I have been wanting to write a piece about my latest, maybe last, venture into fanfiction, what it meant to find a community of erotic storytelling keyed to an imaginary world to which I felt intimately connected. The way finding that community and reading their stories, after being cut off from my own desire for years, awoke some deep part of me. It was January, cold and dark, but I could feel something growing, finally, a shoot from a seedling. A remembering of self.
I want to tell this story, and one thing that stops me is imagining a snickering reader who hears “some deep part of me” as a florid way of saying “my vagina.” I hate that talking about something as complex, layered, expressive, and individual as desire will lead people to reduce me to my genitals.
Reducing people to their genitals is, I believe, an oppressive practice closely aligned with the idea that how sex works is obvious. It is cissexist, misogynistic, ableist, and anti-kink.
I hate it.
I was telling a story to someone in my life about the way my dog snuggles up to me in cold weather. He paws at my hand until I lift the bedcovers, and then he crawls under and curls up beside me. Licking must be some kind of self-soothing behavior for him; he never seems to lick out of affection, but at bedtime, he’ll find any patch of bare skin (or, in a pinch, a blanket) and lick until he falls asleep.
The person I was talking to snickered here; the combination of “lick” and “bedcovers” must have been too much for him—or, well. The combination, of “lick,” “bedcovers,” and my body, which is, in the end, a (cis) woman’s body, and we’re all adults here, we can extrapolate what lick means to a body like mine.
The ickiness here is multi-layered. As it happens, the kind of licking this person imagines is not a way I choose to receive touch. Beyond that, I don’t want to hear that this person is thinking of me in a sexual context, or (for fuck’s sake) putting a sexual context to a story about my dog. And then there’s the logic that makes the joke work in the first place, the same logic that makes jokes about piss and shit work: here’s something crude we all know your body does; here’s us bravely breaking the rules of decorum to say so.
It’s the we all know piece I’m thinking about now. The invasive and wrongheaded idea that what someone desires, and what they choose to do with erotic partners, can be easily extrapolated from what their genitals are like, which can (according to this invasive and wrongheaded framework) be easily extrapolated from their gender presentation, and just… no. No to reducing people to their genitals, and no to assuming that anything you know, or think you know, about the intimate contours of someone’s body tells you anything about their desires or their erotic expression.
When I talk about being kinky, it’s this snickering reaction I brace myself for the most. I talk about kink as a way of making space for my experience of desire in a context that largely assumes my experience isn’t important or doesn’t exist. The snicker hears my story simply as an opening to remind me of what (supposedly) we all know. I talk about kink to disrupt the assumptions that are made about me based on how my body is perceived. The snicker tells me that whatever claims I might make about myself, a deeper, dirtier truth is written on parts of my body it can only imagine.
As a silencing tactic, this type of response is frighteningly effective. I talk about kink in part to avoid being sexually violated (more on this later, I’m sure). But this snickering reaction—a reaction that takes my mentioning the erotic at all as a cue to reduce me to my genitals—is itself a kind of violation. Reducing people to their genitals is violent and dehumanizing. It says that ableist, misogynist, cissexist, and anti-kink tropes about what our bodies mean have more value than our own lived experience. It undermines consent by saying that whatever we claim to desire, the snicker knows—and the snicker has a right to insinuate—what we really want.
It’s not going to silence me this time. But when I think about how many times I’ve chosen not to talk about kink, a core part of my identity, because I didn’t want to be immediately sexualized—or immediately violated—I can’t help but be furious. Some deep part of me has been cut off from community and connection. This snicker, this crude, slimy, presumptuous set of beliefs about what bodies mean and who is entitled to decipher those meanings, is a big and vile reason why.