When I walked into Ships in the Night, a QTPOC dance party in Oakland, I was looking to get fucked. I’d just broken up with someone I’d later name as emotionally and sexually abusive but who, at the time, I was completely heartbroken over. I couldn’t let the last fingers that grazed my pussy be theirs, I wanted those cells to be scraped away by someone new, someone who hadn’t hurt me.
Before I’d come to the party, I’d intentionally left my phone at my friend’s place and dipped the edge of my pinky into a microdose of molly. Now on a dim, red-lit dance floor, strobe lights bouncing off my glasses, I was surrounded by babes. I rarely go to bars; the people and the lights and the energy flying around tends to be too much stimulation. Now, though, I knew my purpose: I wanted someone to finger me in one of the booths, I wanted to make out in a bathroom stall, I wanted to be the queer, single, slut that I’d never been.
I saw a girl staring at me. Her long, straight black hair flew out from the sides of her backwards-baseball cap. As soon as she caught me staring back, her eyes widened and she walked away. I wandered the club with my friend and saw her talking to someone else at the bar downstairs. She moved with an ease and grace that only West Coast East Asians have, a fucking cool that comes from being surrounded by people like you — the same kind of cool that my ex had. I assumed she was dating the girl she was talking to, but as I walked by, shot a look her way.
Upstairs, I danced with my friend. When we took a break, I saw her staring again. This time, I waved. She pointed to herself and gave me a quizzical look like, “Who, me?” I made a “come on over” motion with my first finger and she shook her head, but then pointed at me and motioned for me to come there. I shrugged, walked straight up to her, and shouted into her ear, “So why are you staring?”
She laughed and turned away. “It’s that obvious, huh?” I nodded and smiled. “You’re really hot.”
It was less than a minute before I knew her job, a nurse like me, her three major star signs, and that she liked my tits. It took five minutes for us to start kissing, ten for me to get on her lap in a booth. I wanted her to fuck me right there; she wanted to take me home. She asked key questions that made me trust her: “How high or drunk are you?” and, “Who are you with? I want to make sure someone knows where you’re going.” We found my friend, they exchanged numbers, and I got in her car.
By the time we got to her bed, the cool that I’d seen had dissipated. She was awkward and repeated that she never went to clubs, never brought girls home. Forward-ass femme that I was, I interpreted that shyness as an opportunity to initiate. My technique didn’t quite work, though — she wanted to review my STD history and sexual activity, she wanted to know my triggers.
A week out of a relationship that had been so abusive, this was hot. Like, yes, daddy, make me wait so we can find out how to respect both my and your boundaries. We made out in-between questions, clothes came off, and by the time her fingers grazed just below my clit, I was soaking.
“So, you seem a little too comfortable,” she said. “I want to get you out of your comfort zone.”
I grinned. This is what I’m here for, I thought. “What do you want to do me?” I whispered, tilting my chin up at her earnestly.
“I want to tie you up,” she said.
I retracted instantly. Of course she does, everyone wants to tie a Scorpio up. “Yeah, no, I don’t want to do that.” I explained — I’d only done that with certain people, every time I’d cried and it was an incredibly emotional experience, and she was literally a stranger. I had no reason to trust her with that level of vulnerability.
She kept her finger just below my clit. “Has anyone ever touched this spot while you’re falling asleep?”
“No,” I said, annoyed. “I just want to fuck, I’m not going to sleep here.”
“Well, it’s nice. You wake up so ready to go. I think you’re just too comfortable and you could really use getting tied up.”
This went on for over an hour — her asking to tie me up, me becoming increasingly frustrated and repeating, “It’s a hard no.”
I didn’t leave, though. Desperation, loneliness, and boredom are never the best reasons to engage sexually—it’s scarcity by another name—and because I didn’t want to leave my previous relationship damaged, closed off, or traumatized (read: I was all three), I was willing to put up with the kind of boundary-pushing that I hadn’t even started recovering from.
So, when she finally set her fingers against my clit, I hate-humped her until I came. Since I’d been there for over an hour of being teased and pushed in extremely not-sexy ways, it was now four in the morning and I wanted to go home. I asked her to order me a Lyft, since I didn’t have my phone.
“Well, I don’t have Lyft or Uber. I uninstalled them and I don’t want to go through the set-up process again. But, if you let me tie you up, I’ll drive you home.”
“Well if you stay the night, maybe I could tie you up in the morning and drive you home.”
“Well, how do you want to get home, then?”
I was livid. I asked for her phone, called my friend, and she ordered a Lyft to pick me up. I got dressed quickly and rushed out of the house — what the fuck just happened.
The next day, I nervously told the story to a friend and asked, “Is that normal in kink communities? To just be down for whatever? Should I have expected that? Is there something wrong with me that I said no?”
When she replied, “That is not normal. That is a person who doesn’t know about consent.” I cried. I’d internalized so many toxic messages: that my only value rested in being fucked and in pleasing whoever was telling me what to do; that as a femme, I’m here to perform pleasure for someone else; that if someone wanted to push me past my limits, it was my own fault.
The thing is: sometimes I like feeling disposable, in feeling like I’m just a bunch of holes that someone else is using for their pleasure. I like getting fucked. I’m a femme of color who’s biked across continents; I’m the only one who determines what happens tomorrow, next week, and next year. I know I’m fucking powerful so, sometimes, I like to release control, let someone else do the work and have the power, and let me relax until my pussy and ass open. That only works, though, when there’s a history of boundaries having been respected. That only works if I’m not scared and stressed. That only works if I’m not angry because my boundaries are being repeatedly disrespected.
The vulnerability I offer through my body is a gift. No one is entitled to the vulnerability I grant them when I release control or the softness I can embody when I trust them. Just because someone wants that from me — just because I seem “too comfortable” — doesn’t mean they’re entitled to it. When I offer my body to a lover, there’s a sense of responsibility with this gift. Vulnerability cannot be forced. If, and when, I choose to be vulnerable with someone, my body will relax, open, and drip.
I didn’t know I was being violated until it was happening. This was true with my sexually abusive ex; it was true with this random girl; it’s been true in emotional and sexual situations since then. It’s taken a long time to figure out what boundaries feel good and how those shift depending on how much I trust someone.
When I have casual sex, I’ve learned that I’m often not having sex with the person, but imposing a series of emotions onto other people based on what’s going on with me at the time. They’re doing the same to me. Hell, I’ll be the first to admit that I was using that girl to help get over my ex, but that doesn’t mean that I deserved to be coerced into anything that I don’t want. It doesn’t mean that anyone should assume that just because I’m a femme, that means I’m a passive, receiving bottom, or that just because I’m a Scorpio means I want to be tied up (honestly! stop doing this people!).
It does mean that when I’m having casual sex, I do not offer the kind of vulnerability I might give a partner. My boundaries shift depending on what relationship I have with a person. When I walked into Ships that night, I was excited to be the single slut of my own dreams, but what I’ve learned from this period of casual dating is how delicious it can be to take it slow, how affirming it is to know we’re on our own journeys as we learn and share experiences together. Slowness doesn’t mean that I don’t get tied up (yes, I like to be tied up by very specific people!). It means that I ask for it when the time is right, when I actually trust someone and know them to be capable of doing it respectfully, and when I know that’s something that they might be into. I approach things differently — often, via text, to give people time to think about it — rather than demanding immediate responses to new, potentially triggering, sex acts.
And yeah, still, there are times when something doesn’t feel good, when I have to ask a partner to stop, when something that felt good last week doesn’t feel good now. It’s okay that I often don’t know if something’s wrong until I feel it. I love that I have sex partners who I can now trust enough to voice what’s going on with me. I’ll never put up with the kind of coercion the domme from Ships put me through again.
Originally published by Autostraddle
Image by Sarah Sarwar