(v) a person who actively transgresses or ‘bends’ expected gender roles; (n) in fiction, characters who undergo changes in their physical sex—magically or otherwise—throughout the story; in art, it is the challenging of gender roles or it features gender bending or transgender characters.
“Don’t sit like that!”
Korra shoots metaphorical daggers at Mako, who’s seated next to her on the couch. He’s slouched low, his legs spread so wide that his right knee is touching hers. She forcefully knocks his knee away, mumbling darkly to herself.
“I can’t help it,” Mako whines, shifting uncomfortable on the cushion. “It feels like there’s an eel between my legs. I can’t even properly sit.” He snakes his hand down between his legs, cupping his groin. “Maybe if I move it around a little, tuck it in.”
“NO!” Mortified, Korra slaps Mako’s hand away. “Don’t touch it!”
“Sheesh! Alright, alright.” Mako leans back and rests his arms on the back of the couch, a sour look surfacing on his face before he props his legs open once more. “Chill out, already. Just relax.”
“Relax? Relax?” Korra’s eyes narrow dangerously on the firebender. “Please don’t talk like that with my voice.”
“Yeah, well don’t be a priss like that in my body!”
“Whose voice and whose body?”
Mako and Korra turn around to see Tenzin standing in the doorway.
“Would one of you like to explain what is going on here?” His hands are clasped together in a patient, fatherly manner.
“Uh, well, you see . . .” Mako pauses, a guilty expression hanging on his face. “There are these circumstances and—”
“We switched bodies,” Korra finished bluntly, pointing to herself and then to Mako. “She’s me and I’m her.”
“Right,” Tenzin says hesitantly. “Really?”
“Really.” Korra turns back around, sulkily folding her arms uncomfortably over her breasts before letting them fall to her sides. “This is hell!”
Tenzin blinks nonplussed for a moment before letting out a disgruntled sigh. “All right, tell me everything.” He brings his thumb and middle finger to the bridge of his nose. “And start from the beginning.”
Yesterday . . .
Mako rolls over on his side, groggily waking from a bizarre dream he’s already beginning to forget. His mind is still drifting through the haze of phantom images when he finally opens his eyes, experiencing a brief sense of disorientation. He struggles to remember the dream, but already the scraps of images and sounds that were so vivid moments ago are fading. All that remains is the strange, uncomfortable feeling of dissociation, as though he’s someone else.
The glare of the morning sun is harsh on his eyes and while he is the type to rise early, he suddenly feels irritable—as though the morning sun is an evil entity. He decides to close his eyes and turn away, rolling onto his stomach to get some more sleep, but there’s a problem with that. A big problem. Or rather two big problems.
Rolling over onto his back with a grunt, Mako brings his hands to his chest and cups the round mounds where a much flatter, far less endowed chest used to be. He squeezes harder, as if to make sure that they’re real. They’re soft and round and firm. He can’t help but play with them in wonder before his jaw drops open in dawning horror.
“Wha-what the hell are these?” he roars, swiftly sitting up in bed.
The breasts move with him and he continues groping them, entirely baffled by the extra flesh he’s sporting. He starts thinking what could cause this. He hasn’t worked out in a while but it couldn’t be this bad—could it? No, it’s more than that. He feels slimmer somehow, and shorter.
Moving his hands from his newly-formed breasts to the smooth dip of his waist, he hesitantly makes his way down to his crotch. Fingers pat blindly, feeling the empty space where an obvious bulge used to inhabit and he jerks his hand away in terrifying realisation.
A womanly scream fills the room. Bewildered, Mako recognises that it came from his own mouth and is about to yell again when the door to his room suddenly slides open. Jinora, still in her pyjamas, runs inside. Panic and confusion are written all across her tiny face.
“Korra, what is it? Are you okay?”
“Korra?” Mako blinks nonplussed, his hands reaching back up to cup his new breasts. Again, that feminine voice. And since when were his hands this tanned? “Mirror!” he shouts. “I need a mirror!”
Taken aback, Jinora blinks twice and then points at the floor-length mirror beside the wardrobe. Mako throws back the sheets and practically leaps out of bed, running over to the mirror that is about to answer his questions. Sucking in a deep breath, he takes in his own image before letting out a blood-curdling scream.
“WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS!”
Bolin is bolted awake by the sound of his brother cursing. Turning swiftly, he promptly falls out of bed, along with Pabu. He sits up, shaking the sleep out of his head, and climbs up the side of the mattress to see what the heck his brother is bellowing about.
“Mako, what’s wrong?”
Mako is sitting on the bed with the sheets pulled back and has the waistband of his pyjama bottoms stretched out so far that another person could easily fit inside. There’s a mixed look of wonderment and disgust on his face, and he’s gazing so intently that Bolin starts to get nervous.
“What the hell is this thing between my legs?” Mako shouts, his eyes glued intently to that ‘thing’.
“Wait, Mako?” Mako suddenly lets go of the waistband of his bottoms and turns to look at Bolin, his look of wonder transforming to that of terror. “Bolin, what are you doing in my room?”
“Your room?” Bolin is beginning to feel very lost. “This is our room.”
“Our room?” Mako looks down at his hands, his very large, pale hands. “Mirror! I need a mirror! NOW!”
Bolin nervously points at the closet and Mako jumps up out of bed. Rushing to the closet door, he slides it open and his own devilishly handsome face looks back at him in the mirror.
“SON OF A B—”
The door to the bedroom slides open with a loud bang. Korra is standing in the threshold. Her hair is sticking up in every which direction and half of the buttons on her pyjama top are undone, the other half are done up wrong. She had a deranged look in her eyes as she suddenly points an accusing finger at Mako.
“YOU!” she roars. “You did this to me!”
“I did not!” Mako replies in a voice much higher pitched than Bolin’s used to.
“Yes, you did!”
“Did not! You must have done something!”
“Okay,” Bolin interjects with raised hands, stepping out from behind the bed, “settle down you two, and someone explain to me what the heck is going on.”
Bolin drops his hands. “I didn’t even get half of that.”
“We switched bodies,” Korra explains in an annoyed manner before pointing to Mako. “Korra’s in my body and I’m in hers.”
Bolin squints at Korra for a moment before it suddenly dawns on him. “Mako? Is that you?”
Bolin looks from Mako (in Korra’s body) to Korra (in Mako’s body) to Korra again. Taking in Korra’s dishevelled form, which involved a fair amount of cleavage, Bolin steps back behind the bed and picks up a pillow, placing it in front of himself.
“This is weird,” Bolin admits with an unusual pitch to his tone, “and awkward. And I don’t know what to think about this—or you—right now, so I’m gonna stand over here.”
“How did this happen?” Korra asks, ignoring Bolin as she leans Mako’s body against the wall.
“I don’t know.”
“What did you guys do last night?” Bolin asks, still hiding behind the pillow.
“Nothing!” Korra cries defensively, almost slipping off the wall. Damn this lanky body! What does he have eat to get this tall? “I mean, the three of us were all together last night.”
Mako nods, absently fiddling with the buttons on Korra’s pyjamas. “Right, we all ate together and celebrated the Moon Spirit festival, went to main temple, came back here, and went to bed. Then we woke up—” he motions to his new female body “—like this.”
“You don’t think something happened at the temple, do you?”
“Maybe.” He shrugs and then turns to look at Korra. “What did you do at the temple?”
“Nothing!” Korra answers far too quickly. “What did you do?”
“Nothing . . .”
Korra frowns. “This isn’t permanent, right?”
“I don’t know!” Mako throws up his hands, his somewhat dainty umber-tanned hands. “I don’t have all the answers, Korra. I’m just as ignorant about this situation as you are!”
“You guys are going to have to talk about this with Tenzin when he gets back,” Bolin suggests, and everyone nods in agreement.
“Yeah, he should know what to do,” Korra says, scratching the stubble on her chin. Seriously? Facial hair? This sucks!
“Hey, Korra!” Mako calling her name in her voice is jarring to say the least. “Couldn’t you maybe ask Aang or the other Avatars what’s going on?”
“Hey, yeah!” Korra says in an excited voice that is all too foreign coming from Mako. “No, wait, I’m in your body. I don’t think I can do that.”
“You can’t go into the Avatar State?”
“I don’t even think I can even bend—”
Korra lifts her hand and suddenly a ball of fire erupts from her palm.
“Hey, you can bend fire!” Bolin shouts excitedly.
Grinning to herself, as though plotting something evil, Korra snuffs out the flame and starts to create a small cyclone of air in her palms that she quickly uses to open the window next to Bolin’s bed. She then gets into a low stance and bends the earth outside the window, causing columns to form and then sink back into the ground. She even gathers moisture from the air, bending it into water to fill the empty glass beside the door.
“Whoa!” Bolin pumps his fist in the air. “That’s awesome, Korra! You can bend all four elements in Mako’s body!”
“I know! This so cool! But how?”
Mako shrugs. “You are the reincarnation of the Avatar spirit. Your body isn’t the Avatar, your spirit is.”
“Then what about you?” Korra asks. “You should still be able to firebend in my body, right?”
Mako opens his palm and tries to light a flame. Nothing. He tries again. Nada. Frowning, he lets his hand fall limply to his side.
“No, doesn’t look like it.”
“I’m sorry, Bro,” Bolin says in a sad voice, walking over to place a large palm on his brother’s now slim and narrow Korra-like shoulders.
“Agni! This is so frustrating!” Mako shouts, pushing past Bolin. He pounds his fist on the table, knocking off the glass of water and spilling it onto the floor. “I just wanna—”
Mako stops short, his mouth opening and closing in shock. The spilt water is no longer on the ground but hovering in the air in front of his hands.
“Whoa!” Bolin cries, taking a step back to watch the scene.
“Korra!” Mako turns to look at her. “Did you do that?”
Korra shakes her head. “No, it’s you—you can waterbend!”
“How?” Bolin asks.
“I have no idea.” Mako shakes his head, a grin settling on his (or rather Korra’s) lips. “But it’s kinda cool.”
He begins to plays with the water, feeling the instinct to instruct the liquid to do his bidding. Korra’s body is built for all bending, but water especially; thus the movements are natural to him.
“Check it out!” Korra cries, lighting a ball of blue fire in her palm. “My firebending feels stronger than usual. Maybe the body is still important when it comes to bending, not just the spirit.”
“That’s right.” Mako nods. “If the Avatar spirit wasn’t reincarnated in your body you still would have been a waterbender thanks to your genetic predisposition.”
“My genetic pre—my what?” Korra shakes her head, suddenly uninterested. “Never mind. Let’s see how strong this body of yours is.”
Korra immediately begins testing her strength, easily picking up the dumbbells in the corner, the beds, the wardrobes, the tables, even Bolin. In fact, Korra summarily launches the earthbender out the open window before leaping outside to catch him and throw him back inside.
“Whoa!” Korra hops back in through the window, slightly out of breath. She looks down at herself, at the new body she has acquired, in amazement. “Mako, you’re are like crazy strong!”
“Korra!” Mako snaps, suddenly splashing her in the face with water. “Stop destroying things in my body!”
“Why?” Korra wipes her face, an unnatural grin settling on her (Mako’s) lips. “I am going to have so much fun with this body!”
“We need to talk to Tenzin first.” Mako places his hands on his now curvy hips. “You need to talk to your former selves. We have to fix this!”
“Yeah, yeah.” Korra waves her hand dismissively before running to the window and jumping outside. “Later, dudes! I’m going to go pick a fight in a bar!”
“But she already does that kinda stuff as a girl,” Bolin mutters quietly to himself.
“KORRA!” Mako runs to the window, watching the Avatar sprint off towards the shore in his body. “Korra, get back here!”
He’s about to climb outside and chase after her when Bolin’s hand is on his arm.
“Let her have some fun,” he says, quickly letting go of his brother’s arm and stepping back. “Besides, you can have some fun of your own.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” Mako lets out a sigh before turning around and looking down at his (Korra’s) hands. He gathers the water from the floor and bends it outside onto the grass. “This would be the perfect opportunity to study waterbending.”
“Waterbending?” Bolin snorts derisively. “Bro! You have boobs to play with now! BOOBS!”
Wide-eyed, Mako glances down at his chest before blushing profusely and covering them with his arms. Is this what it means to be a girl? Nuts to that!
“Shut up, Bolin!”