By Annabeth Leong
I normally like to write nonfiction for The Grip, but I can't resist the opportunity to talk about what I'm working on now. I never do that normally—I don't share unpublished things, and I don't share unfinished things.
I'm working on a book exploring the dark side of BDSM. For me, all too many BDSM romances bring up memories of my own abusive BDSM relationship—my intro to the lifestyle. I've spent years learning better than I knew back then, trying to sort out what I want and need out of BDSM, struggling with my history of trauma and how that plays into kinky desires. I have trouble with all the ingenues in books out there, all the characters being initiated in relative isolation by their masters, all the ways subs are told in stories not to ask questions. I wanted to write something about characters exploring things in a more sophisticated way, within a community the way you can in real life.
I first got the idea for this book a couple of years ago. I was thinking about what relationships might be interesting in BDSM aside from romances. I wondered if it would be possible to center a friendship. So that's what this book is about. It's got sex, but the central relationship is between two friends trying to work out a way to participate in BDSM that is satisfying and safe for them.
I revived it, though, after chatting on Twitter with Xan West about things I'd like to see in BDSM writing.
A lot of this writing is about me engaging with BDSM as I've experienced it in life, which does not reflect the problem-free fantasy I often encounter in books.
The clip I've posted below is from the first chapter, which introduces Joie, one of the two main characters. She's struggling with the fallout of an abusive BDSM relationship. She's still aroused by what happened, but she also feels broken by it. She doesn't know how to deal with that.
The therapist she's talking to is a kink-aware professional who ultimately encourages Joie to explore munches and other non-sexual ways of engaging with the BDSM community.
I've put a lot of autobiography into this book so far. If anyone's read the introduction I wrote for Xan's Show Yourself to Me, they'll recognize one of Joie's disturbing memories, because it's my own.
Anyway, I'm going through this book slowly because it's hard for me to write. But I've made a promise to myself recently to do work that I find important rather than trying to write to what I think the market wants. And while it's perhaps not as dark or violent or shocking as some of the other things people have been talking about over the past couple of weeks, it's my own darkness I'm wrestling with, and because of that it feels dangerous to me.
Here's the excerpt:
Sex, for Joie Word, was like a wound that she could never quite let close. If she left it alone for a long time, it began to fade and seal itself away, but it also began to itch, her body signaling that it wanted to be opened again. She would resist, sitting squirming on her hands day after day in a fruitless attempt to prevent the inevitable misbehavior. But when she did give in, she tore herself apart until she bled.
She masturbated, yes, rubbing herself until her wrists ached and her breath seemed lost forever. But orgasms never seemed to be enough, and soon she was scrolling through her phone for names she ought to have deleted, participating in wet T-shirt contests at bars, and smiling back at people who showed too many teeth while they issued invitations.
A few days of madness, then return to home and abstinence, carrying a body newly marked by uncertain pleasures and a heart stinging from the shards of complicated, still-shattering memories.
Her therapist asked her what she made of all this. She had scheduled an appointment with an eye toward healing the guilt she still felt from her divorce, but once Joie opened her big mouth she could not stop talking, and soon the therapist was calling Joie's insurance company, asking for approval for more than the twelve meetings that had been requested in the initial treatment plan.
Joie tried not to see this as evidence that she was hopelessly fucked up. She closed her eyes. She imagined that, to the therapist, this looked like she was digging deep, and maybe she was, but not for the story she wanted to tell. The thing on her heart was never far from the surface, but she usually lacked the courage to prod or reveal it.
She sat in a room that was silent except for the sounds of a dehumidifier; her own, unsteady lungs; and the therapist's breathing, which came accompanied by a tidy little clearing of the throat every ten or twenty seconds. She fiddled with the upholstery of the too-soft chair that contained her and set both of her soles deliberately flat on the floor. It was too warm in that room, but she wrapped her arms around her chest as if she was cold.
By some miracle of language, she found imperfect but adequate words.
Abe Lara was a guy who didn't wear underwear, and who had taken hers away after their first date. That act had confused her more than anything else. She had been so naive at the time that she had not yet understood what control had to do with sex, or what about her embarrassment might be exciting for him.
But was she so much wiser now? Adult Joie, squirming in the too-soft chair, inappropriately turned on before her therapist's wrinkled gaze, was still not quite sure what it was about embarrassment that made her body pulse. It could make her come, but she didn't know if she liked it. Friends who were less screwed up than her seemed to think that things that caused orgasms were supposed to feel nice. Joie wondered exactly how crazy it was that everything that made her feel bad caused that secret tingle at the base of the stomach.
Her heart beat against her ribcage as if trying to beat back the room's oppressive air. Her therapist wasn't going to say anything. Joie was getting enough rope to hang herself, winding braided, unspoken sentences around her body until she knew they would choke her unless she let them go. She snatched a few desperately and flung them onto the floor at the therapist's feet.
Abe Lara was a guy who kept a stash of Penthouse Variations under the bed, and he'd read them to Joie, making it clear that this was a test. She'd nearly come into thin air the first time, hearing about a woman getting photographed and fucked while wrapped tight with rope. That had seemed like passing the test, but later, rummaging through his magazines to read on her own when she was in his house alone, discovering both how urgent they made her feel and how riddled they were with typos, fucking herself to lines like Im a total bandage freak, she thought maybe she had failed after all. She had the sense that this was never supposed to become something that belonged to her.
"You feel your sexuality shouldn't be under your control? the therapist asked.
Joie shook her head, frustrated. "That's not the point." She wished she could insist on what the point was with as much clarity as she could insist on what it was not.
Abe Lara was a guy who liked to make her say yes. To strips of cloth around her wrists. To letting friends watch him fuck her. To wrapping his belt around her neck and gasping for air while she came. To loving him, even if… even if…
She still couldn't say what horrible things she'd loved him through.
Abe Lara was a guy who had a specific idea of who Joie Word was supposed to be. His made-up Joie was a goal he pursued.
One day, they were lying on his sweat-stained mattress. The dirty sheets had slipped off days before and been left to soak their evil bouquets into the never-vacuumed carpet. At first, the bare mattress had felt silky and refreshing, but now it was beginning to spoil, and Joie was beginning to realize that it would be impossible to wash.
With her arms restrained above her and her head twisted to the side, she could smell the past of their fucking, and the sordid details of it had her close to coming. In the present of their fucking, he was inside her, testing his endurance explicitly and hers incidentally. Abe Lara was choking her, and the panic of fighting for air stripped the meaning of excitement bare. Her body was worked up and desperate, as in possibly dying, but really that was a form of arousal like any other, as in Joie was possibly about to come.
Her hips rose toward his. Sex was automatic, a thing of pistons and oil that worked mechanically as intended. It required no participation of her mind, and she was glad—until he forced her to come back to him.
"I made you like this," he grunted as he fucked her. "I created every single thing about you now. I turned you into my very own dirty, filthy little slut."
And Joie was coming, and Joie was crying, and Joie was screaming, "Fuck you," even as her pussy clutched at his cock.
The therapist moved a box of tissues into Joie's reach. The sound the tissue made when it came out of the box was vehement, violent. Joie wanted to masturbate. Joie wanted to tell the therapist to go fuck herself. She scrubbed at the corners of her eyes as if she could use the tissue to eradicate her tear ducts.
Joie told the therapist that she had tried to forget all that. She had married a nice man, one who would never have dreamed of calling her his "very own dirty, filthy little slut." He had lavished her with candlelight and jasmine-scented massage oils, and she had tried her very best to enjoy it. When the blush of new romance had worn off, he had sometimes testily requested a blow job, and that was the closest she had come to real arousal with a partner in eight years. She had always made sure to kneel on bare wooden floor, not carpet, and to work his cock down her throat a bit farther than was comfortable.
"I feel like I'm playing into that stupid thing," Joie said. "That idea that girls don't want nice guys."
"Was your ex-husband nice?" the therapist countered.
"Like I said, he would never have called me a slut."
"There's more to nice than that."
Joie thought about the massage oils and the candles, which were supposed to have been nice. But hadn't Thad Felix brought those things to her with an agenda? She had been supposed to love him for that, to look at him with hero worship and adoration in her eyes.
He, too, had tested her. Had she redeemed herself from a sordid past? Had she learned to want the correct things? She had passed when she'd agreed to go out with him. She had failed when she had secretly built up her own collection of Penthouse Variations, followed by broader internet explorations that led to even darker corners than the ones Abe Lara had shown her. Sometimes, it had felt like every ripple of every orgasm was a red pen drawing a circle around her failure, drawing attention to the ways she had been twisted, spreading and pulling gently until that sickness surrounded her in an ever wider circumference.
Joie didn't know what it meant to be nice. Not in this context, anyway.
The therapist took off her glasses and breathed on them with a small, sharp, open-mouthed huff. "Maybe there's a context that doesn't place your sexual desires in opposition with the idea of being nice."
Thanks for reading!