Shifting the Balance of Power — ‘Creating’ the Erotic Man

I recently attended a talk and slide-show at the Feminist Library in London led and organized by Suraya Sidhu Singh, Editor of Filament Magazine. Anyone who knows anything about Filament Magazine knows it’s one of the few magazines that feature stunning erotic photography of men photographed by women. The event asked the question: when there are so many great women photographers, why are there so few women photographing men erotically? It featured three women photographers who regularly do erotic photography of men; Migle Backovaite, Alex Brew and Victoria Gugenheim. Each woman gave a slide presentation featuring some of her amazing photography and spoke on her experiences of photographing men erotically.Suraya, who has researched the topic extensively also gave a talk on her findings. The discussion after the presentation was lively and thought-provoking.

 If I could sum up the evening in a phrase, it would be that the event was a study of what happens to the balance of power between the sexes when women are behind the camera photographing men erotically. This was not a factor I would have considered before, and afterward, I found myself wondering why I hadn’t, since it seemed so obvious.

 Naturally whatever I take away from any experience is always filtered through my writer’s brain, and I found myself comparing the experience of a woman photographer photographing men erotically to the experience of a woman writing men erotically. The internal comparison has been helpful to me as a writer, and from the standpoint of a woman who creates erotic art, I find the personal aftermath of the event challenging and exciting.

 I took away that one of the big reasons more women photographers don’t photograph men erotically is because of the power dynamics. A man being photographed erotically is by the very fact that he is the subject of the artist, submissive to her view of what she wishes to create. While lots of men are being photographed by women photographers, the dynamic is considerably different when the photography is erotic. I felt, especially from the powerful, sometimes frightening works of Alex Brew, that when a man is being photographed erotically, a negotiation for power takes place by default, a struggle to balance that power so that both the subject and the photographer understand and participate fully in the work being created in the way the photographer envisions it. Of course I’m not a photographer, and much of my feminism is a gut-felt response to growing up in a very male-dominated family and living in a world where the struggle for a balance of power is on-going. No doubt my view would have been slightly different with the benefit of a more academic and historic view of feminism, but the landscape would still be the same.

 There are few women photographing men erotically. By contrast, the majority of quality erotica is written by women. There are some brilliant men erotica writers, it’s true, but women have, in essence, defined the modern erotica genre. I think this surley must have been, at least partially, in response to the quality that wasn’t there in porn. Perhaps also in response to the general poor quality of porn, more and more men are now reading erotica written by women. This is just my informal view of the landscape. However as erotica writers, we are the creators of that landscape, at least fictionally, and that shifts the balance of power considerably. One would think that by the very nature of fiction, there would be no negotiating for power with our characters, but that isn’t true. Many writers would agree with me that their characters tell them how they want to be written, and their characters are always right. Indeed, it is the characters themselves that are more willing to take risks artistically than their creators. How much of the real world struggle for balance of power between the sexes effects what we create fictionally, however, is the subject for another blog post.

 Many of my woman colleagues find writing erotica one of the most empowering experiences in their life. I would definitely agree with that. While there is a camera separating the photographer from her subject, for good or ill, there is no separation between the writer and the world and the characters she creates. The negotiations are all internal, and the battle, though a quiet, perhaps less obvious one, is always going on.

 I was also struck by the fact that there was a relationship, a certain dynamic, between the photographers and their subjects, and that dynamic affected the end result heavily. In addition to the negotiation of the balance of power, trust was a big issue, for both the photographer and the subject. In the erotic photo spreads I’ve seen in Filament Magazine, there is a certain vulnerability achieved by the photographers in their work which is a part of what makes these spreads so erotic. There is an unselfconsciousness that doesn’t come across on the cover of a bodice ripper or in ordinary beefcake of the male stripper sort. That vulnerability and that level of trust is, for me as a viewer and as a writer, the true erotic element in the work. Take it away, and the work becomes generic, distant, two dimensional.

 I’ve found the same to be true of my writing. The characters only come to life, only feel like someone I’d want to make love to, even fall in love with, when their guard is down and they are most vulnerable, when I catch them in an intimate moment and I’m either someone who they trust or I’m a voyeur, which is another matter altogether. I can write as a voyeur easily, and I almost always do when I write BDSM, but it’s another level of trust and skill for a photographer to capture that voyeuristic feel, and a stolen peek at an intimate moment will always make the pulse race just a little bit faster.

I found myself admiring the bravery of these photographers because they’re entering a space traditionally reserved for men, and a space not without its danger. It’s a space in which there’s often still the assumption that any woman entering in must be ‘gagging for it,’ or why else would she photograph such things? Women erotica writers hear it all the time; that we must be loose slutty women, that surely we must have tried all the things we write about. The very big difference for us is that we don’t experience that from any of our characters. They’ve come from our imagination at our conjuring, and though they may have ideas of their own, they do not exist outside the world we’ve created, even when we let that world take up way too much of our lives in order to get them on the written page. Another level of trust and vulnerability and sharing of power has to take place in order to create powerful photographic images like those shared by Migle Backovaite, Alex Brew and Victoria Gugenheim, and when it happens, the images are erotic, haunting, and stunning snapshots of male beauty at its loveliest, and quite possibly at its purest.

 

Interviewed by SexToys.co.uk

 

Adventures in Luton at Sextoys HQ

I got off the train in the wasteland that is the Luton Station, and in the heat and dust, hailed the only taxi left in the taxi rank. I gave him the address.

 ‘What’s the name of the business, luv,’ he asked politely.

 Not sure why he needed that information, I said very quietly, ‘Sextoys,’ Yes, that’s right, the pervy chick who’d just gotten into his taxi wanted him to take her off to fondle sex toys and talk about writing erotica, but couldn’t we do this discreetly?

 ‘Pardon,’ he said.

 ‘Sex Toys dot co dot uk,’ I enunciated a little more clearly and a little louder. Alright, he asked. I’d tell him.

 He screwed up his face with that, ‘didn’t quite catch it, luv,’ look and reached out his hand for the print-out with the address on it. Then he smiled knowingly. ‘Ah, 1-on-1. You want 1-on-1.’

 I nodded red-faced, as he handed me back the page with the words 1-on-1 printed clearly above the street address. Then he headed off to our destination whistling happily as he drove.

 In all fairness, when the lovely Cara Sutra asked if I would do the interview, I really didn’t know what to expect. I only knew Sextoys.co.uk as the mysterious company that sells all those fabulous toys, costumes and other cool stuff on the Xcite Book site — often in conjunction with really hot books – some that included stories by yours truly.

 The taxi ride was about ten minutes to a nice business park that seemed quite upscale in comparison to the train station. I paid the driver and pressed the buzzer of a suite that had a bright, yet understated 1-on-1 sign above the door. Within seconds, Cara Sutra herself welcomed me into what could have passed as any other bright, comfy reception area for any of the myriad businesses in the complex… Except for the colourful displays of dildos, hand cuffs, lingerie, love balls, muff dye and lots of interesting gadgets I didn’t recognize. I’m such an innocent. This was the show room, Cara told me. She apologized for her bare feet, her way of dealing with the spring heat wave. Cara calls herself the ‘Jill of all trades’ at Sextoys HQ, and if her enthusiasm is any indication, I’d say she enjoys her work.

 She introduced me to Rach Starr, who offered me a 14-karat smile and a warm handshake. Rach was the presenter who interviewed me. I was then introduced to the video director and graphic designer in residence, Ellie Douglas, also bare-footed in honour of the weather, and Dean Sturgess, who ran the camera and added a few good questions of his own as the interview progressed. I found out later that Dean is also head of accounts.   

 Perched on a comfy red sofa in front of a huge One-on-One logo, Rach dazzled me with her smile and made me feel right at home while I nattered on and on about two of my favourite subjects; sex and writing – with a bit of walking and gardening thrown in for good measure. God, I’m so predictable.

 Shamelessly I plugged The Initiation of Ms Holly and The Pet Shop, with a hint of things to come in Lakeland Heatwave. I plugged all things Xcite and all of my erotic favourites. And when I paused for breath, Rach brought out her copy of Sex at Work and asked me to sign it. I felt like a celebrity! It was Rach’s last day with Sextoys. She’s an actress now taking a bold step out on her own. Good luck to you, Rach!

 At some point Dean asked if there was anything I would love to write but didn’t because I knew it couldn’t be published, which led to a discussion of the standard guidelines for most published erotica, and of course the differences between porn and erotica. Oh yes, lots of naughty folks at Sextoys HQ. And, wait for it, yes Ellie is a gardener – a veg gardener! Truly a woman after my own heart. The conversation wasn’t complete before we compared the size of our tomato plants.

 Then Ellie whisked me off for a tour of Sextoys HQ. The first stop was the enormous warehouse. Oh my, my! An erotica writer’s paradise. I’ve seen dildos and vibes and strap-ons before, but there were multiples… large multiples of everything! The colourful metal stock shelves rose from floor to ceiling full of every imaginable sex toy, gizmo or gadget, and some things I really couldn’t have imagined. In the spring heat, the huge sliding stock door was open to the fresh air.  Music played on the radio, and the place was a hive of activity. There were people filling orders, people stocking shelves, people rearranging shelves, and there were smiles and greetings all around. I was introduced to everyone in a whirlwind, so all I really remember are smiling faces and joking banter.

 Then Ellie took me up to the centre of the operation, a bright open-plan office with huge plate glass windows letting in the light on three sides. If I’d been a cat I would have staked out a place on the carpet in the sun and had a snooze. But this place wasn’t about snoozing. Keyboards clicked and copy-machines copied. Ellie introduced me to customer service, IT, and other office personnel, again all offering happy smiles and greetings, though that could have possibly been because Kirspy Kreme donuts were the order of the day – probably for Rach’s send-off.

 My favourite place had to be the catwalk out over the warehouse. I think it’s a hopeful sight, seeing floor to ceiling shelf after shelf of sex toys and other sex goodies with the sun streaming in behind the swirl of activity below. It was lovely to be in such a sex-positive place and to be with other people who think sex is worth celebrating.

 By three I was on the fast train from Luton back to St Pancras, but not before I was invited to The Manor to see Ellie’s tomatoes and her chickens – another adventure for another time. I left Luton with the good feeling that comes from meeting new friends who share a common passion. As the train pulled away, I felt as though I were leaving a part of me behind. Then it came to me, I’d left my jacket in the studio, my own sacrifice to the spring heat.   

 Cara tells me the interview will be on Sextoys.co.uk’s Vibe TV page, and will also be on attached to the product page of my books. I’ll pass the word when that happens.

 

It’s Time for Garden Porn

Two words…garden porn. Oh yes! I’m most definitely addicted. Do you have any idea how many luscious, deliciously explicit garden sites there are? Though I like pretty flowers just fine, and though plump red strawberries are enough to get my heart rate up, what really gets me going, what really makes me quiver all over is vegetables. My, oh my, how I love to look at sites that sell vegetables, or sites that give advice on how to grow vegetables, or sites that show photos of really well put-together veg gardens. Does it get any better than that?

 Oh, and the garden centres! I adore the earthy scent of fresh compost and fertilizer, of greenhouse heat and rank, growing plants, all overlaid with the scent of espresso from the coffee shop. And it’s not just the scent that I love, it’s the feel of a quality wooden handled hoe or garden fork resting in the relaxed but firm, grip of my hand. Some are designed especially for a lady’s light hand, while others are thick and long and manly. There are metres and meters of gossamer thin garden fleece all ready to caress my plants with that peek-a-boo hint of what lies beneath on a frosty spring night. There are multi-coloured, oh so soft, gloves to protect my hands while I’m groping and tugging in a weedy bed.

 And the plants. This time of year plants that aren’t just loaded with gaudy blooms already are heavy and swollen with buds about ready to burst. Stiff phallic shoots are coming up everywhere, and the heady scent of new growth is intoxicating.

 Personally, I don’t think it’s any surprise at all that I go both ways – erotic writer and vegetable gardener. We’re talking about the best of both worlds here. And inspiration, Wow! My seedlings are mostly in the mini greenhouses now, but when they first push up through the soft potting compost with just the tiniest hint of pale plant flesh pressing through the glossy black earth, it’s a teasing par excellence. My breath catches, my heart races and I’m positively bouncing with excitement.

 I’ve written about naughty things to do with carrots and courgettes, and I’ve written about kink amid the topiary. It’s true, getting down and dirty among the growing things makes me hot and sometimes sore. I planted runner beans today, squatted in the rich earth, digging and watering and patting in place. There’s still dirt under my nail,s and my shoulders ache. Yes, it was good for me.

 It’s true — I like the heat and the dirt, but what I like best of all is that the Muse hangs out in the vegetable garden. When I’m getting down and dirty in the beans, the Muse whispers fabulous naughtiness, amazing imaginative titillating tales in my ear. He’s practically giving it away, when I’m up to my knuckles in compost. I think the Muse likes garden porn too. It makes him  loose and easy with his ideas, and there I am hunkered down amid the weeds and the beans, completely unsuspecting of what he’s about to whisper to me. It’s always hot, and he always makes it good for me. Oh yes. I do like garden porn. I can hardly wait to write down all that he whispered in my ear while I took my pleasure planting beans.

Just a little added note: Keziah Hill just informed me that there is an actual site called Garden Porn. I just checked it out. A site where the ‘Hortisexuals’ hang out is my kind of site!

 

In the Company of Women

I’ve gone through long swaths of my life with men among my closest friends. And I’m a lucky woman in that my very best friend is my husband. But one of the fantastic fringe benefits that has come with writing erotica is the fabulous company of women. Whether online or up close and personal, time spent with Real Women, sexy, lusty, smart, empathetic, lovely women is NEVER time wasted.

I get lots of chances to think about my vibrant relationships with women these days. Saturday night’s fabulous smut fest at Sh! Portobello was a perfect example. I love reading my stories in front of an audience, but I love listening to other women read theirs just as much. And the warm fuzzy feeling is only enhanced by a little pink fizz in a place as sex positive and pro-chick as the Sh! Stores are.

Saturday night was a triple celebration of Women Together. The fabulous artist Mayo’s lovely work graced the walls of the Sh! Portobello gallery/event room. All of those lovely charcoals and pastels illustrated some of my dear friend and great erotica writer, Kay Jaybee’s stories. The art work most definitely set the mood. Kay Jaybee read from her hard-pounding, sexy novel, The Perfect Submissive, which I’d already read and loved. But I have to admit, hearing Kay read from it out loud, sat there on the posh pink throne all booted and swathed in black and red, was a much more visceral experience… in the hottest sort of way. Kay also gave us a teaser from her new e-anthology, Yes Ma’am, with hot and sweaty squaddies in the midst of delicious nastiness in ‘lying in Wait’. Kay and Mayo would have enough to send me back home on the train to Surrey totally blissed out. But too much of a good thing is even better!

To add to the lovely girlie naughtiness of the evening, the luscious Lucy Felthouse was there, reading about a steamy champagne-soaked encounter with a hot waiter in ‘Just Couldn’t Wait.’ The remarkable Rebecca Bond, in her lovely mauve heels, delved into crime and punishment in her gritty hot story, ‘Sin City.’ And the yummy Victoria Blisse cleaned up with her story of a very naughty, very hot cleaning lady caught in the act in ‘Dirty Deeds.’ These three lovelies were at Sh! for the aural debut of the critically acclaimed anthology, Uniform Behaviour, edited by Lucy. Uniform Behaviour is a great anthology by any standards, but even more remarkable as Lucy’s first effort, though most thankfully it won’t be her last.

If the setting provided by the lovely Sh! Ladiez wasn’t enough, with wonderful art work, colourful displays of tempting sex toys and hot readings, the audience itself was awash in a bevy of sultry writer chix. I had the pleasure of sitting next to the fabulous Lily Harlam, whose sizzling fairy tale novella, The Mother of All Hen Nights, still heats me up when I think about it. Lexie Bay was there. Lexie is another one of the fabulous Uniform Behaviour chix, who opted not to read…this time, though her fabulous story, ‘In Love and War,’ like all the other stories in the anthology, shines.  Also there was the lovely Lavinia Lewis, whose novel, Luke’s Surprise, has things boiling over at Total-E Bound.

The evening was stirred to perfection by the  Sh! Ladiez, Always on hand to make sure the pink fizz flowed and no one suffered from want of a cupcake. And even more important, they were always ready to tell everyone about all the great toys and books and corsets and other sexy items in the store. Ladiez, you’re the best!

I certainly wouldn’t want to short-change the men behind the pink throne. Where ever sex-positive, imaginative, steamy women go, the blokes won’t be far behind. And it’s no surprise at all to find the highest calibre of men in attendance – sometimes a little shell-shocked by the sea of pink and the tables of sex toys, but quietly, charmingly taking it all in, and often playing the very important role of photographer.

Yes, I’m often in the company of women these days, whether it’s just a quick text to one of my close erotica friends or whether it’s plotting and scheming as we mooch around the London Book Fair, as I was lucky enough to do yesterday with Lucy Felthouse and Rebecca Bond. I’ve always enjoyed my male friends, and still do very much. And I would be the first to admit there are some fabulous men writing erotica now, but I appreciate the company of women because we all know what the journey is like for a woman to embrace her wild side, embrace her vibrant, gritty, dangerous, tender sexy self and step forth with enough confidence to write it down as something to be valued and shared and celebrated… often with pink fizz and cupcakes.

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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