All views expressed are those of the writer.
Too many people at the party don’t know what they’re doing. Amidst a writhing apocalypse, I am ever sympathetic to social anxieties and infectious disease anxieties alike. But in that cavern of desire and shame, that grody bar or LED-bedazzled dancefloor, when people come up to me unsure of what to do, I sometimes feel impatient. Maybe she’s trans, maybe she’s already spent years galloping through the postcolonial fields of her own self-doubt. Maybe talking about herself as a horse as winking metaphor will help us understand why it feels so easy for some, so impossible for everyone else, to just be. She’s not literally a horse or an attack helicopter. It’s a persona, a trope that maybe she understands better than any cis white girl who rode ponies. She’s Horse Girl / Trans Girl (HGTG), a trophy phony who would never be confined to the stable of human angst. Her every move is a spectacularly elegant dance, her every step a gallop across fields of endless possibility. HGTG knows how to be at the party.
Across four exhibits in this autofictional-essay-cum-research-report, HGTG will tell you about her adventures. She will intersperse them with essayistic musings on partying against the rhythms of pandemic late capitalism. In one narrative evening, she makes friends with strangers, embarrasses men, and confronts the ghosts of friends who’ve become strangers. HGTG’s transcendent power is still confined to corporeal mortality! We’re crying.
As for the thinly veiled narrator as author as mini soapbox format, this is autofiction after all. But as our HGTG has deemed, it will veer between the declarative third person and the oh, so vulnerable first person. All of it will be unbearably voice-y. Is this also metafiction?
We hate fiction but the truth is sometimes unbearable and sometimes the scenic route to the party is funner anyway.
Exhibit A: Snoozing through Seduction
Before the party, she meets a platonic cis girlfriend for a drink. She doesn’t have many friends of this breed but the ones who have survived her periodic cullings are the best little pets a horse girl could find. Their cons? Tragic human cis-straight girl ordinariness! Could be worse.
HGTG listens sympathetically and makes affirming, placating noises as cis gf bemoans her tragically ordinary disappointments at yet another cis-straight man. He made his desire for her evident and then got wishy-washy about getting his dick up. What does cis gf do now? If only HGTG could afford to be so stuck in Victorian modes of prudish courtship. HGTG has surpassed misogyny, has horsed beyond transmisogyny.
HGTG leads by example. Down the bar, a man (Man Nº1 for this essay) eyes her longingly. She lowers her chin and inclines one shoulder his way. He walks over and says hello. The sound of her voice, so rich and full and sonorously baritone, stirs some deep, trans-Oedipal need she senses in his slack mouth but can’t be bothered to unpack.
It’s funny talking to this man, funny how I make Man Nº1 flustered with so little effort. Cis gf looks on in awe. My girlish laughter lets him think that I’m deeply enthralled. I’m barely listening as he tells me about gardens and tomato plants. He knows nothing about the field.
When Man Nº1 reaches for my lower back, I lean against his hand. His hold on me is the most assured he’s been. Men and their hands. I’m pulled closer to him, and we dance. Sometimes, HGTG has boring human needs. She has small touch deprivations that creep up mere hours after frolicking in the wild, wild out there alone. When we turn and I face cis gf again, I hold up two fingers. Just wait.
I kiss this Man Nº1 and he presses more earnestly into me. If only power or control sustained HGTG’s attention.
Want to get out of here? he asks.
She smiles pityingly. No thanks.
Can I take you out sometime?
He’s ruined it. Maybe, I say. I smile as I return to my friend. He gives me his number and leaves.
HGTG tells cis gf how to slowly raise the stakes, how to make clear the direction of her interactions with whatever Man without ever letting him feel like he’s being led, that every direction given to their aimless relationship wasn’t already always his idea. HGTG yawns as she provides counsel.
At the same time, HGTG understands these desires. Did she not just admit she let her lips touch a Man’s earlier? Pandemic Boredom in the Apocalypse is dire, bleak, but a Man? Embarrassing, but not reprehensible.
Exhibit B: Rich Girl, Poor Girl
After the bar, I resume a pattern of steps I hoped to never tread again: I tread the route to a job I once had as a human. Trotting the same paths through town is like performing a dance again and again. As a horse girl, I like to think I’m always at the frontier of new sensations of space-time. But every choreographer, even the most inventive of improvisers, has a set of signature gestures they return to again and again. Creating new physical vocabularies is existentially strenuous labor. But tonight, HGTG’s friend hosts a reception at a theater where she once worked. In preparing to return, her body remembers the kicks and yips it used to do before she took on her full horse girl, trans girl form.
On any old field, by any horse or human, a little kick is just a little kick. But when dancing in her favorite field, HGTG can’t pretend she doesn’t remember all the moments she’s done that little kick before. At a certain threshhold, repeating a familiar chain of neuromuscular cues actually feels transcendent. Muscle memory is neither science nor art. When she kicks her leg in that same luscious flick, she can be so in her body and completely outside of it at the same time.
Fields have muscles and memories too. And the city is a certainly a field. It registers each kick as more than a snap of a joint or an assemblage of others’ whims wandering about town. The accumulation of kicks and trots make a place worth haunting or skipping by. So when HGTG arrives at the theatre and enters the lobby, her muscle memory winces.
At the top of the steps, a human employed to extend a drink and a smile above his sturdy wrist hands her a tall glass of rich marigold over ice. His posture says: “It’s okay, allow me to do this labor for you, please.” HGTG remembers all the little secrets held in the field of serving food and drink. The little corners cut, the little resentments stirred into every beverage first by the person who poured, then by the person who presents it on a tray. I see an old manager laser focused on lugging another case of beer to the bar. As he squeezes between the bartenders, I remember his name. I wouldn’t let sweet, sweet Jimmy become Man Nº2 but I don’t say hi either. I stroll about the party and find someone interesting to talk to.
But even as she chit chats her fellow guests, she feels her forearms tense beneath the phantom weight of a laden tray. Muscle memory. HGTG can’t help but miss the simpler times of being human. She laboured and made enough money but didn’t have enough time. Now she somehow has time to be at this aimless party but still doesn’t have paid time off.
She dreams of returning to her life behind the bar, of shedding her horse girl form for just one shift in the field of hospitality. It was such a simpler way of being, the class identity so much more consistent than being unemployed, lacking in financial capital but overflowing with social capital. Instead, she got lost in the class mobility portal.
The German philosophers didn’t foresee the advent of HGTGs but they did predict this discombobulating orientation towards class. Perhaps these workers get to spend some of their dollars so that someone else might hand them a cool glass. But HGTG doesn’t wallow in guilt or confusion. She nods knowingly at the servers sweating over so many cases of middle-shelf vodka, asks for Man Nº2’s name to patronisingly make Jared feel like he’s a real person, and drops a twenty in the unauthorized tip jar. Pay it forward, they told her. Party like a rich girl till you become a rich girl. It’s not scamming if someone you met at the reception emails you four months later and asks you to prance for $750. At any worthwhile party, fields intersect like planes in Cartesian geometry. HGTG traverses dimensions. She sets her empty glass in the corner and lets her mane disentangle loose in the cool of the night as she gallops to the next party.
Exhibit C: Ghosts at the Club
At the multi-level indoor-outdoor club, HGTG meets up with old friends and makes new friends, humans and horses alike. She whinnies in delight and horror at how she’s read so aggressively as “girl” by tonight’s partygoers. They’re so eager to affirm her womanhood that it makes HGTG wonder if she should return the favor. “Oh girl, you look so good hottie, the way that you have feminine titties! Your girly hair and lady lipstick! That woman dress! You look so good, girl. So good.”
She twirls around herself and minutes later, can already count the ways her own woman-dress has done her too much work. The tiny and simple A-line lavender cotton flutters majestically, flowing from her horsey hips. As she tosses her mane all about, she’s struck by a muscle memory of the last time she was here, on this second-floor covered patio. It’s in her knees.
I’d run into a human friend I’d only met a few times, but we hugged as if we were already best friends. Another night, another season, a small twist of grief in my stomach.
We took a smoke outside and talked about everything before dancing, dancing, dancing ‘til minutes before they would’ve hit the lights. We danced together as if we had many times before, all the air between us anything but empty. My knees shook as I kept going, the cavern between my hips and my ribcage wider and taller than I ever found it, lit by the breath of so much emotion swirling around inside. Horse girls have the biggest, longest torsos. All the better to let the feelings digest and morph in the gut. I felt them feel it with me. I felt what shook in their guts too. When we parted ways, they insisted we’d frolic again soon.
We never saw each other again.
Maybe neither of us meant it. Maybe they didn’t want to complicate a perfect evening. Maybe the choreography of our paths through this silly human city slid too narrow and flung too far. I think of how I wound up here again, this night, how they aren’t here, how certain silences become pointless to broach and all the things we never understood from each other were left hanging in that cloud floating above the dance floor.
As I pulse and trot, I wonder if I miss what that friend could’ve been more than I miss what they are. Still, it hurts. As the kinetic fervor persists, it activates that melancholic pallor in my knees. I keep flinging my elbows and hips about till I feel the sad shaking up inside, each inflection point a new twinge I could only soften just a bit in my delicate joints.
It feels good. Euphoria is its own form of sentimentality and physicalising it brings HGTG’s bod closer to the grief than it does for human girls. When the small sad reaches the soft part of her waist, the part where Man Nº1’s hand found it just hours earlier, she remembers all the other times she’s been held there—by other people, by herself, by a sensation just passing through.
A random man becomes Man Nº3 when he asks if she wants to dance. HGTG says, I don’t think you could keep up.
She circles about herself, laughing with her human friends at their jokes but also, at her own. What are we doing? they ask. She wished her horse friend hadn’t bailed so she could deal with it.
It’s funny, eerie, how literally her horse-ish bod can feel things so discretely, the segmentation so on the nose. So tragic the way these human activities compartmentalise equestrian affect into limbs and hidden little organs.
This horse girl trans girl’s fist-sized stomach aches in the club. But she holds her pelvis with care. She feels her legs and fingers shake, letting go what she once almost had. Her legs are too long, her hooves too hard to run as wildly as she feels. But she keeps bounding, leg to leg, hip to hip, trying furiously to stay rooted in what she does have.
Exhibit D: Social Shimmying
At the club’s rooftop bar, I finally run into the human friend I’ve been spontaneously running into at parties at least once a week all autumn but hadn’t yet seen this weekend. We say hello and show the artifacts of our adventures. Her, a cassette tape and poster from a friend’s show; me, man Nº3’s now-empty designer purse, cast aside when his anguish turned into largesse.
When she gets her cocktail, we kiss goodbye. Neither of us are leaving yet. But no effort will be expended for our paths to align again.
With drink in hand, I turn to see someone pulsing one fist above and then below the other to the beat of the synth drone blearing overhead.
Instinctively, I start imitating the simple gesture and then, somehow, I’ve made myself three new friends. Just another stop in another night clip-clopping at the adult playhouse. It turns out the gesture originates, like all apocalyptic social dances, from TikTok.
Like the best of TikTok dances, it travels laterally so it looks good on a flattened screen. It’s not hard to coordinate or put to music. In other words, the barrier to entry for the meme is not dance technique or virtuosic physical ability. Rather, it’s personality.
My new friend runs down the stairs with me, not a drop of our drinks spilling as we continue placing one fist atop the other. As we enter the basement, people join us. A spontaneous flash mob of mimetic dance moves mapped across the dancefloor is both corny and so fucking cute.
This is the strange power of codified social dance. It invites community engagement. It aligns strangers into an ephemeral unison, a perfectly imperfect assemblage of people colliding within this soulless black box. It shouldn’t be dance but even this is dance.
A few years ago, a video of a pop star doing a painful looking hip shimmy for too many bars went viral. Her comeback story has been apparently learning how to dance. By reclaiming the dance move, she reclaimed her narrative. And by human cis-girl standards, she’s moving her body with intention and specificity so sure, she’s dancing. She’s hitting her marks on the rhythm, giving us semi-coordinated hip shakes and angular arm choreography. It almost looks sexy.
But to HGTG, she who has moved so much, whose effortlessness is intrinsic to her travels across time and space, the question arises: Is this pop star dancing? Or is it all muscle, no memory? Is it any coincidence that the most famous TikTok star has years of dance training to her credit, but in her videos, never appears to actually have rhythm, texture, or flow? She’s moving but never is it moving.
My new friend may not have training but at least they know how to dance. They have personality. The dynamic between us has generated its own rhythm, texture and flow. We’re generating memories in our muscles. The other patrons can only see it in our forearms and fists but the two of us—we feel it in our hearts. Maybe they’re a horse in the making, maybe they just know how to party.
Before the dance can get stuck in either of our bodies or in the cloud of exhalation above, I know to leave. Some nights, she needs to commandeer a bicycle and a hill and zip past everyone who’s ever tried to tame her. She’s faster than anything. You recognise her shape but can’t see me as I unclog a duct and let a tear blow into the still humid fall. When else but in motion?
Other nights, she just needs to take the carriage to a park, where she can lie beneath the stars in the cold grass. There’s only so much humanity she can trample on before needing a little nap to rest her legs.