Thursday, May 19, 2016

All That Pretty Poison

by Annabeth Leong

Instead of telling you about my favorite character from a book—mine or someone else’s—I want to tell you about my favorite character from my masturbation fantasies, who until now has remained entirely within my private domain.

Her name is Marian. She is a well-off housewife of the sort whose table is always adorned by a vase of fresh flowers, who always has a pitcher of iced tea infused with colorful slices of sweetened lime and lemon, who possesses a variety of beautiful floral aprons she sewed for herself, and who somehow maintains a French manicure while cleaning her house to spotless perfection. Marian is never seen with a hair out of place, and a person could feel comfortable eating off any of her floors, or even off the rim of her toilet bowl.

In the fantasy, I am foolish, and I let her find out a few things about me. Maybe I get a little tipsy one night after being invited over to her house. In darker versions, she tricks me, coerces me, and targets me. Specifically, she finds out that I’m queer and repressed and desperate to touch a woman, and then, more damningly, that I’m helplessly and powerfully attracted to her.

(I started having this fantasy when I actually did fear people finding out I was queer, and the power a woman could have over me if she knew that, and so that aspect of the fantasy still possesses a special force that only a closeted adulthood can provide.)

I’m a housewife, too, but I’m terrible at it. I used to have a job, but I lost it. I’m depressed and bad at cleaning and worried that people will think I spend my time leeching off my husband. Marian offers to teach me how to be like her, and I take her up on the offer, even though I can feel its danger.

It turns out that her teaching me how to be like her means I’m cleaning my house and hers, too, all under her exacting supervision. Gradually, she incorporates more and more sexual elements to this, until eventually I’m doing this naked, wearing a butt plug, punished if I don’t get the work done in plenty of time to go down on her. Her favorite thing of all, though, is to make me admit how much I want her. She loves to put me in difficult situations, situations where I really ought to say no, and then force me to confess that the reason I don’t refuse is because I want her so badly and I’m just that desperate for any access to her body.

She can’t leave marks on me herself, but she pushes me to set up kinky situations with my husband so that he unwittingly punishes me for her.

(I have a lot of specific fantasies from this era of the story—I zoom in at particular points and linger there. In one of my favorites, I am tied facedown to a Pledge-scented wooden table in Marian’s house. From my position, I can see the clock over her stove, but I can’t move. She is leisurely fucking me with a strap-on, really taking her time, and she’s previously convinced me to ask my husband to beat me if I don’t have dinner ready when he gets home from work. I watch the minutes go by, increasingly panicked as my hope for getting the cooking done in time dwindles. But Marian is doing it on purpose to get me beaten. She laughs at me as she fucks me, and then asks if I want her to stop so I can go. Of course, I don’t want her to stop. I would risk anything for this woman, even though I know there are so many saner things I ought to be doing.)

Marian is, when you get down to it, an awful person.

She manipulates my husband through me, so that he accepts it when I get tattoos that she designs for me, and thinks it’s his idea that I get pierced in the ways and places she wants me to. She humiliates and hurts me on purpose. She invites a bunch of other women in the neighborhood for tea, tells them I have something to say to them all, and watches with a smirk while I tell them I’m desperate to go down on a woman—any woman—and beg any or all of them to let me. Marian put me up to this, of course, but she acts like my behavior is shocking and strange, and then mocks me when one of the women takes me up on the offer and drags me to the bedroom.

I tend to focus on the parts where Marian is engineering increasing control over me, but I actually have a whole book’s worth of story here. There’s what I think of as Act Two, where I leave Marian and my husband, confess I’m gay, and get a nice girlfriend. This part of the fantasy is also about humiliation, though, because it focuses on how Marian’s tattoos and piercings are still on my body and, even while my lover is kind to me, I miss the way Marian used to mistreat me.

Then there’s Act Three, where I go back to Marian, but the magic is gone because I’m not ashamed of my desires anymore, so I don’t feel humiliated by what I want to do with her. Marian, in this part of the story, looks smaller than she does in Act One. I realize she’s as afraid of public admissions as I used to be. I still want her, but I’m not helpless before her anymore, and then I’m set free to find another woman and ask for the cruelty I need. I find someone who wants to brand me and control me and humiliate me for better reasons.

Believe it or not, acts two and three have come to me in the course of masturbation, scenes that play out along with whatever scenes I’m focusing on to make myself come. They often work as contrasting elements to the confusion and pain of Act One, or they function to emphasize the overwhelming desire I feel for this person who’s tormenting me.

When Lisabet writes about Raw Silk and how it poured sincerely out of her, I often think about Marian. I’ve wondered if I ought to write this all down as a story.

There are a number of reasons I don’t, though. I can’t help but hold back a little when I try to write about Marian. There are things I didn’t tell you about Marian’s manipulations and how they work that are key parts of the fantasy for me. Then I’m aware that this story is full of stuff you’re not supposed to do in modern erotica—cheating and dubious consent are major elements. There’s the element of shame around sexual orientation, and Marian’s humiliations and abuse of that, which I’d feel uncomfortable fetishizing in my work. Also, there’s a whole section that’s sort of a cuckolding in reverse story. I’ve never really seen that fetish represented in that direction, and I have a gut feeling it’s not particularly marketable that way.

When I write erotica, I like to write about things that don’t actually overwhelm me sexually. It helps me to have to work a little to turn myself on. The idea of Marian does overwhelm me. I am not sure I’d be able to remain sitting at the computer. And the fantasy is too personal and raw—I already struggle with fears that people will think I wrote something weird or too dirty, and I think I’d be even more worried about that in the case of something so close to me.

Finally, I worry something would be lost in translation. I tried to explain this fantasy to a girlfriend of mine, and I found myself breaking off into aroused sighs at the very moments she was giving me puzzled stares.

So I don’t know if I’ll ever write about Marian more than I have here, but I wanted her to have some small form of immortality.

(And I'm putting this video at the bottom because Lana Del Rey's vibe makes me think of what I imagine for Marian.)


  1. "I’m aware that this story is full of stuff you’re not supposed to do in modern erotica—cheating and dubious consent are major elements. There’s the element of shame around sexual orientation, and Marian’s humiliations and abuse of that, which I’d feel uncomfortable fetishizing in my work."

    What you are *supposed* to do in erotica is lay bare the essentials of desire. Worrying about marketability is a recipe for blandness.

    Your other reasons for not wanting to write this book strike me as more defensible. There's also the possibility that in writing it down, it would somehow lose its erotic punch (which I definitely *get*, even from this blog post). It can be incredibly difficult to capture the essence of a scenario that truly turns us on.

    1. This is a tough comment for me—I've been thinking about it all day.

      Of course, I agree with what you said on its face, and I feel shamed by it.

      At the same time, there is a cost to doing what one is not "supposed to" do in the current day and age, which is what I was talking about. Even if it's cool and original, there's a cost that one has to consider.

      When I got the idea for the book I'm editing for Coming Together, Positively Sexy, I knew it was a truly original and important idea that I believed in. I feared I would pay a price for taking it on, but I wanted to anyway. I'm currently in the middle of some of that price—convincing people to write for it, dealing with people thinking it's weird—though I recognize that I could be paying a worse price (check out the Twitter mentions of STI-positive activists for a clue to what I could be experiencing and am lucky to have so far evaded). That's feeling tough at the moment. I want to be brave, but there's only so much I can take.

      The thing I excerpted about a month ago, The Wound, is a current effort to write what I think needs to be written regardless of marketability. And I feel a price there, too. I wrote Untouched and sort of broke myself in the process—I feel I'm only starting to recover from that. It is sad and hard to do that to myself and then deal, on top of that, with the sense that I may have disappointed my publisher by not selling well.

      So none of this is intended as an excuse or an easy way out of how you've framed the purpose of erotica, which I agree with.

      I have, however, struggled a lot lately with burnout, exhaustion, heartbreak, disappointment, poor sales, bad treatment from many (though not all) publishers, and other indignities that we've all discussed here. It's hard to dig myself out of that, and to continue having courage while I do.

      I believe the only way out is honesty and writing what matters to me, which is part of what I try to do here. Sometimes, I think it's bizarre to feel pain from exposing myself and then react by exposing myself more, and yet that's what I seem to do.

      On one hand, I can see I've gotten so tough from that. I think, just a few years ago, I would have been too ashamed to even write down what I did in this post, and now I notice that I don't feel shame about the fantasy itself, and I didn't feel any about my last post about sex toys either. On the other hand, there are things where I know I just don't have whatever it is that I would need to deal with the exposure of writing them fully and sharing that with anyone (either through a traditional publisher or self-publishing or even posting on a blog). My writing gets out ahead of me so often, and it's often a struggle to come back and face it after I put it out. So many times, I write things here and then can't deal with comments even if I know they will be interesting and worthwhile and written by people I consider friends.

      Anyway, this answer is long and complicated, but the tl;dr of it is that I'm not ready to do more than I have here with Marian, for a lot of reasons that I tried (perhaps too much on the surface level) to describe, most of which amount to the fantasy being too private for me still. In that context, ideas about what one is supposed to write do affect me. And writing about the fantasy would force me to work out more about how I feel about shame around queerness and fetishizing it and then sharing that with others, and that's an ongoing question for me that is still too raw.

      But maybe one day that will change. If so, I have a lot of material...

      And, to be entirely clear, I really appreciate having thought about this today. I like The Grip for the intellectual challenge of it, so I'm glad your comment pushed me.

    2. Annabeth, dear.

      I hope I didn't sound too prescriptive. No one could ever call your work bland.

      You're right about the costs of forging your own artistic (and erotic) path. You are the only one who can decide whether you're willing to incur those costs. I'm not just talking about Marian's tale here, but about all your work.

      At the same time, there's a cost to suppressing your passions and your visions in order to gain the approval by the rest of the world. And face it, there are many people who will never approve of you (or me), no matter what we do.

      When I heard about your STI anthology, I really wanted to write something for it, to support your courage. I have to say, though, that I couldn't find a way to make being STI-positive be personally arousing. Plus I have fairly minimal experience with STI, other than an extremely embarrassing incident of Chlamydia.

      In any case, I deeply admire your willingness to share your imaginings with us, as well as your unflinching attempts to be honest.

    3. No worries at all. I hold myself to a really high standard of artistic bravery, and it's also my habit to take challenges to things I've said or done really seriously. I just end up thinking a lot about stuff like that, and like I said it's just my way.

      I think the question your comment raised touches on a lot of deep stuff. We are making art here, but we're also selling it. We are being brave, but we're also protecting ourselves. I always struggle at finding how to delineate that territory.

      There's a cost to exposure, and a cost to suppression, and I've paid both and I don't like either one. Where does that leave a person? I don't know the answer to that.

      You're right that there are some people who will never approve of you, me, or others of us at the Grip. I've definitely had to learn a lot in the course of doing this kind of writing. I've been astounded and humbled by some of the people I've met. At the same time, I've sometimes been shamed in places I least expected it.

      As far as the STI anthology, I am currently working on putting together a local workshop to help interested people start writing stories for it. What is breaking my heart right now is that I'm meeting people all the time who are saying they need to read that book. I'm having a harder time finding people who want to write for it.

      I get the challenge of it. It's a taboo that's so taboo it's never spoken of. But it's not true that getting an STI means one forfeits one's sex life entirely. That's not reality at all. At some point when I was thinking about erotica, I noticed that there are certain places our genre just doesn't seem to explore, and I got into this in the first place because I wanted to talk about things people don't talk about. I started thinking about all the silence and fear around STIs, about the sobbing confessions I've heard, and then also about the ways and times it just hasn't been a big deal. I really wanted to see some characters like that and stories about that.

      No judgment at all to you or anyone else who doesn't feel moved by the theme. I just wish I could find the writers who are! I really believe in my soul that they're out there.

      Anyway, the reason I brought it up is, one major challenge to the genre and market at a time for me, I think... More would break me.

  2. Thanks for another moving post, Annabeth.
    You are able to impart such detailed imagination. It's what makes your writing so genuine and engaging. This really would make a good story, but too precious as something to keep just for you. Quite generous of you to share this much.

    1. Thanks for saying this. I often give things to you all first, so we'll see what turns out from having written this much here.

      I am always in some amount of turmoil over the public-private dichotomy that is writing. Sharing my actual fantasies definitely hits that sore spot.

      I think this one's particularly vivid, though, because I've spent so much time with it.

  3. It seems to me that cheating is one of those things that you can portray in erotica, but not so much in erotic romance. Dubcon is trickier, but there's still an audience for it, and some publishers who will go for it.

    People are not monolithic. There are people who will be judgmental about pretty much anything, and people who desperately need writers who can present the queerness and weirdness that they too feel inside. (There are even people who can admire and respect excellent writing even when it doesn't push their own particular buttons. For me, for instance, perfect housekeeping per se is more like horror than erotica.)

    I have great respect for all your work, and for your own sense of what you should write and what you shouldn't. On the one hand I wish you didn't have to suffer such pain about conventional approval or disapproval, while on the other hand I recognize that your pain is yours to own, and may give your writing all the more power.

    On the subject of your anthology, it could be that people are reluctant to write about the STI-positive theme because they don't feel qualified to do so, not because they think it's weird. (My guilty reason is that so far I've only submitted reprints for Coming Together books, and right now I don't have time for anything other than existing commitments.)

    1. I've been thinking so much about the erotica/erotic romance distinction. I wish the two genres weren't so muddied with each other. I've always found a more welcome reception in the erotica field. My forays into erotic romance have felt odd, both as far as how it was for me and how my reception seemed to be.

      Absolutely, people aren't monolithic. The Internet has such a positive and negative side at the same time. It makes it easier to find like-minded people, but it also smushes stuff together so it's easier to be aware of disapproval. I find it tough.

      I'm definitely in the category of people who admire writing even when it doesn't push my buttons. I read erotica mostly for psychological interest. Getting off on it is a pleasant bonus, not a requirement.

      Thanks for the respect. I've been thinking a lot about the pain around it all for me, too, and I think it's largely because I'm always trying to write at the edges of my comfort. That inherently creates a lot of intention and ambivalence for me, but it's also what interests me.

      When I post here, people often respond with some sort of sympathy about how hard it all seems, and I know I make it look that way. I think it all comes down to that being the territory I'm drawn to explore. I've wished I could be the person who could write lots of fun action stories or something, but it's just not my calling artistically. So I make it look hard and I go through a lot of pain, but I think I also learn lots, and I'm constantly surprised by what I find at those edges.

      I hear you on the reprint thing, and it's hard to find time to write for stuff, for sure, especially when it doesn't pay, and especially when it calls for lots of research.

      I'm hoping I can come up with some ways to reassure people and help them stretch. Currently I'm focusing on people who know STIs but maybe not writing. If you have any thoughts in the other direction (or any thoughts about finding interested writers), please do let me know!

  4. Annabeth, your fantasies are always intriguing, and never bland (as Lisabet said). Thank you for sharing them with us, and I hope you can continuing writing what moves you without having to pay too high a price for it.

  5. Having contracted many in my college days, including the "gift that gives forever", (herpes), and probably all possible strains of HPV, I've had years of experience with STIs. But I've never thought of writing about it, since it's not something I think about much. I'm only grateful that nothing I ever caught affected my ability to have children.

    What are the parameters of the stories you're looking for? I could write a few stories just based on my own experiences, though I'd never write them as a memoir. I don't think I'm ready for the repercussions that would surely follow.

    But perhaps now you understand just how touched I was when my husband told me that he didn't care what (or whom) I had done in the past, because everything had contributed to making me the person he fell in love with. And as long as he was my last lover, he didn't care where he fell on the number-line. Sigh! What a guy!

    1. Hi Fiona! This is great to hear. I would love for you to write something.

      I prefer contemporary settings. The main thing I want in stories is for there to be a character who has an STI. Because, as you point out in your comment, it's not the end of a person's sex life even though it's often presented as such.

      The sentiment you present your husband expressing is a perfect example of a story I would love. I also think just having it mentioned and then having it not be a big deal would be great.

      The official call is here:

      Thanks so much for being interested! I'm not sure if I have your email, but feel free to message me if you have any questions (not sure if you'll check this much past when you left your comment). I'm at annabeth dot leong at gmail dot com


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