Award-Winning Argentine Author Camila Sosa brings us into her world – exploring the inspiration for her novel “Las Malas” and how to best support the trans community.
Award-winning transgender author Camila Sosa’s “Las Malas” novel begins and ends in the famous Sarmiento Park, a spot where trans sex workers made their nightly rounds. It’s an experience that Sosa lived firsthand when she formerly earned a living as a sex worker at the park itself.
“My experience [working as a sex worker] in Sarmiento Park was brief because the park began to get gentrified, so I started working on my own. [My experience there] was the aesthetic catalyst for the book and the super-powerful images that stayed with me from those moments,” she said.
The novel challenges the contemporary ideas of gender through a gritty, visceral, and tender storytelling of a trans woman’s journey finding a community on the margins in Cordoba, Argentina. The concept of the novel was initially born while she was acting in a play she wrote called El Cabaret de la Difunta Correa in 2017.
The play was inspired by a famous unofficial saint from San Juan, Argentina, “La Difunta Correa,” who was found dead in the desert about 200 years ago. She ran away from rapists while also searching for her husband, who was kidnapped by the army. Unfortunately, she got lost in the desert during the escape and died of thirst. Legend has it that some shepherds found her dead while miraculously still nursing her son, who was alive. Today, people visit her sanctuary across the country to make promises in exchange for miracles. Among those “promisers” were Sosa’s parents.
“They made a promise in 2008 so that I could leave prostitution. Then, after three months, a play of mine premiered, through which I became very well known here in my province and then all over [Argentina]. After that, I started working in film, television, and theater. So I guess [my parents’] promise worked,” said Sosa matter of factly.
But a question has always lingered with her. What happened to Difunta Correa’s son, who was found still alive in the legend? Immediately after they found him, there was no peep about the child. Nobody knows anything about him. Not if he lived, with whom he lived, nor what life he had. Nothing. So, Sosa playfully claimed that the trans sex workers from Sarmiento Park in Córdoba had found him.
Her curiosity led her to write and produce the play previously mentioned, “El Cabaret de la Difunta Correa.” Sosa played one of the characters in the play known as Tía Encarna, a “transvestite” who spoke of miracles and found Difunta Correa’s son in a ditch in Sarmiento Park.
“When I was doing the play, I was very curious about the character Tía Encarna in particular and how she had resolved facing motherhood at an older age. So I started writing [the book now titled “Las Malas”], about the story of Tia Encarna with the [baby named] Brillo de Los Ojos.”
“For me, saying ‘trans women’ was like washing away a little of the past of [the word transvestite] – a word loaded with history.”
The Argentine author uses the term “transvestites” in her novel and often during our conversation. However, when I asked about her choice to use a word considered offensive, she explained that when she arrived in Cordoba and started working the streets, the term “trans woman” did not exist.
“It came long after my existence and how I began to create myself,” she said.
At that time, Sosa and her friends self-identified as transvestites, never as trans women. However, when her book “Las Malas” began making its way around Latin America and the world, she discovered a system of terms she hadn’t contemplated before. So she began to explore these terms with friends like Chilean poet Claudia Rodriguez who self-identifies as a “resentful transvestite”.
“For me, saying ”trans women” was like washing away a little of the past of that word – a word loaded with history,” said Sosa. “Because look, [the term transvestite] was used as an insult, people used it pejoratively, no matter what you had done to your body.”
“I mean, you could have undergone genital reassignment surgery, or you could have gotten breasts or undergone hormone treatment or whatever. The term indiscriminately used was transvestite. For everyone, it was the same,” she added.
So, she identifies as a transvestite and commonly uses that term in speaking and writing. However, her personal opinion does not get in the way of others who prefer to identify as trans women.
“What I’m sharing with you is not absolute. But I find the choice that some have made to reclaim a word used as an insult [such as transvestite] very interesting.”
Sosa has often faced displacement from various spaces, sometimes even the trans community. However, she has found solitude to be an incredible gift once you reframe your perspective on it.
“The experience of a 40-year-old Latin American transvestite like me is tinged with a certain solitude, which you begin to enjoy out of necessity,” she said.
“You haven’t been sentenced to it, but it’s a gift that gives you space to sit down and write,” she said. “It allows you to sit for hours and hours contemplating an idea you have in your head and give it shape. Or complete a script for a play, a book, a poem, or a newspaper article.”
“There are lives that do not need to belong to anything. They need better living conditions, rights, jobs, and laws. Although they do not belong to a community, they are distinguished as individuals and creative individuals,” she added.
Unfortunately, employment discrimination is one of the most significant problems that the trans population faces, at least in Latin America. So one of the best ways allies can support, according to Sosa, is by employing trans people or trans women.
“Many have been kicked out of the system because they did not have the means to complete their studies, had to leave their homes very young, or didn’t have a college degree.”
The Argentine author made a point to differentiate between offering a job to a trans woman supported by her middle-class family versus a 40-year-old trans woman who’s only ever known prostitution. Although these debates have taken place behind closed doors, Sosa wants to ensure that trans people who have lived through poverty and prostitution are also part of the mainstream narrative.
“If you are an ordinary person living [in our society] willing to support trans people, offer them employment opportunities.”
About the Author
Chantelle Bacigalupo is #WeAllGrow Latina’s Editorial Staff Writer. She is a Bolivian-American photographer, multimedia journalist, and activist based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work focuses on issues ranging across immigration, social & environmental justice, preserving Indigenous cultures, and reproductive justice.