why i write the nitty-gritty in fantasy.

I have a protagonist, a working-class protagonist in a fantasy universe that corresponds roughly to pre-Enlightenment Europe, with elements of our modern world. Agleth. Her name is Agleth. I think I’ve mentioned her: slum girl, looks a little like Sara Ramirez? Gorgeous woman. Agleth lives, for the present, in a society where sex isn’t necessarily saved for marriage, and marriage isn’t one man plus one woman. Prostitution is legal and unregulated, if stigmatised for a certain class of whore.

There are free clinics not unlike Planned Parenthood that serve slum girls and women. It’s assumed, when said patients walk into a clinic, that they’ve not only lost their virginity, they’ve quit caring what goes on below the waist. Like once their hymens are gone and they’ve had a few men, there’s nothing left in them that won’t bend on demand.

Agleth goes for her first well-woman visit at fourteen. The same assumptions are made about her that are made about her sisters in the finneik of Ridrowe. They are, in her case, direly wrong. Her first experience of penetration is an overlarge speculum and a brutal Pap smear.

I wish I didn’t have the truth in me to write that.

It wasn’t my first, understand. I’d been going to doctors since well before the boy I’ll call Zero, and I didn’t have any trouble until I was seeing Eleven on the regular. It’s just that apparently this particular nurse needs a good, long look at what she’s swabbing, so she’ll jack you up like you’re a car with a flat tire. Jack you open. The heat of the lamp doesn’t soothe away the strain.

The grind of the tip of her brush has a sound, and it echoes in my ears. I wince as I write at the memory of blunt-needle pain, stabbing and twisting. It’s not an abortion. You don’t have to force the brush past the os.

I asked if she had anything smaller. Women’s bodies are not designed to open to just any intrusion. They are designed to give way to what feels good. Mine has been particularly recalcitrant in this respect as long as I’ve known what those parts were.

She did have something smaller, but I guess it wouldn’t have given her a prime view of the real estate. What did she need to see in there? She performed a swab, not an acetic acid test. Was anything visible for all the blood? I sat up and she was dipping the brush; the cup was pink. Did she get any viable samples?

The last time someone punctured me like that — I think it was she — the last time they made me come back because I bled too hard.

I don’t open easy and I jam shut when it hurts. Between Zero and the Mangler, can you blame my body?

That is why Agleth has a pair of very gentle lovers for her firsts, a man and a woman, who teach her that nothing has to hurt. That is why Agleth keeps her virginity a lot longer than most of her friends. Those lovers have to help her retrain her responses. Agleth, who will be a healer of gynecological complaints among others, now knows that underneath the seeming absence of taboos, there are assumptions about her: if she’s not a virgin, she must be a whore, and she can’t be a virgin even at fourteen. Girls like her just aren’t anymore.

And women like me, who have partners who are not our firsts, you can shove our knees up around our ears and do anything you want.


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