[This post contains discussion of sexual trauma and mentions of harassment and assault.]
As recently as February of this year, my only ways of relating to my own sexuality were dissociation and panic. I mostly didn’t recognize the dissociation for what it was, but my sex drive was unnaturally low for me and my attraction to other people was shut off almost entirely. Masturbating was making me cry and freak out every time, so I wasn’t doing it much. I tried what felt like everything to make the crying stop. I touched myself different ways. I prepared distractions for just after orgasm, or even before. (Watching entirely nonsexual content was a welcome distraction when I was using my vibrator.) I talked to my therapist about the crying and my past sexual traumas and the attitudes about sexuality with which I was raised. I wrote. Nothing worked. The crying persisted.
I began writing what started as a zine but has evolved into a memoir about trauma, (a)sexuality, and sexual dysfunction, on the assumption that my relationship to these experiences would remain static and that the narrative would have an end but no true resolution.
Then my friend Sabine made a passing comment by Twitter message about reading smutty fanfiction, which opened a door for me and changed everything. I’d been reading smutty fanfic on and off for almost a decade, but I’d barely ever talked with anyone about it. I realized I had some very strong pent-up feelings about patterns in sexual fanfiction (for example, the lack of compelling writing about sex between women), and I poured those opinions out into the safe space Sabine provided. Over the course of several days, I opened up a little at a time, telling her about general dynamics I enjoyed reading about in fic, then about specific fics I recommended, and finally about some of my personal struggles with sexuality.
In the beginning, I checked in obsessively and apologized constantly. I was torn between my significant trust in her and the fear that sooner or later, I would inevitably become Too Much and damage our relationship. But every time, she met my revelations with enthusiasm rather than rejection or hesitation, and every time, my sense of security deepened a little.
And with that, the bouts of crying and panic stopped decisively. After so much time and so many failed interventions, it felt too good to be true. But it’s lasted 4 months and counting, and it keeps getting better.
Masturbating became a lot more fun once I could be present in body and with my desires without fearing the aftermath. Over the couple of months after I healed my relationship with masturbation, sexual attraction and desire for other people returned in full force — fuller than ever, actually. For the first time in my life, I can say with confidence that I’m not currently anywhere on the asexual spectrum. For the first time in my life, I’m having casual sex and living my slutty dreams (which go surprisingly far back, considering I’d always been demisexual, at most, until recently). Some of the sex I’ve had has been hot and healing and affirming; some of it has been bad and just barely avoided overt violation; all of it has been a lot to adjust to and process.
And so I’ve been writing, because writing is how I process. I tried to journal about a one-night stand so I’d be able to write prose about it later, and instead it turned into a sexually graphic poem that also touched on complex issues of identity. I sat down in the park and freewrote a poem that turned out to wind through being harassed in the park, being publicly groped by a boyfriend without consent, and learning how to ask for what I want. I’ve kept writing the memoir, although it’s taken a drastic turn for the happier and I no longer have any idea where, when, or how it will end.
I almost always write with the intention of publishing. I like my writing to become part of a conversation. I know I can address complexities that I haven’t seen written enough about. There’s not enough nonbinary bi sex writing. There’s not enough discussion of the messy intersections of arousal and fear, especially for multiply marginalized people. There’s not enough writing that celebrates open expression of sexuality and holds asexuality as valid.
I’ve been creating some of that content — as much of it as I can eke out time to write. I’ve written some prosetry that perfectly captures my former terror at sexuality, and I’ve penned some phrases I’m really proud of about the worry that I’m not hot enough as a trans person. I want to share what I write so that other people can learn from it, so that my stories can be heard and honored. I want other people to read my writing and be inspired to write about their own sexualities and to share that writing if they want to be heard too. I want to learn from them in turn.
But I can barely bring myself to share anything. I have successfully pushed myself to talk regularly about sexuality with a few more friends, and in February I made a comic about starting to think it could be okay to talk about my desires. I managed to share it on Patreon, but never to a general audience, because it still felt like Too Much. Since getting (back?) in touch with my sexuality, my life has been one transformative experience after another, but despite my general openness about everything, the most I’ve done to publicly acknowledge this shift is to quietly delete “asexual” from online lists of my identities.
Writing about partnered sex is especially challenging because it combines the hardest parts of writing about myself with the hardest parts of writing about other people. My sexuality feels robust now, but also somehow still new and fragile. It feels dizzyingly vulnerable to open it up to scrutiny. But at least when it was just my own sexuality I was writing about, it was unambiguously mine to reveal.
What is my ethical duty now that I’m writing about sex I’ve had with other people? How should I manage the fact that those stories are not only mine but also my partners’? Is keeping my partners anonymous enough to balance my desire to tell with their potential desire for privacy? What if I misremember things? Do I owe it to the ones I’m still in contact with to clear my narratives with them? What if I try to and the way they want it told differs significantly from how I want to tell it?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, and it will likely take me more time and many conversations to find them, if they can be satisfyingly settled at all.
In the meantime, consider this both an update and a first step. I want to be a sex writer. I’m terrified of writing about sex. I’ll try anyway.
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You can read more of my writing about gender, sexuality, trauma, and healing in my zines.