The transgender experience in Latin America is a unique, vital part of Latinidad, and in the English translation of her debut novel, Camila Sosa Villada shows us why. Bad Girls—Las malas, as it was originally titled in Spanish—captures the beauty, wonder and danger in the lives of travestis, a Spanish term that has been re-appropriated to empower trans women.
Villada brings us into the found family of a group of travesti sex workers living in Córdoba, Argentina. When Auntie Encarna, the 178-year-old godmother of the group, finds an abandoned child in the bramble of Sarmiento Park, the group is suddenly transformed into a “real” family who will raise the boy together. They name him Twinkle in Her Eye, and as the novel unfolds, each member of the family learns to find their own twinkle in the cruel and magical world Villada so masterfully crafts.
Bad Girls reads like a fairy tale but still connects strongly with corporeal aspects of trans experiences. Villada writes in an arrestingly poetic voice, often leaning on ancient Greek allusions to give her prose a mythic feeling. She introduces each character and their backstory like picking petals from a flower—lovingly and painfully, with dreamy care.
Early in the novel we meet Laura, the only person in the group who was assigned female at birth, and whose pregnancy and poverty lead her to the travestis. When Laura gives birth, Villada writes a scene so visceral that readers are sure to be astounded by the combination of beauty and grossness. Moments like these, in which Villada makes art out of bodies, bolster the novel’s keen and critical gender lens. From headless men to virgin births to immortal souls, Villada wants us to imagine what our bodies and lives could be.
Latin America has a rich trans tradition, in both the art and activism realms, and with Bad Girls, Villada joins the ranks of the greats. With nods to Argentine trans icons such as actor Cris Miró and activist Claudia Pía Baudracco, Villada weaves Bad Girls into the world of Latin American trans life. Just as artists like Venezuelan musician Arca have shown what the Latin American trans community can offer music, Villada shows how much a travesti can offer the field of literature. The promise is great, and on every page, Villada delivers.