by Libby Feltis
“Drag performers are NOT after your kids. Like all real artists, they’re after the truth.”—Tomás Baiza.
Tomás Baiza’s short story, “Thank You, Cecilia” was inspired by a night out at a drag venue in San Francisco. Much like his main character, Dani, Baiza was brought onto the stage by a drag queen and the experience “left a very strong impression” on him. He said, “She ruled the stage and the crowd, and the narrative of her performance was one of transgression, resistance, and pride. It wasn’t just entertainment, but also a declaration. It was one of those moments when a single person’s power and confidence can inspire real change.” Baiza took that experience and used it to inspire change in his main character. By the end of the story, Dani’s bisexual awakening causes him to quit taking the path of least resistance. He chooses to walk away from a relationship where he isn’t fully being himself and “into the noisy, foul-smelling dark.” The reader is left, if not with warm fuzzies, then with the truth: Change is hard. And being part of a community that is often misunderstood and villainized can be messy. People in the LGBTQIA+ community walk into the unknown every day—sometimes into protestors with hateful signs, other times into clubs with waiting gunmen.
When asked if the current political climate of anti-trans and anti-drag bills being passed influenced him to write this story, Baiza said, “I had already finished the first draft when the shooting took place at Club Q in Colorado Springs. That tragedy, along with all of the other seemingly unending attacks directed at queer and BIPOC people, definitely provided negative fuel when working on the second and third drafts. The story tries to walk a line between absurdist and serious, and recent events challenged me to not go too dark in tone.” It’s this attention to craft that draws the reader into “Thank You, Cecilia.” While the story deals with heavy topics like homophobia, Baiza balances them with descriptions and scenes that will have you cackling. The idea that people should feel more threatened by a drag queen than by someone spewing hate and throwing smoke bombs is absurd. The story captures this with a sleight of hand and a sprinkle of glitter.
In addition to using levity as a literary device, Baiza artfully arranged his scenes out of chronological order in “Thank You, Cecilia.” He said the trick to doing this “is to not degrade past life moments by thinking of them as “flashbacks.” I’ve always been fascinated by the role that memories play in the present. People—and characters—rarely just do something out of nothing, uninformed by what they’ve experienced in the past. […] A useful device is to differentiate them by verb tense, present for the narrative present, and past or past-perfect for the narrative past.” In this way, Baiza creates tension between the past and present in his prose. If there is anything essential to good writing, it’s tension.
Hoxie Gorge Review is always looking for pieces that feel urgent. When asked what feels urgent when he sits down to write, Baiza said making readers think is number one for him. “I want some readers to feel seen and feel more a part of this world because they recognize something about a character or a situation. I want other readers to feel uncomfortable that they’re being exposed to things that they’ve been socialized to avoid—and maybe come away with a little more awareness of those things.” He went on to say that one test-reader claimed to hate his writing, but after he cooled off admitted that “Thank You, Cecilia” challenged him and his positions on certain issues. “That’s a huge win, as far as I’m concerned,” Baiza said. For him, the urgency isn’t in being liked, but in stirring his readers. He suggested developing a short memory when it comes to rejection as a survival skill for writers. Baiza’s short story proves that truth, written well, won’t always fall on deaf ears.