Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Halloween Treat

I’m not your average gay.

I don’t know the first thing about fashion or home design.  I have this almost-paralyzing fear of drag queens.  I can’t dance.  And I don’t like halloween.

Halloween is often referred to as “Gay Christmas” because, apparently, all the gays like to dress up as slutty as possible and grind it out on the dance floor.  (My dislike of Halloween is due to my dislike of anything scary or gory — for me, the Bowser levels in Super Mario Brothers games are a little too tense.  I’m a through-and-through wimp.  My dislike doesn't have to do with being slutty and grinding it on the dance floor — I like that part!)

However, despite my dislike of Halloween, I do like looking at pictures of gay guys in Halloween costumes.  And in the gay world, a “halloween costume” is little more than a jockstrap.  Andrew Christian, a men’s underwear company that largely targets gay men, has been promoting their “Halloween costumes” lately, which are basically either pairs of underwear with MASTER and SLAVE stamped on them, or a jockstrap that resembles a spider web over the ass.

I realize this isn’t the exclusive realm of gay men.  Women often dress up provocatively on Halloween.  However, I think gay men sometimes take it to the next level.

Today’s post is basically a collection of some of the hottest costumes I found on Google.  It’s some much-needed eye candy.  :)

Let’s start off a little more tasteful here, with some super sexy (but fully clothed) costumes that I found on Google that caught my attention:

And, now, it’s time for the good stuff — the real gay Halloween:

I may not go trick-or-treating -- but these guys are definitely a treat for me!

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dressing Up

black widow
Lisabet as the Black Widow

By Lisabet Sarai

I've always loved Halloween. When I was a kid, I would count the days until October 31st. It wasn't the candy that I craved; it was the costumes. I adored dressing up and becoming somebody else. As soon as the magical night was over, I'd already be planning what I'd be the next Halloween.

In more than half a century, I haven't changed. I'm still excited by the opportunity to discard my rather ordinary self for one night and become someone else: someone exotic and beautiful, seductive and powerful, maybe a bit dangerous. As an adult, I've always loved to create costumes that were a bit risqué. The irresistible and insatiable black widow spider. The kinky demoness. The naughty harem girl. On All Hallows Eve, the inhibitions come down when the pumpkins light up. 
Creature of the night

In preparation for this October 31st, I thought I'd exhume some of my old costume photos from the crypt and share them with you. I have to admit that I rarely looked as ravishing and sexy as I felt, but who cares? On Halloween, it's imagination that counts.

Harem girl and her Sheik

My characters reflect my love of costumes. Here’s a snippet from my Halloween short, Rendezvous. Rebecca, the heroine, is a lot like me. She views Halloween as a chance to escape, to dress up and magically transform herself into someone else. She's heartbroken when Halloween finds her stranded by a breakdown at a seedy motel a hundred miles from her best friend's party. Little does she know that she's about to experience some genuine enchantment—to be seduced by someone more powerful, and perhaps more dangerous, then she'd ever dreamed.

The costume worked its magic. I was astonished at how regal I looked, and how desirable. The bodice pinched my waist to tiny dimensions, and forced my breasts upwards. The square-cut neckline drew attention to my swelling flesh, barely hiding my nipples. In fact, they were not hidden at all. Though I'd lined the top with muslin as the pattern specified, the tight nubs were clearly visible through several layers of fabric.

I cradled my breasts and used my thumbs to trace circles around those sensitive buds. With each cycle, the spring of tension in my cunt wound tighter. A light flick of my thumbnail sent electricity down my spine and triggered spasms of pleasure. I worried briefly that the juices trickling out of my cunt would spoil the satin. But after all, what did it matter? There was no one to see me tonight, no one to please but myself.

"You certainly do look sexy. Like something right out of de Sade.”

What? Who...?” I whirled around in confusion, my heart slamming against my ribs. The voice had been close, right next to my ear. Yet the room was empty, unchanged. The same rippling walls, the same thread-bare carpet, the same rusty stains on the ceiling. The rumpled bed where I'd had my tantrum. The almost-empty glass on the dresser.

Ah, the liquor. I must be more drunk than I thought. I turned back to the mirror, searching my face for signs of intoxication, and yelped as something, someone, pinched my nipples.

Hey! That hurts.” Indignation overwhelmed fear.

It does, at first. But afterwards, it changes, doesn't it? Afterwards, it feels quite delicious.” I stared at my image, mouth hanging stupidly open, as invisible hands caressed my breasts. Strong hands, gentle hands, hands that seemed to know exactly how to make me shiver with delight. “That's what most people don't understand about pain. It's the gateway to the most exquisite pleasure.”

And here’s a bit from a more recent Halloween tale, Coming in Costume, which makes the same point:

I should have realized Greg had something up his sleeve. Normally he hates big parties. His work requires him to interact with all sorts of people, but I know he finds it stressful. To relax he prefers more—how should I put it?—intimate gatherings. So I really should have understood he had some deviant plan in mind when he told me about the Halloween masquerade.

Samson-Sewell Advertising—you know, Bella, they’re one of our biggest accounts—anyway, they’re throwing a huge Halloween party. Pulling out all the stops, I gather, to impress their clients. They’ve actually hired the Roosevelt Rotunda at the Natural History Museum for the event. I’m surprised that’s even possible, but I guess money talks, and these days they’ve got plenty. Which is great for our firm, of course.”

And you’re going?” I looked up from my breakfast to scan my husband’s darkly handsome face. A half-smile played on his lips.

We’re both going. It’s next Saturday night. And they want everyone to come in costume.”
I clapped my hands in delight and his grin broadened. Greg knows how much I adore costumes and role-playing. “Oh, wonderful! Maybe we can go as a pirate and his captive! Or the sheik and the harem girl… Or how about a Roman aristocrat and his slave?”

You want everyone to know you’re my sub? My filthy, kinky, obedient slut?” He revved the motor of the vibe strapped to my clit. I moaned and clenched my muscles, struggling against orgasm. Fortunately, he released the switch before I lost control.

Greg—sir—please!” I gasped. “It’s Halloween. The one night we can be someone else!”

Sounds to me like you want to show off your true self, Bella.”

I—you know, I just like to play with those fantasies.” Rising from the table, I went to hug him, moving carefully so as not to dislodge the BenWa balls he’d slipped into my pussy before we got out of bed. “But we can wear less—um—revealing costumes if you prefer.”

He nuzzled my hair; I burrowed deeper into the warmth of his arms “I guess that might be better,” I continued, fighting to keep the disappointment out of my voice. “For your business and all.”

Leave the costumes to me.” His lips grazed mine, triggering a sweet spasm between my legs even though the vibrator was off. “You’ll be pleased, I promise. Trust me, love.”

You know I do, sir. Always.”

Greg had more than made good on his promise, dressing us as a schoolgirl and her stern professor. I loved the short, pleated skirt of green plaid and the crisp white blouse with the Peter Pan collar the minute I laid eyes on them. Matching knee socks and black Mary Janes completed the outfit. Underneath—somewhat to my surprise—Greg insisted I wear simple white cotton panties and a stretchy training bra that didn’t quite contain my woman’s breasts. I braided my hair, tying the plaits with matching Kelly green ribbons. The final look was sassy, even suggestive, but perfectly decent. Still, the way the skirt swished against the back of my thighs made me imagine, a bit wistfully, what it would be like to be bare underneath. I pushed the thought away, determined to act respectable if that was what my husband required.

As for his costume—well, it really didn’t matter what Greg wore. He always looked devastating. He’d gone for a bookish style: a white shirt with thin blue stripes open at the throat under a corduroy jacket with, believe it or not, suede elbow patches. He must have scoured the thrift stores to find that relic, but it really fit the part. A slide rule case was strapped to his belt. Glasses with dark plastic frames sat on his nose. His black locks were deliberately mussed.

His clothes didn’t really matter, though. What made his costume convincing was his serious, even severe expression—his aura of total authority. No one could look at him without immediately understanding that he was in charge.

To complete the role, he carried one of those wooden pointers that I remembered from my mother’s photos of her sixth grade classes, at least a yard long and perhaps half an inch in diameter.
That must be practically an antique,” I commented in the cab.

A classic instrument of correction,” he replied. “Passed down through the family. My father used this on my brother and me when we needed to be punished.”

Hmm. Why is it that I seem to associate Halloween and kink?

Maybe it’s because, for me, D/s partakes of the same sort of magic.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Aboveground Filth

by Jean Roberta

According to the Urban Dictionary, “splosh” as a sexual fetish means this:

Noun: a sexual/sensual food party, in which participants cover each other in foods of different tastes, textures, and temperatures. Eating the food off each other is optional. Nudity and sexual interactions often follow. Other common usages are the present verb splosh and the present participle verb form sploshing.

"We were at this sploshing party and my friend got covered in chocolate sauce and whipped cream, then they had her sit on a birthday cake! She really loved it!"

Remember my discussion of drama in my previous post on the meaning of “obscene?” Even though, it seems, I was wrong about any connection between “scene” and “obscene,” conceptions of sexual “filth” have a lot to do with what can be shown or acted-out, and what else can only be imagined--although religious authorities have tried to censor that too.

When I first read about “splosh,” I realized that a splosh scene seems to require more than two people. To be as sploshy as possible, the scene should include an audience as well as several participants. It also seems to require the kind of room that could accommodate mud-wrestling: a place for that purpose, which is easily cleaned up, since food that isn’t eaten quickly becomes garbage. The sploshers would also need to be cleaned up later, which could be part of the fun: a group scene in the shower, then possibly the hot-tub.

I don’t really believe in a sexual subconscious which is impervious to cultural influence. Just as BDSM uses props and scenarios from disciplinary practices that were once fairly public and non-consensual (bondage and whipping in various institutions, including “mental asylums,” presumably done for the good of the victims as well as the observers), splosh has to come from somewhere in the culture at large. My guess would be that sploshing is fun because it allows adults to feel like messy kids who have escaped from their parents or nannies for the day. For a toddler, making a mess often means breaking parental rules. For an adult, having sex, especially in a public place—or representing it in publicly-available stories, films, artwork and performances--often means breaking cultural rules which are sometimes enforced by law.

There is a certain splosh tradition in comic theatre. Does anyone still remember TV programs starring the Three Stooges? They were three childlike men who were always making messes, and someone usually got a pie in the face. There is also the tradition of the “spit-take:” the reaction of someone with a mouth full of liquid to surprising news. (Example: when Sheldon Cooper on the TV show Big Bang Theory tells Penny that he and his friend Amy plan to have a baby someday so the world can benefit from their combined brilliance, Penny spews her coffee.)

While mainstream American comedy doesn’t explicitly associate making a mess with body fluids on the sheets (or wherever), there are sex-comedy traditions in other cultures. As Willsin mentioned, different cultures have different concepts of what shouldn’t be shown. The British tradition of the Christmas pantomime, advertised as “family” entertainment, usually includes double-entendres that are supposedly over the heads of children, plus a male actor in exaggerated drag, and various pratfalls.

Although I imagine real-life splosh scenes as sexual versions of pie-in-the-face comedy, when I tried writing a scene like this, I imagined a depressed person surrounded by the crumbs of take-out pizza, wearing the same clothes every day because she lacks the energy to either wash them or choose a different outfit. I imagined this person as female. Thus was born the fate-battered Ariadne, a modern-day descendant of a character in a Greek tragedy who is cast, at first against her will, in a comedy. Here is the opening scene:

"Let me in, girlfriend."

The sound of Zoe's voice assaulted Ariadne's ears where she sat in the funk of her misery. Dirty dishes covered her tables and counters, pungent clothing littered her floor. Her curtains were closed, leaving the apartment in perpetual gloom. "Go away."

"Come on, baby. I know you're not feeling good, but there is life after a breakup, you know? We've all gone through it. You need company." Silence. "Ari, come on. I don't want to stand here talking to you through the door. Do you want all your neighbors to hear this?"

A dark, swollen eye appeared at the peephole, then the thin wooden door was yanked open. Ariadne Megalopolous blocked the entrance, taking up space out of proportion to her girlish, fine-boned, high-breasted body. The smell of her sweat and her contempt for the world confronted the brisk assertiveness of her friend Zoe, who stepped back before she could stop herself.

Ariadne sneered like a damned soul, her white face framed in greasy black hair. She held onto the doorframe, slouching in a T-shirt and a pair of jeans so old and dirty that they held the shape of her ass and thighs even when she wasn't in them. Her presence was so intense that Zoe felt it in her clit.

Ariadne filled the silence. "What are you, Zoe, human Prozac? If you think you know how I'm supposed to feel, then fuck you."

For an instant, Zoe heard her say, "Fuck me." What a pleasure that would be.

“Okay, you wanta be a good Samaritan, you can come in and wash my – Jesus.” Ariadne had stepped far enough into the hallway to see Carter lurking a few feet away from Zoe.

Suzanne Carter, who preferred to be known by her last name, was wiry and wily. As an employee of Child Protection Services, she took bewildered, mistreated children away from their violent or distraught parents after warning the adults of the legal consequences of their behavior. Carter dreamed of being a secret agent for the federal government.

Carter grabbed Ariadne by the arm before she could slam the door on her two friends.

Zoe tried to soothe her with words. “Ari! We’re concerned about you. We just want to—“

“Help me get her inside,” grunted Carter.

As you might guess, Zoe and Carter (who both work as social workers, in different departments) play a good cop/bad cop routine with Ariadne, who gets cleaned up and sexually stimulated by her two friends. As you might know, the Ariadne in Greek mythology is able to find her way out of a maze with a monster in the centre by following a thread. In my story, “Ariadne’s Thread,” physical pleasure is the thread that leads Ariadne out of the maze of grief, pain, cynicism, and self-contempt. And she cleans up well.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this story is publicly available any more. It appeared first on the illustrated website “Ruthie’s Club” (now long-gone), then in my single-author collection, Each Has a Point, published by Love You Divine/Alterotica in 2011 before the company folded. When so many small companies in this business are unable to survive, who needs censorship?

Underground Filth

By Jean Roberta

OMG, I’ve been wrong for years about the original meaning of “obscene.” I used to think the concept of “obscenity” was connected with ancient Greek drama, and what could not be part of a scene, i.e. acted-out on stage. For the ancient Greeks, sex was okay (in fact, sex was hilarious, and was part of a comic tradition), but violence had to be described by a wailing chorus, not acted out. (The Big Three Greek tragedians, Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, would have been horrified by Shakespeare’s tragedies, which all end with a corpse-strewn stage. In Shakespeare’s own time, the people in the first three rows would be sprayed with pig’s blood during the sword fights. This was part of the glamour of the theatre.)

I used to think the actual meaning of “obscene” shifted with each era and culture. I still think I was on the right general track, but I didn’t understand the root of the word until I looked it up.

“Obscene” apparently comes from two Latin words, a prefix meaning “to” or “towards,” and a root word, “caenum,” meaning filth. At one time, “obscene” apparently meant “inauspicious” or unlucky. This seems like a stretch, but there is some logic in it. If you accidentally step in dog poop or rotten food, you are definitely not lucky. The concept of filth has continued to be central in the ways the word is used. So whatever is considered dirty, literally or metaphorically, can be described as obscene.

On that note, Spouse and I used to have some obscene carpeting in our basement. In one corner, one old carpet had been placed atop another. Another side of the space was completely covered. When we first moved into our new home in December 1999, the carpets on the concrete floor made the place look cozier. I remember Spouse saying, “This looks like a room, not a basement.”

Fast-forward to October 2016, and the basement still looks like a storage space for junk, but the junk has shifted with my sporadic efforts to clean up and sort out. I have actually done a lot of work down there, but no matter how much I throw away, or load into boxes and bags and donate to a second-hand store, there is still stuff left that might be useful someday, to someone.

In my own defense, let me show you a sample of the junk: a huge amplifier in one corner, a leftover part of Older Stepson’s stash that he stored with us years ago, after he moved back to the prairies from a port city where he was a minor rock star whose girlfriend left him for the drummer, a mess worthy of Rolling Stone magazine. Since then, Stepson has regrouped, now lives with a better girlfriend and her children, but he hasn’t said anything about the amplifier. Even still, I can guess what would happen if I quietly disposed of it: a complaint that he had drawn up a will leaving all his musical equipment to his stepchildren and their descendants, and how could I (not a trained sound tech like Stepson) possibly know the diff between broken-down equipment and a collector's item?

But I digress. Months ago, I decided the carpets (at least) had to go, so I armed myself with rubber gloves, an industrial mask, and a carpet-cutting tool that looks like a scimitar. The carpets were too big for me to haul upstairs and out the door by myself, and my two stepsons’ vague offers to help didn’t have deadlines attached to them.

On Canadian Thanksgiving, our “family” (mostly the family of our friend Sue, her four grown children, their kids and Significant Others, plus whoever we knew who wasn’t otherwise committed) was invited to our house. There were two babies, two preschoolers, and approximately twenty adults in three age-groups.

As we prepared, Spouse complained that she could smell the basement, and that the vapours from below were competing obnoxiously with the aroma of roasting turkey. So I descended with my tools, and sawed away until I had strips of carpet that I carried to the wheeled garbage bins in the lane that our city government brought out a few years ago. (Most of us residents hate them, but we have to wrestle with them.)

Getting that stuff out of the house was a great relief. Pets of ours who are no longer living (as well as the current pack) had clearly enjoyed the softness of carpeting on their bums as they had peed and pooped there. Generations of flies had laid their eggs in the mess. Even though the mask made it hard for me to breathe while I was working, I think it was necessary.

Those carpets were so filthy that doing anything “obscene” on them (in the usual sense) would have been unthinkable, at least to those of us who live here.

Who would really associate sex with garbage, mess or rot? Censors would. But sex can also be associated with messes in a way that seems appealing. Stay tuned for Part Two of this post.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

How Obscenity Gave Me Comfort

By Annabeth Leong

I told you the short version of this story before, by way of introducing myself. I told you about the erotica that really matters to me, the stuff I keep on my shelves and have carried with me for years. Among that collection is Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye, an obscene little novella that’s one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read.

I bought it during a trip to San Francisco, at the historic bookstore City Lights, which incidentally happens to be the publisher of the edition as well. The back promised “a legendary shocker that uncovers the dark side of the erotic by means of forbidden, obsessive fantasies of excess and sexual extremes.” I binged and purged sexual desire at the time, going on sprees of reading the darkest stuff I could find and then repenting and getting rid of all of it. I bought the book and brought it back to the hotel room I was sharing.

One of the early scenes is of the beautiful Simone, in a black pinafore and black silk stockings and no apparent underwear, sitting in a saucer of milk for the narrator’s titillation (“Milk is for the pussy, isn’t it?” she asks).

Bataille writes:

I lay down at her feet without her stirring, and for the first time, I saw her “pink and dark” flesh cooling in the white milk. We remained motionless, on and on, both of us equally overwhelmed… Suddenly, she got up, and I saw the milk dripping down her thighs to the stockings.

Okay, that’s hot. I’m pretty sure I masturbated the first time I read those words. Pretty much every time my roommate was gone that weekend, I was sneaking pages from Story of the Eye and touching myself.

Back then, I’d been poisoned by those Victorian style narratives, the ones that suggested sex was a slippery slope of depravity. First you lost your virginity, then you got in with the wrong crowd, then you started trying perverse things like homosexuality and sadomasochism, and before you knew it, you’d plunged yourself into an unfathomable sea of madness and debauchery, never to return to respectability again.

A little always led to a lot. One depraved thing would soon lead to something more depraved. Greater sensation replaced lesser sensation. Did it give you a thrill to have your wrists tied with silken cords? Well, guess what, sweetie: soon you’ll be letting someone choke you to death while fucking you in the ass, and how’s that going to look in the papers the next morning, hmmm?

I’d had some experiences that seemed to corroborate this viewpoint. There is a trembling thrill to a first time of any sort, and as long as I was chasing those, there did seem to be no limit.

I’d had a relationship that scared me, one in which I kept getting talked into more and more things I didn’t feel sure about, one that made me feel like a toy this person was intent on breaking. Because I kept having orgasms, he told me I must like what was happening. Because, even years later, I kept having orgasms thinking about it, I thought something essential had been corrupted in me and I was forever in danger of running dark and wild to eventual ruin if I ever let myself out of my self-imposed cage.

I expected that sort of thrill from Story of the Eye. I figured it would all hit me with the dark desire to actually do all the stuff I was reading about. And things certainly escalate from that initial relative innocence, to what I can only call extreme depravity.

By the end of the book, Simone and two of her lovers are kidnapping a priest out of a confessional and raping him while strangling him to death. Simone, who appears to be completely amoral, decides she wants his eye, and she has one of her lovers run it over her body while she’s fucking the other, and eventually inserts it into herself.

I’m going to be completely honest here and say there are things about that scene that turn me on. There are also things about it that horrify me to the core. I am and always have been a hundred percent clear that I would never want to do that in real life. But I’m pretty sure I masturbated to it as well.

This is important for anyone involved with erotica, or indeed sexuality, to know: thinking and doing are different things. In the Bible, Jesus warns, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Maybe so, but I think it’s vital to distinguish between whatever that is and actually taking the action.

Story of the Eye was what showed me I did have limits. There are and were mechanisms inside myself that would stop me naturally from going forward with certain sorts of sexual depravity. For example: I don’t actually want to hurt anyone else (non-consensually). What’s more, I discovered limits in my mind (thoughts that make me uncomfortable rather than turning me on). While they go farther than the limits of my behavior, they still represent a horizon.

All that made me feel safer. It gave me comfort, and made me feel less helpless.

I think a lot of people try to shut off obscenity, as if it will necessarily have a corrupting influence. But I think it can be good to see that there is a horizon beyond which one will not sail.

I can’t tell you how good it felt to know that at least one person, Georges Bataille, could go farther in thought than I ever would. It’s a grandiose thing to think one’s own debaucheries are the most monstrous possible, but at dark times, before I knew enough about the world, I believed it.

In an afterword to Story of the Eye, Bataille has some interesting things to say about obscenity. He refers to “a profound region of my mind, where certain images coincide, the elementary ones, the completely obscene ones, i.e., the most scandalous, precisely those on which the conscious floats indefinitely, unable to endure them without an explosion or aberration.” Later he calls this the “breaking point of the conscious or, if you will, the favorite place of sexual deviation.”

It really interests me to think of obscenity as the “breaking point of the conscious.” That explains why we all have different definitions of what it is, and it also describes its value. I think, if one can bear to, it’s a good thing to find one’s own breaking points and probe their nature. It helps to know what it’s like at the edges of oneself, to feel defined by those spots, exhilarated by them if that’s what happens, and ultimately less vulnerable from the knowing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


 by Daddy X

It isn’t difficult to write a story that would be deemed obscene. Whether romance or erotica, we’re bound to offend someone. There are those who think sex shouldn’t be written about at all. Or taught about, or explained, or talked about or thought about. Or indulged in any way simply for pleasure. There are people who believe sex is for procreation only and that we should repress or at least be ashamed of our natural urges. That we should believe a perfect God, in creating His masterpiece, made something unacceptable to do with His alleged masterpiece. Something to be covered up. An embarrassment. Hence the fig leaf in the garden. We have to wonder if sexuality was God’s intention or a grave mistake. Is this God a sadistic trickster? Either that or a ham-fisted fuck-up.

In parts of the world, it has become tradition to mutilate the female body to mold basic humanity into something perceived more acceptable—and then presented as dogma. Like their all-powerful, all-knowing God couldn’t quite get it right.

Of course, the woman is then relegated to an incidental means, a subordinate receptacle for male desire and vehicle of reproduction— an unfeeling, ignored, debased partner in an act that should ideally be reciprocal. Revile a woman’s gratification. Make female orgasm impossible. That’s the real obscenity. How male dominated religion and custom has bastardized our natural way of being.

Okay. Sorry. Got a little carried away ranty. That last bit wasn’t going to be part of this post. But what’s been said should be said more often, at least until this line of thinking evolves into regretful history. So it stays in. The recent backslide toward more fundamentalist (read fabricated, coerced, unrealistic, unsubstantiated) thinking could set humankind back ages.


Whew! Got that out. After that diversion, let’s move on to the original gist of this post. Obscenity. How writers shape the acceptable from the unacceptable. Which is a big part of what authors do, whether we write about sex, murder, kidnapping, cowboys, aliens, vampires or corporate raiders. Bad guys and good guys. And women of all persuasions.

In fact, I often use such criteria when assessing elements of an erotic book: Did it accomplish the job the author intended, even if I am not personally aroused by the sex? (boner?) How close would this come to a mainstream work meant for the erotica-novice? (Eeek!) Could this pass in ‘mixed’ company? (Whatever that means any more, but we’re talking sheer numbers here. Readers.). Could this piece convert a prude to a devotee? Does it arouse while it informs?

Of course we’re not attempting to change any of the constipated minds referred to in the beginning of this post. But what about mainstream, intellegent folk? Can ordinary readers’ preconceptions be manipulated if not fundamentally changed by our delivery?

Why did “Shades” do so well? Did it dumb down or simplify a phenomenon? Did it expose to fresh air a lifestyle that’s historically been kept behind doors, giving it a shot at a breath of life?  Would the kink hold its appeal for a large swath of the population? Even without the cultural forces lined up against it? Rebelling against convention has its own seductions.

Did “Shades” represent the real deal? What percentage of readers were convinced? Did it minimize the authenticity of those in the lifestyle?

Finally, how did James accomplish what she did literarily? Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t read much of “Shades”. Didn’t hold my interest. Didn’t seem genuine, almost written for young adults. But, as one of the editors at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association, I’ve read a fair amount of erotica. Perhaps to uninitiated readers, what I find arousing would put others running from the room.

Still and all, James sold a lot of books. Was it a case of the content having universal appeal? Timing? Some have suggested the success was due only to James’ promotional prowess.

Or did she shape the prose of the story, a perceived obscenity, rendering it acceptable to a greater reading public?  

Could be the answer to popularity is—whether or not we are able to make the ‘obscene’ not so.

It is, at least, an admirable goal.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Obscenity Is a Mote in the Eye of the Beholder

Sacchi Green

"Obscene: offensive or outrageous to accepted standards of decency or modesty.”

I don’t believe in obscenity. I mean, I don’t believe it actually exists. How can you take seriously a concept that can only be defined by using other nebulous terms? “Offensive,” “outrageous,” “decency,” “modesty”—even “accepted standards”—are all imprecise concepts dependent on the fluctuating perceptions of individuals and groups. What’s considered obscene changes over time and differs with different cultures. We might as well say that obscenity is whatever we happen to think is “icky,” especially as it pertains to sex or, interestingly, to wealth. Once in a while the term is applied to unusually violent and bloody crime as well, but sex has by far the highest ‘ick” rating, with money a distant though substantial second. Food, in unusual abundance, merits the term occasionally, as an indulgence that like sex and wealth can be perceived as being greatly overdone.

Imprecise as it is, the term “obscene” has its uses. The legal use, in penalizing sexual art, literature, performance, etc., faces the difficulty of determining just what the “accepted” standards are at any given time in any given community, but that doesn’t stop the practice, which boils down to citing the standards of the most assertive and influential members of a community, or at least the standards they claim to support. The term is also useful for those who consider some levels of wealth to be obscene, but oddly enough there doesn’t seem to be any legal objection to obscene wealth.

For we erotica writers, the concept of obscenity is both a burden and a benefit. The burden is that our work may be denounced and suppressed if it’s judged to be obscene. The benefit is that there is, of course, always a fascination with over-the-top indulgence, and our fictional portrayals of what the stodgier elements of the population consider “icky” and even evil are relatively safe ways to indulge in sexual overindulgence. This fascination seems to extend to obscene levels of wealth, too, so much so that sex plus wealth seems to be a genre of its own these days, the most popular form of erotica, which makes sense since both sex (often) and wealth (always) are associated with power differentials. This is too bad for those of us who find immense wealth somewhat on the icky side, bit it’s certainly understandable.

There’s another side to this. Obscenity in both the legal sense and the seductively transgressive sense tends to focus on the lower levels of society which erotica writers are assumed to inhabit. Henry Miller wrote Tropic of Cancer based on his experiences in the struggling Bohemian culture of 1920s-1930s Paris, the book that brought the question of obscenity to the Supreme Court of the US in 1964, where it was eventually ruled not to be obscene. Literary worth aside, many readers prefer erotica to portray sex as earthy, crude, rough, down-and-dirty or however they imagine it to be in the lower reaches of society. If it’s called obscene, so much the better.

We middle-ground erotica writers may be at a disadvantage, but we take up the challenge of finding different ways to make sex as intense and fantasy-fulfilling as anything that might be called obscene. I wouldn’t mind having my writing called obscene, except, of course, if that would limit readers’ access to it, which does happen to far too many writers in spite of that 1964 Supreme Court decision. Of course few of us have Henry Miller’s talent, but the legality of erotic or pornographic writing doesn’t seem to obsess the courts these days. Suppressing it is now the pursuit of booksellers, chiefly Amazon, who do it so randomly that  there’s just no telling which works they’ll come down on, or why.

In fact, randomness has always been involved in classifying books or anything else as obscene, which makes sense, in a way, since how can there be any consistency in a concept  so subjective that it can’t even be defined without using terms just as imprecise? There is no “there” there, which is why I don’t believe that obscenity really exists, except in the eye of the beholder, and even then it can change with a blink of that eye.

(I tried to think of some excerpt from my own work that might come close to what most people would think of as obscenity, but I suspect that the only shock value my writing has is when I do public readings. I love it when I get to a particularly, shall we say, earthy passage, and there’s a collective gasp at hearing someone of my age and mundane appearance delivering words and images like that.)