Dear readers: Two excellent writers stepped in to answer the Savage Love Letter of the Day while I was on vacation, and I wanted to share one of those responses in the column this week. Daniel Bergner is the award-winning author of four books of nonfiction. His newest book is What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, which Salon said “should be read by every woman on earth.”
Dear Dan: I came out as gay during my marriage five years ago. (I’m a woman who doesn’t like the word “lesbian.”) I want to be in relationships with women, get married, etc., but I haven’t dated since my divorce. But I’m ready to start. I started on Craigslist in the w4w section and then moved to the m4w section, looking to fulfill a pegging fantasy. In working up the courage to respond to one guy’s ad — and then e-mailing/texting a total stranger that I was masturbating — I thought of asking for my own fantasy: intruder sex with a stranger. I asked if we could first “meet” without meeting: go to a coffee shop, sit across the room from each other, and flirt via text. If that went well, I wanted him to follow me to my place (stalk me), break in, rough me up a little, fuck me, and leave. That was too intense for him. Which is fine. There are other guys. I don’t consider this a rape fantasy. I am NOT turned on by rape. I’ve been raped, and it was the worst experience of my life. This is consensual sex. I don’t want to meet directly because I want him to remain a stranger. I want to be safe. I’ll have a safe word. I would also like to discuss this with my therapist, who I’ve been seeing for years, because I was sexually abused by my father, my cousin and my mom’s boyfriend. I feel so hung up all the time by the fear of being raped that it has restricted my ability to enjoy anything. Maybe by doing this I can face that fear and no longer be controlled by it. I’m also completely turned on by it. My questions: Can I do this safely? Is this healthy? Am I still a gay girl if I fulfill some kinky fantasies with men?
—Not Wanting Rape
Dear NWR: So you haven’t talked to your therapist about this but you’re reaching out for advice online, you’re declaring yourself a gay woman but you’re starting your post-divorce erotic life hunting for sex with men, you’d like that sex to commence with a “meeting” that is a nonmeeting, and you want to be stalked, roughed up a bit, and fucked by an intruder in a way that bears only a minimal (and constructive) relationship to your having been raped and, before that, sexually abused by an assault squad of family members. Since your letter is full of paradox, can I tell you something paradoxical? Your fantasies are utterly hot and are absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, but they scream out slow down and seek serious counsel!
Do you see the pattern, NWR? Everything you want, everything you lust for, is at the same time somehow avoided or semi-denied? And it’s not that you’re unwise about yourself. You do draw connections. Father, cousin, mom’s boyfriend performed some work on the core of your psyche, where eros lives, and probably laid down some of the wiring for your current yearnings. This does not mean your fantasies are weird (rape fantasies — I’m going to call them that — are among the most common sexual scenarios women imagine while masturbating or having sex), but it does mean you’ve got some deeper thinking to do before you take real risks. Because what I’m sensing is searing heat, a swirl of confusion, and a deluded hope that you can reliably control the forces you’re about to unleash. “I have a safe word.” Not necessarily, NWR. Words aren’t always going to be heeded by total strangers you’ve only glimpsed and texted and asked to get rough with you.
I am sounding like a prude and a killjoy. I’m not. I’m pretty sure you can pull off some version of what you wish — with a measure of safety — when you’re thinking a little more clearly. I’m all for seizing ecstasy in the present while exorcising the horrors of your past. I’m just saying, know thyself a tad better. When you’re thinking more clearly, you’ll be a better judge of the right not-rapist, one who will respect your script.
As for your last question — “Am I still a gay girl?” — let go of categories. Our human complexity outdoes the divides. If you’re turned on by both genders — and almost every bit of research I’ve encountered over the last eight years of writing about desire suggests that women often are — count yourself lucky. Your options are enviably wide. —Daniel Bergner
Send your questions for Dan to firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @fakedansavage.