There are works that I feel like translating because of their perspective and politics, and others where it is the language or the narrative that attracts me. In Chen Xue’s best work, and I think “Venus” is an example, she combines these two qualities. Acid, tender, provocative, realistic, fanciful—she has a real arsenal of literary moods and weapons. “Venus” did not get published in a couple of literary translation journals, specifically (I was told informally) because of its transgender perspective. While thanking Paper Republic and Asymptote for including it here, I call shenanigans. Anybody who values the transmission of Chinese-language literature in the English-speaking world ought to celebrate rather than suppress the diversity of Sinophone literatures.
The silence of night falls on Phoenix’s room, it’s sometime in July, the dog days, it’s hot and stuffy outside, inside with the air-con on it gets down to 26 degrees, just the right temperature for an exchange of secrets.
Mum and dad are just behind the wall in the main bedroom, but it’ll be alright. At three o’clock in the morning, the despairing and the hopeful are both awake. The world is so quiet that even the sound of breathing seems to be amplified, Phoenix’s long curly hair half-conceals the naked chest, the discarded clothing are strewn about, the tender, naked skin is lustrous, almost reflective, Winter Pine has considered putting on some music to ease his own anxiety, but instead he forces himself to swallow, it’s as though there were some kind of rhythm, inaudible to the ear, emanating from Phoenix’s body, stirring the air, creating waves, with a dizzying gesture she clutches at the bed with both hands, rising from her kneeling position, and when her pale and delicate thighs spread at the crotch, an edifice predicated on her knees, ivory columns perpendicular to the bed, tapering to points, something hidden in the delta between the legs appears, which the neat, even trim of the curly pubic hair makes especially conspicuous.
That something is her penis, she hasn’t had it removed yet, suddenly exposed, it’s flaccid, about ten centimeters long, accompanied by the two ovoid testicles, as her body rises they slowly emerge before Winter Pine’s eyes, so this is it, Phoenix cups it lightly, Winter Pine is staring at the thing in the palm of Phoenix’s hand, he once had a dream in which he had a thing like that, it’s so big he says, Phoenix says, for something so unnecessary it really is very big.
Do you want to touch it? Phoenix takes him by the hand, but he shrinks back, Wait. Winter Pine forces his breathing to grow regular, he nears the bed, crouches next to Phoenix, stretches his hand out to Phoenix’s crotch, gathers up the scrotum and penis in his palm, they’re quite heavy, except in film and television or pictures this is the first time he has seen this thing, this “penis” in real life, Winter Pine is surprised to find it so warm, and that it feels somehow frail, maybe that has to do with the hormone shots, was it bigger before? Winter Pine asked, when he says “before,” he means before she started transitioning, before Phoenix turned eighteen. READ MORE…