Puns & Sex Clubs: A Review of The Call-Out by Cat Fitzpatrick

Queer life in New York City has always lent itself well to poets. From established voices like Eileen Myles to newer ones like Kay Gabriel or Maggie Milliner, the rhythms and dynamics of life lend themselves well to verse. And now Cat Fitzpatrick, an editor, co-publisher of LittlePuss Press and poet, has gently satirized the Brooklyn queer scene in her new book The Call-Out, available now from Seven Stories Press.

The Call-Out follows a handful of queer women in Brooklyn. Their lives are recognizable: they go to literary readings, get drunk at clubs, and hook up. That most of them are trans seems right. There’s a literary scene there right now and Fitzpatrick’s been right at the heart of it. Over the course of a year, their lives are documented in verse by a poet acquaintance, someone who’s along the edges of their group if not exactly part of it. They call themselves “Eunuch Onegin,” a pretty good pun. Onegin’s verse follows these women from skeezy bars to rooftop gardens, sex clubs, and more.

The actual call out of the book happens about halfway through when a drunken hookup goes sideways, and one woman is left feeling taken advantage of. Her friend writes a call-out online, which spreads quickly through the community, leaving the perpetrator shunned and the victim overwhelmed when the community responds with a sort of kangaroo court.

Indeed, Fitzpatrick takes an event where questions of consent are murky at best and turns it into an examination of power dynamics, of how some people will take an opportunity to put themselves at the forefront of the group. Meanwhile, other dynamics are at play: a relationship between a cis and trans woman hits a rough patch when they decide to have kids, and another has two women circling each other, neither willing to make the first move.

The Brooklyn dynamics will be familiar to anyone who has moved in queer circles, where relationship networks can be tangled, and the dynamics can be hard to navigate.

The Brooklyn dynamics will be familiar to anyone who has moved in queer circles, where relationship networks can be tangled, and the dynamics can be hard to navigate. But the book is never obtuse because you need to be aware of these things. Instead, Fitzpatrick slowly eases readers in, slowly drawing a portrait of a claustrophobic scene. 

Take Kate, for example. A freelance writer and partner to a cis woman, she walks a fine line of being in the scene while also existing outside of it— especially when she’s asked to cycle off hormones so her partner can get pregnant. Here’s her at a picnic, talking to the narrator while they’re surrounded by younger trans people neither of them knows:

There were older women who adopted me

When I was new, and there’s a tradition

I’m part of, of radical feminist

Transexual dykes. It’s why I exist,

It’s all that got me through transition,

And it’s something these girls also need.

Someone has to tell them what zines they should read!

There’s a real conflict there. Kate wants to help a newer generation out of a sense of obligation and duty. But what can she offer? Especially as she’s gearing up to have a kid with her partner. And as the narrator says in the following stanza:

Okay, I get that you’re under stress

But trans community is always a mess.

And thus, both of them leave the picnic. 

As the above excerpt shows, The Call-Out is told in verse: a series of almost-sonnets called a Onegin stanza. This probably means nothing to some readers, and that’s okay. Fitzpatrick handles verse with ease, and although there are a couple of tricky rhymes here, it’s hard not to become intoxicated by her writing. Before you know it, you hardly even notice her rhyme scheme. Easier said than done, as Fitzpatrick maintains a rigid structure that doesn’t allow for much leeway. But it’s telling that rhymes never feel forced and that she lets her characters breathe while adhering to this pattern.

Fitzpatrick’s been part of the trans lit scene for a number of years. She published a book of poems with Topside and co-founded a small press focusing on trans authors. But The Call-Out is her first extended work of fiction. It’s something of an odd duck among its peers: it gently satirizes the scene Torrey Peters explored in Detransition, Baby while also existing as something of a riff on Pushkin’s classic novel.

It also does an admirable job of standing on its own. You don’t need to understand who or what Fitzpatrick is parodying. If you do, you’ll recognize what a great satire Fitzpatrick’s written, but it’s not necessary to enjoy her comedy of manners, her look into a scene that sometimes takes itself way too seriously, and the ways we can all hurt each other.