Buck Up, Babes. Some of Us Can’t Unbuck.

This year, I began the nebulous process of wresting back my body from whatever foiled me during the pandemic, only to find the human that I once was woefully inadequate, while the one I had a vague hankering to become felt strange and unarticulated, a Persian miniature forbidden by the Quran.

A lot of my friends transitioned genders over the last two years, the new luxury of remote jobs and shelter-in-place giving them time to peel off their matted lambskins, revealing the wolves I love; the wolves I always knew were there. I am a bit older, a bit less inclined to cattleprod my gender, to see where she wants to go next. Too many other moving parts. But god, I love my loved ones’ shifts and phases. I have always been a little out of sync with trends and time overall. I came into this world fat and heavy, to a mother of 48. No in vitro there; just chocolate cake cravings, a Holy Bible (KJV), a truckload of familial trauma that I’m surprised I’m smart enough to annotate.

One of the cruelties of being femme is learning your gender through its relationship to others’ genders. Friends have heard me chime into conversations with “femme is a trauma affect” more times than they can count. What I mean is that I don’t make a big thing about being a woman who’s seen some shit, but I know I can charm or fight my way out of aggressive street harassment, run into a bloody dog fight in a white jumpsuit to separate the beasts, hop a plane to Cuba solo with a copy of my passport and birth certificate in my sock in the event I am repatriated. I’ve been raped several times and I’ve deftly licked my own wounds. But the femme trauma affect is of note because it is underpinned by care. I care so much that it can feel like a 2x4 to the kneecaps if I don’t do it carefully, cautiously, slowly. My defenses go up when I see a loved one imperiled. I force food onto people. I send them money they themselves, if similarly gendered, are usually too proud to immediately use. I kiss their cheeks, wrap my arms around their waists, snarl at their lovers and those who cause them harm like a daddy on the porch with a shotgun. That’s it.

I took two sick days off of work to write this jumble of pain and pleasure. It was not a lie. I am sick. I have been caring for people and enjoying myself too much, and it has been digging up all of the times I cared indiscriminately. I love caring indiscriminately, especially in New York City. Need directions to the nearest B44? On it. Need your dishes cleaned when you’re in a death spiral? No problem. Need the five bucks in my pocket? Need advice without a hidden agenda? Done. Need caldo de pollo even though we were supposed to have an anonymous fuck, you chickened out, went to Toronto, and came back with COVID to no friends? Honey, I’m on my way — with a DVD of Fried Green Tomatoes, to wit.

I didn’t know how taxing this was until recently, when I started needing and receiving myself in varying ways, and it felt too intense. Being happy makes me anxious, I tell people. That is also a trauma affect. But I am trying, deeply, to ease into this body with the same warmth I compulsively extend to others. Particularly after a gesture motivated by care: naming an abusive partner from nearly ten years ago to preemptively bandage that pain for others, wound up peeling back my own Marvin the Martian Band-Aid, revealing a gangrenous crater of my very own. Being who I am, I’ve been neutrally prodding it, contemplating whether excision or amputation makes the most sense. Going with the former.

I met someone several years ago who seemed similar to me, another mean femme who’d done some time in the trades, seemed good at licking her own wounds in the immediate aftermath of a break-up. The unfortunate thing about New York City, however, is that what is an embodied thing for me that I am never too keen on flaunting comes with a baffling sort of queer clout; when people find out your father was a wetback-turned-prison riot organizer, the most powerful woman in queer community slides into your DMs, soliciting a fuck without a single social grace. When institutions learn you’re half-Black, they cozy up to you to diversify their own demographics. When white girls with BAs find out you don’t have a degree but do what you do, their egos cling to you like a life preserver. I was never open about these things when I still lived in the South, but here I decided that truth would spare me from getting hurt while also being hubristically bound-and-gagged.

I collaborated with this particular person, published my words alongside hers because her masc ex’s writing was undeservingly outshadowing hers, let her fuck me in a way I love but is so seldom on the table by virtue of people being people, and my outsized preference for caretaking. The minutiae of that is no one’s business, as I still, bafflingly, have the chaste soul of a Sunday school girl. This all to say, sometimes the affect is devastatingly earned; other times — within the context of an ever-gentrifying city — it is learned in order to maintain some sense of relevance when slumming in its underground. The funny thing about that thorny exchange: I was never anyone but myself, communicating when that person couldn’t (or wouldn’t). Thusly, I showed up on her stoop in Chinatown at 3 AM with another femme who’d cut her teeth on the Backpage classifieds — enough shared rage between us to power the Louisville Slugger factory — after catching wind that she’d pulled the same stunt with others. Innumerable others. I am always thinking about the others. At times, they pull me back into thinking about myself.

Some years later, this seemed to be water under the bridge; then I got to thinking about why that response was so outsized, and realized I’d only been treated that way by masculine partners — or rather, mean femme girlfriends who transitioned after we were together. My dating life began in Georgia, and a triptych of deeply repressed trans lovers who, absent NYC’s illustrious medical, mental health, and social communities — didn’t know any better than to comport themselves as girls. All long hair, physicality, and recklessness; a palpable gender tension that I still admittedly, perhaps masochistically, seek out in femmes. Those three were a handful-and-a-half. They couldn’t communicate needs because no one had ever asked them what they needed. They, like me, needed to work out their repression in bed, casting aside all kinds of responsibilities to do so. I was filling a hole. I became a hole. I was called names, dumped and implored to come back so they could dump me again, pitted against other girls who were filling other holes. Called my writing ambitions “dead end.” One of them told me, “If my life ever comes just about being gay like yours is, I would want to kill myself.” One got drunk, coerced me into having sex with them in a church, and then was so ashamed they accused me of rape, then asked me out. They were all criers. They all refused therapy.

Two of them, however, did meet my Mama and minded their manners throughout. Further than anyone else has gotten, per my records. There was more authenticity in those respective shitshows than I encountered upon first arriving in New York.

Recently, I became worried that others were not equipped to handle one of their abuse as nimbly as I, a child of it, did a decade ago. So I shook the phone tree of exes and bookish femmes who were pitted against one another over this individual, and lo and behold: a libretto of trauma, much still being reckoned with, much doled out to neuroatypical femmes who wanted a hand to hold, someone to make them feel safe. Held space for it, ran my own well dry in the process. Again. Innumerable others. I am always thinking about the others. At times, they are the only ones who can pull me back into thinking about myself.

This is an uncanny concept to articulate, and I’ve already had one showboating Yankee femme meekly imply that I’m somehow transphobe-adjacent for stating the facts: My first three girlfriends were men who, in the course of navigating a hostile cultural backdrop, caused others hella harm. I am naming it because I know I’m not the only roughneck from the crick who has a story like this. I am also naming it because I am trying to sink back into my own skin as a befanged broad who likes befanged broads, and feeling a mix of grateful and disoriented that I know that dynamic can exist. It is not painful to know that someone might transition in the course of a courtship. It is painful to know that someone can turn on an entirely different dime — love you one moment and tell you to drop dead the next, collaborate with you and then tell you you’re a bad writer, touch and be touched by you and then disappear into the void of their own problems, which have no easy names. I now know that living authentically does not exempt one from ache. But caution, executed sagely, and communication, executed reciprocally and steadily, might.

Moreover, there is something about those dynamics as I then understood them — two untamed femmes living equally on and off the grid of feminine propriety — for which I still yearn. The mutual forcefulness, the fearlessness, the stubborn-as-a-mule-stuck-in-mud independence. See, now. Those are the people I care for the most. Those are the people I love, and will never stop loving. Who cares if they are rarified and gave me C-PTSD beyond repair when I thought they too cared about the others at a time when they could barely care for themselves. I have been watching a salmagundi of dated movies and television shows, seeking that broad out: She’s in Miss Congeniality, Gia, Atomic Blonde, ABC’s Recess. She is in weird glimmers of dialogue in bad movies: Despite the unlikelihood of her ever hurting a fly without cause, I recognize her in the dialogue regarding “men of violence” in Shutter Island. She is in me, and she might very well be in you. A lot of people fool themselves by thinking she is made for men, when the truth of the matter is, she is made by men, by surviving in the presence of the most dangerous ones. Those voyeurs wouldn’t know how to handle her, so denying her existence is easier on their egos …and my precious time.

It’s the way a femme can flip a bird to the gendered world just by traveling alone, caring a knife at the small of her back, have Euros in the freezer in the event this country turns more physically than politically savage that grabs me by the collar, and makes me start edgeplaying with the most lethal of fantasies: Having a body again.



Periodic diary-style musings on the arts, homosexual culture, & the outhouse poverty class. sarahfonseca.com.

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Sarah Fonseca

Periodic diary-style musings on the arts, homosexual culture, & the outhouse poverty class. sarahfonseca.com.