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For Lily

Lily at The Black Leather Belt (which is awesome) left a comment on my last entry. My response became long and ungainly.

She wrote:

I think there’s something very wrong with our cultural imagination when there are so, so many ordinary people into BDSM combined with an almost complete inability to characterize their lives in print or onscreen in any way that I recognize as part of my own experience.

This is probably a much more concise version of my blathering.

Occasionally, I gotta blather ’til I figure out what the hell I actually mean.

I guess I’m stuck on two ideas:

First, I don’t think of myself as all that out there. I think of myself as sort of boring, so far as kink goes.

I live in my own little bubble. I venture out of my bubble, and realize that “average” is actually way the hell over there, where light bondage and spanking is super kinky, and sleeping with more than 5 people in a lifetime is a sign of being a potentially violent slut with low self-esteem, and sex without romance is “meaningless” and “pathetic.”

It’s jarring.

I think I just have to accept that I am kind of out there.

I was still surprised that vanilla-y BDSM titles didn’t do anything for me. I had some expectation that porn is still porn. The nuerons should fire. The evolutionary conditioning should elicit a response.

Guess not.

I’m not one of those people that’s so connected to fetishistic sex they can’t get off on standard fare anymore. It’s just that a lot of what I was reading was an active turn-off, and I spent a lot of time trying to parse out why.

So, second: I made the mistake of hoping that maybe written smut would be more creative, or authentic, or challenging than I found it to be. I don’t blame the authors, when it comes to anything that made it through the publishing gauntlet. It’s a business.  They go with what they think will sell. I just had no idea that such a limited selection of ideas are on the “what will sell” list. Still, I recognize that people gotta eat.  They’re not being paid well: it creates a situation that rewards the prolific over the profound.

But I’m disappointed (I should have known better), and, on some level, I’m insulted. I really am annoyed by the obligatory little speeches in those books detailing how the main characters aren’t like that. I am well beyond annoyed that, as a female, I am expected to automatically reject a book about sex that isn’t also about soul-mating for life (and I see this sentiment expressed all over the damned place, from fans and authors alike.)

The unquestioned assumption that women need “emotional connection” in the form of “romance” to be okay with any sort of explicit sexual content, pretty much implies that any book a woman writes about sex had BETTER be a romance, or she’s absolutely dealing in something that’s not okay.  ”Too dark, and not appropriate for our line.” And, an actual sexual memoir? You’re a slut.

What I don’t understand, or rather, I do understand all too well, and don’t like, is why in these situations it is almost always the girl branded as the criminal for the “confessional” and asked to feel bad, to feel guilt or shame for writing the truths of their experiences, are sometimes even diagnosed as being borderline, inappropriate, toxic, messy, etc., while men have written of their affairs and sexual relationships always and their ethics are rarely questioned. This to me is a form of discipline and punishment that we internalize, which is why so many women writers self-censor. You know what it’s called when male writers write of their sexual exploits? LITERATURE.

-Kate Zambreno

I’m confused about why this brand of rigidity and weirdness is socially reinforced by people that think of themselves as being especially libertine. There’s this barely-spoken blacklisting threat for anyone that suggests there’s something wrong or off-that the material is cliched, repetitive, or insulting. Frowning on bad reviews appears to be a part of that. I am actually fine with just shutting the fuck up. I can go along to get along. Aspiring types must play the game. Sure.

But, there were authors that actually supported the recent PayPal service changes that would have taken actual BDSM books, sci-fi titles about humanoid animals, and a handful of other sub-genres entirely off the market. The honest truth of the matter appears to be that authors can give bad reviews, so long as the book deviates from genre standards–aka, perverted pornography that “lessens the genre” and makes erotic authors all look “dirty” and “bad.”

“Erotic romance” and “erotica” come across as this hard-won, tiny landscape carved out for the naughty freedom of female fantasy–virtually the only place for that sort of thing, because visual porn is written off, generally, as having no plot. It’s framed as a “safe space,” I guess? And, maybe it has to be for readers to feel okay reading it? So, there are people that are really invested in defending that space–including standing by all the little rules that have crept into the writing of these stories.

Many of those rules and standards (happily ever afters, the speech about how you’re not “crazy” kinky, the female sub that’s generically “independent” and “spunky,” the man that is rich and/or beautiful, the general lack of male subs that AREN’T gay or bi, what I can only describe as “LGBT Minstrel tales for straight chicks,” the m/m stories that border right up on just being insulting homophobic stereotypes, the lesbian-experience story that ends with reinforcing heteronomativity, the crazed bitch ex-girlfriend subplot, the PTSD/BDSM connection, I CAN GO ON.) are sort of… flat-out awful. Hurtful. The kind of bullshit that is just a turn off. If you raise an eyebrow at it, the wonkiness is declared to be “fluff” and “fantasy” you should just brush off and accept as a genre norm–as if that’s the price of getting your hot sex scenes. Why are these stories still very much set in a standard 21st century sexual landscape where the presumed “normal” is two hetero, middle-class married folks fucking for babies? If it’s fantasy and fluff, why not really dive into fantasy? Why just bits of fantasy hitched onto the idea that anything not het-missionary is just deviant and naughty enough to be exciting? It’s a round-about way of processing,  maybe just sublimating the norm, but totally barred from actually delving into the reality of navigating the real-world norm, which is pretty rich stuff for character development.  It’s almost… de-sexed.  Sanitized.  Porn as acted out by mental Barbie dolls.

And why are readers going along with it?

So, I can’t figure out if this is coupled with a fan community that actually digs on the rules, or a fan community that feels that “support” is the most important thing, lest the dirty stories dry up altogether? Do women demand these tropes, or do they just put up with them? That’s such a huge gap, and that’s where I am getting stuck. I find myself thinking, “Jesus, are you people for real?”

Not being able to figure it out bothers me on a personal level. Am I dumb? Am I clueless? Am I weird?

So, basically, I am either failing at getting people altogether, or I’m understanding it too well and finding it depressing. Or I am just a giant snob. Or… all of the above.

Okay, no. I am definitely a snob. I really shouldn’t put my… worldview out this way. It’s not sexy. (Joking. Sort of.)

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  1. Lily
    Twitter: MsLilyLloyd
    Posted May 13, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Hey, Joan — I wrote a response to this post here.

    I luuuuuuuurve this. This exchange of blog posts is so fabulously Old School.

    • Joan
      Posted May 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

      Is it Old School? I guess blogs are getting to be old school, now.

  2. Rich
    Posted May 27, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    You’re right. I guess I don’t need to say more than that.

    I never bought the idea that a woman was made less by liking sex or having it without commitment. Of course, if I were on the other end I wanted some commitment–to me. But that wasn’t about judging her, it’s just that I wanted more sex and the enjoyment of her company.

    Sex is either okay or not. It isn’t okay for men and bad for women.

    And sex is okay. It is intrinsically good. The fundamental of sex is that it is about the acceptance at a personal level of another human being. Acceptance is a form of love, or maybe a manifestation of it.

    So, in short, you’re right. And those that look down on a woman for having guilt-free, cosmigasmic sex are wrong.

    • Joan
      Posted May 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      “Cosmigasmic” is an excellent word.

      Also, hi! I was wondering if you were still lurking the other day.

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