One of my favorite erotica stories of all time is “Big Girls”, by Patrick Califia (available in the collections Melting Point and Blood and Silver). I adore many things about this story, from the deep cultural context and representation of queer sexual geography to the ways it engages with butch-butch relationships and respectfully represents a top aching to be flipped. A longtime fat activist, I loved the pairing of a tall fat bottom with a short thin top, and the way the story celebrates Kat’s size. As a young sadist first reading it, I got a lot out of the story’s lengthy descriptions of S/M and the construction of the scene itself. (I was a sponge those days and soaked up knowledge from so many sources; this was one of the meatier ones, that helped me to get the differences between S/M play that was largely power-neutral and S/M play that had a deep D/s component.)
One of the core elements that makes “Big Girls” a story that I return to again and again is the way it represents power as an exchange. In particular, it illuminates the vulnerabilities of Reid as a top, and shows how she needs (and only sometimes receives) support from bottoms. It shows the immense strength and power of Kat as a bottom, and how the scene is built on a foundation of exchange of power, where both parties are supporting the other, both parties are taking risks, each is taking care of the other. “Big Girls” is deeply respectful of both tops and bottoms, and represents them in a complex way, rooted in community, deeply vulnerable and powerful, taking risks to claim their deep desires.
When I was working on revising my story “Strong”, one of the things I did was go back and reread “Big Girls”, to soak in the nuances of how that kind of exchange of power can be represented in its fullness. My intention in the revision was to infuse the story with a deeper representation of power in the moment of exchange, to illuminate the vulnerabilities of the top, and the ways the top needs the support and strength of the bottom. That felt like a deeply important aspect of the rewrite, not just for its own sake, but especially because of the level of misogyny these two characters were playing with, as they travelled through a gender play scene where the genderqueer bottom is first a girl and then a boy. I needed to illuminate the risks inherent in their play, and also interrupt common gendered tropes around strength and vulnerability.
These revisions are what made certain passages richer, more complex, as I attempted to show the exchange of power in more depth. What began as a description of how the characters start gender play with cocksucking became a passage that illuminated the fear of the top. (Heads up: this passage describes gender play including play with misogyny, and rough sex.)
Beginning this way every time gives us both a way to go deeper into ourselves, to sink into what we are doing, find ground for the genders we are playing in. My cock in her throat honors how she wants to do girlness, how much we both want her to be open and vulnerable and raw. Her eyes looking up at me and her mouth wrapped round my dick reflect back the masculinity I want to do with her, how much we want me to be cruel and invasive and dominant. I need to see that she wants this, all the way through, and she knows how much I run on adrenaline when we play this way, how it reaches into my core and twists.
I need to start fast, and hard, almost dare myself into it, because this scares the shit out of me, and that’s the only way to get over the mountain of fear that builds in me as I know we are going there. The more fear there is the rougher and faster I need it. I was especially rough that night, ignoring the gagging, groaning as I forced tears from her eyes.
Here is another similar moment later in the story that came from that revision process, where I attempt to illuminate the needs of the top, and the way the top depends on the bottom:
Sinking into thud roots me, pulls me deep into myself. Using my whole body helps me re-establish, find my footing. He’s not the only one that needs to put himself back together, and he knows it. Knows that this is for both of us, that I need this as much as he does, and his job is to feed the energy back to me, to help keep it cycling between us.
“Strong” was printed in Say Please: Lesbian BDSM Erotica and it is by far my most reviewed story. This collection has some great stories in it, and is well worth a read. Here are a few things the critics had to say about this story:
Angel Propps at Lambda Literary Reviews:
“Some of the best transgressive erotic fiction to come along in recent years has been authored by Xan West and in the story “Strong,” Xan is working at top form. Gender itself is the beating, bleeding heart of the play between a transgendered butch and a genderqueer submissive. Using language that shows all too clearly the terrifying loveliness that is vulnerability, Xan delivers characters who willingly choose to go places where others fear to tread and the result is incredibly, satisfyingly filthy and erotic. The caning scene within this story literally made my thighs ache, and not just in sympathy.”
“West’s story is some of the most boundary breaking erotica I’ve heard in a while, and a much more fun way to talk about gender than arguing about it, which is what our community seems to love most”
“Finally, ‘Strong.’ I cannot even. This piece is nothing short of perfect. There’s the fact that it’s intense BDSM that pushes most of my buttons: public humiliation, blowjobs, knives, orgasm control, being (someone’s) (good) little girl, being pushed to take more. There’s the fact that this is a tribute to bottoms, to what we give to our tops, to what it takes to do what we do. That’s not even the half of it. Xan West, more than anyone I’ve ever read, intrinsically gets what I do at my core, as a femme and as a bottom. Reading this piece crystallized my thoughts: What I do is build gender. More specifically, I build gender through relationships–the way I talk to people, the way I touch them, the way I fuck them. This story is a precise, graceful, crushingly hot portrait of how that happens.”
You can get the ebook version of Say Please for $1.99 until the end of July 2014, which means that you have one more day to purchase this collection on sale.
If you prefer the print version, I should mention that Cleis Press is having a summer sale, buy 2 get 1 free, so you can still get a deal on Say Please, along with many of the collections in which my stories appear.