I downloaded Co–Star in March this past year. Two months after downloading Tinder during the “what if we tried opening things up” stage of my relationship. Two weeks after downloading Her during the “one dating app isn’t enough” stage of my breakup. Two days before downloading Grindr during what I can only describe as my rock bottom.
I’d known about Co–Star for a while, but my inherent resistance to online crazes had kept me away. This changed, of course, when I started dating.
“Add me on Co–Star! I want to see your chart!”
“Oo we’re compatible in Sex & Aggression.”
“I love that you’re a Capricorn, Leo rising. Capricorns are who I’m supposed to date but Leos have always been my favorite.”
Lesbian communities talk about astrology more than we talk about The L Word. And we talk about both a lot, at least in Los Angeles. Once I became immersed in queer community, I no longer used private browsing when watching porn; I used it to Google basic astrology questions. It wasn’t long before I was the one asking people their signs.
My belief in astrology increased, but my research remained cursory. I wasn’t looking to put the time into a new belief system, even if it was uncanny that most of my exes were Aquariuses. I was in it for the distraction, the community, the way of framing myself to myself. I was in it because I’d made a series of destructive decisions and felt tired. I was ready to hand off the responsibility of my life to someone else.
Astrology was too complicated. I decided to place my trust in Co–Star.
People talk a lot about Co–Star’s push notifications. CEO Banu Guler has even suggested these fortune-cookie quips as the primary use of the app. “I don’t open my Co–Star notifications, and I feel good about that,” she said. “It’s just like, you get your message and you keep going with your day.”
Some that I’ve received:
“You can’t always tell what’s going to happen.”
“Some studies have shown that love is an addiction that evolved in mammals as a survival mechanism.”
“You have to be able to see and accept the role you play in your unhealthy dramas.”
“Can you delay gratification?”
I tend to read these before I receive the notification. Because unlike their CEO, I do open Co–Star every day.
Underneath these sayings is a daily breakdown. There are six categories: Work, Thinking & Creativity, Self, Spirituality, Social Life, and Sex & Love. Each of these categories is assigned one of three descriptors: Power, Pressure, or Trouble. Power has a little green plant next to it, Pressure has fire, and Trouble has a red circle with a line through it.
Every day I look and see how my day is going to go. Or, rather, I look and see how Co–Star thinks my day is going to go. I place myself in a low-stakes Greek tragedy, this app acting as my oracle, pushing me to run towards or away from its prophecies.
I tell myself it’s not real. I tell myself that most astrologers scoff at Co–Star’s simplistic breakdown. And yet, I brighten up when I have more categories in Power. I feel dismayed when I have more categories in Trouble.
But only one section keeps me checking every day. I’m looking for Sex & Love.
On June 21st I had Power in Sex & Love. This seemed unlikely.
I’d gone on a boring first date the day before and I wasn’t feeling especially optimistic about my love life. And that night I was going to a concert with some new friends who were older and married. I didn’t know anything about the artist except that she was Brazilian and trans. I was looking forward to the evening, but it didn’t exactly seem like a night of romance.
By the time I left for the concert I wasn’t thinking about the Co–Star prediction. My friends bought me a tequila soda, and then another. We got drunk and I was happy. Sometimes at concerts I get lost in my own thoughts, or, drowning in loneliness, glance around at people to fall in love with. But the artist was so good, I found myself present.
After the show, we stood around chatting, the venue El Cid now functioning as a bar. That’s when she came up to me. “Hi. I just wanted to tell you you’re beautiful. I love your whole vibe.”
I was wearing black velvet pants, a black-and-white long sleeve crop top, a white jacket, and Docs. I looked good and I felt good.
“Okay, have a nice night.” She started to walk away and I stopped her and introduced myself. She told me her name was Alexia, and then asked if I wanted to go out dancing with her friends.
I stood next to her on the patio as they smoked cigarettes and chatted in Portuguese. She kept looking at me and laughing. I just smiled. Her friends started talking about ordering an Uber and Alexia, switching to English, said something about me coming along.
She misgendered me.
“I’m a woman,” I said to her. “I’m a gay woman,” I added, clarifying my intentions in case I’d misread the situation and this was just some straight girl using me for local color.
“So you’re into women?” she asked and I said yes and she said great and then she kissed me.
Maybe I’m not supposed to kiss people who misgender me, but there was something charmingly pansexual about this person not knowing my gender but knowing she was into me. I didn’t even think about any of this until later because she kissed me out of my own thoughts. Not every kiss will do that.
Kissing Alexia was easy. Everything about her, her lips, her face, her hair, her hips. Everything was so soft and comfortable. I lost myself in her.
Blame outdated gender roles pre-transition, blame my top energy post-transition, but this was the first time someone else had initiated a kiss with me. And I was happy to trust her, to let go, to not think of the seconds passing, the minutes passing, to just be with her and her mouth and mine.
Her friend interrupted; the Uber was here.
She was with three friends so I had to sit on her lap. She kept making out with me almost immediately after the door closed. I’d never been this person before; I decided to enjoy it.
Her hand moved up my leg and down to my zipper. She unzipped.
I don’t know how to describe what happened next. I don’t usually let people touch my penis. Not because I feel especially dysphoric, it’s just that hand jobs suck whether you’re a cis man or a trans woman. But when Alexia touched me it felt like I didn’t even have a penis. When Alexia touched me it felt like I was being fingered. While her friends talked and the driver drove, Alexia pressed against my penis like the giant clit that it is. Our kissing grew deeper and deeper. And right there in the car, I came.
We didn’t stop hooking up when we got to the bar, one of those West Hollywood places that turns into a small club on the weekends. We danced and drank and hooked up on the dance floor. She invited me to go to Big Bear with her and her friends the next weekend; I invited her back to my place.
We arrived at my house and immediately started hooking up again. I went down on her and she came. And then I let her fuck me with a sex toy, something I barely let my ex do, let alone a stranger. And then I went down on her again and put two fingers inside her and then three and then four.
We lay next to each other naked. She kept telling me how much she loved my face and how lucky she was to have met me just five days after arriving from Brazil. She kept saying wow.
I told her she could spend the night, but her friend was throwing an all-day party that started at 10am (a thing she informed me was very normal for Brazilians), so she had to leave. She invited me to the party.
I didn’t hear from her until early evening the next day. She ended up being too hungover to go to the party but she hoped to see me soon, angel.
A couple hours later she sent me a picture she’d taken of us. We looked drunk and happy.
She didn’t respond to my next text, or when I texted her again a few days later.
A month before I met Alexia, the second season of Fleabag had premiered on Amazon. Over the course of the summer the show went from a personal obsession to a cultural one. By the time creator and star (and love of my life) Phoebe Waller-Bridge was accepting her three Emmys, it seemed like everyone was talking about the show, and the character Hot Priest.
Usually when lesbian Twitter mocks the male amorous for their crushes I gleefully join in. But I fully understood the appeal of this charming, alcoholic, sexually open clergyman.
People don’t like Hot Priest, because he’s a good listener, no matter what Waller-Bridge says. They like him because he’s unattainable. They like him because he’s a bad boy with a good heart. And, most importantly, they like him because he helps Fleabag when she doesn’t ask for help. He pushes through her walls and ultimately makes decisions for her.
Those are, after all, the reasons Fleabag likes him so much too. She explains this to him when she’s in the confessional.
“I want someone to tell me what to wear every morning. I want someone to tell me what to eat. What to like, what to hate, what to rage about. What to listen to, what band to like… I just think I want someone to tell me how to live my life, Father, because so far I think I’ve been getting it wrong. But I know that’s why people want people like you in their lives, because you just tell them how to do it.”
She tells him she’s scared. She asks him, directly, to tell her what to do. And he does. He tells her to kneel. He appears before her. He gets on his own knees. And they kiss.
Fleabag already knew this was what she wanted. What she didn’t know was the purity of her intention. Does she want to fuck a priest because it’s yet one more self-destructive desire in a life of self-destructive desires? Or does she want to fuck this particular priest because they actually share a connection?
When he tells her to get on her knees she no longer has to make a decision. Fleabag is bisexual, but men are her religion. It’s not a preference; their power frees her from the weight of uncertainty.
The week after meeting Alexia I posted a playlist titled, “Am I in Love With the Person I Had Sex With Once or Is It Cancer Season?” I texted my friend who’s more well-versed in astrology to make sure this even made sense.
I hadn’t heard from Alexia, but I was still swimming in the feelings of our night together. After all, it wasn’t really about her. It was about finally getting confirmation of what I’d long suspected: Sex could be about more than intimacy. Sex could be about sex.
I’ve always been someone who thinks a lot about sex. But a year after starting on hormones it became all-consuming. I think about sex so much if I was a trans man you’d call me an offensive stereotype. But when single there’s always been a gap between how much I think about sex and how much I have. I was ready to change that.
That week a very vocal top had followed me on Twitter. I posted my playlist with the caption, “I had sex with a top for the first time and it led to a playlist you can all now enjoy.” I’m not sure I’d even categorize Alexia as a top, but that wasn’t the point.
Three weeks later the Autostraddle staff was asked to participate in a tongue-in-cheek series about dating various astrological signs. I knew all my exes’ signs and all my hookups’ signs. Except Alexia’s. I decided to message her again.
She actually responded. She apologized. She claimed that she didn’t see my texts, something about new phone troubles. Of course she wanted to see me again! She insisted. A lifetime of dating air signs and the flightiest person I’ve ever met turned out to be an Aries, Cancer rising. Her Libra moon is doing a lot of work, I suppose. Also she’s a Pisces Venus. Yes, she was that thorough. No, we wouldn’t actually hang out.
We made plans for that weekend and she disappeared once again.
Before I came out, I was extremely cautious when it came to dating. I hated men, I hated being a man, and I was terrified of being a certain kind of man.
I was obsessed with women and dated a lot, but rarely slept with anyone. I rarely even kissed anyone. I’d sometimes go on three full dates with someone without making a move. I’d feel guilty as I watched their disappointed faces, but I knew it would be worse if we hooked up and I changed my mind.
I almost exclusively hooked up with people I thought were better than me. It felt safe being with someone I knew would hurt me. It felt like I couldn’t hurt them. This was, of course, misguided at best. There were people I thought I would hurt that I never would have and there were people I thought I could never hurt that I did. People get hurt. That’s dating. But I was gendering this hurt. As if breaking up with someone made me one of those guys, and being broken up with made me a woman.
After Alexia disappeared the second time, I decided to take a break from dating and dedicate myself full time to a series of misguided crushes. Giving yourself over to someone else’s advances is one way to relinquish control. But obsessing over the unattainable gives up control in its own way. Both actions require no action. Until, of course, you drink too much and confide said crushes in a friend who immediately starts to worry about you.
This friend told me she knew someone who was actually interested in me: the vocal top from Twitter. I wondered why she hadn’t just messaged me herself, part of me already worried that it was less that I needed a top and more that I needed someone with top energy.
We started texting about MTV’s Are You the One?, as queers were prone to do back in August. Favorite couples, least favorite couples, whether the mysterious matchmakers would deny these couples, and whether the people in the couple would even care. We were talking about reality TV, but we were really talking about dating. We were talking about dating, but we were really talking about each other.
A few days later we were in my bedroom making out. We kissed slowly and thoughtfully. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t this. I felt in control.
She asked me what I wanted and I melted into chatty anxiety. I explained that I’d never really been with a top before. I said I just wanted someone to tell me what to do. She said that was her specialty.
My understanding of BDSM is as offensively shallow as my understanding of astrology. She insisted we didn’t have to do anything kinky, despite her usual preferences and her assumptions about my preferences based on the media I consume. But I still felt like there was a misunderstanding. I wanted someone to tell me what to do. She wanted me to tell her what I wanted so then she could tell me what to do.
As we fumbled our way through various vanilla (for a trans woman) sex acts, all focused on me, I kept stopping to anxiously talk some more, to smoke, and, eventually, to stop altogether.
Maybe it was her. Maybe it was me. Maybe it was us. I had no way of knowing.
A week later I had sex with someone else. There was no conversation about what we wanted, what I wanted. I was just the top. This was understood somehow. It seemed like she enjoyed it, and I left the next morning feeling empty.
The week Are You the One? premiered, Co–Star updated their layout. It was now possible to “View All Updates” and glimpse the horoscopes for the following two days.
Now instead of waking up and learning what Co–Star predicted for my day, I could see what they predicted for my next three days.
When the predictions were good I’d perk up. When they were bad I felt depressed. When they started bad, and got good, I felt relieved. When they started good, and got bad, I felt dread.
Even though I told myself it was absurd, I started making plans specifically on days that Co–Star recommended. I’d schedule dates when I had Power, or at least Pressure, in Sex & Love. I’d make plans with friends when I had Power in Social Life. I’d stay home and work all day and night when I had Power in Work.
And when Co–Star’s oversimplified breakdown failed me, I’d make up excuses. Sure, it said I had Power in Sex & Love and then the date I was excited for canceled. But I masturbated with my new sex toy and what is that if not power?
Two months after Alexia disappeared for the second time, she followed me on Instagram under the handle @stardusthuman. I can share that publicly, because by the time she messaged me a picture of a cat, she’d already changed her handle three times.
I finally followed her back and responded, “Hi??”
She told me that she was moving back to Brazil in two weeks. She asked me how I’d been as if she hadn’t completely disappeared. Twice. I responded coldly.
By the time we reconnected, Co–Star had kept me at Trouble with Sex & Love for weeks. I’d stopped checking days in advance, because I could tell it was making me even more depressed than the daily disappointment. When it gave me that prediction yet again, I decided to ignore it. Or, rather, I decided that if I was going to be sad and alone I might as well do what I wanted to do instead of what I thought I should do.
I messaged Alexia and asked if she had plans that night. Then I tried to push her out of my thoughts as I left for my own early evening plans with friends.
By the time I got home around 9pm, drunk and eager to continue the evening, her silence weighed on me. I wanted to see her, but more so I felt silly for giving her another chance.
I watched the Presidential Forum on LGBTQ Issues and redownloaded Grindr, two explicit acts of self-harm. I argued with some gross man while Joe Biden spouted nonsense and the hours ticked along.
Alexia messaged me at 11:30. By midnight I was in a Lyft on my way to meet her in West Hollywood. Sitting in the passenger seat of the crowded share, I opened Co–Star. It was midnight. I wasn’t breaking my new rules.
It had me at Power in Sex & Love.
Alexia kissed me hello, really kissed me. She grabbed my hips and turned me towards her friend. “Isn’t she so hot? Wow.” She kissed me again.
I was wearing short jean shorts and a Bruce Springsteen shirt that I’d cropped beyond the appropriate length. I wasn’t wearing a bra and it was obvious.
She bought us peanut whiskey shots and we danced and made out. We pressed against a table until we were completely lying on it. I remembered why I’d given her so many chances. Once again, I felt more in my body than ever before.
For Alexia, WeHo was like a small town. Every bar we went to, every street corner, she seemed to know someone. And they all wanted her. She greeted most of these friends or acquaintances with a kiss, but when they tried to pull her away she returned to me.
She told me I should move to Brazil with her and I laughed saying we couldn’t even manage a trip to Big Bear. “I didn’t end up going!” she said back as if that explained everything. And then we kept making out.
We ended up at a club. We ended up in the bathroom at the club. We ended up in the stall of the bathroom at the club. We both peed which felt casual and intimate. Then she leaned her back against the stall and pulled me towards her. She took her top off and lifted mine up and she started to touch me and I started to touch her. Someone banged on the door.
As we left the bathroom, I savored the confusion of the people in line. We were not who they expected to see. It felt powerful to so publicly display my gay trans sexuality in this place supposedly for queers, but almost exclusively filled with cis gay men and straight people.
If I felt equal parts self-conscious and self-satisfied, Alexia seemed totally unfazed. Another friend of hers approached us, a cute man who looked queer. He danced between Alexia and I. I touched his body, because it felt expected.
He offered to drive us to Alexia’s friend’s party, but then pulled into an empty parking lot under the guise of waiting for a coke connect.
Alexia was suddenly so quiet. The guy kissed her and she kissed back with none of her usual enthusiasm. He kissed me and I responded with even less. He pawed at us while we made out and I wondered why we were even in this car if Alexia didn’t want to be. She’d always been in control, but with this guy it felt different. She humored his advances the way so many women do. Letting him kiss her just enough, letting him touch her just enough. I wanted to help us leave, to help her leave, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t even know if that was the right word to use: help.
He finally left the parking lot and pulled over. We got out of the car.
Alexia told me that she was probably going to go to sleep soon. I invited her over one more time, but she declined. She told me she’d see me again when it wasn’t her friend’s birthday. I laughed and told her that I knew I’d never see her again.
She kissed me and insisted that wasn’t true. I told her it was okay. I told her how much I enjoyed our two nights together. She kissed me and said she wanted to go home with me. I kissed her again. This week, she insisted. This week we’d see each other again.
She kept kissing me and then I pulled away.
“Maybe,” I said, drunk, and happy, and sad. I walked away, turning back just one more time to flash a smile.
When I got home and reached into my pocket to get my key, I pulled out Alexia’s ID. I’d forgotten that she’d asked me to hold onto it.
I guess I would be seeing her again.
Before I transitioned I was fascinated with the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. This term, coined and then disowned by critic Nathan Rabin, describes a female character that “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”
I’d never been interested in textbook Manic Pixie Dream Girls like Natalie Portman’s epileptic Shins fan in Garden State. I preferred characters that commented on this type of character: Catherine in Jules and Jim, Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and, very pointedly, Ruby Sparks in Zoe Kazan’s MPDG-satire of the same name.
These characters allowed me to have my fantasy and hate it too. Because the part of me that felt totally lost in my manhood wanted a Manic Pixie to rescue me. But the part of me that was a woman knew they weren’t real. I could objectify these characters at the beginning and then receive my proper penance at the end.
The appeal of these women is their function as a plot device. Usually the male protagonists in these movies are depressed. They’re dealing with some sort of loss or stagnation. But then this beautiful woman arrives and their problems are no longer their problems. The woman tells them exactly what to do.
Fleabag wants someone to tell her what music to listen to, what band to like? Has she heard of a band called The Shins?
Alexia and I met in her friend’s parking garage the next evening for me to give her back her ID. I’d just had dinner with my uncle who disowned me post-transition but was now trying to make amends and I was floating with martinis.
We made out desperately. She tried to convince me to cancel my plans the next day and come with her to a party. I tried to convince her to come home with me despite her early morning. Instead, we made plans for Friday.
On Friday, she canceled, and we rescheduled for Saturday. On Saturday, I messaged her in the morning. She didn’t respond. I messaged her again in the evening. She didn’t respond. I messaged her a third time at midnight, hating myself.
She responded two days later.
She told me she knew she was a “crap person” and claimed that usually this stardust behavior works for her but she kept coming back to me because we have a special connection.
I told her that I hadn’t wanted a commitment, just a small amount of communication. She apologized again, and said she hoped she’d get to see me before she left. I said that I wasn’t interested in making plans with her again but if she wanted to call me last minute she could.
She never called. Two weeks later I saw on Instagram that she was back in Brazil.
I think part of me thought she wasn’t going to go back. I think part of me thought in a couple months I’d get a call from her and a half hour later I’d be back in some West Hollywood club or she’d be over at my house and in my bed and we’d be kissing and I’d be inside her or she’d be inside me and miraculously I wouldn’t be thinking and how fucking beautiful to once in a while not be thinking, to give yourself fully to someone else, or to an idea, or a religion, or an app. I wanted Alexia to teach me to give up control. And, in a sense, she did. By disappearing.
Less than a week after Alexia went back to Brazil she added me on Co–Star. According to the app, we’re only compatible in one area: Communication.⚡
Edited by Rachel