I’m delighted to have Sessha Batto as my guest today. Please join in the discussion by leaving your comments.
To be honest, I didn’t think I would have much to add to my thoughts of five years ago…and then I realized that indeed, there are some troubling new currents in erotic writing. The first of these is authenticity. Lately there have been a rash of blog posts calling out author after author for being inauthentic. This can mean anything from portraying men in a way that strikes the reader as feminine, or not including safe sex as a necessity. Some readers may indeed, turn away from these stories. But, bottom line, it is the writer’s story, not the reader’s. The author can write any story they want, from any point of view, and include or exclude such modern day staples as safe sex, and that is alright. It is fiction, not reality. Fiction can take any path, no matter how dark or transgressive. It can explore consequences of these paths, or not. Either is valid because the only thing that matters is that the story plays out the way the author intended.
The other topic which has been hitting my hot button of late is diversity. Again, bloggers have been quick to punish authors for both including and excluding people unlike themselves. Some say you cannot write other races, others proclaim that you must. Some say women cannot write men having sex, that men can’t write women in love. Again, this is all codswallop. Writers do not experience everything they write about. If they did fiction would be hugely boring, a dull parade of workaday trivia and bland interactions. Of course we write outside ourselves, outside our race, outside our sex, outside of our tiny worlds. Why? Because it is there that understanding lies. It is at the margins that we see the truth. It is in seeing through the author’s eyes we can truly see the highs and lows of experiences we will never have.
I’m in a confessional sort of mood, so I’ll start by saying this topic has had me floundering for weeks. I must have written fifty pages . . . and then erased them. Then it hit me, the one word that derailed me each and every time, relevance. Only one person can decide whether or not sex is relevant in a piece of literature, and that is the author. Anything else is merely one opinion. You may like or dislike a piece, but only the author knows the story they are trying to tell. Whether it succeeds or fails is always a matter of debate. Art is, after all, subjective. I definitely don’t believe anyone has the right to censor an author’s words, no matter how offensive I may find them. Yes, there are things I find offensive (seriously, there are . . . just not much), and I exercise my right to choose not to read those topics. Once you allow censorship it opens a dangerous door, who knows what will next be considered inappropriate? I certainly don’t want my writing constrained by any limits other than my own.
Since relevance is in the eye of the author, all I can really talk about is why I think sex is an essential aspect of my own writing. Now, before you start screaming about ‘the children, the children’ – nothing I’m going to say is intended for anyone under eighteen, although, frankly, I don’t have any problem with children reading about sex. I live in a city full of pregnant teenagers and, believe me, they did not have sex because of something they read. That honor goes to the media that bombards them daily – television, music, advertising, video games, those are the most powerful influences on today’s youth.
I should come clean – I write erotica, explicit gay erotica. Before I go any further, let me clarify. I’m talking about sex in all its permutations, from barely consensual sexual torture to tender lovemaking and the entire gamut in between. My only real boundaries are no children and no women. I write about men exclusively because of the wonderful shifts of power and control possible in a same sex relationship . . . and because I love men. No offense to the ladies, but I don’t think I could explore the same boundaries of pleasure and pain without seeming overly abusive, and that is at the core of everything I write. Beyond that, there is something wonderfully vulnerable and revealing about the decision to relinquish power, and the potent eroticism of two strong, powerful men being tender with each other.
Remember the old ads in the back of comic books for x-ray specs? For me, sex is my x-ray specs. It strips a character down to his core truth and spotlights who they are with far more accuracy than pages of exposition ever could. Sex is the ultimate act of trust. Who we trust, why, and to what extent reveals much of our psyche that we would normally keep hidden. Sex is the catalyst for revealing hidden baggage, all the events and experiences we think are safely buried but which bubble to the surface under pressure. Our kinks highlight our transgressive natures, throwing into clear definition the whys and hows of our alienation from society in general. In short, it’s the knife I wield to cut to the truth. What knife do you use?