“You’re the boss, applesauce”: How Flawless Sabrina Changed My Life

Flawless Sabrina made my life possible and showed me the way to own it, too.

On the fourth floor of an apartment building tucked away near the Alice in Wonderland sculpture in Central Park, I learned how to travel through time. In the magical space created, curated and maintained by The Queen, Flawless Sabrina, and her many children and grandchildren over six decades, I learned how to be the best, strongest and most patient version of myself.

I had just turned thirty-four and it was days after this past presidential election when I first met Flawless in person. It is hard to imagine how I navigated thirty-four years on this earth without knowing her. When the cramped elevator in her building brought me to the fourth floor that November evening, I felt an unfamiliar combination of complete calm and unrelenting nervousness. One of those moments in life when you feel like the trajectory of your existence is about to change but you cannot anticipate why or how, I entered the space that has since given me so many gifts.

Flawless at her home. Photo by Tim Hawkins.

Flawless is simultaneously larger than life and grounded in every detail of life’s most mundane demands. She floats through time with her stories of running pageants in the 1950’s and 1960’s and of caring for younger queer and trans people through generations. Sitting across from her in the room that holds the trauma, love, desire, and magic of generations, I looked up at the ceiling and felt time move differently. Stories of our history, of my own life, of our shared lives became collapsed and connected.

There are so many stories of Flawless’s life and the love she has shared with some of the most brilliant people of past, present and future generations; these are not my stories to tell. Some have already been told, others will be told in time and others still will live on in the hearts, memories and changed lives of the people holding them. I urge everyone to seek them out — the stories and the people who hold them.

I am new to Flawless’s life and in many ways, new to my own. It has taken me so many years to find a home in my body, in my mind, in the world. By the time I met Flawless, I had started to be a whole version of myself; I was ready to be taken on the journey through my own history and our shared histories. But without her, I am not sure I would have been able to be the version of myself that gives me the strength to find beauty in every day of my life. That has been one of her many and profound gifts to me.

Moments with Flawless at her apartment. Photo by Tim Hawkins.

Flawless Sabrina listens, hears, shares in ways that are unheard of in the customs of our contemporary capitalism. In the transcendent world of her apartment, time takes on different meanings and experiences. She asks questions, makes connections, guides, creates, explores, and grieves multitudes of pain and loss. It is so easy to get caught up in ahistorical, reductive narratives of success, beauty and queerness. I have learned since meeting Flawless, what it means to build a visionary notion of love, history, pain and beauty. This vision means holding on to stories that came before me — ones that resonate with my version of queerness and others that do not. It means visioning towards ideas of success that situate the liminality of our bodies, lives, dreams in the center rather than the periphery. There is no one truth of what makes us human, only our perpetual engagement with the needs and wishes that give us strength and peace.

When reflecting on the struggles of a day or of lifetime, Flawless reminds us, “you’re the boss, applesauce.” “It’s your life,” she says. “Own it.” She gives us permission to be ourselves, to live our truths, to love our messiness. Most of all she is proud of us. She is proud of each of us in the most genuine, unmitigated, pure ways. Her notion of pride is more transcendent and sustaining than anything I have ever known. She has taught me to be a better parent, a better advocate, a better listener, a better person. She has taught me to be kind to myself and to my dreams.

There is nothing more valuable than weaving our histories of resilience and love through the narratives of our present and future. Our fights to build a just world where our trans community can thrive, lead and transform started generations ago. My life was made possible by Flawless and others who created the space for me to inhabit this body in this world.

One of our mandates as we continue the fight is to sustain the histories of our elders; our visionaries; our caretakers. Flawless has collected and created stories, art and magic that we have an imperative to preserve and sustain. There are five days left in this fundraiser for the Flawless Sabrina Archive. Buy a shirt, own your life, and support the legacies that will keep making lives like ours possible.

Thank you, Flawless. I love you.

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