In My Slut Epoch
“This slut pop. Whip your dick out,” are the first words in Kim Petras’s 2022 EP, Slut Pop. Petras released the EP almost a year after I graduated with a PhD and a few months before I started HRT.
“It’s all about being hot and stupid,” says Derek, the person who first showed me the EP. We were on the way home after spending the afternoon at a nude beach, a notorious gay cruising spot in north Seattle.
I slide my thumb across my phone’s screen to type. Sometimes, instead of and my phone interprets my movements as abd.
I download Feeld. I like humans. We message. I download Tinder. I like people. Humans like me. We message. We arrange to meet. People like me. I download another messaging service. We like each other. I message. Humans like me. I like people. People like me. People message me. I confess I’ve entered my slut epoch.
The New York Times publishes an opinion column on “the bimbos of TikTok.” The article refers to a subset of femme presenting content creators who thrive off juxtaposing vaguely leftist, anti-patriarchal messaging with presentations of femininity that pander to the gaze they critique. Part tongue-in-cheek, part like-bait, bimbos are the newest form of internet uncertainty.
After spending the majority of my adult life in academia, there is nothing I want to be a part of more than bimboism—to ask questions that are too obvious, to flatten “complexities” into their most absurd synopses, to perform in opposition of the value system that had been scrubbed into me.
“Have you ever felt like you were a girl?”
I am in space between the seats and the back of the truck’s cab, where my dad stores his tools. My friends are in the passenger seat. My dad is driving us somewhere. We are thirteen.
There is a silence so sharp I’ve never forgotten it, though it lasts only a half beat.
“Ew no,” someone says. Conversation moves on.
After my comprehensive exams, I walked down the hallway of the English building with my dissertation chair. He told me he was proud of me, that I did a great job. For the first time, I noticed how much taller he is than I am. We stood in front of the building’s main exit.
“Brian, you shouldn’t use they/them pronouns. It leads to grammatical confusion,” he said. “I read about za/zem. Have you tried using those? I’ll send you the article.”
“I haven’t,” I lied. The sun shone through the glass doors. I hate Texas. Later that night, I received an email with a link to an article about “alternative” pronouns from 2014.
I message Derek. I tell them they’re hot. I say I wish I could feel confident in my body. I am still a few weeks away from starting HRT.
I remember when they came into my bedroom to tell me they love how I express my gender.
There is a baseball game in Seattle. I am in my parked car. Several cars of sports fans park around me.
The scariest part of jail was the food. Ham abd sandwiches only
Slut Pop is almost sixteen minutes of x-rated pop songs. Musically, the EP never strays far from the throbbing electronica that filled gay clubs in the early 2000s, which is to say it’s infectious. The hooks stay in your head for days—partly because they are so simple and bare and partly because they feel like something you’ve heard a million times before.
Petras is a trans woman. According to her Wikipedia, she started transitioning before puberty, so she can pass as a cis woman. Her ability to do so used to be something I wanted and something that kept me from pursuing transitioning for most of my life. I knew I would never be a “woman”—whatever that meant.
Feeld is full of profiles with T4T. Enby4Enby. Queer4Queer. Full of static and rigid categories that do not fit me or that I cannot stand to be in for more than a thought.
The truth is I want to be hot. The truth is I want to be desired and to desire my own body.
Clarity is a quality that is revered on dating apps, queer and straight alike. But with clarity comes a lack of uncertainty, a lack of possibility outside of defined terms.
I settle on feeling bad 4 feeling good.
Bimbos take everything that is supposed to be good about capitalist patriarchy and amplify it to its most absurd. Everything is a surface. Everything is fake. But in the fakeness, there is a truth—that under late-stage capitalism, there is nothing “authentic” or personal. Everything must be marketable and therefore a performance.
Hypersexuality is the barest way to express this. It is my body, but I turn it out to your gaze. I accentuate what the gaze hooks onto. Chosen hypersexuality, sluttiness, is a veil. The viewer sees my body, what my mouth can do, but they do not, or cannot, see me. I become an ideal they can touch.
A week before starting HRT, I attend a bachelor party with friends I’ve known almost my entire life. I have not told them about my transition or my preferred pronouns. In the weeks leading up to it, I feel more and more depressed.
I predominately dress femme outside of my working hours. My partners fuck my ass almost any time we have sex. I know neither of these will be on the table at the party. I know I will have to perform as a bro. It sickens me.
On the last night, after most of the party has fallen asleep, I listen to Kim Petras with Will, my best friend. I put on a skirt and heels. We vibe for a few hours until I leave for the airport. I do not tell him anything.
Sluttiness is more than an ideal. It intensifies the sweetness in sexuality until just a taste makes your teeth want to jump out of your mouth.
No, sluttiness is not sexual at all. It’s related but adjacent to sexuality. And disconnected. Sluttiness changes the rules of a situation. A slut does nothing but receive—the best and worst fantasies of those around them. A slut knows what another wants, but the other can only guess at the slut’s desires. Being a slut is about control. When I’m at my sluttiest, I am sexual, yes, but more than that, I am dangerous. Dangerous because I am so vulnerable physically. Dangerous because I give nothing of myself away.
It’s an opposite vulnerability to the one I experienced in grad school. There, I was judged on whether I was within a recognizable framework, and if I weren’t, I was taught a lesson. I was taught so many lessons. Sluttiness steps outside of the framework of imposed sexuality, so any vulnerability is difficult to pinpoint to those who aren’t performing.
No slut can be an imposter.
We were the only people in the dining car. Abd he told me a story about going to his father’s funeral abd putting a mirror in the casket.
I notice the similarities in the abbreviations PhD and HRT. The repeated H is the easy one. Even the similarities between D/T are not too much of a stretch.
The P and R are the most disparate—except to me. I think about the Hebrew letters pei and resh, which mean “face” and “head” respectively. I think about the Greek rho, which looks like a p but sounds like an r.
I also think about the slow changes both cause.
The first poem I workshop in my PhD program is titled “Human Performance on Mute.” It is about a queer person navigating their queerness in the straight world.
One line goes, “Sometimes, I can pass, and the neighbors bless my heart.” No one in the room has any idea what this means. I explain what passing as a cis woman means. The room goes silent. We move on to the next poem.
I just started HRT and am mostly looking for other transfemmes for support.
I’m looking for transfemme friendship.
I want to meet up with you abd talk about transitioning.
Would you want to grab a drink and be cunty?
Let’s do each other’s hair.
I NEED those boots! Want to give me make-up tips?
What are you looking for?
I never meet anyone I message online.
Slut Pop’s title track lists the kind of shit that should be expected from sluts: stealing your man, fucking your dad, taking your bitch, slapping their ass, sucking your dick, fucking your bitch, having an OnlyFans, not needing hands.
When I hear the list, I expect it to increase in sluttiness in a linear progression, but it doesn’t—slapping an ass is less risqué than fucking the dad of the person I’m addressing.
Here’s the point: it doesn’t matter the degree of sexual taboo. What matters is the approach. Anything is slutty with the right attitude. Sluttiness cannot be ranked by anyone but the slut.
Is sluttiness like a construct? Is sluttiness, like, a construct?
I message a boy. He loves Camus—he got a Sisyphus tattoo to prove it. I roll my eyes. I really want to seduce someone, but I cannot get over these basic tastes. I act interested. Are you into philosophy? I text.
Asking questions is a little slutty. The more obvious the question, the sluttier it is. Mounting someone, leaning close, and whispering, “What do you want me to do now?”
The relationship between questioning the obvious and being a slut is the inversion of the power of speech. Does the slut know? Does it matter? What matters is that the person answering the questions reveals exactly what they know or don’t.
A bimbo on TikTok asking what a dollar is does not perform ignorance but actually asks their audience to explain how to conjure something from nothingness.
Anne Carson asks what money is, or was, to the Greek lyric poet Simonides. One of her answers is that money is an abstraction. But what is the nature of the abstraction? And how has the process of abstracting whatever is at the heart of money changed our relationship with one another?
This is a riddle: “Money makes a riddle of human philia.” And bimbos are the last link in the chain of abstraction—femininity abstracted until it is just a breathing Cycladic figurine. While bimbos exist in the realm of internet ideals, sluts are right in front of you, asking for touch. Like sluttiness, the power of capital allows observation without being observed.
“You’ll be surprised what happens when you write from another gender’s point of view,” one of my mentors said at the end of class. We had spent the past couple hours talking about persona poems; we had to write one and bring it to the next workshop.
After that class, I wrote almost exclusively from viewpoint of a woman. My poems were more alive to me. They felt more natural in my mouth. And slutty—with their terrifying eroticism. After coming out on Instagram, a friend messaged me to say they thought I was an egg when they read my poems.
The day my first bottle of estradiol is ready for pick up, traffic along I-5 is horrible. My forty-minute commute balloons into an hour and a half—well past the time the pharmacy closes, so I pull off and take side street after side street.
I refresh Google Maps every ninety seconds. I feel like I’ve been waiting for these blue oval pills my entire life.
I arrive at the pharmacy three minutes before they close. The pharmacist grabs my prescription and tells me how to take it. After reading so many Reddit threads, I already know what she will say.
As I walk out, I take a photo of the pill bottle with my name and my prescription’s name on it. I send it to my partners—one of the pills dissolving under my tongue.
Some of my Instagram stories turn Derek’s eyes into hearts. They show me. They tell me they’re interested. They say, “I was glad you asked to kiss me before I left.”
“I was so nervous to,” I respond.
It has been a long time since I wanted a person who was assigned male at birth. I am uncertain how to gauge their interest.
I wanted to get a PhD so I could easily leave Kansas City. Leaving my hometown and not being expected to do anything but think occasionally—I had no other real aspirations. Maybe this is why I felt awkward with other grad students or when I interacted with faculty.
“What do you want to do after this, Brian?” the faculty asked me. “What are you looking for here?” I didn’t have an answer other than I want to read and write. I know my peers must have said something like be a professor, go into publishing. They joined committees. They went to events.
I couldn’t do any of that. I didn’t see the point. Instead, I listened to my body, its desires, which means I bought some really amazing heels.
Here’s the answer: I applied to the University of North Texas’s PhD program because I saw one of their mug designs on the internet. It was white. The university’s initials were in black as was its handle. It spelled, unmistakably, “C UNT.”
Never question a slut.
No concrete just metal abd glass. I feel like I’m inhabiting the mind of a minimalist.
Halfway through Slut Pop, Petras delivers her most minimal track, “Throat Goat.” Petras explains how she is the Greatest Of All Time at sucking cock. Her lyrics skate across a rhythm track that’s interlaced with gargling and moaning.
Petras flexes that she has no gag reflex, compares her throat to Lady Gaga, and implies her fame is in part due to how well she can suck it clean. The combination of performing patriarchal sexuality (in which cis males are the only ones receiving sexual pleasure) and being empowered by how her mouth can control those around her is vertiginous.
This is the connection between sluttiness and bimboism—the ability to control another with your mouth. Sluts do it physically; bimbos do it verbally.
After a month of being on estradiol, what I find attractive changes. How I orgasm changes. But my body remains masculine. I know it takes longer than a month for a body to respond to hormonal changes. I order an at-home epilator and start trying to laser my facial hair off.
Around this time, the novelty of taking estradiol begins to wane. I am more sensitive to being called sir or mister. I tear up when I think about why strangers can’t see me as I see myself.
My partner and I go on a date with a transfemme person. They have been on HRT for more than a year and present a more feminine physique than I do. I feel a self-consciousness I haven’t felt before.
When I was a boy, I never cared about not presenting as a man—it was something I didn’t want. Now, though I never want to pass as a cis woman, I find myself nonplussed by having to constantly play the minor chord of femininity.
The New York Times article on the bimbos of TikTok concludes that bimboism is a vaguely anti-capitalist reaction to girlbossing, that the underlining doctrine is that bimbos don’t need to prove their intelligence or economic worth, that bimbos’ focus on pleasure and its connections to policy is politically progressive.
This argument is plausible and attractive, and it creates a distinction between sluttiness and bimboism. Whereas bimboism is caught in the teeter-totter of political binaries, sluttiness rejects the continuum entirely. As a slut, I’m not interested in making anyone more or less progressive. I want to be told what I want or the answers to questions I never had.
Because sluts become the receptacle of others’ desires, we are a perfect canvas for showcasing exactly the contradictions and contingencies of power. Because we make others define what they want and frame it as if it’s something we want, sluts allow non-sluts to recognize their disgust with their own ideologies.
I get a Grindr. In come the dick pics. I message people. They message me back.
I ask a femme presenting person about transitioning. They are curt. They explain what masking is. They send me a link that explains why fear is stopping me from transitioning.
The person doing the video goes by Dr. Z PhD and uses faux-Freudian techniques to psychoanalyze the viewer. I immediately do not respect them. Their website has a quiz that will tell me if I’m transgender.
I respect them even less. I do not reply.
Despite the mug, UNT was not a slutty place. It wanted answers and to display those answers in concrete terms. Fact worship was at the heart of my discontent. Heteronormativity was also there. I have never been surrounded by so many straights!
After writing workshops, I would walk to my apartment in Denton and spread out the comments I received. I separated them into three piles: decent, unusable, and laughable. I compiled similar comments and planned revisions to give those around me entryways into my poems. I defined terms like cruising, passing, and puppy play.
One night, I stopped. I decided to make my poems more and more slutty. I finally succeeded when the only comment on a multi-page prose poem was “Oh lord. This is a big one.”
My response, “Well what should I do with it?”
Petras’s EP ends with the song “Your Wish Is My Command.” In the second verse, Petras sings, “Daddy, you got permission; put me into position; come on, teach me a lesson. I can be your possession.”
Slut Pop was produced by the famous abuser Dr. Luke. So naturally, the uncertainty. Does the EP sound more like Petras or Dr. Luke? Do I sound more like a bimbo or a slut? Do I possess more qualities of one than the other? Bimbo or slut? Bimbo or slut?
If I knew the answer, what would that mean? Would I possess more of myself than I currently do? Or would I, if I tucked myself cleanly into box, possess a little less?
B RIVKA CLIFTON is the author of Muzzle (forthcoming JackLeg Press) and the chapbooks MOT and Agape (Osmanthus Press). Their work has appeared in Pleiades, Guernica, The Cincinnati Review, Salt Hill Journal, Colorado Review, The Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. They are an avid record collector and curator of curiosities.