Finding Joseph – A Cedar Breaks Christmas – Chapter 2

Missed Chapter 1? Find it here

Content Warning: This is a sexy Christmas story. There is cursing and sex and if you’re sensitive about the Nativity, you might not want to read to the end. I’ll release at least one chapter a week until Christmas. Enjoy!

Photo by Ambar Simpang on Pexels.com

Chapter Two – Jenny

Jenny was used to people underestimating her. For one thing, she was only five feet tall. For another thing, she was an Asian woman. No one came to her for help unless there was math involved — and she was terrible at math. She usually enjoyed flouting expectations, and it was frustrating as hell to have to ask for help, even from a tall, gorgeous mountain man with icy blue eyes and a deliciously full brown beard. She’d been imagining sitting on his face from the moment those cool blue eyes looked into hers. It was a complication she didn’t need. She just needed a place to hole up, earn some money, and build her strength back up until the lawsuit settled. Then she’d head back to LA and continue kicking ass. If Jake Connors could tell her where to get some decent whiskey, great. But that’s all she needed him for.

Once they got this beam out of the damn floor.

It took twenty minutes to borrow the tools from Burke, and another hour to get all of the bolts and screws and other improbable hardware out of the stupid thing. Jake helped her drag it outside, then they went back into the classroom and he swept up the debris while she did a hopping victory lap, humming the theme from Rocky. She finished her lap and playfully smacked Jake on the butt. “Come on. I’ll buy you lunch.”

The look on his face almost made her laugh. You’re not in LA anymore, she reminded herself.

“Sorry,” she said, “I shouldn’t smack people immediately after we’ve met.”

“How long do you usually wait?”

It sounded like an invitation, and she briefly imagined this beautiful burly man on his knees in front of her. She was tempted to push the issue, but it probably wasn’t a good idea to offer to beat a man she’d just met, so she smiled and said, “I at least buy them lunch first. Any suggestions?”

“Well, there’s the Dairy Freeze. They have great burgers & shakes. Or there’s Mountain Pizza. And there’s a pretty good Mexican place.”

“I’m not sure I can face Utah Mexican food yet. But a burger sounds amazing.”

“Great. I’ll drive.”

He led the way to a Ford F-250 and unlocked the doors with his remote. The old blue truck was splattered with mud, but it looked like he took pretty good care of it otherwise. He’d outfitted it with a lift kit, light bars, and a locking tonneau cover. Nice tires, too.

“Why does a math teacher need an F-250?” She asked him.

He looked surprised. “It has heated seats.”

She laughed. She was relieved that he didn’t insist on helping her up until she tried to get into the cab. And couldn’t. Just a year ago she would have lifted herself up with one arm. But she was still too fucking weak. She was furious and embarrassed when Jake had to come around to help her.

He went to one knee and cupped his hands for her to use as a step. She could see his strong shoulders bunching under his red plaid flannel shirt. She imagined ripping his shirt off, running her hands over those muscles, before gripping his head and pressing his mouth to her clit. Get it together, Jen. She must have stared at him a minute too long, because he turned red, like he could read her thoughts, and she quickly stepped onto his hands and into the passenger seat before she could say something really stupid.

“A lift kit, too, huh?” She teased him when he climbed into the driver’s seat.

He shrugged, stretching the fabric of his shirt. She had to stop staring. “My cabin’s kind of remote. You wouldn’t believe how often I have to drive over a fallen tree or climb a mudslide.”

The burger place wasn’t far, and in a few minutes Jake pulled into a large parking space, in between a Chevy Silverado and a Ram 3500. Attached to the restaurant was a convenience store and gas station, and a huge parking area in the back had a few semi trucks.

Jenny wasn’t feeling too confident about a gas station burger, but all she said was, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many different kinds of pickup trucks in one place.”

Jake looked around the parking lot like it hadn’t ever occurred to him.“Trucks are practical. What do you drive?”

“A Prius.”

Jake laughed. “You’re going to want something different before the snow starts. But if you can’t handle a truck –”

She cut him off. “I can handle any vehicle you put in front of me. I drive a Prius for the gas mileage, not because I’m afraid of a truck.”

“I didn’t mean – ”

“Yeah, the men in this town aren’t used to women who can do things. I’ve only been here a week and I’ve figured that out.” Sweet hell, Jenny, quit biting the head off the only person in this town who knows how to get a drink.

Jake started to say something, then changed his mind, hopped out of the truck and came around to the other side to help her get down. She imagined doing a front aerial out of the truck, just to show off. Except that she wasn’t sure she could land it, and her leg buckling under her would probably activate Jake’s damsel-in-distress mode. So she put her hands on his shoulders and let him swing her out of the truck. She could feel the soft flannel of his shirt, his biceps bulging under her arms, and fuck, the man smelled good. Like spruce trees and wood smoke. She wanted to bury her face into his chest and take a deep breath.

Bad idea, Jen. She let go and stepped ahead of him into the restaurant. He waved to a few people who waved back and stared at her.

They ordered at the counter and sat down in a booth. Jake fiddled with the straw of his Coke and finally said, “I just meant that a Subaru might be a good option for you. They handle really well in the snow but they’re closer to the ground.”

“I’ll think about it.” She tore the wrapper off her straw and pushed it into the plastic lid of the cup.

“I know a guy in Vegas. I can give him a call, see what he has. Save you some money.”

Her strawberry shake was so thick she couldn’t suck it through the straw. Hopefully the burgers beat expectations, too. “You know a guy in Vegas? Does he sell cars, or kill people, or both?”

“Uh…”

“The Prius will be fine.” She was a little more curt than she meant to be. She told herself it was just because her leg was throbbing and her entire body ached. She just wanted to eat her lunch, take twenty ibuprofen, and lay in bed with a heating pad. She didn’t like how weak that made her feel, and she sure as hell didn’t want this compelling stranger to see how weak she felt.

And she definitely needed to stop thinking about spanking him.

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Finding Joseph – A Cedar Breaks Christmas – Chapter 1

 

Content Warning: This is a sexy Christmas story. There is cursing and sex and if you’re sensitive about the Nativity, you might not want to read to the end. I’ll release at least one chapter a week until Christmas. Enjoy!

photography of couple holding hands
Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

Chapter One

The entire town of Cedar Breaks was talking about the new high school drama teacher. They were talking about it at Breaking Bread, when Jake stopped to get a cup of crappy coffee. They were talking about it at the Post Office when Jake went in to collect the mail that had piled up during the three weeks he’d been camping in the wilderness of Southern Utah. And they were talking about it at the high school, when he went in a scarce three days before the fall semester started.

He stopped by the shop classroom to return the air compressor he’d borrowed from Burke Allred at the beginning of the summer and saw Cathy Pettinger a moment too late. So much for an early start, he thought. Cathy and Burke had been working at the high school since it was built in the late 80s and knew the life history of everyone in the town. The two of them were shameless gossips and weren’t above making things up if they didn’t know the truth.

“Did you hear about the new drama teacher?” Cathy asked him excitedly. “They say she’s from Hollywood.”

Yep, Jake had heard that. “What happened to Mr. Powell?”

“Heart attack.” Cathy answered. “At the Pioneer Day parade. It scared Emma Monson so bad she peed her pants. Her mom had to start potty training all over.”

“His son came right up and hauled him down to St. George. Didn’t even ask him if that was what he wanted, just up and moved him.” Burke said. “If that ever happens to me, just shoot me. My daughter-in-law can’t cook worth a darn and won’t let me go to Wendy’s.”

“They have an In-and-Out in St. George now,” said Cathy. “I wonder if Mrs. Yang will go eat there.”

“I thought that was a burger place,” said Burke.

“It is.” Cathy said.

“Why would she eat there? I thought Orientals didn’t eat meat.”

Jake sighed. He didn’t even know how to begin to unpack all of this. He wondered if the new drama teacher knew what she was getting into.

“That’s not Orientals, that’s Indians.” Cathy corrected him. “And you’re not supposed to call them Orientals, you’re supposed to call them Asian-Americans.”

“Or you could just call me Jenny.”

Jake turned around and saw what must be the new drama teacher framed in the doorway. She was wearing a grey sleeveless tee and faded jeans, her short, spiky, dark brown hair showing off a row of earrings and a scar that bisected her eyebrow. She was not at all what Jake had expected, when he’d heard she was Asian. He had mentally filled in the blanks and expected a petite, sexy woman with long dark hair. And while there was no doubt that this woman was damn sexy, she wasn’t the shy, submissive woman he’d pictured, and he was ashamed of himself.

And I’m probably the most progressive person in this town. He had a sinking feeling as he realized that the woman standing in front of him was not going to fit in to this small, white, Mormon community.

Cathy, at least, looked guilty, but Burke took the opportunity to embarrass himself even further, asking her – Jenny – where she was from.

“I’m from LA,” she answered.

“I mean where are you really from. Originally.” His voice got louder, like she hadn’t understood him, and he was peering at her like she was a zebra in a zoo.

“Oh. Tampa.”

“Did she say Japan?” Burke asked Cathy in what he might have thought was a quiet voice.

“I’m Jake,” he stood up and walked to the door, holding his hand out. As she took it to shake, he noticed another healed laceration across her knuckles, and a patch of raised and puckered skin that extended up the back of her arm and across her shoulder before disappearing under her shirt. He looked at it a moment too long and then hastily raised his eyes to her face. She lifted her eyebrows and met his eyes levelly.

“Jenny Nguyen,” she replied, grasping his hand with surprising strength. “I have a problem in my classroom and I was wondering if you might be willing to help.”

“Lead the way,” he said.

He followed her out the door, and as they walked down the hallway toward the Drama department, he tried to make excuses for Burke.

“Sorry about that. He’s a good guy, really, he’s just…”

“An old white racist?” Jenny asked.

Jake frowns. “Well, yeah.” He wanted to tell her that not everyone in Cedar Breaks was like that, but to one extent or another, they probably were.

They got to her classroom and he looked at it in astonishment. The previous drama teacher had built a raised stage at one end of the large room. It had been there for years, covering half of the windows and making the entire room feel bleak. Someone had torn the entire thing down. The room was flooded with light.

“Oh my gosh,” he says, automatically censoring himself like he learned to do soon after moving here. “What happened?”

“I tore it down.”

He turns to her in shock. “You tore it down?”

She sighed. “Yes, I tore it down. From the response I’ve been getting, I expect I’ll be wearing a scarlet letter for the rest of the year.”

He laughed. She has a sense of humor. She’ll need it. “I always thought that thing was hideous.”

“It was. I managed to tear most of it down, but look.” She led him to what used to be the front of the stage. There was a heavy black beam attached to the floor, extending from one side of the classroom to the other.

“I can’t budge it,” she said. “And I can’t find any screws or nails or anything that’s holding it down. I tried to get it up with a crowbar and destroyed that part of the floor. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world, because this flooring is terrible. I was thinking maybe a sawzall,” she says. “But I don’t have one.”

For a moment, Jake pictured her powering through the beam with a sawzall, and the image was strangely compelling. “Yeah, I don’t know. All that’s going to do is cut everything up into chunks. It’s not going to remove whatever it is that’s holding it down.”

Jake got down on his knees, closed his eyes and ran his hands over the wood. He remembered Mr. Powell repainting it every year in the five years Jake had been there, so the damn thing was probably covered in twenty years’ worth of paint. He could feel where the beam attached to the wall, then skimmed his hands over the top and sides, moved down a few feet, and did it again.

He opened his eyes to see Jenny staring at him with her eyebrows raised and an amused look on her face. “Is it speaking to you?”

“Sometimes your eyes deceive you,” he explained defensively. “If you let your hands do the work, you can find things your eye skips.”

She had a curious look in her eyes, and he had to turn away, feeling unsettled. It was like she saw right through him.

“Let me see if I can borrow a few things from Burke and then we’ll figure this out.”

“From Burke?”

“Yeah, the shop teacher.”

“I thought you were the shop teacher.”

Yes, he was wearing a flannel shirt and jeans, and no, he hadn’t shaved in over a month. But still… “I teach math. The racist old white dude teaches shop.”

“Oh! Oh! You’re the heathen!” Jenny exclaimed.

“I’m the what now?”

“Cathy told me all about you. You grew up in Las Vegas, moved here five years ago, you live alone up in the mountains, and you’re my best hope for finding a place to get a drink. Or even just a place to buy alcohol, which I understand is a whole thing.”

“And she also told you that I’m available.”

Jenny snorted. “She did. After she asked if I was single.”

He shook his head. “She’s determined to get me married. It would be sweet if it wasn’t so annoying.”

“How often does she try to convert you?”
“Did she invite you to church already?”

Jenny nodded. “And to some… society thing? Is that also church?”

“Relief Society. It’s like… the Women’s Auxiliary or something. They’re good people, mostly.” Jake felt defensive of his adopted community, even though he preferred being alone. “They’re just very… stalwart.”

“Hmm… And are you and I the only non-Mormons?”

“For the most part. I think the guy who owns the truck stop is what they call inactive. Which basically means he grew up Mormon but he doesn’t go to church anymore. And then there are some who are fundamentalists, but they tend to home school. Oh, and I should warn you, they don’t like to be called Mormons. It’s The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Some still say LDS, but there was a big deal made about using the whole thing, so you might want to watch that.”

She nods. “So should I ask Burke to help me with this? Instead of you?”

“Uh, no, Burke is kind of a rule-follower. I’m pretty handy. I can help you.” He told himself it was strictly because he didn’t want to subject her to Burke’s misogyny and racism. Not because he wanted to hang around her longer.

“Well, thanks,” she says. “I appreciate it. Maybe you’ll let me buy you a drink?”

“The only place in a hundred miles to get a decent drink is my house.” He said it without thinking.

Jenny raised an eyebrow and grinned at him. “I guess I’ll just wait for an invitation, then.”

Jake froze. She wasn’t flirting – was she?

“Relax,” she said softly, placing a hand on his forearm. “I was only kidding. I wouldn’t intrude on your sanctuary.”

He wondered if she’d chosen the word casually, or if she’d already heard how private he was. No one in Cedar Breaks had ever been to his house, and he liked it that way. But he hadn’t meant to be rude.

“I’ll teach you the ways of the heathen,” he promised her.

“Deal.”

They shook on it. As Jake looked down at the scarred hand in his, he felt the strangest sense of anticipation.

 

Black Girl Magic

The first time I understood – I mean REALLY understood – Black Girl Magic, at a visceral level, was watching Janelle Monáe perform on SNL.

janelle monae_0

I usually skip the musical guests, because most of the time it’s people I’ve never heard of and don’t care about, and even when it is someone I’ve heard of or care about, the SNL studio can be particularly unforgiving to many musical acts. So I had my finger poised over the FFWD button on the remote when Janelle Monáe appeared onstage. And I sat there on the couch, my finger on the remote, transfixed. There was something about it that made me uncomfortable – the androgyny, the Blackness, the pompadour! — but I couldn’t stop watching.

Janelle MonaeSNL

I saw some Prince influences, some James Brown influence, but mostly she was so unapologetically herself. Running, skidding across the stage, flanked by backup singers in 60’s-style swing dresses, just doing her thing, being in the moment.

I don’t know music very well – I love music, but I’ve always been kind of lazy about it, not really obsessing over it like some of my friends, so when I watched this hybrid performance art — and I mean that’s really what it was, performance art — I found myself without words. I needed to know if everyone else found it as magical and transformative as I did.

My wife, who tends to watch everything with one eye on her computer, glanced up and said, “She’s weird.” And I was like, well, YES. Unapologetically, blatantly, gloriously, gorgeously, HERSELF.

I went online and bought The Electric Lady album. And discovered the song Q.U.E.E.N. And listened. Endlessly wondering about this magic – where does it come from? How does she have it?

Over the last few months I have been lucky enough to work closely with four talented Black actresses, and I’ve seen a different kind of Black Girl Magic with each of them.

I’ve seen a Black Actress be utterly herself onstage, and watched Black women see themselves in her, and nearly wept at what it must mean to be a Black woman in San Diego, and to go to a performance of Shakespeare and see yourself actually represented on that stage by a black woman who is unafraid to use her Blackness to interpret the words of the Bard. I don’t know if I can accurately express how transcendent it is to see the give and take of this actress with black women in the audience. I don’t know if I can really comprehend what it’s like to look on a stage, as a black woman attending a production of a Shakespearean play, and truly see yourself reflected there. Those moments have left me in tears.

I grew up in the Whitest of White neighborhoods. Everything I knew about Black or Brown people I learned from The Cosby Show (Sigh) or 3-2-1 Contact or Sesame Street. Until I went to college, I didn’t know any Latinx, Asian, or Black people.

It may be a form of exoticism for me to marvel at the Blackness I’ve been lucky enough to experience. I hope not. Because all I’m trying to say is – I see you. I hear you. You matter. You’re magic.

 

 

 

 

 

Who Speaks Truth to Power?

I didn’t watch the Roseanne reboot. I always found her unpleasantly brash, and I just wasn’t interested enough to see this weird phenomenon of 80s shows coming back to life like zombies.

roseann

So Roseanne being cancelled because ABC suddenly realized she’s racist made me laugh. I mean, they knew who she was. She’s been telling them for thirty years. (BTW, for the Twue Americans who felt like they needed this blue-collar family in their lives – let’s not forget how she feels about the National Anthem.)

A friend of mine commented that she didn’t feel bad for the people who lost jobs, because they knowingly aligned themselves with her, and they, too, knew who she was. She’s been telling them for thirty years.

And yes, Laurie Metcalf, John Goodman, Sara Gilbert, writers and producers and actors who are in the midst of successful careers, those who aren’t worried about how they’re going to make rent next month whether they take this gig or not – maybe they just didn’t care enough to make an issue of it. Perhaps they didn’t want the scrutiny or criticism that comes from making an issue of it. For them – well, yeah. I don’t feel bad for them. They knew what they were getting into. Not only that, but they have a big enough platform that if they’d chosen to take a stand, it could have had an impact.

But it is notoriously difficult to get work in Hollywood. Some of the most talented, hardworking people I know remain perpetually underemployed, taking any job they can get – whether it’s waiting tables, answering phones, or, maybe, working on a show they don’t wholly believe in, or with people they probably aren’t asking to be in their wedding party. Many of the people who showed up to work on that show may have hoped it could create other opportunities for them. Some may have been ignorant, either blissfully or willfully. Some maybe just needed to pay rent. And some, sadly, have no problem with who she is, what she says, and how she behaves.

Many years ago, I was talking to an actor friend of mine – he has IMDB credits, he works pretty steadily. You wouldn’t recognize his name, but if you saw him on the street he might look vaguely familiar to you. I told him I’d just been pleasantly surprised to see him show up on my screen for a couple of episodes of a show I was re-watching. (okay, it was Angel, be quiet.)

His response was, “Oh? Good. That’ll be a nice little paycheck.” He told me that a good percentage of his income comes from residuals from day-player or recurring character jobs he’s done over the last 20 years. *(See postscript if you want to know more about how this works.)

When networks stopped airing The Cosby Show after Cosby’s abuses came to light, I thought, “Good. Let’s not continue to celebrate him.” But then I thought about all the people who worked on that show over the years – people who didn’t work closely with him, like recurring characters or day players, the people who have relied on residuals, big or small, from those reruns and others to make up a part of their income for years. And I felt for them. And in a way, they’re victims, too.

Would I work on a show like Roseanne? I’d like to say no. But I did work at a regional theatre whose artistic director was an absolute creep, who preyed on actresses and in general treated people like they were disposable. Hearing about his antics disgusted me, but I had no interaction with him and it was my first job out of college and I needed the money and the credit more than I needed to drop a pebble in the ocean. His actions did impact me, though, because when you have someone like that heading a huge organization, there’s a trickle-down effect to every department. This guy is still working, helming huge productions, and his behavior hasn’t caught up with him yet.

Jeffrey Tambor is another example of this problem. I’ve never really liked him (it’s easy to say that now, right?) but I love Arrested Development. It is one of a handful of shows that has been known to make me laugh until I cry. It is clever and subversive and its biting satire has often been the dose of medicine I’ve needed to get through the day. The harassment accusations from Transparent, his treatment of Jessica Walter on the set of Arrested Development as brought to light by the New York Times interview, none of this is surprising to anyone who has worked in this industry for more than five minutes. Is Jessica Walter getting so much work that she can afford turn down a fifth season of Arrested Development because of Tambor? Would her contract even allow her to?

And this just came to light because of what happened on Transparent.

It was a writer on Transparent – a trans woman, Our Lady J – who first publicly supported the claims made Trace Lysette.

What about every other time this happened? Why did it take a transgendered woman, someone who is historically marginalized, who arguably has a lot more to lose, to stand up and say, “I hear you”? Where were her costars or the producers or the directors then? Surely Ron Howard has enough clout to stand up to Jeffrey Tambor. Did he really not know? Or is this kind of behavior, as described by Trace Lysette, so common that it was ignored:

“He came in close, put his bare feet on top of mine so I could not move, leaned his body against me, and began quick, discreet thrust back and forth against my body. I felt his penis on my hip through his thin pajamas,” Lysette says.

That kind of behavior has happened to me so many times that I barely remember some of them. For me, and so many other below-the-line people non-ciswhitemen this has been the price we’ve had to pay to work in this industry. Speaking truth to power has never seemed like a viable option to me – instead, again and again, I’ve left the industry and taken jobs in Corporate America – where the harassment still exists, but it’s usually subtler, and it comes with health insurance.

However. We’re at a critical point, here. People (aka straight cis white men) have gotten away with atrocious behavior for hundreds of years because not enough people were willing to make a stand. I’m no John Goodman, but maybe if I refused to do work at a place where I knew this kind of shit was happening, it could have a ripple effect. Maybe others would, too. Maybe if enough of us stopped working with people who were toxic and abusive, or were willing to stand up to that behavior whether it was directed at us or not, maybe we could create that change.

Are we willing to? Are we at a point where it’s gotten bad enough that we’re going to risk our livelihoods to step up and challenge the patriarchy?

It’s a question I ask myself a lot.

 

Post-script re: Day Players:

Day players are incidental characters who interact with the principals or supporting characters to further the plot, but aren’t seen beyond that. They don’t have a recurring contract, aren’t aligned with a studio, and are called day players because they’re only needed for a day of work. A day player, per the 2012 contract negotiation, makes $889 for a day of work as negotiated by SAG/AFTRA. (If it seems like a lot, keep in mind that most day players aren’t making that every day.)

He’s worked on a ton of shows over the last twenty years, occasionally had recurring roles, but never gotten picked up for anything really big. He told me that he’s lucky. He makes enough money that he doesn’t have to work a second job, but he does count on those residual paychecks. For Angel, he was a recurring character – he appeared in two episodes – so his day rate was slightly higher and his residuals are slightly bigger. (I really don’t have numbers on this, residuals are really complicated. It can range from under a dollar – you get a paper check, in an envelope, in the mail (Seriously, you get a check for 78 cents in the mail to several hundred. Maybe more. Like I said, it’s complicated.)

Sure, a day player could refuse to work on a show – but it’s not a call I could make. Could you turn down $889 for a day of work? I don’t know that I could.

 

Dirty Little Secret

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I had lunch with a lesbian acquaintance the other day. We’d met half a dozen times at various work events, and each time we’d start chatting with each other, finding commonalities in our relationships and world view, only to be interrupted.

 

I hadn’t seen Kerry in about a year, and she reached out, saying that she and her girlfriend were having some issues and she wanted to talk to me about it, specifically because I mentioned in one of our previous conversations that my wife and I had a long separation before getting back together and then eventually (finally) getting married in 2013 (SUCK IT, DOMA!).

 

So we met, and it was a little awkward at first, because as I mentioned, we’d never really hung out. But then we started talking, and she told me intimate things about her relationship — that I won’t share here, because I’m fairly certain she didn’t sign up for her love life details to be splashed, however anonymously, across my blog — and I told her some of the more salacious details about mine — like the time we ran into my wife’s ex and her ex’s girlfriend at a baseball game, and my wife and her ex talked to each other for thirty minutes while the girlfriend and I made awkward small talk.

 

Kerry and I had been talking for an hour and a half, way past the initial awkwardness, when I mentioned a past relationship, carefully editing the pronouns (like I still do when I mention my “spouse” to people I don’t know.) I danced around the details before finally admitting, “I’m bisexual.”

 

Did I hold my breath a little? Did my stomach clench? Possibly, because admitting you’re bisexual to a lesbian can sometimes be like admitting to a Republican you’re pro-choice.

 

There was a pause, and then she said quickly, quietly, “My girlfriend’s bisexual, too.” I recalled that she’d done the pronoun dance earlier in the conversation. And even though neither of us said anything more about it, there was a sigh of relief, because immediately we both kind of figured out that we weren’t going to have to have the argument. The one where a lesbian tries to convince a bisexual that, “Well, technically you’re a lesbian now, because you’re in a committed monogamous relationship with a woman.” Or the “you’re twice as likely to cheat, because you’re not getting what you need in one relationship.”  That one’s  a blast.

 

And it was funny to me, and kind of sad, because we talked about a lot of loaded things — racism, abuse, religion, politics — you’d think bisexuality wouldn’t be one of those.

 

But it still is.

 

And I still do a lot of my own bi-erasure. I self-censor. I self-censor around straight women because I already feel awkward enough about being The Lesbian in the Room. (I told you your hair looks pretty because your hair looks pretty, not because I’m coming on to you.) I self-censor around straight men because I dread the way their eyes light up at the thought of a threesome. I self-censor around lesbians because I really, really don’t want to argue with them about how committed I am to my wife. I self-censor around my religious parents because they can’t understand why, WHY would I choose to be with a woman when I could be just as happy with a man? And I self-censor around my wife, because even though she tries not to be, she’s still kind of hung up on all of those misconceptions, too.

 

So that moment between me and Kerry, where we both breathed a sigh of relief? Maybe that wouldn’t have to happen so often if I were braver, more willing to admit my truth. Maybe I should stand up for myself as vocally and vehemently as I do for trans people, for black people, for immigrants.

 

Maybe it doesn’t have to be my dirty little secret.

Dub-Con, Non-Con in Fiction

I’ve been underemployed for a couple of months, so in between writing a lot, I’m reading a lot. I’ve gone from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Abigail Barnette, Jasper Fforde to Celeste Ng, Madeleine L’Engle to Lilah Pace to Patricia Highsmith to Atul Gawande, and then, I guess because it kept appearing as a suggestion in my Amazon account, I read Hostage by Annika Martin and Skye Warren.

Then I read The Pawn by Skye Warren.

Then I read The Knight by Skye Warren.

My rich fantasy life includes a lot of bondage and pain in my sex, along with a possibly-unhealthy amount of (consensual) coercion, and a decent amount of humiliation. I love dark, twisted romance.

But Hostage (Spoilers ahead) starts with a 16-year-old being kidnapped by a man who thinks frequently about raping her and/or killing her. It escalates from there, with him penetrating her with his fingers, and even though the actual penile penetration doesn’t happen until she’s 18, and is therefore, somehow, “legal” his seduction and coercion started much earlier, on a girl so young she still referred to her father as “Daddy.” On a girl so sheltered she barely knew how to drive and had only been kissed a few times.

And the entire time, it’s written as this hot, elicit affair, and she’s clearly smitten with him, and I’m thinking — wait. This is rape. This is criminal, in more ways than one.

I go back to the reviews. 278 five-star reviews. 278 people read this and not only had no problem with the molestation, but also gave it a star rating that I reserve for books by Jane Austen, Barbara Kingsolver, Ta-Nehisi Coates.

I finished the book, I did. But I’m still wondering if downloading it at all has put me on some kind of Watchlist. I’m still baffled by the authors treatment of this subject matter.

Like I said, I like dark sex, and I have to admit, however squickish it was, the sex was good. So I read The Pawn. (More spoilers, if you care)This character is, at least, technically an adult, but once again, emphasis is put on her virginity, on how young and pure she is. The entire plot hinges on the auctioning of her virginity, and even though she goes into it somewhat willingly, it’s pure desperation that drives her to this point (although the necessity of her doing so is a very thin premise). And when the auction ends, and the victor claims his virgin, there’s no doubt that this is not how she wants to lose her virginity, that this is not a situation she wants to be in.

And I guess I kept reading because — okay, dammit, yes, some of the sex was pretty hot. But in the back of my mind I kept thinking – this is not what this girl signed up for. This is not what she wanted. She had no idea what she was getting in to. And we’re supposed to fall for it, right along with her, because this Alpha male who’s despoiling her is secretly looking out for her, secretly has her best interests at heart.

News flash, writers: No matter how Alpha the male, no matter how many orgasms the unwilling female has, the only word for this kind of sex is rape.

Want to see hot, consensual non-consent, with great writing and even a storyline to back it up? Read The Boss by Abigail Barnette to see how a real Alpha male can treat a woman with respect while still giving her the kinky sex of her dreams. Read Asking For It by Lilah Pace for the absolute hottest consensual rape fantasy sex you will ever read.

 

The sex is hotter, I promise you. And even better? You’re not left with that queasy felony feeling in your mouth afterwards.

 

 

Writing Prompt – He dared not refuse the queen

writing prompt - queen

Apples, she said. Apples were what she craved, above all else. Quickly, he slipped his shirt back on and laced his breeches. Slipping quietly out of the room, he padded swiftly down side hallways of the great castle and back into the orchard. The recent frost left the ground cold, but if he moved quickly, he didn’t notice it on his bare feet.

It was dark, and the light from the torches was just enough for him to peer at the apple trees and realize that her request wasn’t as simple as he thought it would be. The yard girls had stripped the lower branches bare in anticipation of the Apple Festival, and even the upper branches were picked through.

He looked around for a ladder, but the yard girls were too efficient, and there was none to be found. Well, it had been a few years since he’d climbed a tree, but that wouldn’t stop him. He leaped into the air, easily grabbing one of the lower branches, then, swinging back and forth, he used his momentum and upper body strength to get him started. He worked his way from limb to limb, but was thwarted until he reached the upper parts of the tree. He was, at last, able to discover a few apples in the highest branches, and he took his shirt off to create a makeshift satchel. As he balanced precariously from one of the smaller limbs, he turned, seeing the castle through the trees and the mist. His heart swelled as he suddenly realized that he was looking at his new home. Quickly, then, he tucked the apples into his shirt and then he heard a crack as he felt the limb he was balancing on shift and fall beneath him.

He reached out wildly with one arm as he fell, managing to slow his momentum but still hitting the ground with a thud. His face, chest and arms were scratched, and he was sure he’d added another bruise to his backside, but he’d held securely to the bundle and hoped he had enough apples to please the queen.

He slipped easily back through the orchard, but narrowly missed being spotted by a man-at-arms as he made his way back to the castle entrance. It would never do for a servant to catch the king in such a state. He approached the door to the room where the queen awaited and knocked softly until she bade him enter.

Upon entering, he swiftly removed his breeches again, then knelt humbly before the queen, his offering in his outstretched hands. She selected, then discarded, several apples and he began to fear that he had disappointed her. Finally, though, she seemed satisfied. She looked at him and smiled.

“Open your sweet mouth, my king.”

He obeyed.

She shoved the apple into his mouth, stretching it wide, then bent him over her knee and resumed his spanking.

(Lack of) Feminist Perspective in SEO Writing

I write SEO Content for a few (and I mean a very few) extra bucks. It’s always a little strange for me to switch into that mode, because, in that gig, I am writing for the norm – which comes with its own set of assumptions and mores.

mouse and keyboard

Here’s an example of what I mean. I know some people who are child-free by choice. I know other people who can’t have children, and I recently struggled with fertility issues of my own. But when I’m writing a blog post about TV Installation services in the suburbs? The audience I am picturing is the bill of goods I’ve been sold – it’s that white, Christian, heteronormative, middle class family with 2.5 children in the suburbs. And if I need to throw in the necessary navigation of children’s toys as some color and an extra seven words, I’m going to do it. I’m going to write the breadwinner role as a male, and the stay-at-home parent as a female, and I’m going to write Easter dresses and Christmas cookies and going to church on Sundays and fitting the laundry in before picking the kids up at school in your minivan. Even if I don’t personally believe in any of that. (Except Christmas cookies. Everybody loves Christmas cookies!)

There are times I think about subverting this, and find myself wondering if I can do it in a way that doesn’t get me fired, but I get paid by the word, so I’m not always concerning myself with whether or not I’m falling into paradigms that I’ve been actively resisting since I was old enough to understand that women are people. So instead of thoughtfully considering how the words I’m writing perpetuate the stereotypes I despise, I toe the line and write with those stereotypes in mind. And as quickly as possible. Because if I’m not churning out at least 1200 words an hour I may as well get a job at Starbucks, and I don’t want to get a job at Starbucks, I want to write my own damn novel in any minute I can carve out.

I’m not saying I like it.

And yes, there are times that I feel pretty crappy for contributing to the noise that’s on the internet, thank you for asking. And yes, whenever possible, I try to use gender-neutral pronouns or examples that don’t rely too heavily on tired assumptions about how “normal” people live.

But mostly? I’m just trying to make enough money to pay the electric bill.

Writing Rape

Trigger Warning: I discuss rape in the below – in case you couldn’t tell from the title.

In my post, Writing Consent, I discussed the question of consent in fiction, and whether something can be steamy and hot if the need for consent is part of it. In Jenny Trout’s (writing as Abigail Barnette) amazing, steamy, compelling, couldn’t-put-it-down-read-the-entire-series-in-three-days “Boss” series (which you should go buy and read right now because it is awesome and the first book is free) consent is ever-present. There are a few times it’s almost annoyingly present, but I get it, and I applaud it.

So, the flip side of that is writing about rape. Which is really a completely different question. Is it necessary? Does it glamorize rape?

Woman_on_bench

I’ve written a date rape scene for one of my characters. It’s not that I wanted her to be raped, it’s that one in six women are, and it’s part of her story. But I’m having mixed feelings about whether or not to include it. I know that it’s important to her character, and I know that it figures in to what happens later, but I’m struggling to make sure there is nothing titillating about it. Because most of the lovemaking in my stories involves kink, I don’t want there to be any confusion about what constitutes rape. But I also want to be true to my own experience, and what, I suspect, is the experience of many, and that is the mixed feelings that my character has about the rapist and about the rape itself.

I don’t want to give to much away, so let me pull back a little and talk about rape culture. This is the part where I tend to start beating myself up a little, because I’ve always had a problem saying, “No” and I have, too often, bought in to the idea that I somehow “owe” someone something because he or she invested time or money into me, or because I showed up at their house, or because I flirted, or teased, et cetera. This has landed me in situations where I ended up having sex, even though I didn’t want to. And I closed my eyes, and gritted my teeth, and got through it.

That’s why consent is so tricky, and so important. That’s why rape culture is such a problem. Yes, I had a responsibility to myself to be vocal about what I needed and wanted and, more importantly, DIDN’T need or want. But didn’t my sex partner have an equal stake in making sure that I was fully present, and fully involved in what was going on?

This kind of consensual interaction can be something as innocuous as communicating to your partner what you want them to do, through telling them that what they are doing isn’t really turning you on, and goes all the way through to no, I really don’t want to have sex with you right now, I don’t care that you are horny and that I am wearing next to nothing because it’s 98 degrees outside, what I want to do right now is watch The Gilmore Girls and suck on ice, you know where the vibrator is.

And I need to capture that for this character. I really feel like I have an obligation to do so. This isn’t a dramatic, Hollywood, black-and-white, strangers-abducted-and-raped me situation. This is exploring the issue of consent, the idea of both partners being equally invested in each other’s pleasure, the concept that, while No absolutely means NO, sometimes no isn’t said, sometimes it’s “wait” or “Um” or “Not there” and that doesn’t absolve the other partner of their responsibility. The idea that, just because you’ve done something once doesn’t mean you get to do it again, and the agonizing betrayal of ones own body when it responds to something your mind or heart doesn’t want.

I don’t love the idea of writing anything for which I feel obligated to provide a trigger warning. I honestly hate putting my character through it. But I also need the ten people who eventually read my book (HAH! I hope ten people read it!) to be involved in that process with my character, and to understand what it means to advocate for one’s own sexuality, and to, maybe, absolve themselves of some guilt for any of their own not-completely-consensual experiences.

And maybe I just need to write it to do all of the above for myself.

Trump Exists Because We Let Him

I just read this terrific article about Donald Trump’s comments Friday night, written by Stassa Edwards for Jezebel.

Here’s the part that has stuck with me all day:

Perhaps it’s because the Republican party had a very ugly realization. Namely that if Trump speaks a certain truth—as John Kasich claimed during the debates—or that his bold honesty reveals the restless id of the base, then that base revels in pits so repulsive, and holds fast to “truths” so vile, that they might be more dangerous to unraveling conservative ideology than any mere Democrat.

The laughter and applause that Donald Trump got from the audience after laughingly acknowledging that Rosie O’Donnell is the person he was referring to when he called women fat pigs, slobs, and disgusting animals was almost as appalling as the comments themselves.

THEY APPLAUDED. They applauded a candidate for President of the United States for making schoolyard taunts about women. Is it because she’s fat? Is it because she’s gay? Why is it ok, why is it funny, and why on earth is it acceptable to call women any of the things he did?

I was going to use a meme of Donald Trump, but I started vomiting. So here's Picard instead. There, now don't you feel better?
I was going to use a meme of Donald Trump, but I started vomiting. So here’s Picard instead. There, now don’t you feel better?

The thing is, Donald Trump exists only because we allow him to. He is a caricature of himself. He has no value outside what we assign him. His wealth was inherited, and he’s a bombastic fool. BUT HE’S ALSO THE REPUBLICAN FRONT RUNNER. That means that his 5th-grade vocabulary and bullying tactics are appealing to an alarming majority of republicans. We have somehow created an environment in this country in which this kind of behavior is acceptable.

When George W was elected? I cried. Actual tears. I couldn’t believe we’d come to that as a country.

When Barack Obama was elected, I was giddy. For an entire day, I felt like the world had changed. But in the intervening years, it seems to me that racism in this country has gotten worse, only it’s more covert. Every decision he makes, every Executive Order he issues, all of the rhetoric spewed by the pundits, it’s just too much. So much of what is said about him and his policies is so detached from reality that the only explanation for it is that it is a thin cover for racism. And it’s wearing thinner.

So after eight years of this, Trump steps into the spotlight as another Presidential candidate. And the only explanation is that the ugly racism at the root of the Tea Party has metastasized, creating something worse. And somehow we are letting this happen.

I don’t have an answer. I don’t have a solution. It does make me want to scrape my pennies together and start donating them to Planned Parenthood, or NOW, or the NAACP (check it out, I included handy donation links in case you’re feeling the same way.)

I’m just tired of it.

Edited to Add:

SO HAPPY to see someone else calling him and the audience out on this shit:

http://www.shewired.com/need-know/2015/08/11/chely-wright-comes-rosie-odonnells-defense-blasts-donald-trump-supporters