This summer, I purchased a pink letterman jacket with the word THIRSTY written in all caps block letters on the back, and the squirting emoji – you know the one: three water droplets, very useful for sexting – on the front. It’s custom-made, which means I am the only person in the whole world to own this exact jacket. My best friend helped me come up with the concept. I was going to queer adult summer camp and the theme was high school; I wanted a really great signature costume piece for the occasion.
A pink letterman jacket, duh, I texted her, but what should it say? We brainstormed a few possibilities before landing on the final product. Once my friend said it I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it immediately. A pink letterman jacket with the word thirsty on the back. A one-word description of how I’ve chosen to live my life for the past eighteen months, a summation of everything I hold near and dear to my heart, the silliest yet most honest proclamation of what has become my strongest held belief system.
I felt entirely undesirable when my last serious relationship ended. My ex and I had loved each other a lot but at the end that was not enough – at the end all we had was the end. Even more jarring than feeling undesirable, I felt that I could not locate my own desire. What did I want? Who did I want? Would I ever want again?
Actively stating desire is a radical act, especially for girls, especially for queers, especially for people who have been taught since birth to take up very little space, to be very quiet, to not want too much, to make sure we make ourselves desirable. From a young age society instructs us on how to make ourselves into objects of desire; locating desire inside oneself is not taught. Desire is a skill we must teach ourselves.
Once I was single, I had to grapple with the fact that in my relationship I had stopped reaching for my own desire, and then I had to learn to desire again slowly. I kept track of the things I wanted: time to write, strong boundaries, deep friendship. Bold lipstick, crop tops, bikinis. Flirtations, kisses, sex. The more I allowed myself to want, the more I realized I wanted. The more I leaned in to my desires, the clearer they became.
Everyone deals with a breakup differently, a friend tells me while we’re floating in a lake near Portland on a particularly hot afternoon in July. I’ve been single for just over three months. Are you talking about my thirst traps, I ask, laughing as I clutch the log we’re using as a floatation device, or my Soft Egg Content? I’ve been posting a lot of photos of my cleavage and a lot of videos of perfectly poached eggs with deliciously runny yolks breaking open in suggestively sexual ways to my Instagram. Breakups are a weird time, you know? Both, my friend laughs, and I do too.
But later that day when I’m home from the lake, in the privacy of my own bedroom, I stare at my naked body in the mirror and I ponder exactly what my friend meant. Is it embarrassing that I’ve been posting so many slutty photos to Instagram? Does everyone know about my breakup? Is my community silently judging me, rolling their eyes at my desperate attempts to mark myself as desirable and also filled with desires? Are my thirst traps just a way to deal with my breakup? Is that bad? I think about this all for a long time, longer than I’d like to admit. I wish I didn’t care what anyone thought of me but I’m human. I write in my journal later that night: Is being incredibly thirsty a valid way to deal with a breakup?
I didn’t have any answers, but before I went to bed I arranged my naked body in my floral print sheets so that most of my tits were showing, covered my nipples with my unicorn stuffed animal, parted my purple-lipsticked lips just so, and held up the phone so that the camera would crop the shot close. For whatever reason, posting thirst traps was making me feel good. I snapped a photo, posted it to Instagram, then fell asleep.
If desire was something I had to relearn, I took my studies very seriously. I thought carefully about what I actually wanted to eat, how I actually wanted to spend my time. I chose my outfits meticulously, acknowledged which fabrics felt best against my skin. I planned a cross-country move, carefully weighing my options about which method of travel would not only make the most sense but would bring me the most joy. I wanted to wake up full of desire for life – to be frank, I wanted to be thirsty. If I couldn’t achieve that right away, I would fake it. Everyone deals with a breakup differently.
And finally – I kissed someone new. Sex is not the thing that will snap everyone into an extremely razor sharp version of reality, but for me, it was the jolt I needed. When my lips landed on M’s my body sparked with muscle memory. I want this, I thought as they pulled my hair. And then, immediately – it feels so good to want something.
I went to the lake with my friends again and announced my plan to have a Slutty Summer. C took photos of me sitting on our log, tits out, hair cascading down my back, can of pink sparkling wine in hand. To V’s Slutty Summer, she said as she snapped picture after picture, some of which I would later post to Instagram, of course. We all cheered.
I fuck M, then K, then B, then R, then W. I meet T, my best friend’s new roommate, and flirt so hard she tells me I think your oven is permanently set to 400. I laugh; we end up in her bedroom making out against her closed door. I go out dancing and make out with strangers who stay mostly strangers. I go to a friend’s goodbye party and make out with D. How did you find someone to make out with at a goodbye party where we know and dislike almost everyone? C asks me. Aggressive cleavage and a can-do attitude go a long way, I say, and we laugh and laugh and laugh.
I feel like one of those characters in the weird genre of makeover movies from the 90s, the shy nerdy girls who take off their glasses and put on a new dress and suddenly the most popular football player notices them. Except I’m still wearing my glasses and all I did was put on a velvet crop top and purple lipstick and a fake septum piercing – but it’s true that suddenly everyone notices me. Or maybe I notice everyone for the first time. This is so fun to experience, a friend says one night when I get drunk and make out with her, then her girlfriend. You’ve always been such a flirt and now you can finally act on it!
When I was a kid, I learned that the worst thing a girl can be is a slut. Sometimes it feels extremely basic to go over how we have had to unlearn the bullshit we were spoon-fed as children; we’re queer feminists! We know being a slut rules! But I think it’s important to examine where we come from, especially when we think about desire.
I used to say the only thing I wouldn’t write about on the internet was sex – specifically, the sex I was having. I started writing on the internet when I was 10 years old; I’ve spent two decades putting my thoughts onto a screen to audiences of varying size. But until extremely recently, I didn’t want to write about sex. Why? I think I was still scared of being called a slut. I think I was afraid that somehow leaning into my own desire, my own thirst, my own deep love of sex and feeling good in my body, could be used against me. But it can’t. In claiming my thirst, I’ve claimed my power.
Call me a slut, I dare you. I know I am. I like it. I’m not scared of my desire anymore.
Being actively thirsty is the best choice I have ever made for myself and my happiness. Once I taught myself how to access my wants I realized they are vast, varied. My sexual desires helped spark desire in other parts of my life. I am suddenly highly attuned to what I want, and I’m not scared to openly lust for it all.
I’ve been writing a lot of sex scenes lately and I realize I have a writing tic that comes out specifically when I describe myself having sex. All writers do this in some capacity – there’s a word you gravitate to when describing beauty, a metaphor you lean on heavily no matter the subject. The trick is to notice it and address it; no one wants to read a book where the grass is described as “lush” 417 times.
My sex scene habit is the phrase I want everything. I write it over and over; in every sex scene I’ve written over the past eighteen months the phrase has appeared. I let it stay sometimes. In a recent fisting scene I wrote I have a paragraph that goes like this: “My desire lives like an object in my throat, like glitter on my skin. We get back to my room and we’re alone my dress comes off before her boots she ties her hair up pushes me down she straddles me she pulls my hair I’m wet I want her I want everything.” I let myself keep that particular I want everything because I love how it sounds, because it is true. But often I make myself delete the phrase, try to say the same thing in different words. I remind myself that no one wants to read “I want everything” 417 times over the course of one single book. And that’s true, they don’t.
But I’m proud of myself for creating that habit, both in my writing and in my life, even if it calls for revision in my prose. I’m proud of myself for wanting everything. I want everything 417 times. I want everything over and over, times infinity. I am so thirsty and I’m so not sorry about it.
This essay is more serious than I originally intended it to be, especially because the pink jacket with the word THIRSTY on the back and the squirting emoji on the front is mostly a joke. It’s objectively funny to have a varsity style jacket, when I have never played a single organized sport in my life, created with the idea that I somehow lettered in being thirsty. It was a hit at queer adult summer camp, at Portland Pride, on dates, with friends and strangers alike. It does represent who I am – a thirsty slut, duh – but it’s also silly and lighthearted. So how did my jokey jacket lead me to an overly earnest meditation on desire?
Honestly, I think it’s because even in 2019, queer women and other folks who have marginalized gender identities are still not encouraged to celebrate wanting anything, let alone everything. When I post a thirst trap, when I embrace my naked fat body before anyone else can weaponize it or shame me for it, when I am honest about my crushes, when I speak openly about how much I love sex – I am fucking powerful. That power spills over into other parts of my life, too. Yes, I am thirsty for sex, but I am thirsty for so much more, too. I want to host elaborate gatherings for my friends. I want to spread abundance throughout my community. I want to write my book and then I want to publish it. I want to get pregnant and be a mother. I want Autostraddle to survive and thrive and I want to get a raise and a promotion (hi, boss). I want, I want, I want, I want everything.
We can’t have everything all at the same time, obviously. Maybe we can never have it all. But learning how to be unapologetically thirsty as a personal lifestyle choice has changed my whole world and my perception of myself. Granting myself permission to want things has allowed me to live my dreams. I love being thirsty, and I think you might like it too.
Consider buying a pink varsity jacket. What emoji might go on the front? If you could put any word on the back of yours, what would it say? What do you desire? What do you see in your mind’s eye when you think of the phrase, I want everything?