Mutual Benefits Chapter Nine should be out in the coming week. So, let’s keep talking about representation.
I’m one of those insecure jerks. If I got a hundred kind words and one note of criticism in a day, by nighttime the only thought swirling around my head would be the one criticism, festering and working its way into my permanent memory. Nothing demonstrates this better than the reception in response to First Impressions.
A lot of my readers liked it. A surprising number. I thought (and still think) that I don’t do quicker-to-the-sex stories as well as a lot of other authors, but even with that being the case, the feedback was nearly universally positive. With two exceptions, the least positive feedback I got was, “I prefer your usual style but this was still solid.”
What does this have to do with representation? Well, the two exceptions I mentioned have, sadly, everything to do with it. The first came from a beta reader for the story who herself is a bisexual woman. She told me that it was well-written but didn’t do much for her sexually and that the lack of realism in how the events unfolded didn’t make her as interested in the sapphic erotica as did, say, Teacher’s Threat. She thought it was a good story by most accounts, but that it wasn’t a good lesbian story.
I tried to write from the POV of a straight woman discovering her sexuality and feeling taboo about it, and this pre-reader, who basically exactly matched the very descriptor I gave to the protagonist, wasn’t feeling it. From my perspective, that felt like failure. That felt like getting the math test back with an F on it. I misunderstood the source material, I need to pay more attention, see the teacher after class, etc etc.
If this story hadn’t been a commission, I would have rewritten it right then and there. Still, deadlines are deadlines, so I tidied it up a bit and sent it to the person who commissioned it, who said they loved it. I actually don’t know what gender and sexuality they identify with – their name was ambiguous, and if someone comes to you saying, “I’d like you to write X story for Y pay,” it really isn’t your place to go, “Ah yes, I see, you’re commissioning a lesbian story because you yourself are a woman and a lesbian, correct?” It’s awkward to even read.
After a bit, I posted the story to my website, and subsequently, other websites, including Literotica. Here came the second exception. Two comments in a row were posted to my story, which read thusly:
“I’m struggling with how to put this without coming off entirely wrong. Maybe it’s just not my cup of tea? I prefer more realism in stories, and absolutely nothing about this was close to reality. That may work for some guys, but definitely doesn’t float my lesbian boat.”
“Agree with <previous commentor>. It doesn’t float the reality boat and it doesn’t float my straight boat. The idea of a straight female doing all of that suddenly and with no questioning just makes no sense whatsoever. Sorry.”
The comments that hit the hardest are the things you already think yourself, said back to you. If someone calls you ugly, it’ll hit someone who thinks people secretly think they’re ugly way harder than someone who thinks they’re the most attractive person ever and whoever thinks differently is wrong. And I definitely worried that the lack of any and all reality in this story was going to turn off, in particular, women. I became what I hate: I wrote a lesbian story for straight dudes.
Melodrama aside, it did hit me hard. I felt guilty and bad, so, in the edited version (which you can find on my Patreon if you become a $5 supporter!) as well as the version on this website, I altered it. Similarly to When in Toronto, I couldn’t deal with knowing it was imperfect. It’s still not entirely fixed, but I padded it out and added some backstory which I can only hope made the story more enticing and more real, if only more emotionally real. The edited version still has more polish and is visibly different than the version here, but both have the more padded version now. However, on sites like Literotica, the sites that clearly have readers wanting it the most, it’s sadly stuck that way. To change it would be to take down the original version and submit a new version, then wait anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks to get it republished. (I love when people on Literotica tell me that I’m too slow to publish chapters of Mutual Benefits when I submitted the latest chapter over a week ago.)
I couldn’t deal with the idea of multiple lesbians essentially telling me, “This story doesn’t work for me, but if it’s not meant for me, go ahead I guess.” If I write a demographic, the last person I want to feel disconnected from that character is the demographic. Whether it’s a Chinese character, a lesbian, or even a profession like a lawyer, if that exact demographic tells me the portrayal is inaccurate or they didn’t enjoy it… It just sort of feels like I’m taking the demographic for the purposes of something else, rather than enjoying the character with those people. Doesn’t seem right. Hence why I changed it slightly – to give it just the slightest chance that people, particularly women, who didn’t like it before, might like it now.
This was a lot of words to say, “I made a story about X people, X people reviewed it and said they didn’t care for it, so I changed it because when I write about X people, I want to write for X people,” but I’m not famous for being brief. And of course, First Impressions wasn’t written solely for lesbians – I want everyone to enjoy the story – but when lesbians in particular say the story felt off, that’s when I know I’ve made an error, if that makes sense. That’s a tricky thing about representation – I’m writing about a person I’m not. I’m going to get some things wrong. I’ll talk to you all next week.