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In her 2019 novel Las Malas, Camila Sosa Villada wrote:
“I maintain that I became the woman I am now out of sheer necessity. That childhood of violence, with a father who would seize any excuse to throw objects around, take off his belt and punish, become furious and assault all surrounding matter: wife, child, object, dog. That ferocious animal, my ghost, my nightmare: it was all too horrible to want to be a man. I could not be a man in that world.”
Her writing got me thinking of what it means to be a “conchuda,” a term often thrown around as a sexist slur. Firstly, to be a conchuda, one must be a woman. In the most literal terms, it means having a large vagina. But not all women are conchudas. Some women, no matter the size of their vagina, will never be conchudas; and some conchudas don’t have vaginas. How does that work?
And here comes the second meaning of the term, to be a “conchuda,” one must leave a mark. Like Batman’s bat signal, but in the shape of a vagina. You can recognize a conchuda at first glance when a woman leaves her imprint on the lives of others. And this is not necessarily a good thing. There are conchudas who dedicate themselves to marking hearts with their vagina-signal.
Like Camila Sosa Villada. What a paradox. She earned the title of conchuda along with the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz award for her book Las Malas (tusQuets, 2019). In her novel, Camila recounts how she was offered money for sex at a young age. She had been cross-dressing since puberty, in La Falda, a town in the mountains of Córdoba.
At the age of 19, she moved to the capital, where she worked as a prostitute to pay for her communication and theater studies. It was better than learning how to make stuffed bread and selling it in the park. She would never do that. She couldn’t afford that luxury. People don’t laugh at the bebotas carrying baskets overflowing with bread rolls, but they will laugh at a trava (a trans woman or crossdresser). They would make her life a living hell. A trava cannot walk out in the sun.
In the end, prostitution was not such a terrible job. She had free time. She earned enough to pay for her living situation and treat herself once in a while. Now that she has become a renowned actress and award-winning writer, Camila can laugh at the beatings she received from some clients. She was able to climb out of the ditch, without having died like so many of her friends whom no one claims. She faced death with the bravery of a true conchuda.
Las Malas was an unprecedented success, making Camila Sosa Villada a media figure and establishing her as one of the most original writers of contemporary Argentine literature. The novel went on to be translated into more than 10 languages.
I remember when I went to see her at the theater back in 2015. It was the opening of her performance of Frida, and the theater was jam-packed. She was on stage with a bare torso, swinging on a trapeze, before she’d had breast augmentation surgery. I noticed that our small breasts were similar. “I have the same breasts as a trava,” I thought. It’s the closest I’ll ever be to being like her.
But I’m too much of a bebota to embody that appearance in the world. I belong to a nature without courage. I am exempt from what Camila calls “party.” For her, pursuing her gender expression is a party. A celebration that can make even the most macho guy in the tenement tremble with rage and pleasure.
Sometimes I imagine my life as a man. Would I be violent? Would I laugh at travas? Would I find them attractive? Would I adjust my bulge? Would I walk around acting like a big shot? I don’t know. I’ll never know men the way that Camila knows them. It’s likely that she is more of an expert in the matter than any bebota. It’s possible that Camila is the most conchuda of all the conchudas.