by Annabeth Leong
I walked into the smoky, after-hours cafe I'd just discovered and encountered the most beautiful man I'd ever seen. He was lanky and careless, the way I like, with dark skin and honest-to-God golden eyes and a way of smiling with only half his face at a time. Sleeping with him felt like a need, not a want.
Back then, in the 90s, I was so good at setting that sort of thing up. In a matter of days, we were listening to Radiohead and Mazzy Star while making out in the back room (where he also slept in exchange for working the counter). We were making out on the floor in the front room after the cafe locked the door, when only the special people got to stay. We were taking midnight walks in the park behind the cafe and climbing from there onto the tops of official city buildings, where we were also making out.
Then I met his girlfriend. She had periwinkle eyes, a feline throat, and beauty spots everywhere. She had a way of laughing that was both rough and girlish, and when she was in the room, I could never stop looking at her. She gave me a ride somewhere, and my hand crept onto her thigh. It was another need.
I wasn't as cool with her as I'd learned to be with men. With her, I was desperate, all too aware of how badly I wanted her, terribly afraid that she might only be tolerating me. Still, I kissed her every chance she gave me. I would take her foot into my lap and stroke her ankle, then slyly and patiently work my way up her leg to the lower edge of her shorts. Sometimes, we played with boys together, trading kisses in combinations that made me dizzy, or going driving and pulling over so I could lick my way down her neck. She was so fucking beautiful to me that the shape of her name still makes me shiver.
He explained the deal to me one night while walking me home, after this thing had been going on for a while. The two of them were together, and their main loyalties were to each other, but they were both okay if I spent an occasional night with one or the other of them. I didn't know words for polyamory, or the concept of primaries and secondaries, but I got what he was saying, and I didn't mind.
It's not just that I didn't mind. It was perfect to me, even if everything I'd ever heard told me that I ought to be upset by the arrangement. The script I knew said I ought to demand to be his exclusive girlfriend. I'd just opened my eyes to the possibility that I might also be her girlfriend, but again, monogamy was the only story I'd been told. I liked having a boyfriend and a girlfriend, though. I'd spent the last couple years cheating on lovers all the time, until finally I swore off making promises of exclusivity. Our deal gave me the freedom I wanted, but also the right to spend time with what seemed like the hottest two people in the world.
For a while, it worked, and I was happy. Then he came to talk to me again. They were worried, he said, that this thing we had going was too imbalanced. They thought I ought to get a boyfriend who was cool with joining our arrangement. The number three was unstable, and they thought a fourth would even things out. We could go on double dates together without looking weird.
They had a guy picked out for me, a friend of his, and they wanted me to meet him.
It's hard to believe now that I was really this casual about things, but I said sure, whatever they wanted, and agreed on a time to go out as a group of four. I was excited, too. I liked the mathematical possibilities of what they had proposed. The whole thing possessed a beautiful symmetry. I drew lines in my head, connecting the dots in different combinations, and I fantasized about our future together.
There was just one problem. When I met the guy they'd picked, I hated him on sight. He was a good-looking man, if you were into a cold, Aryan beauty, but his smell turned me off in a deep, primal way, and I didn't like the way his skin felt. He'd apparently been told I was a sure thing. Within minutes of our meeting, he took my hand and introduced it to his cock. If I'd wanted him, I would have been thrilled, but as it was, my stomach dropped. I knew this beautiful arrangement was about to end.
The three of them played together without me that night and for several nights after. I'd never been jealous before, but I was then. I gritted my teeth and smiled through their descriptions of the satisfaction delivered at the hands of the man I didn't want.
A few weeks later, I got another visit. The two of them were going to try being exclusive with each other, he said. In my heart, I'd known it was over the night I'd met their friend, so I was ready for this. I gave him a hug and told him I loved him. I don't think I ever really got to say goodbye to her.
There's a reason this is the story I'm telling for my post on the 90s, and it's not just that this is when these events took place. This version of me, so absolutely unconventional, formed at that time, and came as a product of listening to Ani DiFranco and reading The Sandman and having friends who went to Lilith Fair. It came out of reading sourcebooks for White Wolf Games, which stunned me with their easy portrayal of various queer identities and relationships, not to mention other people at the margins of society.
It's not that I didn't suffer for my sins. I got my heart broken a lot, and I hurt people, and people in my small Southern town thought I was a (no-lie) devil worshipper even though I went to church, and I got called a slut in whispers and people screamed that I was a slut from car windows.
But I miss that version of myself, even though for a lot of my life it got a bad rap. See, when the end of the 90s came, that person ended, too, for a long time. I got convinced to stop listening to "negative" music, stop wearing black, stop playing devil games, stop kissing girls, and stop sleeping around like a slut. My journey into a socially conservative life can't be blamed on religion, though the fundamentalist Christian values floating around where I was living were certainly part of where these ideas were coming from.
I was depressed at the time, and I got hooked up with a group of people who convinced me that social acceptability (though they weren't calling it that) was the way out of my problems. In fact, I got brought into that group by that beautiful man I mentioned right at the top of this post. We were in a band together, but he'd decided to settle down. He and his girlfriend had broken up, he'd always remembered me fondly, and this was our chance to be together and make a better life for ourselves.
And I did feel better for a while—it's amazing how good it can feel to give in and stop fighting. And this is why, for a long time, I couldn't understand the "born this way" arguments for gay rights (I still prefer arguments based on personal freedom). In response to the idea that it's some sort of choice to be queer, I've heard the rejoinder, "Well, when did you choose to be straight?" But I had an answer for that. In the year 2000. And it made my life a whole lot more comfortable.
Until it didn't. It wasn't long before that man was telling me he missed "the way I used to be." And my relationships with women became lousy with unspoken desires and weirdness (and I am only just starting to sort that bit out).
In the 90s, I didn't know how to conform, and I wore my pain raw, and I did things the only way I felt I could, and it hurt sometimes but I also love that brave past version of myself. I didn't know much of anything about how to protect myself, and I didn't know the words for half of what I wanted to do, and that hurt, too.
I've learned a lot since then, though, and I've come to see the person I was in the 90s as an important indication of what I was growing into being. I can't just rewind to that, and maybe I wouldn't want to, but if not for that person, I wouldn't be here writing erotica now. In all my confusion, when I ask myself what I honestly want, or what my identity actually is, it doesn't hurt to think back to how I acted then, when I didn't yet know better than to be myself.