Unfuckable in the Lit World

This is in a semi-series of memoir literary essays about how I’ve grown up to be the writer I am. See the first one here*(behind the paywall) and the second here.

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Years ago when I started to dip my toes into the pool of literary fiction, I was new to the internet. Webcams, camera phones and selfies weren’t ubiquitous yet. My internet presence consisted of a cartoon Black girl with purple hair and devil horns and the unsexiest email address I could come up with. I’d learned the hard way that the impression of womanhood would mean messages from strange men wanting to fuck my feet or ear or whatever.

I was shy and often after submitting to literary magazines would stew about how dumb I was for trying. I always felt like I was reaching above my station and then, an editor noticed me. To be transparent, I don’t remember what magazine it was or what his name was. I do remember his kind words and interest in me. My story was too sexy for his magazine but, his email was full of his interest in me and my work. I felt seen for the first time, noticed and plucked from the slush pile to maybe begin the kind of correspondence with a more experienced writer I’d dreamed about.

Between emails, he must have followed some of my links. When he found out I’d written erotica his interest increased. The tone of his emails changed, he stopped complimenting my potential and as he put it, rawness and started asking me questions. Looking back, I was so naïve. I thought his probing and occasionally graphic questions were writer to writer. He asked how I wrote my erotica, he had his favorites and asked if I had ever orgasmed that way or how I came up with what I did. At the time, I wrote some custom erotica and treated his questions like business.

It was not business.

When he asked for my ICQ (yes it was really that long ago) I gave it to him gladly. I was often up to all hours and eager to learn from this man. Hindsight being what it is, I have to shake my head a little bit at myself. He wasn’t as slick as I’m sure he thought he was. He went from asking about what I was working on, to asking to see snippets to awkward attempts at cybersex that were not sexy in the least. He liked that I liked kink but nothing too gross to him, he hated to hear that I was writing anything other than erotica, he asked for photos of me for months.

A friend of mine got a webcam and one drunken night I finally had a photo of myself to put online. It was grainy and dark, I was in profile and laughing. I remember that photo because I felt pretty, my bare shoulder in the frame, my skin lit with a dim light. I felt elegant and mysterious, I used it as my author photo for a long time after that. The next time this man asked me for a photo I was ready.

I sent it to him and he took a long time to respond. In the months following we spoke less and less, I’m pretty sure he blocked me on ICQ and when I emailed to see how he was doing he wrote me a long, it’s not you it’s me email as if we’d been dating or close to it. He said how much luck he wished me in my literary career and that he regretted that “we didn’t work out”.

My unattractiveness to White men became my safety net. Over the years this sort of thing has happened again and again, but my unfuckableness has been a shield I have hidden behind in order to avoid being exploited in that way. I’ve seen it happen to other young writers, older writers, mainly women and femmes. I’ve seen the beautiful writers who for a moment are the shining wonders of whatever brolit is of the moment and then when they say no, or when they come out and say this happened and this is how I feel about it, then men turn on them. They turn on all of us.

I admit, at times I’ve been bitter. I’ve watched it happen and understood perfectly what position I’ve been in. The initial interest, then the gentle let downs. The ghosting. It can’t be my imagination when, they stop contact upon seeing my face.

Those experiences shaped where I am now. When the men found me unfuckable, I found a new level of freedom. Without the dangling carrot of publication, mentorship or membership in esoteric virtual lit clubs, I wrote like I didn’t care about them. That was the first lesson in how to start being the writer I wanted to be.

The rejection of me as a sexual being hurt in the beginning. My ego was wounded, my idea of my own beauty was bruised until I realized, I didn’t want to be wanted by these men. I saw what happened to their discarded darlings and that was not the trajectory I wanted as an artist. Given recent revelations about so many abusive men in publishing, part of me is so thankful for my ugliness. Life has been enough of a misadventure and my creative life is not pristine but, not one of those men has left their mark.

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