Supermodel(You Better Work)
“I have one thing to say, sashay shantay Shantay, shantay, shantay I have one thing to say, sashay shantay Shantay, shantay, shantay” - RuPaul Charles
“Make me feel, mighty real, Make me feel, mighty real, You make me feel, mighty real, You make me feel, mighty real” - Sylvester James, Jr.
“Once upon a time,” Ruru begins as JA-NL moves closer to her. “There was a little black boy in the Brewster Projects of Detroit, Michigan. One day, he snuck into his older sisters' makeup room. Well, it was a just a closet with a few mirrors and an array of makeup. He snatched one of their wigs, threw on a dress and some stylish pumps and pranced up and down Mac Avenue.
“Well that fifteen-year-old was spotted by a fashion fair talent scout and my modeling career took off. You see, Haughties loved to snatch up one-in-a-million Vessels and catapult us to Petty Boujee status. Oh yes, gotta keep the illusion of social mobility alive to quell those restless Vessels. And you better believe these Vessel-to-Petties were still only used for their bodies: models, athletes, actors, singers. No one cares to hear our thoughts or our troubles. They took me, just a simple boy in a dress, and put me to werq on that HO-ratio Alger stroll.
“Yassss, they took me from raggedy to richy-rich in months. I turnt it out walking catwalks from Paris to Milan, Singapore to Gelendzhik. And honey, I put the bass in my walk. Head to toe, my whole body talked!
“I was under the Boujee spell. I was starstruck by the glitz of it all. I was signing fashion deals left and right: bedazzled face masks by Dior, VR Gas Masks by Google and couture Wellington boots, perfect for any flood-ravaged town. Anything to get the Vessels and Grips to spend, spend, spend what little they had for a shimmer of social status.
“And my story drenched their media. This poor, young Vessel from the camps who had made it out and made it big. And with this flawless face, I acted out the triumph-over-tragedy trope that was force fed to other Grips and Vessels, who chanted my name and yearned to be me.
“Within three years, I was a multimillionaire, living in an apartment deep inside Metropolis. Champagne showers. Caviar dreams. I thought I had it all. But I was never fully happy. They'd tour me around the farms and camps and send me to malls and outlet stores. My heart would ache, seeing all that poverty. I'm not just talking about poverty of money, but also poverty of spirit. The sad and oppressed people who would wait hours in line just to see me, to hold my hand and hope that my miracle would rub off on them. I'd come back to my hotel room and cry. I wasn't a hero. I wasn't a savior. I was just a decoy used to make them feel they had a chance to overcome their tragedies while paralyzing them with false hopes.
“If pop culture was the opiate of the masses, then my visits were like a shot of heroin.
“It was the fashion mogul, Anna Priestly, who pulled me out of my tears, screaming that these little Lazies needed any hope they could get.
“'I gotta get out.' I cried.
“She slapped me in the face.
“'We own you!' She screamed 'You're just a piece of trash, we'll use you and throw you back to the gutters.' With a mouth full of blood, I did what Vessels are trained to do, look down and accept our fate.
“But this double life was so exhausting. Ha, they used to call me the Professional because I always showed up in full makeup and hair for any gig. But it took me an extra three hours each day to hide my identity. Lord knows I'd have the meatiest tuck in town without all that duct tape.
“Rumors swirled like dust devils, threatening to suck all my success away. Some trifling pigeon from my past began shopping old 3D pics of me crawling out of drag. I knew the ruse was up. Not only that, I could be thrown in jail for my transgressions. That's right, after a 20-year moratorium, Metropolis brought back New York City's law criminalizing 'impersonating a female.' Talk about government overreach! But the plastic surgery industry had lobbied hard for this. They felt drag made a cheap mockery of their artisan skills, you know, sculpting the perfect, gendered body. Transgenderism was allowed, but only if people paid for full reassignment. Another boon for their business.
“I was trapped by my secret. I mean, literally, I was sitting on a secret, but you catch my drift.
“I stood alone in the eye of the storm with pressures all around trying to wear me down. But I held tight to what I know is right. And still, I could hear the way my momma used to say.
“'Never, no never let your spirit beat! Never! Never give in to the end and carry on.'
“And that's what I did. I carried on!
“I knew what I had to do.
“I was headlining the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show the next week, so I had to act fast to prepare the perfect climax.”
The Victoria's Secret corporation billed its annual show as an interactive exhibit demonstrating that year's styles of bras and panties, which covered the parts of a human woman's body deemed most pornographic. Along with this, the event showcased that season's idealized image of femininity. That particular season, the new female body norms included above the butt dimples, thigh gaps of four inches and elongated Achilles tendons, measured by how many of Paris's arrows could stick in it. As the women sashayed down a stage, the fashion illuminati and obese older Boujees judged them from the sidelines, lending their gaze to cement these trends.
“The night of the show, I could feel the fashion photogs swarming the dressing room, hoping to sabotage my career by snatching just an inch of my maleness.
“So I did what any girl would do. I let them have it, the house down!
“That year, Victoria's Secret had collaborated with Ivanka Trump and her clothing line as a way to clear the air for the heir after her Martha Stewart-stint in prison.
“The theme that year was Rebel Yell, an Ode to Dixie. This wasn't the first time the show threw down with racists reimaginings of American, like those tacky Native American headdresses. Yuck!
“I was their jigaboo, just a pliable black person pining for acceptance and financial freedom, that's why I originally agreed to the event and the outfit. But it made my vengeance all that more sweet.
“The audience went wild as I descended the southern plantation steps in a couture beaded Confederate Flag dress. I can still hear the loudspeakers as I strutted down the runway, blaring my antebellum name for the evening, Rachel Tension.
“Darling, they were eating me up!
“All eyes on me, I stripped out of the Stars and Bars. The cheers grew as I revealed my lace bra and panties, made to look like slave shackles. The men screamed, 'more, more, more!' and hunty, you best believe I gave them more. With a twinkle in my eye, I reached into my bra. The men around me and in the live television audience of 100 million frothed, itching for an inch of areola. I ripped out my breast plate and threw it into the crowd, knocking a few men in the head.
“Ha-Haaaa! They got what they always dreamed of, a face full of titty.
“I snatched my wig and tossed it at the pinched faces of fashion editors sitting front row. All of that surgery and they couldn't even flinch, so they took an eyeful of my tumble weave.
“I smudged off my makeup and cackled. Then I ripped off my panties and untucked my penis and scrotum, lettin' it all hang out.
“At the end of the runway, I snapped my fingers three times and all the lights switched off. Oh you see, I had the whole event rigged for my coming out party. Two snaps and the spotlights hit me. The wall-sized monitors flashed to life in streaks of gold and red. On them, ribbons with words floated above the audience. One read my personal motto, 'We're all Born Naked and the Rest is Drag' and the other quoted Simone de Beauvior's 'One is not born a woman, one becomes one.'
“And as the crowd clamored, I disappeared in a puff of smoke. Well not quite, I dropped through the stage's trap door and got the hell outta there.
“I was a wanted man. The whole of Metropolis seethed over the scandal. My face popped from every holocube. I was a threat to the most fragile Boujee resource, masculinity. How dare I trick real men to fap for me?
“After wandering through the darkness of the tubes underneath the city-state, I found myself in the porcelain sewers that poured all that Boujee waste into the Bronx. As I walked along the river shit, I heard voices singing, calling to me.
“I followed these voices. And when I turned a corner, I saw a vision in red, draped across a chaise, lounging in a rouge room tucked away from the sewers.
“'Gitchi, gitchi, ya ya, dada!' The voice purred and sat up, wrapped in feathers and furs. An attendant brought her and me chalices and another poured us magnolia wine. She stared as she took a swill and said.
“'Mocha chocolata. Ya. Ya.'
“'Who are you?' I inquired.
“'I'm your creole Lady Marmalade!'
“You see, Lady Marmalade had come from ten generations of sex Vessels. Women who had escaped slavery in the American south and found a kind of independence as sex workers in the port town of New Orleans. Her foremothers had unionized the sex Vessels and provided daycare for these werqing women. She explained her philosophy bluntly.
“'We're independent women. Some mistakes us for whores, I'm saying why spend mine, when I can spend yours? Just remember, the difference between a hooker and a ho ain't nothing but a fee.'
“'When the men of Metropolis are back home, doing that nine to five, living their grey flannel life, old memories of us creep as they go off to sleep and they cry more, more, more!'
“I tried to introduce myself but she grabbed my hand and pulled me close.
“'Shhh, we don't use our real names here. For now, I'll call you Sweet Honey Child. You are home! Your sisters will take care of you.'
“In this subterranean palace, I blended in with the industrious sex working class that lurked under the city-state's pristine veneer. These women, men and genderqueers adopted me and taught me how to move through the secret entrances all around the city. Abandoned tunnels crisscrossed the island and we rolled through these tubes on golf carts. Summoned by their tricks, a holophone app would give them detailed instructions of how to breach the secure apartments and offices above.
“I knew what I had to do. From the ashes of my supermodel past, I was reborn as Starrbooty! I was a vigilante, skilled in the subversive arts of glamdalism. I would make my tormentors pay. And if I fly or if I fall, at least I can say I gave it my all.
“Working with my sisters, those independent contractors of the night, I compiled maps of my targets and constructed my routes. I started with my fashion overlord, Anna Priestly. I broke into her doctor's office and found the files on her plastic surgeries. With these and family photos, I was able to construct the image of what she shoulda looked like if she didn't have all that wealth and the privilege to beautify herself.
“I hacked the holochip in Anna's neck. Now a hologram of this image wrapped around Anna for all to see. I'm talking about sweaty pits, triple chins, sagging jowls, man-shoulders, swollen cankles and sucky nail beds. The next day, as Anna stood before a row of models and designers, the image of her contorted to what she most reviled.
“Live by the surgeon's knife, die by the surgeon's knife.
“The empire she created first laughed at their empress in her new, husky glory. And then they mocked her with sharp barbs that sliced deep through her thin skin. In a week, she endured a lifetime of insults that her norms had created. As women clamored to meet her level of perfection and hide their insecurities, they would say such cruel things to themselves and each other.
“These images of Anna raced through Metropolis, bursting from every holocube and even from the 3D billboards above Times Square. Pics of her new found corpulence were wedged between photos of the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
“By the tenth day, she isolated herself in the sanctuary of her 3,000-square-foot bathroom. The mirrors all along the walls and ceiling mocked her with the scars of an unglamorous childhood. She even thought her clawfoot tub snarled at her. But every time she felt herself, the skin felt smooth and taut, like a drum. The arms toned, the legs still slender.
“But her image though! She lived in the world of mirages. She raced to her children to get them to feel her tautness but they hissed and ran away from her. She lurched back to her bathroom, cast off as untouchable.
“And that's when I came for her. I arrived mid-ugly cry as snot poured out of Anna's nose.
“Her husband used a few sex Vessels to inflate his ego while draining his testes. I took the service elevator to the 84th floor and crawled behind the electric paneling and shimmied along the pipes.
“I counted the steps and saw that the sex Vessels had marked the end of each apartment and beginning of the next. I found the entrance to Anna's bed-suite and pushed on a panel in the wall which opened to a world of luxury I never could have even dreamed of. I'm talking about an entire redwood tree cut down and carved to make their emperor-sized bed.
“When I tumbled into the room and shut the wall panel, I realized I had waltzed in behind a painting, Edouard Manet's Olympia. It was of a white woman, reclining, buck-ass naked! This 19th-century painting sent shock waves at its debut, but not because of the nakedness of a woman. Tits and fish were a normal serving in French paintings. It was her brassy gaze and a few other details showing she's a sex worker that alarmed the audience. But what made me boil is the black maid in the painting. She stands next to the white woman but wilts into the scenery. Just another invisible object for white people to use and show their privilege.
“Hmm, what a fitting way for me to infiltrate! I slinked into the bathroom suite and found Anna curled up on the floor, heaving heavy sobs.
“'You did this? You ungrateful tar baby! I should've left you to die in the camps. You should be thanking me! You had the whole world adoring you and that dark skin of yours.' She screamed. I let her have her say and then told her off.
“'Oh! Thank you?' I said. 'Why? They never adored me, I was just a cheap sideshow carnie that you paraded around. I only Scrooged you with the specter of what you might have been. Even you have struggled and failed to live up to the impossible expectations of what a body should be and how a woman should age. Free your mind of this prejudice and the rest will follow! Repent and make amends, only you have the power to destroy the oppressive ideals that hurts us all.'
“'No!' She howled. 'I fought ugliness my whole life and with every fiber in my body! I can't let cankles win! I can't!'
“With that, she shot hairspray into my eyes and lunged at me, her acrylic talons clawing at my face. Anna pinned me on the floor, choking me. I reached up to a counter and yanked whatever I could. I ripped a pearl necklace off its thread, exploding beads of hard tissue created by mollusks, which rolled on the floor. Anna tried to steady herself on her heels but she slipped on one of the beads.
“Boom! She hit the platinum floor. I jumped up and grabbed a hairdryer and hogtied her with the cord.
“'Ok, now that I have your complete attention. Let's talk. Woman to Woman.'
“That bitch wouldn't even let me get in another word.
“'ALEXIS! Activate GUARDS!' She screamed. I tried to gag her, but she bit me with her powerful canines. And then she sealed her fate by yelling 'Lock Down! Shoot any intruders!'
“All doors and windows into the apartment slammed slammed shut. Guns popped out of the walls. Their laser pointers scanned the room.
“'Don't! You'll only kill yourself!' I tried to warn her... But it was too late.
“The guns were designed to identify the images of any new people. And they did. The guns cocked and pointed at Anna and me.
“'Wait! Not me!' were Anna's last words.
“The guns fired at us. I dove for the painting and tumbled behind it as a bullet grazed my shoulder. Fuck! It was close! I pulled the wall trap shut.
“Behind me, bullets pierced through the image of Anna's triple chins as she wailed at the irony. Killed by her own prejudice.
“As a final insult, the sensors scanned the room for any other threat and focused their sights on the black maid in the painting, identifying any dark-skinned human as a menace to high society.
“Boom! I was halfway down the hall as I heard the bullets tear through the canvas.
“That night, I knew I was in way over my head and that there's nothing I could do by myself to stop the people of Metropolis.
“Lady Marmalade squirreled me out on that underground homorailroad, providing me with the rainbow book of safe stops for me as I traveled to a sanctuary she had heard of... Wondaland.
“Her last words to me were, 'Go West! Life is peaceful there. Go West! In the open air.'