Here’s the thing about going last. You risk repetition. You worry that everything’s already been said, all the accolades handed out, and that you’ll have nothing original to add to the conversation. But, on the flip side, it also feels like an honor. That this is the last stop before we (as a queer- and kink-loving erotica community) send it on home to Xan’s blog, coming full circle.
Xan figured Show Yourself To Me “would be up [my] alley.” We have, after all, come to know each other’s writing styles and tastes as erotica colleagues over the years. And boi, Xan certainly hit the nail on the head with this one. Xan writes explicitly, intentionally, and beautifully about Black and Brown characters, the complexities of the intersections of race and BDSM, characters with various disabilities, the challenges faced by disabled folks who play hard, trans and genderqueer and gender non-conforming characters, fat characters, survivors, and so many others that are often just thrown into erotica for “diversity’s sake” or as an after-thought (or, more commonly, not thrown in at all). All of this in a genre that all too often whitewashes, glosses over (or, more often, fails to address) political implications of race, size, gender, disability, triggers, etc. Xan does all of this (and much more!) and still manages to keep it hot and dirty. Smut based in good politics. Nothing gets me wetter.
Whenever I’m unsure of where to start, I always find the middle to be a good place to land. And when I reached not quite halfway through this collection, I was reminded that my very first piece of erotica was published alongside Xan in Best Lesbian Erotica 2011. Xan’s contribution to that anthology, “My Precious Whore,” struck a deep chord with me back then and it resonated just as strongly all these years later.
There is something very raw and very queer about playing with this kind of power. The queerness of it is what makes it work for us. I know that she could never do this with someone who wasn’t also a survivor, who didn’t know firsthand the nauseous grinding pain of misogyny twisted into sexual violation. There’s something so perverse about using misogyny as a sex toy—the same misogyny that nearly destroyed me as a girl.
Through the narrator, Xan shares just how challenging it is to top, especially when the play is rough. How tops have their own insecurities, their own demons to battle in order to enact edgy scenes. “I can fully be myself with her, even the darkest parts of myself, the ones that scare me.” So beautifully and succinctly put, that is precisely the type of gift submissives can give their Doms. The permission to fully embrace all parts of themselves. A reciprocal relationship that keeps on giving.
Now is when we get down to business, when I hold her release in the palm of my hand, pump fear through her, and force the shame out, one orgasm at a time, transform it. She came in strong and she will leave stronger, more sure of who she is. Here is where the magic builds.
Dominants sometimes face profound struggles reconciling their personal politics with the play their subs are often begging for. Xan tackles this subject so remarkably throughout this collection.
She is dressed like the whore she is. But, tonight, it is to my specifications. From her come-fuck-me heels, up the seam in her stockings, to her bare back, she is every inch a fierce proud being. She is the object I desire, the whore I have marked as mine, and she is dressed this time to please only me. I can see pride in the slight arch to her back as she kneels in the center of the room. And it should be there. I am proud to claim my precious whore. She is proud to be mine, to keep choosing that in every moment.
I felt the heart-clenching realness of “First Time Since” inside my chest. We’ve all suffered loss like that, sometimes many times over, and yet it doesn’t stop us from (sometimes eventually) opening ourselves up to the potential of experiencing such pain again. Xan’s use of the first person in this story makes the account all the more intimate and devastating…and still, we are rooting for those boots the entire time.
And so I did, for the first time since. I unleashed my sadism into him, grinding my boot into his dick until tears filled his eyes, slamming my boot into his thighs, raining blows into his chest, a whirlwind of pain to hold him still. I bent him over the horse, ripping his clothes open to my fists and teeth, and did not pause until my cock was poised at his asshole, opening him.
“Falling for Essex” was easily one of my favorite stories for many reasons (some of which I cover in another blog post). One is that as someone who is cis and is fortunate enough to get to share the type of tenderness with trans lovers that Xan lays out in this story, I can’t tell you how much I appreciated this touchingly vulnerable and accurate representation of what (I’ve been told) it can be like for a trans person to get naked for their cis lover for the first time.
He watched Samuel’s face as he thought about being naked with his thighs spread for Daddy. Fuck, had he pushed for too much? He wanted Samuel to know he wanted him, his body, that he wasn’t pre- tending he was with a cis guy. That he took him seriously as a faggot and was planning to take him in all the ways Samuel had asked. He sat watching Samuel, not pushing, just waiting. If he said no, he would get to show him that was okay. If he said yes, he would know the trust was deep on Samuel’s side, too. It’s okay, he tried to tell him with his eyes. You choose, and Daddy will listen and still want you, whatever you decide.
And then there’s the fact that it’s just so damn hot.
“I want to watch you take it on your thighs. Watch you writhe and push yourself. I want it all, no hiding. Can you do that for me?” Damn, it was hard to put it out there, to show his need. But sometimes a top has to beg, too.
Damn. How hot is that??
Xan manages to slip safe words (and safe taps) into the stories without breaking the flow or the sex appeal: “He cut a triangle out of the back of the shirt and stuffed it in Rickie’s mouth, telling him to tap out on the wall if he needed to safe word.”
I can’t tell you how many of my fellow girls have articulated to me desires to be seen the way that the Sir in “How He Likes It” sees his girl.
He was a mirror to my power and grace, showing me how beautiful I was in his eyes, how gorgeous my pain was, how delicious my tears, how very much my desire moved him. That is the best a lover can offer us, to really see us and celebrate what they see. It is a rare and precious thing to be seen and valued for who we are. So often I had been told I was too much, too loud, too smart for my own good, took up too much space, was too needy, too sexual. Sir had other things to say about my hunger, my desire, my size, my power. My reflection in his eyes told me I did not need to hide my need or my self. I could bring it all to him. That I could not possibly be too much for him. It scared me every time, felt risky every time, and was exactly what I wanted.
The depth of intimacy, sexual, yes, but emotional and psychological as well in this collection is startling. It almost made me feel guilty for my voyeurism. Almost. The characters are real, flawed, and cherished by each other in their flaws.
There is no greater high than this, when I give myself over, my need wrapping around another’s. I wanted him, wanted to please him, wanted him to use me, wanted to be given and taken, to be worthy for exchange. Sir began to beat my inner thighs, and I wanted to be sore and bruised for him, ached for it, wanted these men to take exactly what they needed from me.
I won’t give anything away, but I think I held my breath for a good sixty seconds or so while reading “Facing the Dark.” Multiple times.
As someone with an invisible chronic illness, I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to see issues of disability addressed thoroughly as well as elements of it simply woven casually into much of the collection. When disclosing my heart condition to potential play partners, I’ve experienced too many tops who go from looking at me like “I’m going to eat you alive, little girl” to “You poor thing.” Ugh. I hate that. And so to see characters tearing into each other fiercely, not back down from their desires, while checking in about limits they’ve discussed was so very hot. Xan had a lot of beautiful things to say about writing disability into erotica here.
“Dancing for Daddy” hit close to home for a Daddy-loving girl like myself.
I trust my Daddy, trust that she will push me, will be good to me, will stop if I need it, will care for me if I fall apart. I trust that she is not like the ones who abused me, that she’s not out to destroy me, but in this for our mutual pleasure. I trust that she will create a safe space for me to be a little girl, just as she trusts me to create a safe space for her to be a Daddy. Part of why we do this is about gender, about that special magic where we each are seen and desired in our complex genders.
It is a strange thing to deliberately choose this. But then so much of sexuality, and especially BDSM, is strange. We are truly perverse, those that choose this. And we fly so high. The danger, the triggers, give this sort of play a charge. It’s electric and exciting and scary as hell. And I love it.
Xan also manages to weave in issues of consent and safer sex without skipping a beat.
Some piece of me notices it is lubed and condomed, and marvels at her skill in doing so without me knowing. She knows that Daddy wants her little girl too much to be bothered with lube and condoms. She also knows that my adult self would never consent to sex without them. This notice is momentary. My headspace is strong, and her cock is large for me even when I am feeling adult. In a child’s headspace, it is gigantic, and I am so afraid she is ripping me open.
I loved hearing a top’s appreciation for such strength in the vulnerability of bottoming in “Strong”—tied up for my gratitude of the depiction of tops in Show Yourself To Me as being human, not impenetrable, and having their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well.
She is so strong. I can’t imagine seeking this level of exposure, this level of vulnerability. She awes me.
* * *
This was more than just dominance. When I take my masculinity and rub it against her girlness, I feel gigantic, and she is so fragile in comparison. This is one of the lines we ride with this kind of play, and one of the many risks inherent in it is that it might actually reduce her in her own eyes or in mine—that I, or she, might actually be unable to see how strong she is. Part of the intensity comes with the risk. At that moment, I stepped outside the scene just a bit, to check in with myself, to read her a bit closer before sinking back into it.
That level of honesty in the riskiness of this type of play, followed by the accountability and willingness to check in left me breathless.
She once told me, “Being a girl is like being without armor. Sometimes like being without skin even. Your power is in your vulnerability and openness. Most of the time, girl is not a safe thing to be. That’s why I treasure being your girl. It’s a safe place to touch that danger and roll around with it.”
I wrote a story for Sinclair Sexsmith’s site, Sugarbutch Chronicles, recently that focuses on a similar type of vulnerability around embracing one’s girl identity. And after it was published, it left me feeling exposed (as I knew it would, as I consented to and was part of my plan all along), and reading these words while I struggled to sit with those uncomfortable feelings felt like the best type of affirmation. Like I wasn’t alone. Like these parts of me were seen and honored and venerated.
I really appreciated the emphasis put on negotiation, the very real effects of racism in BDSM circles, and having one’s pack around as support when playing with someone new in “The Tale of Jan and Tam.”
Tam drew them out a bit about their kink history, spending time to talk about racist shit in the scene and the way hir pack of kinky queers of color engaged around race. They talked physical capacity, for both of them, and then finished negotiating, establishing limits, shared language (“mercy” for slow down, “please” for hit me harder), and honorifics (Tam said using “Sir” would keep hir anchored). It felt important to name these things, given how deep they were going to go and how little they knew about each other, really. The ritualized conversation over a meal settled them both.
And then how the bottom followed up, providing the grounding the top needed in order to continue on with an intense scene.
“Please, Sir,” Jan said firmly. “I want this so bad. Please hurt me. Please scare me. I am going to stay right here, Sir. I want this.”
Tam relaxed. That’s right. Jan wanted to hold the space with hir.
So rarely do we hear people safe-wording in erotica—in this story, Xan wove in “mercy” a couple times—that character’s “slow down” (or “yellow”) safe-word. Which just goes to show how hot safe-wording can be and how it doesn’t have to break the magic of a scene (unless, of course, it’s a red type safe-word in which case stopping everything is the whole point).
Just stay here, they told themself. Just stay here. You can do it. Tam had on metal claws now and was scratching their chest with them. Damn. Claws on Jan’s nipples felt hot and scary at the same time, and they shivered. Tam gripped their throat with hir claws and growled, and Jan went still, telling themself not to move. Tam pressed even deeper with the claws, and Jan’s heart shot into their throat.
“Mercy,” they whispered. Tam grinned and eased up just a bit on the claws, still holding their throat, just not quite so hard.
* * *
What better night than Halloween for transformative play, for going after what they wanted, for engaging in the kind of scene that bridged the skills they knew from topping with a claiming of their desire for pain.
Happy Halloween, y’all! This is my treat for you. ;)
It’s always a good sign when I have to struggle with which quotes to include in a review. Meaning, of course, that I basically wanted to copy and paste the whole damn thing into this blog post for y’all to read. Well executed erotica always takes longer for one to review than one might expect. One tends to get…distracted…from time to time. In the case of this collection, it took me far too long to complete my task at hand because my hands were often occupied with other “tasks.” I hope this high praise inspires you to run out and buy a copy of Show Yourself To Me for yourself. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
For ebook or print copies at Go Deeper Press: http://godeeperpress.com/projects/show-yourself-to-me-by-xan-west/
For ebook or print copies on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Show-Yourself-Me-Queer-Erotica-ebook/dp/B015RVWLGM/ref=dondes-20