Hannibal Lecter’s Magic Dick Therapy
by: Bryony Bates , November 9, 2018
by: Bryony Bates , November 9, 2018
Yes you read that right
yes it’s exactly what you think
you are warned
you should not be surprised
“You can always tell them it’s therapy.”
“What do you think about doing to me when I’m underneath you, vulnerable, willing?”
Without warning, he pushes into the wet warmth of Will’s mouth and begins to fuck.
“Squeezing my hands around your throat until you can’t breathe.” almost choking on the words,
“Tying you down so you can’t stop me.”
“I’d like you to touch yourself,”
Mildly dubious consent
Every sense feels sharper, amplified, more powerful when vision is taken away.
Will shifted his gaze from Hannibal just long enough
“Spread your legs wider.” he murmured, “Let me see.”
“I am going to fuck you so hard you’ll go blind”
SIN SIN SIN. Nothing but sin and filth.
he brutalizes Will’s ass at an unrelenting pace
ropes of come splattering on the bed and over Will’s knuckles.
forcing Hannibal to feel every inch of Will’s cock sliding into him
knees spread, ass up, throbbing cock and tightening scrotum visible between his legs.
The third tentacle was almost too much, but there was nothing he could do to prevent it and
they’ve been here before, on the brink of beauty, just like this, but nothing like this at all.
What would he look like in the half-light of dawn, sleepy and satisfied, and thick inside me?, filters through his lungs still dirty, he is beautiful, sitting on the edge of the maple wood dining table, his sounds and the salt of his skin and his valiant, quivering attempts at stillness, he was brimming with love, overcome by the love and devotion he saw in Hannibal’s face, completely at his love’s mercy,
This is not his preferred form of dependency.
“Indulge me, please, my heart.”
I’m going to Hell.
I don’t even know
I need help perhaps
I’m not really sure
Notes on ‘Hannibal Lecter’s Magic Dick Therapy’
My mum listens to a lot of audiobooks, particularly non-fiction books about historical explorers and adventurers. She said to me once, ‘One of the things I like about them is there are no women at all. Because they were all such boys’ clubs, women just aren’t there. So I don’t have to think about gender. That’s bad, isn’t it.’ I understood immediately. In a world where male is still default, a story about men is just a story; a story about women, or including women, is always about gender. Never mind that the story about men is also about gender, in its own way – it is the gender from which everything else is a deviation. A story about women is almost always about sex, too, if sex is taken to be an expression of a man’s desire to possess and overcome a woman. She says no, until she says yes.
At thirteen, just coming into my own desires, I discovered slash fiction and found this was what I liked the most, what turned me on: men having sex with men. Not just because I was attracted to them, but because I didn’t want to identify with anyone in the pornography I consumed. I didn’t want to be present at all. The only examples I had of female sexuality were of women being degraded by men. The boys at school would talk about getting blowjobs, and it was clear to me this was considered the pinnacle of their sexual achievements because they got pleasure out of it and the girl didn’t. She was on her knees, choking.
‘Please, Daddy,’ he asks so sweetly. ‘Need your cock.’
‘Go on, then… Don’t keep Daddy waiting.’
This exchange, prelude to a blowjob, comes from one of the works I use as the basis for the poem ‘Hannibal Lecter’s Magic Dick Therapy.’ It could also have come from a mainstream porn film. Where they differ is not necessarily in the sexual content itself, but the context: this scene happens three chapters and 6000 words into the story, after some intense examination of both characters’ issues with intimacy. The line I include in the poem comes before this scene: ‘They’ve been here before, on the brink of beauty, just like this, but nothing like this at all.’ I use this line to show that any extreme or weird sexual content of slash fiction is almost always wrapped up in romance.
‘Hannibal Lecter’s Magic Dick Therapy’ is made up of lines taken from fanfiction about the TV programme Hannibal, along with accompanying comments and tags. The series tells the story of Hannibal Lecter, who murders and eats people, and his tumultuous, eventually co-dependent relationship with the FBI profiler Will Graham. The show ran for three seasons, with 39 total episodes, and was cancelled in 2015, but it still has a devoted and active fandom: a community of fans who talk about, analyse and create their own work based on the show. Most of this work, either in the form of visual art (fan art) or written fiction (fanfiction) focuses on Hannibal and Will, and makes the homoerotic aspect of their relationship physical as well as intellectual. In common with most fandoms, the majority of people writing this fanfiction are women.
A couple of years ago, I sought out other people online who liked Hannibal as much as I did and found myself reading fanfiction for the first time since I was a teenager. This was a surprise. As one of my primary teenage obsessions, fanfiction was inextricable from everything I found embarrassing and difficult about adolescence: I never thought I’d want to revisit it.
I wrote fanfiction from the age of thirteen to seventeen. Specifically, I wrote slash fiction, also known as M/M, which focuses exclusively on male characters having sex with each other. None of this slash fiction exists anymore: I deleted my LiveJournal in a fit of intense embarrassment when I was nineteen. (In the process of recreating myself at university as someone new and hopefully cool, I was scared my writing might be discovered.) Around this time I also started having sex with other people, and thought I was too strange and demanding to ever be truly desired: too forward and aggressive for men, not gay enough for lesbians, and not a serious prospect for the bicurious girls who found me just non-threatening enough to experiment with. I’d absorbed the mainstream message that fanfiction was weird and shameful, so it became the symbol for everything I thought was shameful about myself and tried to erase it. Perhaps it was inevitable I’d come back to it once I realised being strange and demanding is no bad thing for a woman.
I wrote this poem to think through what fanfiction, and specifically slash fiction, means to me; to work out why slash fiction captivated me as a teenager, and just why it’s so popular among girls and women. The first time I read the poem to an audience, I explained its relation to fanfiction, and people laughed: they assumed I would be making fun of the genre. But I’m not. I don’t think there’s anything embarrassing about it anymore.
I can’t take credit for the title ‘Hannibal Lecter’s Magic Dick Therapy’. It came from someone on Tumblr whose username I forgot to write down, and characterises a certain kind of fanfiction based on the first season of Hannibal. Lecter is Will Graham’s therapist and suggests treating him with ‘unconventional therapy,’ as he does on the show. Unlike the show, rather than hypnotism and brainwashing the therapy is a good old-fashioned dicking.
One of the things people don’t get about readers and writers of fanfiction is that we’re in on the joke.
In 2013, popular fanfiction site Archive of our Own (also known as AO3) conducted a survey of its users and found that 80% identified as female. Another 16% of users identified with some form of trans or non-binary identity, with the largest proportion of these identifying as genderqueer at 6%. Only 4% of users identified as male. But despite the fact this is a female-dominated community, most of its members want to read about men: 90% said they liked to read works categorised as M/M, compared with around 51% who liked to read F/M (female/male) and 44% who liked F/F (you get the idea).
Not all fanfiction is about sexual relationships: much of it self-consciously reimagines disturbing source material in an innocent alternate universe (AU) – for example, where one of the characters might run a charming coffee shop. Much of it, however, is sexual and explores every possible permutation of human sexuality, from light bondage to male pregnancy: the latter trope is common enough to have its own abbreviation, mpreg.
Most discussions of the effects of internet pornography on young people and their sexuality don’t include fanfiction, though much of it is sexually explicit and largely disseminated on the internet. While clearly there are significant differences between written and filmed materials, in both cases the internet has enabled vast libraries of erotic material to be shared, consumed, and produced more widely than ever before. As the AO3 survey shows, fanfiction is also largely created by and for women and other people who are not male, as compared to filmed pornography which is largely created by and for men. But is sexually explicit fanfiction pornography? Or is it erotica? Is there a difference?
In her essay ‘Erotica and Pornography: A Clear and Present Difference’ Gloria Steinem seems pretty decided on this fact. She defines erotica as ‘mutually pleasurable sexual expression between two people who have enough power to be there by positive choice’, while pornography is defined by ‘violence, domination and conquest.’ However, in Steinem’s formulation there is no room for positive choice and violence to share a space, although she allows that some women ‘confuse love with pain; so much so that they become masochists.’ The fact that some women become sadists is not explicitly acknowledged.
The works I used to write the poem came from the ‘Just Fuck Me Up Kinkfest’, a week-long event run by a group of Hannibal fans soliciting fan art or fanfiction that featured extreme or unusual fetishes. Much of this is violent in some way, and BDSM and other forms of domination and power-play have a particularly strong presence in the Hannibal fandom. Around 9% of Hannibal works on AO3 are tagged BDSM, as compared to 2-3% for other TV shows of various genres, and 4-6% for other horror shows such as American Horror Story and Penny Dreadful. The latter programmes have more explicit sexual content in the source material than Hannibal, but the extensive and often bizarre violence the show is known for serves as inspiration enough for writers: the only instance of the tag ‘erotic tooth pulling’ on AO3 is a Hannibal fic called ‘Manufactured Savagery’. By Steinem’s measure this is surely pornographic in the worst way; violence and domination presented as sexually arousing. But I can’t accept that women who get turned on by violence are simply confused. What does it mean to fantasise about violence inflicted on men? What does that look like in a medium by and for women?
When I had just started university, testing the boundaries of intimacy with people I didn’t know at all, I ended up having a conversation with a group of girls about sexual fantasies. They were all ashamed to admit they had, at some point, fantasised about being raped; fascinated and excited to find they weren’t alone. I wondered whether any of them had fantasised about being a rapist.
It’s only possible to ‘confuse love with pain’ if you accept they share something: both make you vulnerable. Romantic fiction often builds tension through its characters’ inability to admit to their true feelings. Instead, characters maintain a show of strength or indifference and resolution only arrives in the form of a confession, which makes them vulnerable. (There is always a brief moment where it seems like their feelings may not be reciprocated, or that their confession has come too late.) In that moment they are profoundly vulnerable; they are allowing the possibility that they might be hurt, emotionally. Making the metaphor concrete and allowing someone to hurt you physically is another way to make yourself profoundly vulnerable. It can act as an emotional shortcut, a display of devotion. Physical pain might even be easier to bear, as demonstrated succinctly by this meme:
Steinem’s masochistic woman reproduces a social dynamic where men are conquerors and women are conquests. The contrasting position is one in which both parties have ‘power’. If both partners are the same gender, at least in theory, this creates a more level playing field in which the decision to submit to someone or the desire to dominate someone is closer to a ‘positive choice’. Violence can then function primarily as a conduit to create vulnerability on an interpersonal level, rather than an assertion of societal power.
In the work featuring ‘erotic tooth pulling’, Hannibal keeps the tooth and puts it in a locket as a sign of his affection for Will: ‘Never doubt that I want you close to me’; in another, Hannibal fucks a corpse ‘in a twisted and desperate attempt to understand how he feels.’ In the show itself, Hannibal at one point presents a corpse in the shape of a heart for Will to find, as a declaration of love: the creator of the show, Bryan Fuller, has said the more explicitly romantic relationship between the characters in the third season was partly influenced by ‘feedback in the Twitterverse, where there was a lot of Hannigram [Hannibal/Will Graham] wish fulfilment’ – the fans got there before he did.
Laura Miller suggests ‘the undeniable signature of [fanfiction] isn’t eroticism but confession, the frank and extended discussion of emotions’, arguing the predominance of slash fiction in fandom comes from a female audience’s desire to see men discuss their feelings openly and honestly. This is another hallmark of traditional romance: a man who has been cold towards the heroine throughout reveals he doesn’t dislike her but is overwhelmed by his feelings for her – the Mr Darcy archetype. We accept that a man being brusque and/or rude to a woman might be a sign he desires her (this starts in the playground – ‘he’s teasing you because he likes you’), showing how opaque men’s emotional lives can be to many women and often frustrating our relationships with them. When it can be so difficult to get men to talk about their feelings in real life, it’s hardly surprising that in fantasy worlds it doesn’t take much to elicit a lengthy emotional confession. Violence, then, might be one of the tools a writer uses to create the conditions of vulnerability which elicit a confession, rather than an exercise in cruelty for its own sake.
Discussing women who desire men, it’s easy to assume women who create and consume slash fiction are heterosexual, and that slash fiction directly parallels lesbian pornography created by and for heterosexual men. This raises the possibility that slash fiction is a fetishized and dehumanised version of gay male sexuality. As Kiri Van Santen puts it: ‘To many people, it often seems that women in the slash community have decided that ‘gay sex’ is always sexy, that queer is always cute, and that we can take ownership of the gay male experience by writing about it and reading each other’s writing.’
When I was a teenager and my main occupations were writing slash fiction and being confused about my sexuality, I worried that my obsession with slash was a sign I wasn’t really bisexual: that deep down I was straight, and wanted to legitimise my passion for men having sex by sprinkling it with a little gayness of my own. Statistically, however, the fact I was into slash correlates with my bisexuality: according to the AO3 survey, ‘The largest group for both readers and creators of M/M was bi/pansexual women.’ If only I’d known that when I was fifteen. While bi women may well fetishize gay men and gay male relationships, it’s likely they have a different relationship to queer content than their straight counterparts; in any case, like lesbian porn, slash fiction often has very little relation to real-world gay sexuality and relationships.
Shiri Eisner notes that most lesbian porn is actually a fantasy of bisexuality: the women are waiting around for a man to come along. Either he does, or you, the viewer, are the man they are waiting for. Slash fiction is often also a fantasy of bisexuality rather than gay male sexuality as such, since the characters often have female love interests in the source material or ‘canon’ of the show. Whether the slash fiction writer chooses to acknowledge this, or pretends those love interests don’t exist, the reader who is a fan of the original show, film or book will know about these characters. For example, in Hannibal the two protagonists share a love interest: Alana Bloom. While this could be a perfect set-up for a threesome, it’s difficult to find fanfiction which involves these three having sex with each other – believe me, I’ve tried.
One possible explanation for bi women’s interest in slash fiction is they want to project their desire for men onto men with whom they have something in common: their queerness. After all, straight men have an unfortunate tendency to fetishize bisexual women (see above re. lesbian pornography), and every time I’ve kissed a woman in public and a man has said ‘Can I join in?’ However, the excision of women from these stories – presenting implicit rather than active bisexuality – suggests a certain ambivalence about the writer and reader’s identification with the characters.
In a story about love or sex between a man and a woman, a female reader is assumed to identify with the woman. If the story adheres to conventional gender norms – where loving and serving a man who will protect you is a woman’s highest aim – and you, as a woman, do not, you may well feel alienated. But you might still like stories about romance. Writing about men loving each other takes you out of the equation and opens up more possibilities: you can identify with any of the characters or none; you can think about different kinds of sex, some of which may be impossible in real life, without thinking about the implications if you tried it. You can explore violence and vulnerability without feeling yourself to be the victim or perpetrator of violence, without having to feel vulnerable.
During the time I was writing slash fiction, I felt my sexuality was split: I could imagine men with men, and myself with women. These were the parallel tracks my fantasies ran. I didn’t like to imagine myself with men – found it nearly impossible – because I didn’t know how a woman like me could be with a man. Straight people persist in asking same-gender couples ‘Who’s the man and who’s the woman’, and in that very crude sense, I have always wanted to be the man. And in the stories I wrote, however I felt, whatever I wanted to do, I could always be the man.
I also knew, when I wrote slash, that I was turning other women on: they left comments about how my stories were so hot, about the parts they liked, sometimes just quoting lines with a row of exclamation marks or incomprehensible keyboard mashing: the highest compliment of all. (Implicitly: ‘you left me speechless’, or maybe it meant: ‘This got me wet, this made me come.’) I sat there, as a virgin who’d never gone further than kissing and drank it all in.
Writers of fanfiction have a very direct connection to their readers, who leave comments, make requests and give immediate feedback. This is perhaps another aspect of slash fiction’s appeal to bi women: writing about men, acknowledging that desire for men, while sexually connecting with women. After the first time I had sex, I reflected on how strange it was that the woman I’d fucked was not the first woman I had made come – it’s just that I’d never met any of the others.
Pornography is often conceptualised as something that men do to women, something inherently harmful and irredeemable. At the same time, pornography that women enthusiastically create for each other is laughed off. While I was writing this essay, an article appeared in The Guardian about ‘how fanfiction went mainstream‘. While acknowledging that ‘[t]here is an undercurrent of misogyny in mainstream criticism of fanfiction’, the writer’s assessment of fanfiction’s image in recent years as ‘less creepy, more sweetly nerdy’ is still condescending. The defence of fanfiction in the article, and from commenters, emphasises that it isn’t all about sex or romance – taking for granted that fanfiction about sex or romance isn’t worth taking seriously. Ultimately, any frank discussion about female sexuality, especially sexualities which deviate from the norm, still makes people uncomfortable. The final line of the poem ‘I’m sorry’ comes from an author’s introduction to one of their works.
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