[Note: Xan West does not use pronouns and goes by “Xan.”]
Language is powerful. It has the ability to enhance and validate someone’s experience, just as it has the ability to invalidate. Erotica writers are especially imbued with this influence, as their work requires them to describe bodies, sexual acts, and lived experiences more intimately than most. Unfortunately, much erotica presumes a default subject: a white, young, able-bodied cisgender person.
Xan West is the author of Show Yourself to Me: Queer Kink Erotica, a collection of 24 BDSM-focused stories that subvert the traditional narrative and strive for more diverse character representation. Xan is also a disabled top and writes many stories from a top’s point of view. In efforts to portray disabled characters more often, Xan sometimes has to edit previously-written material. That’s the situation addressed in Xan’s blog post, “Writing Erotica as a Disabled Top.”
Toying with a story that had been rolling around in Xan’s head for a while (tentatively titled “Packing”), Xan felt something wasn’t quite coming together. Upon closer examination, it became clear:
I noticed something I had missed entirely. I had once again written a top that was able bodied and invulnerable, and it was embedded in my language, in small word choices everywhere, along with larger frameworks. Because I hadn’t decided that the top was disabled, hadn’t decided what the tops vulnerabilities or struggles or capacities were before I wrote. Had just tried to make those sentences into a beginning without that kind of deciding. And my default was a non-disabled top, an invulnerable top, a top that wasn’t grappling with the kinds of things that are everyday for me in my own life.
So, the editing began. When the new draft was finished, the phrase “I push my boots into the floor” had been removed, and several other references had been changed as follows:
The leather round my hips and thighs focuses my attention on my own skin, the way I walk, stand, sit.
The leather round my hips and thighs focuses my attention on my own skin, the way I move, gesture, and feel in my body, pain and all.
When I strap my cock on, I step into my dominance. When I stride back into the room…
When I strap my cock on, I sink into my dominance. Scooting back into the room…
She takes the first step towards letting go, sinking into her submission.
She takes the first move towards letting go, slipping into her submission.
These sentences serve as an important reminder that even small alterations can make stories more accessible. Xan hopes that as time goes on, Xan can learn to write from disabled perspective from the get-go, rather than editing to reflect one. This is a great mission — the world needs more erotica that consciously depicts the beautiful diversity of bodies and identities. That’s why we love collections such as Ageless Erotica, Can’t Help the Way That I Feel, Curvy Girls, and now, Show Yourself to Me.