On the trouble that can come from writing to meet our own needs

This is a rather long post, both personal and political, that engages with my own erotic writing and gives a concrete example from my own work of the trouble that can come from writing to meet our own needs (something I have done quite a lot), and how I’ve attempted to address that trouble. I have broken it into sections to make it a bit easier to read.

Freed to Write

About seven and a half years ago, I was just getting out of a bad relationship, one that was at least partly the cause of a long writing block. And suddenly, I could write again. After two years of nothing, I lengthened two previously written stories and wrote two entirely new ones in a period of 3 short weeks. Here is a quote from my journal from this period:

“Here’s the strangest thing about this breakup. It’s like something is free. Like I can concentrate on who I am and what I want; I can focus my intent…I find myself thinking through new things I want to write; the writers block I had for over two years is disappearing before my eyes.”

It wasn’t an easy time. Much of the work was intense, and felt like I was bleeding onto the page, running on a long twisted course of adrenaline, haunted by the work and the sadism it aroused in me, a sadism with no outlet. I wrote this in my journal:

“I write these things down, and I am trembling, they scare me so much. It is so edgy just to write them. It is like I’m playing with myself, both top and bottom all at once, that careful control, that fearful surrender…I welcomed this creativity with open arms, called it to me, and I don’t want to chase it away, but it scares the crap out of me.”

A welcome respite

Amidst the scary shit I was writing, there was a piece that was intentionally, carefully, deliberately lighter. An exercise of control, I thought of it, where my control as a writer was mimicked in the deep control of the dominant sadist I imagined in the story, who was holding back, deliberately, in his first scene with a stranger. My first attempt at writing for a specific call, trying to fit into a specific genre. It gave me respite, writing this story. Very welcome respite from the deep sadism and scary shit that I was writing during that period.

That story was “Please” and was written specifically for the Best Women’s Erotica series. I had read BWE 2006 and was very impressed with it, especially the cohesiveness of style, and thought to myself: I could write to that. Centering the point of view of a woman character who was bold and claimed her sexuality, her body, her gender, from a powerful place. Stories that centered fantasy fulfillment, realization of desires. So I decided to write one of my own, and submit it for BWE 2008.

I was smarting from the breakup and I needed reassurance that I was desirable, particularly around my gender and dominance. So I imagined a fat queer femme bottom (definitely a lean toward one of my types) who might desire a dominant sadist queer trans guy like me (or at least my gender at the time…my gender is complex and has changed a lot, but that’s another story). I set the story in a bar I knew, that had a night where queer trans guys gathered, to pick up other queers, including each other. It had a large single stall bathroom with a brick wall in it, one that I’d played in before, and a pool table. I knew the space well, and it was tailor-made for a fantasy that was as much (if not more) about fulfilling my own needs as the protagonist’s.

I imagined the voice of that fat queer femme bottom, Jamie, who was deeply embodied, owned her desire and gender. She went into that bar because she’d been riding this edgy energy all day and wanted to do something just a bit reckless. She wore her favorite pair of pants because it was luscious to bend over a pool table in them, so soft against her skin that she never wore anything between herself and them. And she met Christian (yes, I know, this was before FSOG). They shot a game of pool, and then he asked her to play another kind of game, his way of negotiating a kink scene involving D/s, sex, and pain play:

“He took my hand and led me around the corner, tossing his cue on the table as we left. He took me into a large single stall bathroom and locked the door. He stepped away from the door, freeing my path to run, if I wanted to.

‘Here are the rules. I do what I want to you. You don’t touch me without permission. If you want me to stop, you say “stop”. That is the only word that will stop me, but if I hear it, I will stop immediately. I won’t do anything that could harm you, but I may want to hurt you a little, and I definitely want to fuck you. Are you game?’

My eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my head. I just stood there, looking at him. I had played this kind of game before, but never with a stranger. That reckless feeling that was riding me all day filled my throat, pushing me. I was damn tempted. I had never wanted anything as much as I wanted to be in his power in that moment.

‘Please,’ I said softly.”

Jamie and Christian have a lovely scene in that bathroom, the beginning of what I imagined to be a long relationship with a lot of begging (the titular word please is a refrain in the story). She had met someone who would push her, who loved hearing her beg for what she wanted, who got her in a deeper way that felt new and exciting and so necessary. It was a romance, of the D/s variety.

The trouble in the story 

Before I get started, I want to give you a heads up: I am someone who doesn’t generally keep plot points a secret, or consider that revealing elements of a plot might be frustrating to readers. (As a reader, I vastly prefer to engage with work where I have a sense of the plot, and give content warnings without regards to plot reveal, as ways to assist others manage content that might be triggering.) Also, the “surprise” plot twist “reveal” of trans characters is not something that I make any effort to keep a “secret”.  I often forefront that kind of trope when discussing a piece of work; I similarly forefront disability cures, white saviors, and other similar oppressive tropes which are often conceived of as “surprise plot twists”. In the rest of this blog post, I am going to discuss plot elements of the story “Please”, along with another one of my stories that has a similar plot element.

“Please” is one of two stories I’ve written where the trans character is revealed to the reader as trans near the end of the story (the other is “Willing”, which was written from a similar place of self-doubt in my life, a few years earlier). Both are written from the POV of the person playing with the trans character. Both of these stories were written from my own fears and yearning around being desired and desirable as a trans person, and my doubt in that possibility. In both, the reveal slides by quickly and there is no question that the trans characters are both desired and desireable, and the characters go on to a romantic ending, together. I was writing my own happy ending, in direct challenge to my own internalized transphobia.

These stories attempt to disrupt the trope of the “surprise reveal” of trans identity. But they are not effective at it. Because however much I have internalized fears around my own desireability as a trans person, I am not the central target of that trope.

The “surprise reveal” of a trans character is an extremely overused oppressive trope in popular media and collective imaginary, particularly when it comes to the “reveal” of trans women as trans, after an experience of desire. I can personally think of multiple films and tv storylines with this “plot twist”. (To name a few as examples: The Crying Game, Soap Dish, Ace Ventura, Ally McBeal, Beverly Hills 90210. These are examples that focus on trans women, who are vastly over-represented in and the main targets of this trope. They reflect the media I have been exposed to, and were the first images of trans women I experienced in media.)

In popular media, the story often goes that the trans person (most frequently trans woman) was “deceptive” and then “revealed” to be trans, and the “innocent” person (most frequently straight cis man) who desired them before they “knew” the person was trans, reacts with revulsion in an intense and often violent way (e.g. vomiting, verbal abuse, physical violence, murder). This trope is behind the “trans panic” or “provocation” defense (popularly known in the murders of Brandon Teena and Angie Zapata) excusing transphobic violence and murder, particularly targeting trans women of color. This trope is connected to the larger stereotype of trans people (especially trans women) as deceptive, and the related concept of the imperative to disclose trans status. It is the result of an intense level of transmisogyny.  And is  one of the most common representations of trans women dating and/or being desired in popular media.

So, this idea of a character “revealed” to be trans in a “surprise” “plot twist” is loaded with a legacy of virulent transphobia and in particular transmisogyny, and real-world current-day transmisogynist racist violence.

In these stories of mine, a counter narrative is offered when the “reveal” does not disrupt or negate desire, and is met with acceptance and little fanfare. But this counter narrative cannot disrupt the trope as deeply as is needed, particularly because of the intense transmisogyny at it’s core—both of these characters are trans men. A trope that targets trans women cannot be disrupted by stories that center trans men, and to attempt that is deeply problematic, and an exercise of entitlement and privilege. These two stories are a reflection of my own struggle with feeling desireable as a trans person, and so they are fraught with my own internalized transphobia and unrecognized transmisogyny. “Please” was written from a deeply troubled place in me, at a time when I was not grounded enough in my self to do the kind of thinking that was needed; that is part of what comes from writing to meet my own needs–I’m so in them that I cannot accurately perceive what my work is doing. These two stories trouble me deeply, even as I get why I needed to write them, and have affection for the characters I created. They are out there in the world, two of the more romantic, widely distributed and well-reviewed stories I’ve published.

This is the reality of a published writer. We do what we can in the moment, and it is imperfect, and sometimes deeply troubling. And then we keep writing, keep trying, knowing that our troubling work is out there in the world, doing our best to make different mistakes next time, even if we cannot repair the ones we have already made. I am heartened by the stories of other writers that openly recognize the ways that the politics of their work are not what they would want them to be, who keep writing in the worlds that they created, doing what they can to address the issues that exist in earlier published work. Nowadays, I write trans characters that are clearly trans right from the start, trans characters that are the centers of their own stories of sexual subjectivity. Several years ago, I attempted to address some of the issues in “Please”.

An attempt to address the trouble

At the time, I wrote the story I needed to read, one that was affirming to me, that met my ache and yearning as I was struggling. It was accepted for publication in BWE 2008, and went out into the world. At the time, I did not recognize how problematic it was to be engaging with that trope in the way that I did. About three years later, I decided to continue the story, to give these characters more time and context, to show the complexity of connection they shared, to complicate the narrative further. Part of my desire to do this was precisely about my discomfort at ending the story right at the reveal to the reader, at engaging with that tired and transmisogynist trope, even to attempt to disrupt it.

Instead, I wanted to continue the story, center a moment in the life of their relationship where they both were pushing edges, where you got to know Christian more deeply, got to see him in the context of his queer and trans life and connections. I wanted you to see him when he wasn’t holding back as a sadist, but was deep in a trusted D/s relationship where he could revel in it, be in the fullness of his kink self. I wanted you to meet his former dominant and mentor, the trans top that taught him, that shaped him as the top he was when he first met Jamie. To not just know him more deeply, but see this connection as part of his larger queer leather life as a trans man, to trace him forward after this pickup scene, and also backward, at the same time.

This is one of the best ways I know to disrupt oppressive tropes: deepen the complexity and specificity of the characters, show their vulnerabilities and needs in a deeper way. Show them at places of transformation and fear, where they are being themselves more deeply, taking risks, creating intimacy. In this case, continuing the story (and the connection with Jamie) way beyond the reveal, and showing Christian rooted in connection and legacy with other trans folks who you also get to know (in this case his former top and mentor), makes it hard to see him as just the trans man who was (miraculously!) still desired after being revealed as trans. It helps to make it clear that Jamie’s desire for him was deeper and more complex than the flip of the tired and oppressive trope, to show it to you in all it’s glory and nuance, so that the reader cannot help but to get how and why she desires Christian.

The sequel

“Please” is wish fulfillment in the form of a pick-up scene. As Lisabet Sarai described it, “this story distills the essence of what Violet Blue is trying to present – the intoxicating notion that the ultimate sexual experience waits for you, just around the corner, in the most unexpected places, with people that you haven’t met but who are destined to fulfill your dreams.”  In this sequel story, I wanted to show a different kind of fantasy fulfillment, one about being offered to another as part of submission, about being the conduit of intimacy and reconnection between two estranged lovers. “How He Likes It” is a more complex and intimate fantasy, one that leaves Jamie, Christian, and Dexter poised on the cusp of a new future. It’s my queer kinky play on (and disruption of) straight ménage romance fantasy tropes.

In this story, we see Jamie and Christian after they have built a deeper D/s relationship. They are meeting up with Christian’s former mentor and ex top, Dexter, another queer trans man. The top that taught Christian, that helped shape him as a dominant. Christian offers Jamie to Dexter, as a way of reconnecting through play. This story luxuriates in a long detailed scene between the three of them, from Jamie’s point of view, and it is an illustration of how beautiful co-topping can be when the tops know each other well, and have been lovers.

Here is an excerpt from “How He Likes It”. As a heads up, it contains descriptions of D/s, pain play, breath play, and orgasm control.

It wasn’t until I felt myself being held down and spread wide that I fully opened my eyes. Sir had my head resting on his bare cock, his thighs pressing my arms into the bed. My ass was propped up on a pillow, my skirt pulled up, and Sir’s boots were spreading my legs, holding me open. I was cradled between his legs, held open for Dexter, who could see everything. My eyes met Dexter’s, captivated, as Sir laid his gloved hand across my throat. Oh.

Dexter pulled his belt from his jeans, the sound making my heart race.

“You need to be marked here too,” he said, running his hand along the front of my thigh above my stocking.

Yes, I thought. Mark me.

“Please,” I said, my voice trembling.

Belts reach inside me. The pain invades, rips through me, wrapping round my throat, and stopping my breath. He did not warm me up, and I wanted it that way. Wanted him brutal, wanted him to claim me without holding back. Wanted to show him how my Sir had taught me to take pain, savor it’s delights, and feed it back to him, tears streaming, moaning for more. I wanted his belt deep inside me, as his cock had been and hopefully would be again.

“Take it for me,” he said.

I took him in, tasting like liquid metal in my throat, trembling with the intensity of his belt, and let the pain pour out of my eyes, stream out of my mouth, let my cunt drip with it as my ass clenched around it. I begged him for more even as I screamed, my hands fisting the blanket, safely held down by my Sir, feeling him smile proudly at me.

My thighs were on fire, and the flames took me over, until I could feel my cunt burning with it, my chest hot, and I was begging to come for him, could I please show him how much I appreciated his cruelty, please, Sir.

He laughed, and refused me, continuing to lay pain onto me as I writhed, moaning, sobbing with it, blazing. I begged him not to stop, to please keep hurting me, claiming me with his belt. Saying that I needed it, needed his marks on me. He was ruthless and I shuddered with it, a conflagration of need taking me over. I was in that place where I felt like I could take all the pain in the world, eat it all and spit the flames of it right back, a burning circle between us, for as long as he wanted, perhaps longer.

He stopped. Let me writhe in hunger, aching for him, wanting more, begging him to hurt me. He just smiled his cruel smile and watched me, as Sir covered my mouth and nose with his hand, taking my breath and holding it. He made me come, as he held onto my breath, orgasm exploding in my head, sounds escaping my mouth around his hand. I started to move my head, fighting to breathe. Finally, he let me breathe.

“Thank you, Sir.” I said, my eyes locking on Christian’s, thanking him for so much more than just the privilege of breathing.

Dexter got on the bed with us, reaching for me, and I could feel Sir relax a little. This was what he wanted. They smiled at each other, and there was such intimacy in it, a thousand scenes, hundreds of nights of shared enjoyment. They had missed each other. It was palpable in the room, this aching hurt in their throats. Together again, after 7 years, able to connect again. I was one of the conduits of that connection, I could feel it. I was being offered, and with me, came new possibilities. 

“How He Likes It” was printed in Best Lesbian Erotica 2012, which is currently on sale for $1.99 for the ebook. (Along with Hot Daddies, which contains my story “It’s My Job”, and a bunch of other queer smut, in honor of pride month.)

I hope you will consider checking it out. It is a story that means a great deal to me to have out in the world, and widely read. It’s also a very hot read, full of many of the delicious things readers look for from my work, including long detailed descriptions of D/s-soaked sex and pain play, threaded together with begging, tears, orgasm control, and precious queer intimacy between three characters that are deeply compelling and taking great risks to be together in the fullness of their desires.

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8 thoughts on “On the trouble that can come from writing to meet our own needs

  1. This is fantastic. I’ve been having a lot of difficulty learning how to challenge harmful tropes in erotica without reinforcing them, and it’s amazing to see so thoroughly someone else’s experience and process with a similar issue. Thank you for sharing!

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    • Thanks for your comment. I’m glad to know that this piece is helpful for you. If you decide to read the two stories and have further thoughts or questions, I’d be glad to hear them.

      If you want to see more of my reflection about my own erotica, you can try this page, which lists those posts: https://xanwest.wordpress.com/my-writing-about-my-writing/

      I would especially recommend the first (gender and misogyny: responsibility and erotic writing) and last (Imagining Disabled Characters in Erotica) posts on that list.

      You may also find some of the links on this post helpful, although they are not specifically about erotica. There are a few about tropes: https://xanwest.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/resources-on-writing-the-other/

      I like talking and thinking about ways to challenge harmful tropes in erotica, and would welcome further conversation about that, if you wanted to have it.

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      • I’ll definitely check those out! I just finished writing my thesis about feminist erotica: basically, my attempt to create sex-positive, ethically aware erotica with similar goals to the feminist porn movement. I found it troubling how often I still slipped into the problematic tropes I was doing my best to challenge. It’s such a fine line between playing with a trope and reinforcing it, and when a genre is inherently escapist when does your responsibility start and where does it end? So interesting and complicated.

        I’ll look up your stories during my next lunch break—I’m actually a summer intern at Cleis Press right now.

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  2. Pingback: Writing Erotica for Trans Readers Part 2: How I Write for Trans Readers | Kink Praxis

  3. Pingback: Resources on “Writing the Other” | Kink Praxis

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  5. Xan,
    A great discussion of why we write what we write (assuming we can ever figure that out). And how we sometimes negotiate the politics of our work better only after it’s been released to the real world.

    It’s quite possible the power of the original work “Please” derives from its unclear, inadvertently problematic (and therefore transgressive?) politics. I find the best work has burning fuses in them, just like the political ones you describe, which bother me as a reader for the reasons you describe, even though they seem to end “happily.”

    Great writing, keep it up.

    Best, Roger

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  6. Pingback: On Internalizing the Cis Gaze When Thinking About Sex and Relationships | Kink Praxis

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