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Zak Jane Keir’s Response to Acting Like an Erotica Writer

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post called Acting Like An Erotica Writer. That post got some very insightful feedback, not the least of which came from the fantastic novelist, Zak Jane Keir. Ever the opportunist, I asked Jane if she would write a post for A Hopeful Romantic based on her insights, and fortunately for all of us, she said yes. Welcome, Zak!

Let’s be clear, it’s not about who you, particularly, are. It’s not about what you, particularly, write.  As writers, we all do our stuff as best we can, and enjoy it as much as we can, and if we’re asked to explain it or talk about doing it, we manage that as best we can, as well.

That I am sick to death of this fucking trope, and that I think it’s actually harmful to women, to feminism, and to the individual writers who’ve been fed to it (I doubt that many of the writers portrayed in this way are deliberately emphasizing their own ‘harmlessness’ to this extent), is not an attack on either any individual writer nor on the fact that some people ARE heteromonogamous, shy, ‘respectable’, gentle, parents, suburban or anything else like that. It’s fine to be who you are. It’s fine to write what you write.

There is a conflicting, confused desire for ‘authenticity’ from fiction writers; the old ‘write what you know’ advice which is often misinterpreted as ‘write about your own experiences’. That’s, obviously, a bit silly: if you think JK Rowling really has a wand to cast spells with, you’re probably a bit too dim to be let out of the house. Same goes if you think that Ian Rankin, Ruth Rendell or Sara Paretsky have really murdered people in order to ‘know how it feels’. This doesn’t make it OK to make honking factual errors just because you’re writing fiction: the editors at Mills and Boon allegedly still giggle about the proposal submitted to them which featured an Australian sheep farm menaced by tigers. (Perhaps the author should have tried to insist that his/her novel was set in an alternate reality?)Zak's post

Just about every feature published (on or offline) about women who write explicit fiction hammers home the same message: the contrast between the writer and the writing. Mothers! Mumsy! Grandmas! They KNIT! They GO TO CHURCH! They wear cardigans and love their hubbies! They offer the hardbitten male journo a nice cup of tea and a home-baked cake! The trouble with the mainstream media’s absolutely frantic casting of female erotic writers as either sweet old dears or nervous virgins is that it perpetuates the idea that women don’t really like real sex. Because, actually, the idea of women liking sex, seeking sex, having sexual autonomy, is really scary and threatening to the status quo. Any media which is set up to cater to the idea of women’s autonomous sexuality gets stifled, compromised, belittled, mocked, and shut down. I speak from a degree of authentic personal experience: there comes a point, in creating, distributing and selling media, where you are confronted with The MAN who doesn’t get it. ‘Well, my wife wouldn’t like it, so it won’t sell.’ ‘’Yeah but you’re not a NORMAL woman, are you?’ ‘Yeah OK but you need to get advertising from companies that sell make up and clothes, so you can’t run that feature telling women that they’re sexy without doing any shopping.’

The fact that what a lot of women like, in terms of sexually-gratifying media, is not just dominant billionaire bastards proposing marriage to vacuous bimbos who are, invariably, much prettier than they really think is either left out of this mainstream portrayal of ‘Mummy Porn’ or noisily mocked as some sort of teeny-weeny subdivision of Peculiar Women. Because women are supposed to Respect the Cock, they’re not capable of regarding men as objects of desire or tools for their pleasure.

The writers who get featured in articles along the lines of ‘Nice Married Straight Suburban Mouse Who Knows Her Place Writes Silly Naughty Books’ are rarely asked about what they *actually* write. Because they might well say that their stories feature homoerotic shenanigans for the entertainment of women, or golden showers, or a female goddess accepting erotic sacrifice from a whole horde of powerful men, and that’s never going to be mentioned.

But if a female erotic writer lets it be known that she actually DOES some of this stuff, then, well, the world might end. Because women don’t do that. Really, they don’t, they can’t, it’s not possible. Not only would the sky fall in but men might have to consider women human.

About Zak:

Zak has been writing about sex and sexuality for over 20 years. She spent some time as a fetish/swingers club reviewer for Forum, and was involved in the founding of the now-defunct Guild Of Erotic Writers. She has been published in Swingmag, For Women, Desire, Forum and Penthouse in the past.

Links: Zak’s novel Black Heart is available in all ebook formats, check it out here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-Heart-Zak-Jane-Keir-ebook/dp/B00EALIOAI

Her stories have also appeared in a variety of places, including the Nexus anthology Spanked http://www.amazon.co.uk/Spanked-Peter-Birch-ebook/dp/B00DOL0J58/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1391647749&sr=1-1&keywords=spanked+peter+birch

 

 

 

The Intrepid Sarah Berry Talks Writing and Other Outrageous Stuff

KD: My first introduction to you, Sarah, was back when you wrote for the now defunct Scarlet Magazine. I always looked forward to your ‘Berry Outrageous’ pieces because you were the reporter who personally explored the kink we all wanted to know more about, then told us the yummy details in a style that was both entertaining and informative. Since then I’ve known you as the editor of Forum Magazine and the founder of the wonderful women’s group, Fannying Around, and just all around cool chick. Having recently been thoroughly entertained by hearing you read an original work of Sarah Berry erotic fiction, A (getting) Biblical Tale, I was amazed by your versatility as a writer. Could I be so bold to ask for a brief history of Sarah Berry, the writer?

Sarah: Dear KD, the phone is off the hook, the Cava is bubbling and I’ve slipped into something uncomfortable. Fire away…

KD: Oooh! Sounds like the ideal set-up for a fab interview! Let me start by asking what do you like to write most?

Sarah: I delight in writing features that are informative, entertaining and saucy and have carved a name for myself writing reportage features for Scarlet as Berry Outrageous – a joy. There have been thousands of articles written on the likes of pony play, spanking and adult babies, but if you write openly about your own experiences it will always be unique.

KD: Tell us a little bit about your latest offering, Pete and Sarah’s Guide to Seasonal Sex, written with Peter Birch.

Sarah: I met Peter while editing Forum and a collaboration between us seemed like a no brainer. I am relatively young lady who delights in gentler sex play while Pete is a veteran of the sex scene whose deliciously pervy antics frequently lead cheeks (both upper and lower sets) to blush furiously. Our Seasonal Guide captures both our perspectives in a range of features, fiction and interviews, written around a seasonal theme. The Winter issue includes Burlesque queen Ditz Von Teese; Trans porn star Buck Angel; great ideas to raunch up 2012 with our new year’s revel-ations; kinksters who love sneezing, woolly tights and big knickers, sexy ways to keep warm and more. We’re just working on the spring issue – watch out for the bunnies!

KD: Sounds fab! And I’ll be looking forward to the bunnies in the next issue! You’ve written a lot about sex, Sarah, you’ve written investigative pieces, you’ve written blog pieces, you’ve edited magazines on the subject, and you write some pretty steamy erotica as well. Why sex? Why not food or politics or any number of other topics? And why such an enthusiastic ‘hands-on,’ so to speak, approach?

Sarah: Actually over my career I have written on a range of subjects from the latest developments in railways to living with Tourettes (I have it mildly and no I don’t swear – at least not without meaning it). I am currently contributing editor of a marine magazine!

However, the reason my sex writing is so prominent is maybe because people enjoy my unique perspective – indeed Pete says I could sell butt plus to Mary Whitehouse. I am open about the fact that I’ve suffered from a sexual dysfunction (more on that below) and, whether I am writing about amputee devotees or men who like to be kicked in the balls, I try not to sensationalise them. I strive to portray their point of view and offer helpful advice to any readers with similar passions. I encourage people to experiment if they want to but don’t try and shock those who don’t. As long as we’re safe sane, consensual and legal, I say each to their own.

KD: I’d buy butt plugs from you, Hon!  If you had to choose a topic other than sex to write about, what would it be?

Sarah: In the future I hope to write more women’s lifestyle pieces.

KD: What do you think was your finest moment, as a writer (so far, of course)?

There’s been lots of proud moments but I think the most important one was the first time I wrote about vaginismus. This is a sexual dysfunction where my brain told my pelvic muscles to clamp up. In my teens sex was impossible, in my 20s it was traumatic, then in my early 30s, unpredictable. It’s only with my current fella that I know I can have sex whenever we both feel like it.

By the time I was 28 I’d had a couple of sex features published and I decided that, if I was going to be a sex journalist, I wanted to tell it how it was, warts n all (I mean this metaphorically, luckily I’ve never had genital warts).

But I felt like I was taking a huge risk. Most of my friends had no idea about the condition, and I was so worried the media world would think I wasn’t qualified to write about sex. So I downed two bottles of wine and wrote a Voice of Experience feature for Scarlet, explaining my struggle with this condition. I read the feature to two ex boyfriends. They both asked me if I was sure then commended my braveness. The next morning, hungover, I edited it for drunken typos then sent it in.

I needn’t have worried: Sarah Hedley the Scarlet editor, loved the article and awarded me with the accolade of “Contributor of the month.” A year later she gave me a column in the magazine!

Countering the shame around sex problems is the basis of my groups. The Open Forum is a support group for women with stubborn nethers, in Fannying Around we discuss the good, bad and interesting about our special places and in Private Pictures we draw them. Find out more at www.fanniesrule.com.

KD: Wow! You’ve had an amazing journey, and one that I’m sure is a real encouragement to a lot of people. What would you love to write about that you haven’t?

Sarah: I am hoping to do a lot more campaigning about how the medical profession views sexual problems. Like me, many of the women have been told to, “Just relax,” while many men are palmed off with Viagra. GPs should be more open to referring patients to therapists. Also, I went to a vulvodynia conference the other day. This is an umbrella term for women who suffer from an unexplained chronic pain in their nethers. I will be pitching features about this in the new year. My dream, once I’ve qualified as a sex therapist, is to get a gig as an agony aunt!

KD: What advice would you give to young writers or people aspiring to a writing career?

Sarah: Be honest, be original and, if you’re writing about sex, seriously consider using a pseudonym.

KD: What was the most fun piece you’ve ever written?

Sarah: Gosh… there’s been so many. I think the London Naked Bike Ride was special. I had to swallow all my worries about being chunky and just get on with it. It was so bloody liberating. And when I threw a flier explaining the cause of the ride to a load of builders, they fell on it like I was Angelina Jolie. I highly recommend you give it a go!

KD:  Wow! I might consider riding a bike naked if it got me treated like Angelina Jolie. What was the most unusual piece you’ve ever written?

Sarah: Definitely the big toy challenge where I put the world’s biggest sex toys up a very mild tempered chap called PUMA (which stands for Put It Up My Arse). The finale ended up with me drildoing him with a bumpy toy that that was over two feet long, stuck on the end of Woolworths’ drill. When he prolapsed I almost puked!

KD: What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in sex writing right now?

Sarah: The fact that it’s so easy to blog means that anyone can be a writer – of course that means there’s a lot of crap and offensive diatribes to wade through. Also the nature of social networking means we can bring our messages to a wider audience. I’ve had some very touching emails for kinksters and vaginismus sufferers thanking me for helping them to not feel so alone.

KD: What does the future hold for Sarah Berry, the writer?

Sarah: I’m planning on penning more erotica and a book offering advice on getting laid. Plus there will be the spring issue of Pete & Sarah’s Guide to Seasonal Sex and more exciting fanny projects on www.fanniesrule.com. I hope you’ll all be along for the ride xxx

KD: I wouldn’t miss it, Sarah! Thanks for being my guest. Happy New Year, and I’ll very much be looking forward to lots of great pieces from Sarah Berry in 2012!

Pete and Sarah’s Guide to Seasonal Sex is available to download from Amazon and iTunes.
Amazon UK
Amazon US
All Romance eBooks
iTunes

 

Susan Quilliam Talks About Sexualization

I’m so excited to have Susan Quilliam as my guest today on A Hopeful Romantic. Susan wears a lot of hats. She is a writer, a broadcaster, a consultant and a  mentor on the psychology of relationships and sexuality, among other things. But what she’s most noted for is rewriting what is probably the most famous sex manual of our time, The Joy of Sex, Alex Comfort’s 1972 masterpiece. In 2008 Susan revised The Joy of Sex and brought it roaring into the 21st century.

I had the pleasure of meeting Susan at the Fannying Around Women’s Group founded by Sarah Berry, where she had been asked to speak. After some online correspondence, Susan kindly agreed to allow me to interview her concerning the nebulous, but frightening topic of sexualization. Welcome, Susan!

K D: I think a lot of problems and confusion are caused by people not understanding what sexualization is and confusing it with sexuality. Somehow promiscuity always gets thrown into the equation as well. Susan, could you start by giving us some working definitions, please? What exactly is sexualization and how did it come about?

Susan: Ah….. so many definitions of this term! I guess the most relevant here is ‘sexual perspective’… the way more and more aspects of society today are seen through the lens of sexuality.

We do live in an age that is arguably more sexualized than ever before. How has it come about? I ran a whole evening around this topic recently at The School of Life (link: www.theschooloflife.com) – we explored the ways in which modern society quite simply makes it much easier to have sex and so more tempting to link sex with everything.

As the last century began, huge social changes such as industrialisation meant that folk who used to live in close-knit, morally-tied villages suddenly found themselves in huge anonymous cities where they were free to do what they liked with whomever they liked. The rise of science and the decline of religion meant all the messages about ‘sex is sin’ suddenly seemed wrong, while with women’s emancipation and then the pill came the possibility of having sex without conception – just for pleasure.

Not that I’m saying that sex just for pleasure is a bad idea! Far from it! But all these changes have meant that sex has been delinked from family life, has been brought out of the bedroom and is far more visible in society. And as with all social changes, that brings some good and some bad in its wake.

K D: How closely linked do you think sexualization is with consumerism? Are two the opposite sides of the same coin?

Susan: Ever since the first prostitute accepted the first fee for delivering sexual favours, sex has been linked with consumerism. But even outside the directly sexual industries, it’s inevitable that as sex is so powerful, people will want more of it – and that those who aim to make money will be harnessing that power: linking sex with products, marketing goods by making them appear to trigger sexual desire, selling services through promising sexual success.

It’s sad that sex is sold in this way… sad that we don’t all have the true intimacy with another person that means we are neither looking to buy sex nor looking to buy things that deliver sex. If we were all loved, physically and emotionally, in a way that made us feel valued, powerful, safe and satisfied emotionally, the link between sexualization and consumerism would be broken.

K D: Is there a solution that doesn’t involve censorship? How much of the solution do you think falls to parents, or even those us who aren’t parents, and how much to the state?

Susan: I personally believe that though we see a great deal of problematic sexualization going on, there are also huge solutions being put in place, both on a personal and on a society-wide level. Maybe I’m being too optimistic – but in my own lifetime we have moved from a high level of ignorance and fear about sex to a much healthier and happier approach. Trust me, having a fulfilling sex life in the middle of the last century was rarely easy and straightforward.

Nowadays parents, though often unresourced, are acting to protect their children. School sex education, though often minimal, is now seen as necessary. Adults too are maturing in their attitudes to sex; there is a growing awareness in society of the value and power of sexuality – and that it needs to be treasured and taken seriously. Plus organisations such as the Family Planning Association and Relate are working to promote positive sexuality.

K D: The main concern about sexualization seems to be its effect on children. Is it a problem for adults too?

Susan: Yes – though as I say above, I’m optimistic that as a society we are maturing in our attitudes to sex. But the latest figures on sexually transmitted infections show that there’s a steep rise in disease in the over-40s, who think that they are immune and take risks; this is a clear reflection of the way adults too are hitting problems in this respect.

K D: I hope I’m not being sexist in asking this question, but I just have to. Is sexualization a feminist issue? I ask that because most of the images with which we’re confronted on a daily basis, whether on billboards, the internet, movies or women’s magazines are of women and geared toward women – and little girls.

Susan: I agree that sexualization is a feminist issue. Females are bombarded with images that suggest they will be valued more if they present themselves as sexually knowledgeable and active. As an agony aunt I often get letters from early teenage girls saying that they want a boyfriend to love them, and hence are going to do sexual things that they don’t necessarily want to do.

But this isn’t a one-sided issue. I get letters from teenage boys saying the same, saying they feel under pressure to perform in order to impress their girlfriends. So sexualization may be a feminist issue, but it is also a ‘masculinist’ issue too.

K D: How do you think a sex positive society would change the landscape where sexualization is concerned? And how do you see that happening?

Susan: Let’s first define what we mean by a sex positive society: a society where sex is seen as a Good Thing, but because it’s a Good Thing, should be valued and treasured. I do believe that if we made a shift to that belief, things would change hugely; much of our unhealthy obsession with sexuality comes from a rebellion against inhibition and guilt. If we were genuinely taught that sex is wonderful, we’d be far more likely to approach it wisely, respectfully and healthily.

There’s proof of this, too. A number of studies have shown that when young people are taught about sex, and told that it’s enjoyable, they are far more likely to wait to have first sex and to have that first sex within the context of a caring relationship. So the first approach here must be to resource parents, schools and the media to present a perspective on sex that doesn’t label it as bad and wrong.

This may take decades if not centuries – but to me it is certainly the way forward. For thousands of years, guilt and punishment haven’t worked to discourage sexual expression; we need to try something different.

K D: I’ve always felt that erotic authors, or erotic artists of any kind for that matter, are in an ideal position to promote a sex positive attitude and by doing so help to combat sexualization. Do you have any suggestions as to how we might best do that with literature, fantasy and art?

Susan: I agree with you that artists in general have a huge role to play in offsetting sexualization because they reach through to people’s souls in a way that informational health campaigns, albeit useful, simply can’t.

We learn from art by feeling with, by reacting to, by taking on board deeper messages than simply factual ones. So I would encourage all artists to make the messages they give out about sex emotionally literate, with the right values, not in any prissy way, but in ways that teach us what the best sex can be- a heady mix of physical and emotionally connection.

K D: And how about everyone else? What can we all do to combat sexualization?

Susan: Speak out when we see abuse of the wonder of sex, support others who speak out, encourage society as a whole to make a stand.

K D: Since the internet gets a healthy dose of the blame for sexualization, how much of that blame do you think it deserves? Can it also be a part of the solution? If so, how?

Susan: I’m a huge fan of the Internet, albeit it has a bad press. Every medium of communication has a dark side and Internet porn is at the core of the dark side of sexualization. But it also allows us to access accurate and helpful information about sexuality, to spread positive and useful ideas with the click of a mouse, and exchange views – as this very post proves! Well done KD for providing such a positive arena.

K D: Thanks, Susan! And thanks so much for sharing your time and helpful insights with us. All the best to you!

Susan Quilliam is a writer, broadcaster, consultant and mentor on the psychology of relationships and sexuality. She works closely with the Journal of Family Planning, the Family Planning Association and Relate. Her 21 books are published in 33 countries and 24 languages; in 2008 ,she rewrote the seminal manual The Joy of Sex.

Susan’s website: http://www.susanquilliam.com/Home.htm

 

Susana Mayer Talks About the Fabulous Erotic Literary Salon

I had the privilege of reading for Susana Mayer’s Erotic Literary Salon on tour while I was in Las Vegas for Erotic Authors Association Conference. The experience was one of the highlights of the conference for me, and ever since, I’ve been dying to know more about the Salon and about the woman who made it happen. And now is my chance. I feel very honoured to have Susana Mayer as my guest on A Hopeful Romantic. Welcome, Susana!

KD: What would you most like people to know about Susana Mayer?

Susana: I have recently reinvented myself as a sexologist, receiving my MA in Public Health 2005, and Ph.D. in Human Sexuality 2009. I am not a writer of erotica, except for the occasional titillating emails I send to my beloved.

Presently, I am working on several projects; a unique anthology, ebook form (more info. can be found at the Salon’s website) and a non-fiction self-help ebook to better understand the complexity of libido, sex drive and sexual desire. Bibliotherapy is one of my passions.

K D: Tell us about the Erotic Literary Salon. How did it come about, and how has it evolved since its beginnings.

Susana: Creating the Erotic Literary Salon was a culmination of a lifetime love of erotica coupled with my dissertation investigations (searching for a catalyst for women’s desire to have sex). Conclusions drawn from the research and the sexual climate in the US led me to believe the time was right to mainstream erotica in Philadelphia.

The social messages women have been receiving did not allow “good girls” to admit to enjoying fantasies they consider pornographic. Based on media marketing, our society allows men the liberty of enjoying hard core material, whereas women are relegated to fantasies spurred on by soft core erotica.

Pornography usually conjures up negative judgements, and erotica is a term that is most often equated with sexual material for women. I must admit when I initially created the Salon, it was geared towards women, and I too used the term erotica so as not to offend my prospective attendees. The terms Literary and Salon were marketing tools to extend legitimacy to the event, since I realized porn or pornography would immediately offend people who equated this term with degradation.

Unfortunately, but ultimately most fortunately, the public space where the Salon was to be held could not discriminate against men. From the very onset the Salon attendance has been approximately equal among the sexes. Ages range from twenty-one (liquor law restrict minors from attending) to mid-nineties. Couples, singles, poly — all sexual orientations and an ethnic mix all attend the Salon.

This event has gone through several transitions since its inception. Initially the format followed most closely the concept of a true French Salon. Works were shared, discussed, and critiqued. It has now developed into performance, where the attendees expect to be entertained by the readings. Occasionally I have featured performers who incorporate music, song, or movement with their erotic presentation.

As the host of this event I try to keep the evening flexible, open to the possibilities of discussions, critiques and Q & A. The featured presenters, number of readers and attendee’s responses all impact how the evening will proceed.

It still surprises me when I hear attendees express their gratitude for having a venue to share their sensexual* writings sans censorship. Remarks like; “Susana is doing a very brave thing….It’s hard to overstate what a remarkable event you produce each month….Philly needs something like this,” remind me there are no other events of this kind presently in this area and few in the entire country.

People have confided in me how writing and sharing their words have helped them deal with a myriad of issues. Often this is the only occasion they have to hear how others express their sexuality. Exposure to these writings, especially journals and first person works, have given them the opportunity to reflect on their own sexuality. It can be of great comfort to know that there is such a variety of styles to creating sexual pleasure. For those who are troubled by sexual pleasure, the sharing of words may assuage their guilt.

The Salon has also given victims of sexual abuse an outlet to share their shame. By giving voice to their distress, in some instances the mere act of sharing has relieved them of the burden of shame. For others the control of the pen has allowed individuals to rewrite their sexual history, enabling them to cope more positively with their traumas.

Some people attend the Salon just to enjoy a night out with their friends, or it can be an unusual place to take their date. For an increasing core group of regulars, it is a community of like-minded people who enjoy sensexuala*.

The Salon is many things to many people, but one thing is a constant – each Salon is unique. I never know how the evening will progress, since each month the readings and featured presenters vary. Similar to my daily posts at the Salon’s website, I lend my voice to this event by offering news items with my sex positive spin. Individuals are given the opportunity to view a sexual newsworthy item from a different perspective. As a muse for this event I feel these items not only educate but can be used as research material for their writings.

The Salon also continues via the web between gatherings. Those unable to attend because of distance constraints are able to share their works on the site, while enjoying some of the readings from the Salon. A professor of English in India expressed his gratitude for having a community that would enjoy his writings and comment on them.

I believe the mainstreaming of sensexuala in Philadelphia is slowly becoming a reality. The first year the Salon averaged between 20-30 people. These numbers have climbed to 60-80 attendees any given month.

K D: The Salon sounds like such a wonderful community to be a part of, and I think it’s fabulous that there is a website where those outside of Philadelphia can connect up with that community. You must have so many amazing memories of the Salon, Susana, can you tell us, what was your most memorable experience of the Salon?

Susana: The Salon’s nonagenarian, Frances (she’s my Chosen Mom), read the best seller, “Go the FOK to Sleep.” Can you envision a 94 year old, white haired, 4’6” slim built, beyond wrinkled woman, armed with elocution lessons from grade school (sans microphone) reciting this adult story disguised as a children’s book to Salon attendees? She brought down the house. I have extended an offer to the author to attend in May to hear her once again read this piece. I hope to get permission to video tape and post it on youtube and my website. Can’t imagine him declining.

K D: Wow! I would have loved to be there for THAT reading! It must have been amazing. Susana, how do you see the future of the Erotic Literary Salon? What plans do you have for it?

Susana: I am considering adding several larger events, with the Salon as the foundation while including visual arts, music, dance for a spectacular evening of sensexuala. I’m also in the process of creating a Salon ebook press, not only to publish the Salon’s anthology, but also works of others. The Erotic Literary Salon is becoming an established brand, and I want to spread the word of sensexual writings as a tool for bibliotherapy.

*sensexuala/sensexual. A combination of (sensual & sexual) that does not carry the same judgmental values as those attributed to erotica and pornography. You get to enjoy the value of the piece, eliminating the need to discuss the sub-genre classifications.

K D: Thank you, Susana, for sharing with us. It’s been such a pleasure to interview you, and you’ve raised so many other wonderful questions that I’d love to pursue further that I hope you’ll come back again soon.

 

 

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.

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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