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Short Fiction Playlist: Five Stories With Queer Sex

Hello, and welcome back to Short Fiction Playlists, a recurring series where I recommend queer short stories based around a theme/vibe/etc.! Check out the last iteration for “sad-funny” story recs!

Today, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ve got five sex stories for ya. I wouldn’t say they’re all necessarily romantic! In fact, some are quite sad and messed up. But what literary queers don’t love a lil bit of grief smashed up against sex? I know I do!

“Birds Surrendered and Rehomed” by Kristen Arnett, published in Oprah Magazine

Pressed together on the bed, Sidney couldn’t tell which parts were her and which were Eliana. It felt different, but good. They sweat and they kicked, the sheets wrapping around their legs, the bird howling and panting and muttering oh my god, oh my god.

Okay, let’s get this out of the way: Yes, I am recommending my own girlfriend’s short story! But the thing is, even if it were not written by my girlfriend, I would love this story in all its strange, sexy sadness. And maybe you don’t believe me, but I don’t care! The story is about Sidney, who adopted a parrot with her ex Miranda. After Miranda’s death, the bird starts mimicking the things Sidney used to say to her in bed, giving voice to desire extinguished and making things very uncomfortable for Sidney with her new lover Eliana. Slightly surreal and very erotic but simultaneously uncomfortable (what would it be like to have your own sex talk perfectly parroted back to you?), this short story is one I return to often. Grief and sex are quite literally smashed together here, the bird functioning like a mirror and a ghost. Kristen writes lots of stories that feature queer sex, and this one is my favorite.

“Not Kinky” by Abbey Fenbert, published in Catapult

Anne of Green Gables 

I love fiction that directly confronts the limitations of language. Here, we have a protagonist who tells people she met her girlfriend via her girlfriend’s queer erotica, which is both true and not quite true. The protagonist and her girlfriend attend a panel on “kink” at a literary festival, and the protagonist mentally critiques the various panelists for being too lofty, too theoretical in their discussions of sex and kink and too avoidant of talking about actual fetishes. But the protagonist is imperfect in her thinking, too, falling into that old trap of attempting to define what she asserts is undefinable. She’s jealous, pretentious, and self-absorbed, and she’s also right to find the panel lacking. The protagonist’s contradictions are funny, frustrating, and human as fuck. There aren’t actual sex scenes in this story, but it’s so much about the paradoxes of desire and of analyzing desire that it fits well in this playlist.

“Everyone’s Sins Taste Delicious Except My Own” by Jane Flett, published in Electric Literature

“C’mere,” I say to Bellope, my throat thick. She turns to me, lips open and gorgeous. I grin lasciviously. We fall upon each other with grabby hands, and I collapse into the wonder of her mouth.

I think my jaw was on the floor the entire time I read this story. It’s that good. The way Flett infuses food into the language here delights and unsettles in equal measure. The story tells a folklorish tale of a “sin eater,” someone who is hired to consume the sins of someone after they die — sopped up in a loaf of bread — so that the person can be absolved as they enter the afterlife. But how much sin can someone commit before the sins seep into their own lives? Embedded in this dark fairytale is a queer love story flecked with jealousy and simmering conflict, the narrator and her lover Bellope swallowed up by each other and by their all-consuming work. Flett creates this world and its rules with immense confidence and even seems to invent her own language. I can’t wait to come back to this one and discover new things!

“Inventory” by Carmen Maria Machado, published in Strange Horizons, republished in Lit Hub

I had not slept with a woman since my wife, but as she lifted her shirt I realized how much I’d been craving breasts, wetness, soft mouths. She wanted cock and I obliged. Afterward, she traced the indents in my skin from the harness, and confessed to me that no one was having any luck developing a vaccine.

It’s always a good time for some throwback CMM imo. This story was originally published in 2013, four years before it would be featured in Her Body And Other Parties. What starts out seeming as a straightforward story concept of a first-person narrator detailing every sexual encounter she has had in life unspools into one of the best pandemic short stories I’ve ever read — written many years before the pandemic we currently live in. But “Inventory” doesn’t feel timely; it feels timeless. A sweeping apocalyptic tale full of intensely intimate moments, it’s like a bite-sized version of Stephen King’s The Stand but way hornier.

“How Many” by Bryan Washington, published in The New Yorker

The fifth one takes you home from Blur. You decide to let him fuck you. It works without a hitch, and afterward, in bed, with your head against his chest, he smiles and says he has a boyfriend. After you’ve left, you pull your car into a Whataburger, where you scream, and you scream, and you scream.

Bryan Washington writes food and sex so, so well, capturing the allure and mess of both. “How Many” is a quick bite of a flash piece in which the narrator counts and recounts various hookups with men met at Houston’s gay bars. I’m obsessed with the last two sentences of it — so much so that I didn’t excerpt them here because I want them to be a soft surprise. If you haven’t read Lot, what are you doing!

Feel free to send any playlist theme requests my way! Have you read anything good lately? Are you a queer writer who recently had fiction published online? Hit me up! Today’s playlist featured two stories that were sent to me, so I’m serious! I want to hear from you!

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 840 articles for us.


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