“You have to learn how to control yourself. Girls and ladies have to be discreet about our reactions: you have to hide that a disgusting creature even came out of you. Do you understand?”
“Now be a good girl and say sorry to Jonathan.”
oofa, this is a great story. here is all you need to know about it:
Everyone has a different creature inside of them that appears at an uncomfortable or unwelcome touch. The creatures are only ever insects, arachnids, or—I looked this word up myself when I was eight—myriapods: centipedes and millipedes.
it’s like the body’s burglar alarm; nonconsensual physical contact triggering a wave of insects to emerge from within, leaving no doubt in the assailant’s mind that their attentions are unwanted. it’s obviously a very powerful visual image—psychological trauma reimagined as body horror involving critters commonly reviled. oh, and if we get to choose, i call MURDER HORNETS
however, the bugs’ manifestations are also triggered by pain or discomfort, which can certainly occur during consensual relations (dear god, think of the fetish porn…), or in nonsexual contexts (dear god, think of the MMA matches…), as involuntary as gas and apparently just as embarrassing.
and that’s what gives this story its edge—lu expands their conceit beyond the one-note vengeance-daydream of “what if rapists were attacked by scorpions?” to focus on shame, sexual etiquette, and the discomfort and disgust centered around bodily functions, specifically on the female experience of those themes. sylvia is fraught with body shame, and i’m not sure if this is just her being a 19-year-old girl figuring it all out, or if this is meant to represent the Female Universal or whatever, but yeesh i hope not—sylvia apologizes when her own centipedes emerge AND she apologizes when she accidentally releases her lovers’ buggas by playing too rough. over the course of the story she feels shame for having sexual experiences, for wanting to explore sexually, for admitting to pain or asserting the limits of her comfort zone, she sleeps with people she’s not attracted to—hookups in which she’s not an unwilling partner, but an uninterested one, swallowing down her centipedes as they try to shimmy their way out of her. the take is emphatically gendered but seems to be working with a slightly out-of-date book of gender stereotypes, where women are expected to be meek and men are brutes or oblivious or aren’t suppressing just as much shit as women:View Spoiler » “Sorry,” I say again, “that you’ve had to see my centipedes twice now.”
“Hey,” Delilah says, “that’s totally fine. I know people say we have to hide them, but around me, you don’t have to. Hell, around your lovers, around anyone, you shouldn’t have to, you know? Men can let theirs show whenever. Why can’t we?”
That’s the first time I’ve realized that—that I’ve always comforted my lovers when I’ve accidentally caused their creature to emerge, but that none of them have ever comforted me. I think about how Connor had jumped away, how he’d talked to me from across the room like I was some kind of diseased animal, making me feel like something less than human. Anger twists away inside of me, anger and a dozen other emotions. I can’t breathe.
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although i’m not 100% on board with the gendery blanket statements that are at odds with my own experiences—because bottom line; whatever gender, everyone’s a mess, everyone’s thoroughly riddled with buggas—i still loved the story. it’s an intriguing premise and there’s a real immediacy and flow to their writing that pulled me in and kept me there, which is hard to do, these days.
i have spent half the morning wondering who, in the world of this story, is responsible for dealing with what must be massive infestations of critters. if these things are pouring outta people in mass quantities anytime someone gets pinched or feels gross about sex, it’s going to be a real mess.
because sex can be gross and weird.
this is not sex but it is also gross and weird. and gritty. jeez, wash your FOOD, leech!
the other half of the morning was, clearly, spent falling into a deep GIF-hole. do you know what’s worse than falling into a deep GIF-hole?
aaaand that’s nature.
read it for yourself here: