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…
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.