‘Whiteface’ by Akira Imai, Part 114 min read

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Animated Illustration by Mei Yao

I woke up and hit the snooze button on my phone again. Why do I set alarms if I don’t even get up? I didn’t have anything to get up for. I laid in bed depressed as hell. Three months, and nothing. There were a lot of shit jobs that I could have taken in the meantime, but Nuan always talked me out of those.

“You deserve so much better,” she always told me. “I know that you Japanese always strive to do your best.”

“Ganbare?” I asked.


Even though she just left yesterday for her convention, I didn’t know how I would get up and get motivated. I felt the weight of being trans hit me when I thought about all the looks I’ve received since coming out. There’s a confidence that I see in Nuan that I can never find in myself. Job hunting, meeting new friends, the washroom…getting that look wherever you go from people is tormenting. Sometimes it takes everything that I have.

I hit the angry alarm again. This time, I actually got up. I took a deep sigh and let a breath out. It was strange. My voice sounded an octave higher. I have been doing voice lessons, but this was way higher than what it should be. Instead of my short mop of black hair, long flowing strands of blonde hair drooped over my face. It was the colour of soft straw. I looked down at my hands and they were not the gruff, labour-laden hands that I went to sleep with. My eyes bulged. The nails on my hands were perfectly manicured to glamorously pointed ends. I never grew them that long before, and now my hand was almost half the size it was.

What truly struck me was the pigment in my hand. I no longer had the tanned toffee skin that I was accustomed to seeing. No, this was a white woman’s hand. I looked down at the rest of my body. The body I now inhabited was so small and lithe. I rushed over to the mirror to take a look at my reflection, and there I saw the eyes that I dreamed about ever since I was young. I touched my face with my new delicate fingers, feeling how soft my cheeks were without any stubble. My face was so much smaller and rounder without my usual jutting jaw. My nose was so much slimmer and narrower. There was no mistake. This was a white woman’s face. Blonde hair, blue eyes…this was not me. But, this was the face that I was dreaming of ever since I was younger. There was something about the image I had of a woman in my head, and now she was right in front of me. I was looking through her eyes. Petite, pretty, and white.

I staggered back to the bed. I just woke up as a white woman. I was still trans, yes, but now I was a white woman. Not just any white woman, but the white woman that I had constructed in my head ever since I was young. Ever since I was questioning my gender. Somehow that woman came alive and I was suddenly that woman. In spite of the fact that I was still trans, I was incredibly feminine. I always wondered what I would have looked like if I was able to start puberty blockers when I was a child. This would have been the result. I had to find out how I sounded.

“Hello.” I chirped in a voice so sweet that it could give marshmallows cavities. I reactively cupped my hand to my mouth. So much time spent on voice lessons, so much time spent on so many things, and now I don’t have to work on them anymore. I thought about not having to do electrolysis anymore. I thought about how I don’t even need make-up now. I thought about…searching for a job. Boy, this is going to be hard if all my ID is still under a Japanese name. And….the face is different. And Nuan.


Well, this is going to be hard to explain. I looked down at my body, and a strange feeling came over me, like this was the only body I ever inhabited. I don’t know if I was going crazy, or dreaming or what. Everything felt way too real for it to be anything like that. I felt like there was an odd calm inside me, but I didn’t know if that was a good thing or if it was just me spacing out. The only thing I could think of doing was to head over to get a coffee or something. I always thought better over a cup of coffee. I obviously couldn’t wear my old clothes; they were way too big now. So I scanned Nuan’s stuff. She had a black pair of jeans that were a bit too tight, but I managed, and a forest green hoodie she still had from university. I even stole one of her bras. Way too tight, but it kept my tits supported. It’ll have to do until I figure something else out. I grabbed my grubby purse and reached into my wallet to see how much cash I had left. When I opened up my wallet I peeked at the picture that was there now. There, I saw a photo of the blonde-haired woman that I now looked like. And my name was no longer there. In its place was another name: Blair Stone.

Blonde hair, blue eyes…this was not me. But, this was the face that I was dreaming of ever since I was younger. There was something about the image I had of a woman in my head, and now she was right in front of me. I was looking through her eyes. Petite, pretty, and white.

Okay… so not only am I having coffee in the body of another woman. Now my ID has magically changed as well. Having the coffee did not help. If anything, it made me more stressed out. I could feel the caffeine buzzing through me. I didn’t know what to do. I sat there and took in the fact that I am now a white woman named Blair. One of the names that I was considering adopting when I was still in the closet, and now it’s on my driver’s license. I’ll have to check if all my other identification was changed too. Did I step into someone else’s life? No, the coincidence of how I look that was so close to the details of that fantasy when I was younger are too strong to ignore. I had become my dream woman. That, and I woke up in my own apartment and my ID has my current address on it. What the hell was going on?

I got a text. It was Nuan. She was on a quick break from the convention and she was checking up on me. I froze. What the hell do I do? Thankfully, I could tell she was just trying to vent so I didn’t have to type much.

‘God, this convention is killing me. There’s so many white guys at this convention, white people in general. The few Chinese people that I did meet are straight as fuck. I want to go back home. This sucks. I AM SO BORED!’ I thought to myself: she wouldn’t say that to me if I’m white. Would she? So I tried a little experiment.

‘Yeah, that’s lame. Do you think that I would fit in there?’

‘Not unless you love being around white people.’ Okay, mixed message there.

‘Well, you don’t see me as white, do you?’

‘Honey, I know that you feel insecure and you call yourself a banana sometimes. You can’t be so hard on yourself. You are a beautiful trans woman of colour. Own it :)’

So Nuan doesn’t see me as white. But now I am white. She thinks I’m still my other self. Is this my self as well? I was so confused. I heard another text ring from my phone.

‘So, what are you up to today?’


I decided to go shopping for some new clothes, seeing as how I don’t have anything that fits me now. Nuan’s clothes barely fit me, so I had to find something that was more comfortable. I went over to one of the department stores across the street from where I just had coffee. It only opened up a month ago, so I hadn’t had time to go in and experience it yet. Even though I’ve been out for a while, I never felt completely safe. A part of me always wondered if it was all just in my head, but I also realised that there were court cases of discrimination out there. There was a reason why laws had changed to protect people like me. To protect the person I looked like. When I realised that, I felt much more at ease. The tension in my body didn’t have any reason to stay. A middle-aged white woman with fluffy light brown hair came over to me to ask how I was finding everything. “Good, thanks.” I said sheepishly, still not used to my voice being so  naturally feminine. I saw that she was wearing a cross around her neck along with a smartly put together pants suit that came off as casual but not cheap. “I just came in to compare prices.”

“Well, you came at the right time dear. We’ve just started our fall sale.” She said perkily. She pointed me over to the sale rack and I rifled through their selection. Usually, I would have an impossible time looking for something that was large enough for me. I cringed every time I found something I wanted to get but I was too big, or the proportions never wrapped around me just right. But that was not a problem now. There was so much that was in my size range now and I could choose almost anything. I was so relieved. It was  a load off my mind not having to be stressed about finding clothes that would help me pass. Passing was no longer a problem.

So Nuan doesn’t see me as white. But now I am white. She thinks I’m still my other self. Is this my self as well? I was so confused. I heard another text ring from my phone.

I decided on a pair of black cigarette trousers and a gray blouse. Mercifully, they also had bras that I snuck into my purchase. I waited in line while the saleswoman was helping two customers who were Asian. Being around Nuan, I couldn’t tell what they were saying but I could tell that it was Mandarin. I saw their frustration as they tried to explain in their best English what they wanted to return, and in turn the saleswoman was trying to explain that they could only do an exchange. I could see both of them getting more flustered and terse. The customers relented and said they would go looking for something to exchange. They slowly walked away from the counter, and I stepped up after them.

“Hello dear, sorry about all that,” she said with an air of resignation.

“Oh, please! Don’t apologize. I’ve worked retail before; you showed a lot of patience.” She leaned a little bit towards me over the counter and lowered the volume of her voice.

“Sometimes I really run out of patience with those people. I mean, they come over here and expect us to bend over backwards for them just because they’re spending money. And they don’t even bother to learn the language.” They looked like they were trying very hard to speak English. I didn’t see you try to speak Mandarin, I thought to myself.

“Really, it’s difficult to be polite to people who speak so harshly and loudly.” She whispered to me. Wouldn’t you get frustrated if you were learning another language? It’s such a vulnerable place to be. A part of me thought those words so clearly and distinctly, but they couldn’t come out of my mouth. What was wrong with me? I was just smiling and nodding along with her. I felt this block of fear in my throat. I looked over to the two Asian women and they were just looking for clothes, not hurting anyone. Where did this woman get off saying that kind of stuff to them? And why was she saying these things so freely to me? I know that I’ve overheard conversations like these around some of my old coworkers, but they never directly talked to me about it. But now, I am being directly told it from one white woman to another. And I was saying jack shit. What was I supposed to say? I was no longer an Asian woman, so there was no stake I had in this argument. As I was lost in that thought, the saleswoman looked over at me and repeated what she said.

My gaze snapped back to the saleswoman who was waiting impatiently. I shook my head, realising that I still had to pay.

“Sorry,” I said. I guess that’s all I could say.


I woke up the next day, still looking at the time on my phone. Funny, I finally got up earlier than my alarm for once. I took a big stretch. I drank in how flexible I seemed to be now, not having to content with a wiry yet muscular frame anymore. I checked my phone: there was a voicemail from Nuan last night. I was actively trying to avoid talking to her on the phone. I didn’t fully understand what was happening, and I didn’t want her to freak out if she heard a stranger’s voice on the other line. I listened to the message: ‘Hey babe, just wanted to call. I don’t know, you’re probably asleep by now. God, I just want this week to be over. I’ve been going to back to back meetings and it feels like it’s the same meeting over and over again. I just want to go back home. I miss you. Okay, I should get to bed. Love you, honey.’

I heard the click of the message indicating that it ended. I felt my heart ache. All I wanted to do was to talk to her. I cried. All I wanted was to have her with me. What if I was still like this when she got back? What was Nuan going to say? How could I tell her that I became my dream woman? How do I explain to her that this was my dream woman? Growing up in the closet, I had this ideal image of a woman in my mind. Being attracted to women, I thought it was just me being attracted to them. But it was clearly more than that; I wanted to be that woman. When I talked to my friends growing up, the conversations about being with women never transitioned to discussions about being a woman. Yet that was constantly on my mind, and I felt that it made me a freak. Now, it was the fact that it was also a white woman that I envisioned being is what gave me so much pause. I desperately wanted nothing more than to be accepted as a woman in my life, but as a white woman? I never realised  that was the image in my head until I saw it in the mirror. I just thought that…I don’t know what I thought. The fantasy of what I thought a ‘real’ woman was was staring me right in the mirror. This is what I wanted to be: unfiltered and unadulterated. Why did I feel so weighed down? Why did it feel like I was disappointing a part of myself?

I decided to text her for now. I lied and said that I was sick and my throat hurt, so I would rather text. She was cool with that, so I dodged that bullet. Now…where the hell else am I going today?


☞ Part Two

Akira Imai is a writer in Vancouver, BC. She works to help advocate for the Japanese Canadian community as well as the Transgender community. She strives to create access and recognition for all.
Animated Illustration by Mei Yao

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