I want to be a sex writer. I’m terrified of writing about sex.

[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.

If you appreciated this post, please consider becoming my patron to support the creation of future work (including the memoir), get rewards, and light a fire under me to share work in progress.

You can read more of my writing about gender, sexuality, trauma, and healing in my zines.

“All in Your Head” #3 Smoothly Navigates the Intersections and Ambiguities of Disabled Queer (A)sexuality and Intimacy

[image description: The cover of All in Your Head #3, which features the title (as listed below) and many torn pieces of paper with different patterns.]
All in Your Head: Queerness, Neurodivergence, and Disability Zine Issue #3: (A)sexuality, Intimacy, and Identity has some of the most consistent quality I’ve seen in an edited zine. This is what an anthology should be. The content (poetry, prose, visual art) is all great, and each piece impresses me for different reasons. And there’s a lot in there! If I’m counting correctly, it’s 94 pages long, which in my zine collection is only rivaled by Hoax. From an editorial standpoint, I’m grateful that this issue is about “(a)sexualities,” for the inclusion, fluidity, and flexibility that wording encompasses. Bear with me — when I dug into the zine to review it, I wanted to give each artist individual attention, so this is gonna run long.

Full disclosure: I have an essay in here — the very first, actually, which I was super excited about when I opened the cover. I don’t make money off sales, though, so the conflict of interest is minimal. My essay is about my frustration with the politics of desirability and particularly the ways our cultural hatred of desperation harms me as an abuse victim/survivor and psychiatrically disabled person.

The next essay is by a friend and long-time zinester fave of mine, Olivia M. Olivia consistently writes what I most want to read: nuanced narratives and analyses of multiple marginalized identities. In the essay in this zine, “Am I Gray?: Gray Areas of Identity and Impairment,” she writes about the ambiguity of her most important identities: being a mixed Latina, gray-asexual and gray-panromantic, with anxiety and depression mostly under control and multiple sclerosis mostly in remission, and feeling “not autistic enough to be autistic.” I relate to many of her questions about belonging and what’s “enough,” and I think she puts words to many people’s feelings when she writes, “I feel content to be floating one second, stretched to splitting the next.”

(Follow her on Tumblr or buy her zines on Etsy.)

The next essay, “Isolation” by V, packs much vital, often-silenced political analysis into a few pages. V writes about the parallels between their erasure in the queer community as a mixed-race Asian and white person and as a bi person. By this point in the zine, I was getting really excited about all the nuanced, explicit bi and pan representation. Bi and pan representation is so difficult to find (even when I search it out) that it feels incredible to find it when I’m not specifically looking. V also writes about exotification, fetishization, and objectifcation, in relation to both their own experiences of mental illness and broader patterns. They end the piece with an empowering discussion of what they wish they’d been told.

The next essay to pleasantly surprise me with unexpected representation is also the very next thing in the zine. In “Disordered,” Liza Lauper writes about the excitement of getting a long-sought Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis and the frustration with the insulting label that quickly followed. Paralleling the lack of respectful diagnostic labels is a lack of precise orientation labels that accurately reflect Liza’s orientation. While I do accept the BPD label for myself (albeit in a reclamatory way) and am satisfied with “bi” for myself (in a way that conflicts with many people’s definitions), I relate deeply to Liza’s struggles for language. I’m also grateful any time I find politicized writing by Borderline people (or by people with similar neurotypes who make different decisions about labels) because we’re rarely treated as worthy of writing our own stories and analysis.

While the first several essays interested me because they felt familiar, the next, “Rare Myths for Rare Persons” by Mica McDonald, caught my attention because it’s far from my familiarity. Mica discusses the importance of mythology as sacred truth and shared story of humanity. Ze struggles to feel valued and significant as a transmasculine person with cystic fibrosis when there’s a lack of myths about people like zir. As a partial solution to this problem, Mica offers readings of three Greek and Irish myths in which ze can see elements of zirself. We discuss representation constantly in social justice circles, but mythology isn’t a topic I’ve heard much about from this angle. It expanded my thinking to hear about the importance of myth, specifically, and how Mica reads zir marginalized identities into existing myths.

Kelsie Kachel’s poems “Brain Horror” and “Gendered Construction Sites” use imagery beautifully both for the pain of negative self thoughts and the gender binary and for the hope found by emptying out those thoughts and being their own gender. Jacklyn Janeksela’s poems slide between clear imagery and deliberate ambiguity, leaving me unsure what to feel. Barbara Ruth’s poem “Attracted to Her” explores the transformation of sexual attraction from fun to terror, with the hope that after self examination and work, attraction will return. The poem is rich in its exploration of fear, loss, vulnerability, and the longing to regain longing. Barbara’s other poem in the zine, “What I’m Like,” combines simile and more direct language to tell the story of a sexist poet lover man (who feels uncomfortably familiar) and offer more affirming understandings of herself.

Sky Cubacub’s essay “Radical Visibility: A QueerCrip Dress Reform Movement Manifesto” is unlike anything I’ve read in a zine. Sky is the creator of a clothing company called Rebirth Garments, which makes each item of clothing custom to suit trans and disabled people’s needs and create what Sky calls “radical visibility.” It reads more like an academic essay than I’m used to seeing in zines, with footnotes, works cited, and references to theorists, but for the most part I think it’s accessible to an audience without an academic background. I knew about Rebirth Garments before reading the zine, and I enjoyed hearing more about the philosophy behind the line. If you don’t already know Rebirth Garments, I recommend visiting their website. The black and white photos in the zine show off the form and geometry of Rebirth Garments, but black and white can’t do justice to a line whose core principles incorporate use of vivid color.

Maira’s “I Think I Might Be…Gray Ace?” tells the story of coming into gray-asexuality through a relationship with a partner who, like much of society, framed sex as a necessary part of relationships. Their understanding of their sexuality is complicated by the realizations that in addition to being queer, they are agender and bipolar. Maira’s struggles to reconcile asexuality with trauma resonate with me, as I suspect they will with many ace-spectrum people. Maira contributes to an important, developing school of thought that while asexuality is not necessarily damage, it can be, and that damage is a valid history and way of being.

Finally, Raymond Luczak’s “My Line of Feeling” is a short story about a quadriplegic man named Steve watching an ASL interpreter and reflecting on his life. It weaves smoothly between his present experience, his frustration with forced desexualization, bitterness at abled people, and the reason this interpreter means so much to the speaker. The writing is rhythmic, poetic, and it carried me through the story with urgency, except when Steve brings up fatphobic misogyny in a way that feels like it could be his own.

Overall, I was blown away by the way this zine and each of the artists in it explore ambiguity and multiple marginalizations. I recommend it for anyone who’s interested in the intersections of disability and queerness, especially if personal essays are your thing. I look forward to future issues of All in Your Head (the next issue’s theme is “cure”) and to seeing more from each of the writers featured in this issue. (My apologies to the visual artists — I don’t think I have the understanding of visual art necessary to comment on your work.)

You can buy All in Your Head: Queerness, Neurodivergence, and Disability Zine Issue #3: (A)sexuality, Intimacy, and Identity from editor Sam GlitterWurst’s Etsy shop when it returns from hiatus and follow him on Tumblr.