The Inaugural Issue

Chapter 22: Woman

John H. McGlynn


(A translation of Nuril Basri's fiction)


I never thought I would lose my virginity to a male—and to a friend of mine at that. I tried to think about what we might do. I knew how my sex organ worked, but I had never given serious thought to having sex with a male before.


The bathroom door opened wider and I turned my head from the tele-vision towards the sound. My heart was beating so fast I thought it might explode.


Slowly, a figure emerged from the bathroom that caused my eyes to open wide. My heart, which had been pounding before, suddenly seemed to stop, as if suspended. I was thunderstruck and unable to speak. I was dazed by the bright light before my eyes but, the only thing, it wasn’t a bright light. It was Paris, who looked like… Wait, was it Paris? Maybe it wasn’t but I knew it had to be. I knew his face and his features—but I didn’t recognize his present condition.


“Are you freaked out?” he asked stiffly.


Unconsciously, I nodded but then quickly shook my head.


“Is that you?” I stuttered.


Paris nodded, as confidently as possible but his legs were shaking.


I frowned as I opened my mouth to speak: “But, but why are you dressed like that?”


My eyes first noticed the high heels; I remembered having helped him pick them out. And then the black mesh stockings… My eyes rose to a body clinging blouse tucked into a closely-fitting skirt. I remembered those items too. Around his waist was an oversized belt made of fake snakeskin. And then the hair: a wig he had purchased at a secondhand store… And the face, which was covered with a thick layer of powder along with mascara and rouge. His lips were a flame red.


“Do you think I look pretty?” he asked hesitantly.


It was like I hadn’t heard the question. I was confused and felt caught off guard. “Why are you wearing women’s clothes?” I asked.


“Do they look good on me?” he now asked, annoyed.


I shook my head.


“They don’t look right on me?” He sounded surprised.


Instead of answering, I snapped at him: “What are you doing? What’s this about?”


“All I’m asking is if the clothes look good on me?” He now sounded worried.


“You want to pretend to be a woman? You want to have sex in those clothes?” I asked him. I could hear the voices of SpongeBob and Patrick laughing on the flat TV screen. They seemed to be laughing at me.


Paris suddenly looked shocked. “Sex? What are you talking about?”


Now I was confused. “Well that’s why you asked me here, isn’t it?”


“Are you crazy!” he screamed so loud, I thought his false eyelashes were going to pop off his eyes. “You idiot!” he again swore at me with a trembling voice. “I don’t want to have sex with you! Are you out of your mind?”


I blinked. My stomach lurched. “Then why did you ask me?”


“For you to see me is all! To tell me if I’m pretty! Whether I look good or not! All I want is your opinion, not sex, you moron!”


He then moved close to me, sticking his face in mine: “Do I look good or not!”


“Nooo…” I answered deliriously.


Paris glared at me.


“You’re a guy. Why do you want to dress in women’s clothing?”


“So what if I want to wear women’s clothing? Is that wrong? I want to be a woman!”


“Even if you do put on women’s clothing, you’re still going to be a guy,” I argued hesitantly. “You were born that way.”


“Don’t you understand?” Paris huffed in front of my face. “I want to be a woman!”


I didn’t know what to do. Whatever I said was sure to be wrong. Paris’ face and my eyes were only two centimeters apart and I could feel the heat of his breath. At that moment, I thought that this was an instance of possession; that Paris had somehow come to be possessed by an evil female demon. And then, as if this were so, he suddenly collapsed to the floor, on the soft carpet. Covering his eyes, he began to cry.


I stood there awkwardly as he cried and sobbed like a rejected woman in a soap-opera. Silently, my eyes searched the room. I let him cry until finally he raised his head and looked up at me.


God, his mask was frightening. A rivulet of black flowed from his eyes. The rouge on his cheeks was smudged. His eyes were bloodshot, powder stained his hands, and his teeth were smeared with lipstick.


“Go on, look in the mirror. You look scary,” I said honestly. “You look like a cartoon character, not like a woman…”


Paris stifled her sobs, then rose and retreated to the bathroom. I laid down on the mattress and stared at the ceiling, using my arms and hands as a pillow. Crazy!



That certainly was one experience I will never forget as long as I live. I told Paris that he didn’t look pretty, that his clothing was over the top and that he looked like a hooker. At that remark, he finally laughed, if only between his sobs and tears. I then ordered him to change, which he did, along with repacking his wig, which really did look fake, and all the other accoutrements that he had brought into the large suitcase.


“Why do you want to be a banci?” I asked him.


“I don’t want to be a banci! I want to be a girl!” he protested. “I’m tired of being a guy…”


“That’s a reason? That you’re tired of being a guy?” I asked.


“You don’t understand. You’re a guy. Guys never understand. The only thing guys do is make trouble. I don’t want to be a guy. I hate guys.”


“I’m a guy, am I not?”


“I know, but I don’t hate you…” he said softly while preparing to leave the room. Hmm, that was too bad, I thought; Paris had already paid for the room and we weren’t even going to use it. I wanted to see what it would be like sleeping in such a luxurious place.


The atmosphere in the car was stiff. Paris was as nervous as when we had arrived.


“Don’t hate me,” he said with his hands on the wheels.


“Neah, neah,” I said, no promise at all.


To break the silence, he turned on CD player but the music that came out was rock music by the band, My Chemical Romance.


What trash!” Paris swore as he switched off the CD player.


Before taking me home, Paris took me along with him to several salons to pick up the money they owed plus to deliver new supplies.



After returning to the pesantren, I laid around in my cell, waiting for evening to pass. It was quiet. Most of the other residents were still at pencak silat class. I felt a little chagrined for having skipped the lesson that night, but on the other hand I was happy that I hadn’t lost my virginity. And even better still, I now knew that Paris was not attracted to me. That was a relief, yet the question for me was, why did Paris want to be a woman? Was it because of his feminine mannerisms? Did all guys with feminine mannerisms want to be women? Did Yusuf want to be a woman too?


While staring at holes in the ceiling of my cell, Yusuf suddenly came inside. I looked at him; it felt like I hadn’t seen him for a very long time. He tossed his bag into the corner of the room and then shut the door.


“Look at this…”


He was holding a sarong, a very expensive one by the sight of it.


“Is that a BHS original?” I asked somewhat awed.


“Yeah, it’s original,” he nodded. “I’m sure you’ll never be able to afford one,” he added snottily while neatly refolding the red sarong with black stripes in its original shape. “I’m going to give it to Ali, a little bribe for him to stop asking questions and spying on me.”


“But won’t that make him even more suspicious?” I argued.


“I thought of that already,” he answered, his eyes narrowing as he looked at me. “I’m going to tell him that I’m working, which is the reason I’m not at the pesantren so often.”


“What’s your job going to be?”


“I’m going to tell him that it’s a secret,” he answered with little concern.


“But what if he asks me?”


“Tell him I’m working as an SPG! See how clever I am?” he asked with a dramatic flair.


I wondered if Yusuf knew that a “SPG” was a “Sales Point Girl.” A truer lie might be “SBP.”


“This coming Wednesday, I’m going clubbing again and I want you to come along. I want you to meet some rich people.”


“Forget it,” I told him. “What kind of guy do you think I am?”


“You’re a money boy. Come on, the reason you started seeing Paris was for the money, wasn’t it?”


Yusuf knew exactly where to get me. He’d hit the mark point on. With his eyes studying me, I turned away.


Too much information that night: one friend wanting to be a woman, another one trading his body for favors from older men.



John H. McGlynn, translator. ‘Woman by Nuril Basri’. Queer Southeast Asia: a literary journal of transgressive art Vol. 1. no. 1, October 2016.

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