EDIT 12/18/16: In light of recent comments I have received, I am removing the password protection on this piece. Thank you.
Trigger warning: Homophobia, homophobic language, sexually explicit content.
The notification came within five minutes of the posting of my new story. I assumed it must be one of my friends in the Hannibal fandom who regularly read and left feedback on my work. Because I had tried some new things with this story—it was plot-heavy, it took place during the timeline of the series, and it ended with something sort of like a twist—I was especially interested to hear their opinion.
Instead, in my Archive of Our Own inbox:
Nothing about the plot I was so proud of, or the characterization and dialogue I worked so hard on. Nothing about the story at all, actually.
I tried to think of other interpretations, but it was pretty clear that this person saw my story posted, skimmed over it in five minutes, and evidently either liked or disliked so much that Hannibal is the “bottom” in one scene that they felt compelled to tell me how to tag my work in the future.
Like that was the point! Like nothing matters in a male-male sex scene except who puts what where. How they feel about the sex, themselves, and each other; the consequences to their relationship; the effect on the plot—doesn’t matter. This person just wants me to be told ahead of time who gets a dick in their butt so they can most efficiently get off.
Get off to me. To people like me.
I’m not sure, if you’re straight and/or cis, that you really understand this, how this felt to me. Let me see if I can explain. We’ll go through the questions I asked myself preliminarily, before I felt allowed to be upset:
So you’re writing porn, what do you expect?
This is a very weak argument, Anxiety. We’ve been over this.
It’s true that the story in question, “Quotient of Two Zeros” (link NSFW), contains, hmmmmm like three sex scenes in 5,000 words (one was of the non-explicit “they had sex” variety and was limited to a few sentences). Maybe that’s a…high number of sex scenes for one story (and one day in-story…yes, I know, but it worked for the story! and canonically Hannibal does have like complete mental control of his body’s functions…that’s my official statement on ignoring refractory periods, and you can quote me). There is porn in this story, and there is nothing wrong with that. If I have to argue for the value of sexually explicit art, that something sexually explicit can be art, we’ll be here all day. So let’s take that one as a given for now.
This is still rude.
I am not a vending machine (if I was, you’d have to fucking pay me! you read this for free!). Just because it’s porn doesn’t mean it comes out of thin air. How much porn have you written? It’s hard. This story sat in my drafts for months—I actually forgot about it entirely—because I was trying to write the opening sex scene and I couldn’t get it right. I knew what I wanted to happen, what should happen, I could see it, but the words weren’t right. It’s just like writing anything else: you have to get lucky. And, as somebody once said, “Time is luck.”1 As in, “Luck takes time,” and during that time, while you’re waiting for “luck,” you’re busy working your ass off, trying every word in the English language and some in Latin (it’s a very multi-lingual fandom).
You have to write it, and then you have to read it and re-write it, and again, and again, sometimes for days or weeks or months. Action is a little harder, even, but I don’t care if you’re writing about two people staring at each other. In fact, that’s almost as difficult, especially for Hannibal (so much staring…). You can only write so many variations on “They stared at each other.” That’s why it’s so hard. You can’t just keep using the same words. You can’t keep making the same observations. You have to look at what’s different and interesting about this particular time whatever happened.
JESSE: You know, I don’t get it. Why would anyone paint a picture of a door, over and over again, like, dozens of times?
JANE: But it wasn’t the same.
JESSE: Yeah, it was.
JANE: It was the same subject, but it was different every time. The light was different, her mood was different. She saw something new every time she painted it.
JESSE: And that’s not psycho to you?
JANE: Well, then why should we do anything more than once? Should I just smoke this one cigarette? Maybe we should only have sex once, if it’s the same thing.
JANE: Should we just watch one sunset? Or live just one day? Because it’s new every time. Each time is a different experience.2
See what I mean? Has every time you’ve had sex been the same? Do you think you could easily write a piece that conveyed every nuance of meaning and emotion you experienced during your last sexual encounter? So that someone felt what you felt about it, and understood what made it sexy or not sexy, or why you wanted or didn’t want to do it, and if you were happy with your decision or if you regretted it and why? What time was it? Where were you? Was it the first time or have you been with them for years? Were you in your warm bed or up against a cold slimy dumpster in the alley behind the gay bar?
Writing about sex is vastly different from watching it, hearing about it, writing a song about it, experiencing it. Every medium has its specialties. If you wanna see Tab A into Slot B, may I suggest PornHub? But if you want to know why they did it and how it made them feel, physically and emotionally and mentally, come to me.
I never promised you endless orgasms. It’s just that I’m writing about a romantic relationship, and those sometimes (not always!) involve sex, and I don’t care for the “fade to black” approach when there are so many interesting mental aspects to explore during sex, especially in this ship. Some relationships are made and broken with sex, and in the CONTEXT!!! of such a chaste, intellectual, maybe even spiritual canon relationship, I find it very interesting to write about how sex might externalize Hannibal and Will’s dynamic. I didn’t say it was gonna get you off. I just said, “this is what I think would happen.”
In short, if porn means “material intended to make you, the reader, come all over their keyboard,” then it’s not even really porn. I mean, I try to make it sexy—it’s much more fun to write when I find the scene hot—but in real life, sex is sometimes uncomfortable or awkward or not what you thought or you’re doing it for the wrong reasons or you regret it as soon as you start or you’re just not feeling it that day or you do it willingly because you love someone even if you’re not in the mood. I am trying to humanize these characters: for humans, sex is complicated, and not always sexy.
But I feel [INSERT EMOTION] about “bottom Hannibal”! And now it’s your problem!
Number one, friend, no it’s not. Your problem is never my problem. That’s how this works (this being “adulthood”). That’s why we have so many lovely fanfics on AO3 with so many different sexual scenarios (not all of them are sexual…just almost all). It’s so you can deal with your little problem like a big kid by finding a fic that does feature what you want, rather than passive aggressively :) :) :) asking me to do shit for you with your fucking smilies.
I think anyone, hopefully, might be able to see how receiving such a short, demanding (I mean, it kind of is, out of the blue from a stranger) comment on my story would be upsetting. But it wasn’t just the rudeness that bothered me.
This person specifically wants me to tell them, in the future, ahead of time, whether Hannibal Lecter is the “bottom” or receiving partner in any sex scenes (of the three scenes I mentioned, he only bottoms in the first, so it’s not as if there was a lack of Hannibal fucking Will).
This is, frankly, mystifying to me. I mean, I know why, probably; but I don’t understand. This person cares SO much about what position someone is having sex in that they want to know ahead of time, presumably so that they can either avoid it entirely or find some privacy in advance or something. Which, gross. Like we’re all writing porn here, but most of us manage to refrain from announcing our intent to masturbate in…a story’s comments, where the author is going to read about it? Look, it just goes without saying, okay? Let’s class it up around here, just a little, in case company drops by.
So, there are two options: This person hates “bottom Hannibal,” or they love it. Otherwise, I doubt they’d bother commenting at all. People don’t generally speak up to say “I don’t care!” (And if they do, it’s usually because they do care.)
First possibility first. If they hate Hannibal bottoming: why? I did consider the possibility here of something to do with triggers, but, uh…I can’t really think of any reason why this would be a triggering concept (it was rough, but I tagged for that I think, or at least trigger warned). Obviously, it’s not impossible that this person is somehow bothered by this, but this seems like a strange way to go about dealing with that. Also, I kind of think they might have mentioned if the reason was that it bothered them, not just said that it “would of been nice.”
Do they feel weird about Hannibal being the one to take it in the butt? Like, I’m not entirely sure why this would make someone feel weird, especially a person who presumably reads at least some other fanfic. Why would it be any more weird than anyone else taking it? I mean, I hate to say it, but most of these stories involve dicks entering butts, and there’s only two ways that can go between two people (generally?). There is, or would be in a vacuum, a fifty-fifty chance. I have written more stories with Hannibal topping Will at this point, but like I said…connnnn~textttt~~
Speaking of context…there is, I have to say, a tendency in the fandom to cast Will as, at best, the Constant Bottom; at worst…at worst, an extremely out-of-character, desperately horny, submissive, whiny, bratty, pouting…embodiment of some very disturbing views of “bottoms” and male femininity in general (which, of course, goes hand in hand with taking big cocks in the butt, in some people’s minds).
This brings us to the second possibility: this person is super into Hannibal bottoming. I’m not sure which is worse, to be honest.
You see…so we all agree sexual acts have implied meaning, don’t we? Of course, they have no inherent meaning at all. But let’s say…I hook up with someone. In scenario A, they go down on me and I don’t go down on them. In scenario B, the opposite.
If you were my (female) friend, and I told you about this, I might expect you, in scenario A, to be super impressed with this dude. As a (non-binary) girl, if you hook up with some random dude and he eats you out, assuming he’s any good, that’s a keeper, right there. It’s considered rare and special to find a guy who not only gives good head, but does it without prompting the very first time you hook up. A positive sign, basically: he cares about your pleasure and therefore, hopefully, is not a total douchebag.
In scenario B, they’d probably tell me to kick him to the curb. A guy who lets you go down on him, unreciprocated, the first time you hook up, is assumed to be selfish and probably nothing more than a good lay. I mean, do it again if you’re into it, by all means, but maybe don’t start planning the wedding.
The implied meanings are, respectively: A woman going down on a man is considered to be selling herself short, sacrificing her own pleasure, possibly even “doing her job.” A man going down on a woman is considered to be exceptionally obliging and thoughtful.
One step beyond that—what does it mean to suck someone’s dick or to get fucked over? It means being taken advantage of, that someone else is benefiting from your (assumed) discomfort. Giving oral sex has a connotation of submission; to be the penetrated partner in sex is to be in the lower role, to take one for the team. It means you’re letting yourself be used, even if no one says that. That’s what it connotes.
Of course, that’s not true. There’s nothing wrong with going down on someone or being penetrated; it doesn’t say anything about you, not inherently. In context, there are always meanings, whether constructed between strangers or a couple who’ve been married for fifty years. But meanings do not live in the acts themselves. They depend on the acting parties, their experiences, their thoughts and feelings, their relationship to each other, the current circumstances and so on.
Okay, so why is that bad, if it’s so widespread? Because, given what I’ve seen in this fandom and the others I’ve been a part of, I think this person either likes or hates Hannibal bottoming because they see it as implying submission, masochism, maybe even femininity on Hannibal’s part, and something about that idea rustles their jimmies/makes them jizz their pants. And that’s weird to me. I get it, I see what you’re doing, power play is hot and I write a lot of power play stuff. These connotations of more or less power deriving from how one has sex are fun, if you’re aware of them and playing with them isn’t too charged for you.
But for some people, they are very dangerous games to play, because they’re too real. I think that’s where we’re missing each other. You don’t understand what it’s like to be gay.
You’re assuming, though! What if they are gay? Also, this person is probably like fourteen. Shame on you for having a reaction!
Second point first: Yeah, they might be like fourteen, but they gotta learn sometime, and everything I’m talking about here can benefit every other not-gay person in the fandom, not just the fourteen-year-olds. I was fourteen in fandom once, you know. And yes, I had a reaction! How much more personal does it get than your own feelings and experiences, even filtered through a fictional story?
First point second: I don’t care if the commenter is gay. I don’t think they are, but I could easily be wrong. The point stands. We need to talk about this. If you’re going to write about me, then you’re going to hear what I have to say.
Because you are writing about me.
I’m gay. I have gay sex. I am a non-binary man (and a non-binary woman, and just non-binary): pretty much any sex I have is gay.
And it’s not like yours.
I know this, because I know far, far more straight people than gay people, and I know what it was like to have sex with straight men who assumed I was a straight woman.
I don’t think of them as gay though, I mean, why do we have to label things, why can’t they just have a perfect special but not gay relationship without bringing all your gayness into it???
You know what, I don’t want to do all of that right now, but suffice it to say that in real life, when two men have sex, they are probably going to do some thinking about the word gay. Yes, it is entirely possible and even likely that Will Graham is bisexual or otherwise attracted to more than one gender. It’s perfectly possible that Hannibal Lecter is too, and I headcanon that he’s probably been around the block a few times in general. But you don’t always get to label yourself, in real life. In real life, there are a lot of people who are completely uninterested in how you see your relationship. They see two men, and in their mind, two men = gay.
Suffice it also to say that I find this train of thought very homophobic. Why do we have to not label things? Why can’t they just have a perfect special very gay relationship? If it really doesn’t matter, as you claim, then guess what: I’m labeling them right now, and I label them GAY. Watch this:
Will Graham, from a young age, had always known that sooner or later he would have to face it: he was gay. There were quick, furtive couplings with women, but he never called them back. Something about it didn’t satisfy. He kept the knowledge of his sexuality to himself, and went on trying to be normal. Until he met the first out gay man he’d ever known: Hannibal Lecter.
OH MY GOD LOOK I SAID THEY WERE BOTH GAY! What are you going to do?! But it doesn’t matter, right? So I assume you’re just as happy with this as you would be with the typical “Will ‘Straight as an Arrow’ Graham meets Hannibal Lecter and falls in love specifically with him and has never thought of another man sexually in his life” narrative?
For the record, the Will Graham we see in the series has one on-screen sexual encounter (with Margot Verger, a lesbian) and kisses one person (Alana Bloom, a canonically-implied bisexual woman), unless he’s shown kissing Molly and I don’t remember. I say implied in my description of Alana as bisexual because…it’s never stated. As a matter of fact, I don’t think there’s one line anywhere in this show labeling anybody.
People frequently assume that Will “must be” 100% straight before meeting Hannibal because he is only shown pursuing and having sexual contact with women. But neither of those relationships is carried through. Alana (I have opinions about this I won’t go into yet) rejects Will for his “instability” and “incompatibility” with “the way [she] is”; Margot, as I said, is a lesbian, and initiated sex with Will only to get pregnant. Eventually, these two “conquests” of Will’s get married. To each other.
Well, Will marries Molly.
Yeah, how’d that work out?
No, but seriously, if you think “married to a woman” cannot coexist with “closeted gay,” I think you should maybe like…be more aware of your surroundings or something. Gay people get straight married all the damn time. It’s called “denial.” Sometimes it’s called “pressure from society, peers, and family,” sometimes it’s called “trying to stay alive.” It depends. It was also much more common, in years past, for people to come out late in life after a marriage or two; it was more common then for the possibility of being gay never to even cross a person’s mind, until they were an adult. What I’m saying is that it happens, sometimes even accidentally, despite good intentions on all sides.
I believe that Will loves Molly, but it’s hard to say much else about their relationship in the context of the show because we are not given a lot of information. There’s more in the book, but Will and Molly’s marriage is one of those things where the books don’t shed much light on the TV series, because the circumstances are so different. It’s clear that they care for each other (and that they do have some type of sexual relationship, judging by the phone call where they discuss it on-screen). It’s not clear whether or not their relationship is romantic, for either party.
(And just FYI—romantic feelings for more than one person, and even romantic relationships, can coexist too, without canceling each other out. Signed, a polyamorous person.)
So what do we know? We know that Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, by the conclusion of “The Wrath of the Lamb,” are in love. I would argue that this isn’t debatable. Will asks Bedelia, point blank, whether Hannibal is in love with him; her answer, while typically convoluted, is absolutely affirmative. Will’s response is to choose Hannibal, over his wife and stepson, over his entire life—over life itself, maybe (knock on wood). If he didn’t love Hannibal, don’t you think he might react differently to this “news?” If he didn’t love Hannibal, don’t you think he might have noticed Hannibal loving him years before Bedelia patiently spelled it out?
These are the things people aren’t seeing; straight people, at least. You have the outline, but not the crayons to color it in. You see that it’s gay, but you can’t really know what that means. Not if you haven’t lived it.
I still don’t get it.
I know, I said I wasn’t going to get into that here, didn’t I? Sorry.
Here’s the thing. There is nothing wrong with being sexually submissive, with being penetrated and giving head, with performing any “female” sex act. Because that is where this idea comes from. Our culture conceptualizes any “submissive” sex act as inherently feminine and therefore inherently lesser. I have to ask you to be more aware of this.
If this person was trying to say they like it when Hannibal Lecter—usually portrayed in fandom as dominant, sexually aggressive, the “top,” the more knowledgeable party, doing whatever he wants with virginal inexperienced Will—is written as the penetrated partner, that makes me uneasy. It sounds like they like the idea of Hannibal being “brought low,” being “at Will’s mercy.” It sounds like they think bottoming is a punishment, either a real one or a sexy one, or otherwise something you shouldn’t want to endure unless, you know, you’re a little bitch that takes it up the ass. Weak, feminine, powerless, overtaken, used. A faggot.
Whoa there buddy! They didn’t say any of that!
Yes, I know. I’m saying that this is the cultural narrative. For the record, I have never seen anyone express those exact sentiments in that way, at least not anyone in the Hannibal fandom. In real life…well, that’s a little different. But for the most part I’d be willing to bet that no one writing this stuff (or consuming it) is aware that this is the narrative they’re drawing on. That’s the sad thing about it. It’s in the cultural air, so to speak. It’s implied by media and other people all your life, and you pick up on it without even realizing, and if you’re not gay (or even if you are—”straight-acting,” i.e., “masculine” gay men are held up as a standard to aspire to even in our own communities) you may never question it or even consciously think about it.
But I see it, and I think about it when I write.
So what do you want? You want only gay people to write gay stuff?
No, I just want to be treated like a person. That’s all.
This is how I felt: confused, angry, ashamed. I was ashamed, for the first time, of what I was doing. I was embarrassed and afraid that people were only reading what I wrote for the sex scenes, and that even those were apparently not up to snuff. I was afraid that I was deluding myself by thinking that I was doing anything other than producing masturbation material, and that no one really read anything around the porn and I should stop pretending I was a writer.
I felt fetishized, dehumanized. This person did not mean to make me feel that way. I know that. But this comment made me feel like gay people, even imaginary gay people, are not allowed to just be human beings. Two gay people can’t just have sex, like two straight people, in whatever way feels right in the moment. Gay people have gay sex, and it’s weird and different and it involves putting stuff in your butt, and it’s super hot how weird and gross it is for two dudes to have sex, right? Exotic.
Whereas I had been happy that I could explore my own gender and sexuality in such a fun, creative, challenging way as writing fanfic, I now felt like I was laying out my personal queer experience for straight people to jerk off to.
In case you’re wondering, I got over it (really). None of this is directed at that person; in all likelihood they are like fourteen, and I know they didn’t mean to make me feel like this. I just wanted to tell you about a small fraction of what it’s like to be gay, not just in fandom, but in the world. And to ask you, if you are one of the many straight people in fandom who write for gay ships, to think about the real people who experience these things.
I want to close, if I can be a little self-indulgent (and I can), with an excerpt from “Quotient of Two Zeros,” which I really wish I could go back and edit before anybody looks at it because of this, but I try to avoid doing that. Oh, well. Enjoy your “porn”:
They don’t know what to do—fucking again doesn’t seem right yet, but they want to be near each other, physically close, intimate, so they just lay there half-dressed, under the covers, and talk, quietly, as if to avoid being overheard, although they’re miles from the closest human being. They tell each other about it, the mysterious thing, compare notes on this magnetism between them that doesn’t seem to come from either of them, but from outside, almost. Neither of them really understands it, but it’s another thing they share only with each other out of all the people on Earth, the conversation is broken by long, sweet interludes of touching and heavy breathing and kissing, sooner than Will was going to, less hesitantly than he thought he would be, letting Hannibal take his bottom lip between his teeth, those teeth that have ended so many lives, to barely graze him with their points.
They stay there all afternoon and evening, kissing and whispering and being silent together, eventually in the total darkness of the bedroom after sunset they make love again, the grounding pressure and heat of Hannibal against Will’s back, his fingers intertwining with Will’s, Will’s breathing fast but quiet, whispering to him, “oh, yes, baby…oh, Hannibal…I love it…” Hannibal lets himself go, lets himself enjoy Will and not think, just this once, clutching Will’s hand tight when he comes inside him, biting and kissing his back and neck and ear.
“I’m afraid of this,” Will says, softly, into the dark after.
“I know, Will.”
Silence. “I can’t say. I’m not particularly familiar with fear either.”
“I am. But…I love you. We can at least try.”
“I love you too,” very softly.
1. Manhunter. Dir. Michael Mann. Perf. William Petersen, Brian Cox, Tom Noonan. De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 1986.↩
2. Shiban, John, and Thomas Schnauz. “Abiquiu.” Breaking Bad. AMC. 30 May 2010. Television.
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