligaments. Not long ago, I wore the duck dress to a barbeque at my parents’ friends’ house in Wolf Creek and some man drunk on beers hurled an unopened can at me. The entire crowd told his ass to go pound sand, so he pouted and did.

I have hope, if not idealism. I have job interviews at cafés all over the place and still no job. Family, but no kid. A disability the state would use against me if ever I did become a parent. A disability the state would weaponize if and when I seek gender-affirming care beyond my hair that’s nipple-length now. My one friend, Jamie, proud aromantic and asexual that they are, likes to tug on it while we play video games, which is mostly what we do together. Play the games and laugh our affectless laughs in their tiny apartment. Tease one another about how bad we are at Dark Souls and how we need to git gud already.

I do talk to Daisy too, though she wants me to use her Korean name now. I have no problems with this request. Her new beau is both strong and likeable. He is dripping with raw, competitive, animal masculinity. They met while sparring at the studio, apparently. She knocked his teeth out.

My name is Jamie too, actually, which is just a nice coincidence, and a nice metaphor overall about finding oneself. I’m thirty-eight years old, about to be thirty-nine in a few short weeks. And my point is, the other day I woke up at 5 a.m. to pee and just happened to glimpse seventeen deer in my parents’ front yard. Just pooping and lazing about and chewing on the leaves of the willow out there. I was so stricken with gratitude in the half-submerged basement that I ended up oversleeping and missing coffee time with Mom, which is a ritual we observe with a fierce fidelity. Seven a.m. on the deck every single morning for us, bring your heart or bring your silence, absolutely no exceptions.


TIM RAYMOND lives in Seoul, South Korea, where he works as a barista. His fiction has appeared recently or will appear in Boulevard, Conjunctions, and Chicago Quarterly Review, among other publications. Find his comics about autism and gender on Instagram at @iamsitting.


Featured image by Kenneth Sorensen, courtesy of Unsplash.


Author’s Note

I wrote a version of “The Dress” back in 2019 or so that was twice as many words long and relied on a structural constraint wherein every sentence gestured grammatically toward thinking. The story was called “What They Were Thinking” and featured a lot of phrasing like: “They were thinking it was too much all at once. But they could persist through it, she thought. To think of giving up was crazy.”

Something never felt right in that story, so I let it sit. When two years later I was diagnosed as autistic (at thirty-five years old), I realized that this was the element that had been missing. The autism was it. Indeed, autists are much more likely than allistic (nonautistic) people to identify as queer, trans, nonbinary, or otherwise gender nonconforming.

I rewrote the story—much cleaner, much shorter. And much more focused and intentional than its previous iteration, with its wandering and endless rumination.

I often think about what it means to craft a queer story, or an autistic one, or one that’s autistically queer, or trans, or a story that’s not only autistic but functions autistically as well. Is it associative narratives, like something in Jenny Offillor Valeria Luiselli, or the accumulation of details, like in Tao Lin’s work or Rachel Cusk’s? I don’t know, honestly. Associativeness and accumulation do both show up in my story, however.

Sometimes I think in terms of numbers, though to spite all clichés I’m poor at math. When I was diagnosed, something like one in fifty-four people were autistic. The number now is closer to one in twenty, for lots of positive reasons. And they’re hungry for stories, these folks. So what is it we can give them?

Joy, for one. Sex. Euphoric moments. Growth. Connection. Complexity, empathy, and second chances. Self-understanding and acceptance. Gifts autistic people, especially those with intersectional identities, have generally been denied or had limited.

I don’t like sad endings. I do like painful and affirming ones. The best fiction in my opinion is fundamentally painful and affirming. The kind of love you can measure, I guess, by the grief that’s paired with it.

In any case, it’s striking to me that “What They Were Thinking” ended in Seoul, yet its sibling story does not. I love when your own writing can teach you about yourself and what you need. What a beautiful process to return to day in and day out. Even if it hurts.

A lot of what’s in this story therefore, and every other one I write, remains real and true to me, yet I am pleased to report as my final thought that the stray cat at the café did not in fact die. No, our sweet little girl’s alive and well.


TIM RAYMOND lives in Seoul, South Korea, where he works as a barista. His fiction has appeared recently or will appear in Boulevard, Conjunctions, and Chicago Quarterly Review, among other publications. Find his comics about autism and gender on Instagram at @iamsitting.