Some unbearable days lately, in terms of sexual un-gratification. The kind of days when I read an entire page before realizing I have not taken in the meanings of words, only the sounds, an unintelligible chorus of whisperers. She’s thinking about sex, they might be saying. It’s all she can think about today. But I don’t hear them, because I’m thinking about sex.
It’s all I can think about today.
A jumble of images—a woman’s tattooed arm between my legs or soft-nippled breasts to put my mouth on or a wry smile on a butch face, that kind of upward nod as if to say, Hey. But really to say, Yes, we’re going to fuck.
I don’t land on any of these images for long. They are a maddening series of repeated moments, like oh yeah, that does it for me let me see that again, oh yeah, oh yeah. But where to next? I get nothing done in this state and no need is satisfied, either. I could open my eyes. There is my couch, there is my mid-century Chinese landscape, there is my cluttered desk, waiting for me to re-write the sex scene in my short story about Rita (and Naomi), the final sex scene, the one that changes everything but changes nothing because Rita won’t see into the core of this dynamic but will continue to scratch along its service. Just like she does with her recurring foot fungus, she’ll manage the problem, but never really solve it.
I can’t focus on that scene now, on its “problematic” “non-consensual sex.” That’s what an editor at a magazine said. I thought she meant the other scenes, the ones when Rita and Naomi actually have sex and Rita has ambivalence about it. But she meant the scene at the end when they don’t have sex, but there is a threat of such an encounter. In that scene, Rita is bluffing, calling Naomi on what she has been asking for, essentially, fantasizing about, and making Rita a collaborator in, this fantasy of rape—Naomi imagines restraint and no choice.
For Naomi, it’s not about rape, but relinquishing control. Because Naomi is controlling, and although she appears to be the one non-consenting in these fantasies, she is, in fact, defining sex for both of them.
I like sex in fiction to be full of ambivalence—undeniable lust mixed with doubt or disgust. I have done things with lovers I don’t want to tell anyone. Things I would like to do again.
But today, I can’t focus on this story. And I don’t feel ambivalence about sex; today, I only feel need, and images of my own creation will not do.
* * *
There is a woman on the dating app who does not claim banal pastimes like “walks at the beach” or “chilling with Netflix.” She writes instead:
Open to lots except vanilla
She is mannish but slight. Arms sleeved in tattoos. Black tee. Another photo in a burgundy plaid. Another one with no shirt at all, a tattooed bear-paw stamped on her. She is all kinds of butch. Bulldagger.
I ask her what vanilla means to her. I ask her, So once you find your femme, what do you plan to do with her?
We go from there.
I can’t share all the details of our conversation. The queer world is too small and I’ve nearly unmasked her already with the profile description and the tattoos. But those details seem important to include. They tell more about my character and her character than the specifics of our kinks and fantasies. Those things are private curiosities, but the other details are what we choose to share with the world—what we believe about ourselves and want others to know. We are all so many things, so this curation is paradoxically more revealing. And, in fact, I am not surprised to learn what turns her on. Not because it’s predictably masculine, but because it’s predictably complex.
“She’s found herself a nice slightly-dom femme,” my ex-girlfriend will remark later.
“Is that how you see me?” I ask, then say almost immediately, “I guess that’s accurate.” But it’s not a detail I chose to include in my profile description.
On the app, I’m wholesome in a polkadot blouse and a mess of curls. In another photo, I’m walking on a country road—“I like long walks” this photo implies—in a fleece vest. The vest is not a style choice, but who can tell from the photo? In another photo, a book I was reading when I made the profile: The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, by Ann Bannon. So I know something of our lesbian literary legacy and if you know what this is, or are at least interested, then things could work between us. (And yet, I am still “liked” by coupled women in straight relationships seeking weekend lays. “No drama,” they often state, although that seems about all they have to offer.) Another photo, hoop earrings and a Pride baseball cap, femmed up in makeup. That’s not me, either. I was experimenting with makeup for a character I’m creating—Shan, the no-drama girl. I’m making a few short videos for an online Pride event.
What can be read in these images? Perhaps I’m not great at curation. Maybe that means something, too.
* * *
The Bulldagger and I exchange some comments about tattoos, bears, the US/Canada border. I ask about Open to lots. What’s in the “lots” category?
What specifically do you want to know? Smiley face. Another smiling face with sunglasses.
I guess I’m perhaps unreasonably fishing for some kind of sexting interaction. lol Now that the ball’s in my court, I feel how uncomfortable that is. Well, let me see what might happen anyway.
She lives far away and the borders are closed. There is nothing at stake in sharing some private fantasy in this conversation with a stranger. So I venture: I like my breasts sucked on, like sucked for so long it’s like I’m nursing. I like the idea of a lover feeding on me. You?
We quickly take our relationship to the “next level” by moving from messaging within the app, to texting our actual phone numbers. It’s a far cry from U-Hauling, but it beats my empty room and fuzzy-headed ruminations. The conversation is not without “substance.” I learn a few important details about her life. She has a child—she sends me a photo. They have her eyes.
Yes, [they’re] mine, she writes, and proceeds to answer anticipated questions about origins, because a bulldagger like her is not expected to have carried a child. And the experience was fraught, but there [they are].
What a beautiful [child]! I write, which is true.
We chat a bit about past relationships, ideas of self-conception, gender identities and the role of a partner’s gender identity in affirming our own, attractions that surprised us.
A dapper butch makes me swoon. But earlier this year, I had feelings for a friend, a feminine, straight, much younger, brilliant and gorgeous friend. “I’d be surprised if you didn’t have a crush on her,” my ex said (I’d told her about this glorious woman). But the most dramatic change was how I saw myself. I was no longer a cute babe (I could stare at those lips all day), but a lecherous old dyke. My admiration, I thought, not flattering attention but a dangerous coveting. Hello, little girl, don’t you look sweet today. Fingers insecting.
But I get this attention from Bulldagger. Daddy’s good girl, huh? Yeah, you like to be good for daddy? And I am a puddle.
She sends me a photo of her in bed, boxers and a bulge implying a flaccid dildo.
The scene I was supposed to re-write today begins with Rita at home alone. Naomi has purchased a flaccid dildo for her, and she wants Rita to wear it. She pressures her to wear it, claiming it will make her feel confident, just try it, you’ll see, see what it feels like to have something between your legs, how it changes the way you walk, how it makes you feel powerful. Rita finds this strikingly un-feminist. “I don’t want to be a guy,” she says. But that’s not what it’s about for Naomi. (I see now that Rita consistently misunderstands Naomi, remaining always on the surface of these desires.)
So in this scene I was supposed to re-write, Rita is at home alone and she’s feeling lazy and stoned and she thinks what the hell. She tries out this flaccid dildo. She walks around the house with it harnessed. She finishes the dishes. She thinks of Naomi, imagines her sucking it, making her hard, how she’d fuck her. The mechanics of that. And this is arousing, and a surprising kind of arousal and Rita is turned on but also troubled by her own imaginings, the sexual coercion that is now part of her most private imagination, and she is troubled that she wants this more and more and more. When Naomi comes home, Rita is in the kind of state when she can read an entire page without taking in the meaning of words, only sounds, an unintelligible chorus of whisperers. She’s thinking about fucking Naomi whether she wants it or not, they might be saying. But Naomi says words, not safe words, something worse. “Horrible day,” she says. Rita ventures a seductive gesture. “I’m glad you like your present,” Naomi says, “but I’m just going to lie down.” It’s dismissive, it’s humiliating, and Rita is angry now, because she never asked to be this. She never asked for this dildo and she never asked to be this person who imagines restraining her lover when they fuck, who is turned on now when Naomi just lies there, limp and taking it, though she’s only pretending.
Bulldagger sends me an audio clip of her masturbating. Oh yeah, take it, take it, she says just before she comes.
The scene needs a re-write because I’m not sure if any of it makes sense anymore. I sent it to a straight male friend who thought the story was hot and didn’t know what I meant when I’d joked, “Trigger warning for problematic lesbian sex.” Didn’t seem problematic to him. I sent it to a queer magazine, and the editors wrote, “…we were conflicted with the ending; we felt the piece deals with sex that isn't consensual and would be problematic to publish it this way.”
I respond to the photo, the secret bulge in her boxers. I write:
I’d like to slide my hand down those shorts… What would I find? Are you getting wet talking about all this with a total stranger?
Yes, I am, she replies. Idk is that strange? lol
If she asked me to suck that dildo, if this turned her on, I would. I’ve learned something of her particular gender alchemy, implications of searching for the language and touch that renders her body real. In her forties now, she’s arrived at lesbian, bulldagger, genderqueer, non-binary, all these things existing simultaneously, separated here by commas, but embodied whole by this individual. Or so her photos tell me, her tattoos, texts and audio clips. She says she’s had too many “pillow princesses,” the kind of women whose desire for her is unconvincing, lust for the body unreciprocated. I’m not familiar with that term; in my socio-cultural bubble, we call them “starfish.” How West-Coast of us. So the Bulldagger is looking for a particular gender alchemy, too. A femme who can make her feel desired. But, with butches like her, she says, this is “a skill set.”
Words cast spells or curses, but they undo them, too. I learn more about what she’s open to, how I might encounter her body. I could suck her nipples without evoking the trauma of breastfeeding. I could slide my hand down those shorts, put my fingers inside her. She’s wet, though I wouldn’t say, “Oh, you’re so wet.” But her physical arousal would provoke my own euphoric flooding. Please can I suck on you? And that’s what I want—not the story of a woman, but this body and its particular story, literary, layered, and the way all of this crashes into what’s mine. Blood like metal in the mouth, a butch with a heart of gold.
Later, several minutes pass without a text from her. Maybe her child has her attention now—they are going to play on tiktok at some point.
So I masturbate. I get a text just as I’m nearing orgasm. She writes something about another turn-on. I tell her what I’m doing and it’s too late when she writes this, but she says she could send me something to help. A video.
Oh, it’s so nice to have company, a witness to my bodily self. All the emails and messages and texts from friends during this period of pandemic isolation have been comforting, but there is no opportunity to share what is happening in my body, what waves of desire are overtaking me and what I’d like to do to restore equilibrium. You can’t talk about that with friends because that transgresses a friendship boundary and the result would be awkwardness, perhaps, or unwanted feelings resulting in rejection or maybe rejecting, much less likely a love connection because if you’re already friends and it never happened when you saw each other in the flesh, a love connection out of the flesh is an illusion, isn’t it?
Still, when a friend I have known for 17 years requests I send a birthday video on this same day, a video of me singing, “preferably with cleavage,” I say, “Since it’s your birthday, this request seems fair.” I perform “I Touch Myself,” by the DeVinyls while unbuttoning my shirt down to a leopard-print bra. I shake my ta-tas and it’s goofy so perhaps not such a transgression. But I know she has a crush on me, that she will like this. I don’t think she is lecherous. Her fingers play guitar and her face is round and joyful.
The body in two: I am aching for this bulldagger I’ve never met, but if the border opens and I drive for hours to meet her halfway, offline at a hotel, will this lust have budded big, ready to burst at the first touch? Does she have a habit of tugging her ear lobe when tongue-tied? Does she smell like cinnamon and curry? Does she crack mints in her teeth?
But maybe it’s the first birthday transgression that enables the second. The Bulldagger has already sent me photos and now she is offering video. And shortly after I orgasm, I leave the conversation—because it’s already three o’clock and I do have things I should do today and I know she does too, but she laughs, I imagine she laughs—she indicates in words that she laughs, lol now you are going lol you’re funny.
Oh, I guess my timing seems selfish lol
She says it’s all good—she has to make tiktoks.
But I want to do something for her. I want to give her something, because this has been the closest thing to a sexual encounter for me in a year and a half. (I don’t share that detail with her.) The first year of this aloneness, I didn’t think about sex—my relationship had ended, I was burnt out from working too much, worried about a depressed friend, helping another friend organize a memorial for her brother who’d killed himself, and my cat was diagnosed with cancer, his days numbered, then he died. My body depleted. My body had nothing to offer and wanted only to dissolve into a long sleep.
By the time I needed something, the WHO had declared a global pandemic.
So I want to thank the Bulldagger for all this. And there is one turn-on she mentioned that I could help with, even on screen.
I clip my phone onto the adjustable arm, pivot landscape for a wide shot. Lights off except for one hanging lantern, casting an orange glow. I lie back, hair draped across pillow and wearing the same leopard-print bra. It’s the only bra I have now with underwire, having swapped those for wireless bralettes, which are much more comfortable, but I want presentation.
And I masturbate. For the third time today, I masturbate. It takes me longer this time because my body and my brain are tired—from aching, throbbing, imagining, concentrating, distracting, needing, satisfying. I imagine her hand pushing into me, filling me up, and I get there. Of course I get there, and I just edit the video down to the last minute and a half. Five seconds for each month I’ve gone without this intimacy, even its illusion. I suppose I could measure it that way.
“I’m not even drunk,” I say to the friend who received the strip-tease video.
I send the Bulldagger these moving, moaning pictures, and wonder about the person who does this:
Almost everyone on here is active and likes to travel.
I’m interested in everything from how crabs do it to Chinese melodramas. According to ex-girlfriend, quarantine isolation has made me funnier. I love women who say things that others might find weird or inappropriate.
What else is new? Please be specific in your message.
I was interested in how crabs do it. I have since investigated—mating, anyway. Learned that shortly after the female molts her shell—mating can only occur when she is soft and vulnerable—she “embraces” a male crab for as long as two weeks. I needed this information for the story about Naomi (and Rita), which is different from the story about Rita (and Naomi).
I have joked about my inner butch, not with the Bulldagger, but others. I say, “When I was eight, I had a tail-cut,” as hard evidence of this authentic butch self. I say, “When I was a kid, I always played the guy in our sketches or movies.” I say, “I played ‘con artist’ with my friend, Leah, which meant me pretending to be a guy seducing her into giving me money or information.” It’s also funny to mention how often my father encouraged me to order golf shirts through the Land’s End catalogue, as if he wanted me to be this way.
I never ordered a golf shirt. I have never asked him why he recommended such a presentation.
And once I found my way to female bodies, the story of my own body changed, too. The hair grew long, the mouth became glossy. When I want a butch’s interpreting, I grow a couple inches on a heeled boot and bowl my breasts in a padded bra.
* * *
The Bulldagger responds to the video:
Ohhhh, that was hot! What were you doing? Man, it was like a mystery. I need to know now!
It is a mystery, this story I’m telling myself. The one I’m telling her.
Tomorrow, maybe, I can re-write that scene with Rita and Naomi. The story is so close—this is the final scene, though not the final revision, I’m sure. I will have to go back, think again about the details—what is moving this story forward, what must be added, what must be left out. But it feels less urgent now. Still, I would like to finish.