Saint Sebastian and the transits of the flesh, based on images of Roberto Tondopó
She crossed. With her, her rolled-up pants, and her boots already off, she went into the river and someone else came out. Her torso naked and her skirt like a pitaya. She took a van, passed through Tuxtla, went through the town of Chiapa, and arrived at the fair at dawn. The sun’s drowsiness crept into her eyes until her eyelashes were misty. She knocked once, twice, three times and Aunt Tey opened the gate for her. Such a change had to be contemplated. One day, she was going to recount the journey herself: when you adjust the stays of the corset and become an armored being, with an interior to be conquered, there is nothing that can bring you back.
It went by in the blink of an eye. Suddenly her nails were long and clotted with nail polish, her lips covered in lipstick to tell her story once or twice or even three times if she got stubborn. Her mouth was a plastic flower guarding the raspy texture of her voice. The hair on her chin insisted on marking its territory. So did the hair on her calves and armpits. Her hair became insubordinate and was destroyed years later with peroxide, but at that moment it was placated by a crown that shouted shrilly around her, like those that protected Saint Sebastian. Martyr. The beautiful boy tied to the tree, his body full of arrows and the veil over the member. His hands clasped, his eyes looking up, as if he were about to breathe his last breaths over the burning dust. The black plague. The rotten smell of locusts. The image venerated by crowds. The moving declaration of surviving desire and death. The adornment of hair and lips that everyone wanted to bite. The delicate feet. The habit of masturbating at dusk, in front of that sacred figure that lit up her cheeks. The face that did not register physical agony, because beauty and pain were separated from each other. Like her own there in front of the mirror, in which none of the parts matched at all.
Before the first January holiday, she did not like himself. The garish colors did their job. She opened the powder case and brushed here and there until the gaze, well-rooted, forced her to look up, with a slight touch of madness, tall even if she wore sandals or walked around barefoot, her heels parched from so much walking on bricks. She started early, without help. With so much gossip around, she forgot the beliefs that had guided her until then. And the doubts and even the debts, because she was still going to pay for each piece bought in installments: the costume jewelry, the draped blouse, the shawl and even the glitter smeared on her shoulders before getting dressed up to make her debut as what she had always been. Of course, the thick braids: nothing defined her better. Who wore braids as if they were maps in their hair? Only they did, the ones who nibbled their nails and gave chimbo azucarado to the birds that, huddled together on their doorways, watched them. The future had been defined that first January. The big festival had created her contours, her way of walking, talking, and moving.
Dressed as a chuntá, she confirmed it: she was neither rich nor poor, young nor old, fair nor dark, female nor male, but she could be a multitude knocked down and done up again and knocked down again, beyond fate.
There was a time, they say, in which the governor of the state chased after the joterío with the dirty aim of gouging out their eyes, just because some of them had seen him wearing make-up where there should only be military uniform, silver and bronze plates adorning the falseness of manhood. She put eyeshadow on her eyelids and went on with her nose, which a boy had broken in childhood. Her mother already knew. Mothers know everything. She outlined her mouth again, which had so often protected her from helplessness and made decisions for her, trusting that her lips would always remember, suck, understand, and execute at her whim, covered with saliva or the dance that menthol did at their edges. The cinnamon-toned blush hollowed her cheeks, although no blush could ever equal that moment that preceded the touch, when the glow of her cheeks left her more naked than the saint himself, with a feeling of strangeness and reciprocity. A voyeur suddenly interrupted by the trembling of some branches. Because Saint Sebastian derailed her conscience, but the saint did not measure or judge like any person passing by.
She fell asleep with her clothes and makeup on. The noise of the others woke her up. Let the madwoman calm down. Her eyelashes were clumped with mascara. She counted them: there were more than twenty. One and the same but not the same, although they all looked happy, free, authoritarian, confused and lonely, possessed, inadequate, trapped in time, with tenuous souls and wanderlust despite being melancholic and flesh for the scourge. If you don’t scream, you’re horny , said one of them, and they were seized by a fit of laughter. That night the ancestors danced around her with a joyful ferocity, while the aguardiente did its thing and burned their throats. Before going out into the street, she wrote her old and new names on the shaking glass with lipstick.
It is up to me to enter through the mirror and leave, if it is possible, for the place where I belong, which is the same place where I am going to arrive, she thought, and then she didn’t think anymore because she did not have time.
The revelry in her head, the tickle in her navel, her cosmic walk. The heart that beats hard denies nothing. She was never again going to be a man without a gaze. She got rid of her origins. She swore to herself to have no roots other than those of her hair, when the straw-black would intrude on her highlights.
Having become Tere, from that night on she gave herself up to the rest of the nights. What came after she narrated as one does with the beads of a rosary. She always worked, she never could save. She was the queen of the short term and embraced her condition as a replaceable subject. She got ensnared in vice, with the risk that the snare would cause a heart attack and leave her comatose. She gave herself up to daily catastrophes. To the ups and downs of the tyrant cock that pushed her to use it in public and private bathrooms. In dirty parking lots. In moments of tension or stupidity. Among lianas and climbing stairs made of weeds on the way to heaven. Stinking of sweat left by rejections or smeared with basil. With a red thread on her ass so that they wouldn’t harm her or with a plastic ring on her glans. The asshole, carnivorous, with its long petals, a niluyarilo flower to be searched for, just like when the florists climbed the mountains, found them attached to the stones and brought them back, accompanied along the way with fireworks and flute and drum music.
A flower that opened and cupped and swelled and quivered and anchored and at the same time multiplied her.
A flutter of arms, a rough walk, a fleeting desire, I am transformed. Tere collected stories, all of them implausible because they were true. She accumulated real and hallucinatory love affairs. She had, like anyone else, her stories of deception, of lying, and of being duped by others. She heard sweet curses, the most common expletives, or the falsest compliments in tongues that let slip some plea, so it could not be said that her hours, since she assumed another, had passed in vain. And that meant being alert, defending herself. It was not true that those times were long gone, when the governor of the state chased transvestites and forced them to disappear under the bedspread, so as not to feel like a guy was running a current over their dresses or slitting their members with a knife or shears. There was always a beating for no reason, a crime turned into a secondhand tragedy, a chase that forced them to run through vacant lots, under a punishing sun.
One day it happened. She told her mother that if she dreamed it and spoke about it, it would happen. And mothers knew everything, even if they turned their backs on them as hers had. At first the story was still vivid in her head. She distinguished the giant styrofoam swan, the float, a dry tree occupying the window area, the confetti on the tile. Then it was useless to hold on to the memory, which faded until nothing remained but an ancient sense of dread. The bustle surrounded her and she stood up and saw them again. She counted them: there were more than twenty, only now her arms were too short and she could not reach them. One and the same as a whole but not the same, hands loaded with bracelets and rings, devoid of fear. With her flip-flops and satin frills. Vehement and complex like the multicolored petatillo embroidery on her chest. This time it took her less time to get ready. Because of the heat trapped in the room, she went out to smoke a cigarette and from the doorway she looked at the street. People were waiting for them on the high, pointed hill. For the gang and the aunt. Someone threw a pebble at her and she saw the flash of a metallic object in the air. She didn’t have time. The commotion pushed her forward. If you don’t scream, you’re horny. And they shouted. Together. The same body. When the chuntás filled the sidewalks, it was not possible to distinguish where one began and the other ended. Always, ever since she put the basket on her head, she liked the sound of the wind hitting the pennants, lost and tied down like her. This time, the dangling scarf that allowed her to hold the basket began to choke her. It was something else and she knew it. A twinge, a sign that she had set foot on the threshold. At first, Tere released her most graceful movements to the rhythm of the chinchín. Then the images came back sharply and it seemed to Tere that time began to go backwards and the landscape gathered into a knot. She was there, in the middle, how could she save herself? I didn’t talk about it, mother, and if I didn’t speak about it, it won’t happen to me, she muttered to herself. But she was pierced by an unsubtle fear and then she turned around and began to run towards the opposite side of the road. She knew the dreamlike path by heart, the curves, the inclines, the ascents that became descents and the descents that went up. When she sensed that escape was coming, a path opened up, enveloped by a fog like the impenetrable one that surrounds the memory of things. In the dream, her eyes had been sealed with transparent tape and the wound on her forehead desecrated her skin with red threads. An elongated shadow reached her, her guts twisted, and she was overcome by a feeling of listlessness or dizziness. It smelled like guacho: she knew it because she had once taken off a soldier’s sticky boots and passed the very tip of her tongue over that instep. Had the time when days were not normal—even if they did everything they could to make them so— been left behind? Had she been warned so many times that she was finally transported to one of those scenes happening now under her eyelids? She sucked in a deep breath and let the breath envelop her. A clot broke loose from her eye sockets and her corneas, still alert, winced until the bright, violet blood, made of diamond and glitter, stopped gushing.
In memory of
Doña Esther Noriega Molina (Tía Tey),
our beloved matriarch who lovingly sheltered the LGBTIQ+ community.
Our body holds our history, our body is unconscious memory,
which harbors much of our ancestral heritage.
TRÁNSITO [Transit] is the experience of the past loss of my father that I experience as a cuir (queer) artist from the Chuntá identity within the gang of Tía Tey.
Us Chuntá are men dressed as women who dance to Saint Sebastian during the January celebration in southeastern Chiapas, Mexico. By appropriating this gesture, I transform its meaning to represent Saint Sebastian through our own bodies, and thus revise the historical memory of a community in order to recount, through this process, the history of colonialism and the genealogy of dissident sexuality in Chiapas in one of the oldest celebrations.
Tránsito is an allegorical narration, which intertwines the colonial, the contemporary, and an ancient pre-Hispanic Indigenous fertility ritual, allowing me to delve into the bordering identities, hybrid and incomplete, to which I belong, where there is a social transition towards an alternative subjectivity, intertwining opposites such as flesh and spirit, sexuality and religion.
What I propose is to establish a dialogue for building the testimony of the local cuir community in the present and decolonizing the causes that violate the consecration of the feminine, in a process of symbolic restoration of those negative experiences that survive in a transgenerational reality.
This rewriting is necessary for questioning the roots that legitimized the binary and gender categories; for reinventing the history of our ancestors who survive in our bodies, for discussing the dilemmas of the present and, above all, for imagining possible futures.
A typical sweet bread from the state of Chiapas, Mexico.
A female character that is portrayed every year by several thousand people, most of them men—as well as women and people of all genders—during a celebration known as the Fiesta Grande in the town of Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas, Mexico.
A pejorative Mexican term for gay people.
A maraca-like instrument typical of Chiapas, Mexico.
In Southeastern Mexico this term refers to a foot soldier.
Queer turned out to be the most appropriate term, as it encompasses a variety of identities and orientations that go beyond the male/female duality. But even better is the use of the concept cuir, which Sayak Valencia proposes as an act of linguistic appropriation and colonial disobedience in her text Del Queer al Cuir: ostranénie geopolítica y epistémica desde el sur g-local [From Queer to Cuir: Geopolitical and Epistemic Estrangement from the G-local South]: “The cuir movement is thus a g-locally situated movement, composed of multitudes who oppose both traditional political institutions (which present themselves as sovereign and universally representative) and the sexogenic, heterocentric, and bodily-integral epistemologies that still dominate the production of politics, economics, science, discourse, gender, and the representation of standardized corporealities. Finally, cuir is a movement of (self-)critique and radical agency that forms alliances with (trans)feminisms and with the diverse processes of minoritization determined by ethnicity/race, functional diversity, migration, age, class, etc., and that recognizes the achievements and historiography of other movements of social transformation, such as the queer multitudes of the American Third World, as well as the many different feminisms: Indigenist, ecologist, cyberactivist, etc. In short, cuir is not only an aesthetic and prosthetic project but a (geo)political and ethical one.”