The Chronic Pain & Pleasure Collection
Introductory Author’s Note:
There are so many things I've wanted to be. Or rather, there are so many things I’ve been taught to want to be. Growing up I’d imagine futures and pursuits as limitless as I thought my potential was. It's something we’re trained to do when we're young: imaginative play fills us with ideas— endless possible futures as pilots or mothers or doctors. We spend much of our youth thinking about the things we could be, but, as we grow, we learn our limits, be they societal, emotional, or physical.
In my case, it was a vicious combination of all three.
Ahead is a candid conversation about intersectional identity and personal pleasure. Some of you may find this boring (it is a kink blog, after all). Some of you will think I'm running the triathlon in my own Oppression Olympics. And some of you will relate to this in ways that are entirely your own.
What’s ahead is both true and mine. There's no other way to start a project like this.
Part 1: The Pleasures of Knowledge and My Knowledge of Pleasure.
When one is constantly sick as a child, they get slightly better than other kids at imaginative play. I couldn't run around like my peers. I never got on the monkey bars because I was terrified of falling and hurting myself. I ran from bees for fear of being stung; and I still flee from spiders.
I carried so much fear growing up, as I grew up in a fragile body. Where some kids felt invincible, I felt incredibly breakable.
My first best friend had a collection of "break-ly dolls:" porcelain girls wearing period costumes. We never played with them. They watched our slumber parties from the safety of the high shelves above her dresser. It seems fitting that she collected me too. I was so delicate, yet incapable of protecting myself from my own weaknesses. I watched my life from the safety of the high shelves, participating as much as I could, while constantly watching for chips in this fragile armor.
So much of my life I've felt like a spectator instead of a participant. I didn't have a body that participated well; especially not in public, where I ran slower than everyone and still spent twice as long catching my breath.
It was only in private that I could let myself be unlimited despite my limits. My imagination went wild and my private moments became my sanctuary.
I began to put myself on paper. I was, and still am, obsessed with diaries, even though I've never had the energy to maintain any sort of daily routine. I drew constantly. I spent time online trying to become an artist and, incidentally (or prophetically), I explored online communities that I was almost definitely too young for at the time.
They thrilled me. I learned to keep secrets. I learned to lie just enough. I built a double-life that soon felt like two separate ones. Soon those little white lies disappeared altogether. I wasn’t keeping secrets about my life, as I was somehow inhabiting what truly felt like a completely separate space entirely.
Somehow, my truth became totally separate from the life I was watching. There was who I was, then there was me in public. Who I was at school was different than who I was at church, rehearsal, or even home. Yet somehow, in the hideaways I had constructed between journal pages and errant thoughts, I was free to be myself (still someone else entirely).
I had become something duplicitous. No longer was there my body and my self. I had multiple selves, all vying to express themselves in the one flawed vessel they inhabited. I had no idea who I was, and no limits on who I wasn't. I wanted to fulfill my own fantasy life. I created a rolodex of potential selves, each more glamorous and unattainable than the last. I was constantly seeking change, as I had yet to be anything that had satisfied me. I was constantly waiting to metamorphose; to emerge from one of my sad stupors (moments that, in my adulthood, I would recognize as early signs of depression) and feel complete. I’d emerge from my cocoon and feel strong, lovely, and capable; finally ready for a world that had never prepared for me.
The only thing harder than growing up Black in the American south, was growing up smart, Black, Queer, and disabled in these predominantly White places, where physicality was built into the culture as glorified.
So I began to glorify my body.
In a way, I was lucky: growing up a girl, it's okay if one of your goals is just to be pretty. It's one of the things society teaches us is essential to femininity. Be pretty, sexy even. Hold yourself with poise and no one will notice anything else. Just make yourself palatable (i.e., attractive) and that'll satisfy them.
I became fascinated with the ways a woman could not only become desirable, but use that desirability as power.
It was the only power I felt I had. I went after it—clumsily and with many failures—but I pursued it nonetheless.
Being a Black girl below the Mason-Dixon (especially in the predominantly white, suburban communities that were the backdrop of my youth), I was never the right color to fit my local beauty standards. I knew this somewhere inside, that way children always know things, but ignored it. If media had taught me anything it was to be bold, but not too bold. I was a silent sentimentalist. I had an endless string of crushes, my heart flitting across the short list of boys I could fit into that keyhole in my brain. I took my matching string of awkward interactions in stride. After all, isn’t that part of the game?
Part of school was, of course, all the trappings of compulsory heterosexuality. In elementary I played house with other girls and any boy we could ensnare. We would giggle and squeal over who would be husband and wife. That carried into middle school as talk about crushes (from celebrities to classmates) and all the supposedly amazing ways this infatuation made you feel became the driving force behind my peers' conversations.
Yet, as we got older and other girls found boys more and more interesting, that keyhole in my brain I thought would open the door to attraction, romance, and all those things I was socialized (by the age of 5, by the way) to want, shrunk. It grew narrower as my interest lessened. Soon I didn't get how people had crushes on boys at all (but that’s another day's story). Wasn't it supposed to be fun? Instead of gratification, I experienced only clumsy rejections and consistent embarrassment.
Where were the good parts?
I soon discovered that I had the good parts.
Children's play is often filled with clumsy portrayals of sex as a vague concept. I applied that vague concept (poorly) to myself, searching blindly for the elusive happiness that people could supposedly experience, and with their bodies for goodness's sake!
Honestly, it all sounded like an elaborate lie. Bodies could do a lot, but in my history, nearly all of it had hurt. Surely, anything else I would hopefully know about by now, right? How many doctors and specialists had I met over the course of my life? Wouldn't one of them bring up this supposed secret?
But pleasure extends beyond biology, even though our biology is where it manifests. Even with proper, comprehensive sex-ed and the input of my caretakers, I likely would have found myself in the exact same spot. Disabled people don't often get much time or energy dedicated to our sex lives, especially not for slow intimate explorations of our pleasure. My chronic pain is truly chronic, all the time, no matter what. That doesn’t change just because I want it to, no matter how badly my mind and body could benefit from an orgasm. Orgasm as an idea was already intimidating. It was poorly represented in porn and even erotica. If all I was supposed to wait for was when my thighs were shaking, then I would need a much more specific definition, else I’d have to re-evaluate many walks I’ve gone on.
Between trying to keep up with my peers, grades, body, and ever-warring passions, I'd never stopped and thought about what actually felt good.
I decided to go on a hunt for pleasure.
In my hunt, I dedicated my first summer home from college to getting to know my body. I knew plenty about sex. My fumbling had taken me from pornography to erotica to fanfiction and smut comics. I even read university literature about the erotic (and erotic university literature). I knew by now where to find anonymous roleplay partners and had been learning with every conversation what turned me on and what didn't.
I had so much information for the inputs I thought would do the trick, and grew frustrated when my output was far from the satisfaction of 'putting out.'
People I was in college with lauded the things they could feel with partners, but I didn't want my pleasure to be the responsibility of someone else. Even though I constantly fantasized about an extra set of hands, if only to give mine a rest, there was never really a person in that space; just a vague concept, like a stranger in a dream. Even if I had wanted the help of an extra person, the finding and wooing of another meant thrusting myself into the ableist romantic structures of university life. There, I felt less like a huntress and more like the hunted.
I soon realized that the ways I'd been taught to navigate pleasure wouldn't work for me. All I learned by trying it the "normal" way (which is a senseless title even as I type it, as there is no "normal" or even "expected" way to teach yourself pleasure) was that the "elusive female orgasm" was something I wanted to find long before I could consider sharing myself with another person.
And when I did, it was the first truly good sensation my body had ever given me.
I laid dazed on the floor, staring at the wall as I caught my breath, mind reeling between "eureka" and "let's do that again!"
My heart was pounding. So was my head. In the come-down, I could feel intimately the way my blood was rushing, misshapen cells bouncing frantically against each other. I knew the ache that was coming, but I couldn't bring myself to mind it.
My hunt for pleasure had yielded its first kill, yet I had never felt so full of life.