Sunday, October 4, 2009

O Pioneers!

By Lisabet Sarai

I've been publishing books about sex, including sexual activities that many people consider profoundly deviant, for more than ten years. So far, no one has given me any trouble. No jackbooted feet kicking in my door. No placard-waving fanatics protesting in front of my house. It's true that I carefully guard my anonymity, maintaining as strict a separation as I can between my writerly personna and my more prosaic day-to-day identity. Still, if someone wanted to unmask me, I don't doubt that it would be possible.

Maybe if I were more popular, I'd be more of a target. As it is, I feel moderately confident that I can continue to quietly pen my dirty stories (storing them on an encrypted drive, just to be on the safe side) and sell them to publishers without being ostracized by my neighbors, losing my job, or being hauled off to jail.

It wasn't always like this.


Helen's introduction to her topic this week, "Opening the Closed Door", asked us to consider whether we were in some sense pioneers by writing openly about sex. Hell, no! The true pioneers were the authors who fought to publish sexually-explicit work in the first half of the twentieth century, giants like D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Pauline Réage, and James Joyce. All of them faced legal battles against forces who wanted to ban their work because of its sexual content. Avant-garde publishers like Barney Rosset and Maurice Girodias circled the wagons and defended their authors against charges of obscenity (though perhaps with as much of an eye toward notoriety-inspired sales as for moral principle). Gradually, these trials led to a grudging acceptance of sexually-oriented fiction as a legitimate form of literary expression, at least in most Western countries.

Perhaps, however, I am being overly complacent, believing that these battles are in the past. Certainly, individuals continue to be harassed and discriminated against if they engage in sexual practices that are considered "abnormal". The Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2003 reports that more than 38% of the U.S.population favors the existence of laws forbidding the distribution of pornography to adults and that this percentage has fallen only slightly between 1987 and 2002. Calls for censorship of the Internet are raised with increasing frequency and ferocity. I spent several hours on-line searching for authoritative data about societal attitudes regarding pornography but found only emotional diatribes and pseudo-statistics from both sides of the issue.

I did find an interesting scientific report on a survey taken in a mid-American city. The majority of respondents in this study thought that pornography was acceptable and should be legally available to adults. However, the people who voiced this pro-porn opinion believed that they were in the minority. Likewise, the minority who thought that porn should be banned were convinced that they held the majority opinion.

In short, you may support sexually-explicit entertainment, but you feel like an outlaw.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this argument. I personally don't feel that I'm taking risks or pushing boundaries in my work. Lately I've been writing more M/M erotica and erotic romance. It takes a deliberate effort for me to remember that many individuals regard homosexual relationships as an abomination. For me, men fucking men is more or less natural--maybe even more natural than being bound or spanked. Sex is sex, and variety is the spice of life. Very little of what I write feels particularly daring or transgressive.

I don't write for political reasons. I write to entertain my readers and myself. I would love to believe that my work is striking a blow for freedom of expression, striking down barriers, opening doors, but I strongly suspect that it is not. Those who read my work already appreciate erotic literature. I'm preaching to the converted. Embedded in a community of authors whose work is as sexually charged as my own, I find it difficult to comprehend that I may be engaged in activities that some view as immoral or illegal.

On the other hand, if the unthinkable occurred--if my website were shut down because of its prurient content or my books were banned, if I started to receive hate letters or the police seized my computer--I'd fight back. I don't know if my writing provides any societal benefits beyond recreation, but I am certain that it does no harm. And it is my right--perhaps even my responsibility--to express myself, to share with the world (or whatever segment is interested) my vivid, visceral, polymorphously perverse visions.

10 comments:

  1. Hi, everyone!

    I know you are all very busy people -- but I would like to show my appreciation for all your hard work with your wonderful site, by awarding you this!

    HAPPY WRITING!

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  2. This is an excellent reminder of how much we owe to those who risked so much to advance the cause of free expression around sexuality. I know I would not have been so courageous—I'm too attached to my freedom and comfort and safety, to be honest. I would have advocated for such pioneers, but I would not have been a pioneer myself.

    Like you, Lisabet, I write for artistic and entertainment-related goals rather than overtly political ones. That being said, I like to think that the content of what I do and don't do in my work inevitably expresses certain values (e.g., a rejection of gender-based stereotyping), and that we all help shape the culture with our individual contributions. I don't think I'm personally changing the world; but perhaps it's fair to tell myself that I'm participating in a world that our participation, in the aggregate, is changing.

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  3. By the way, I don't mean the second paragraph above to sound like I'm disagreeing with you. What you said resonates with me, and this was just a sort of "but at the same time ..." train of thought describing some of my additional feelings and perspectives.

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  4. Lisabet,

    Interesting look at your take on this topic. I agree with much, but not all, I think. Seems I need to do a little thinking before I create my post this time around.

    Hugs

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  5. Hi Lisabet

    I like what you say in this post, and I think there's a lot of truth in it. We're coming in through doors other people opened during harder times. The one good thing about havong been born in the fifties is seeing how morals have changed in so many eways. Better in some ways, worse in some ways. But I think amidst the huge wavesa of cultural crap there is a trend towards the authentic in writing and music and art. People are trying to express and explore human truth and liberate more and more the individual. The great revolution of our time is the information age, and the explosion of interaction that occurs between people now. I just have faith that we're on the right side of that.

    Garce

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  6. Interesting post, Lisabet. Like Jude, I don't agree with some of what you say. More about that tomorrow!

    ~ Jenna

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  7. Lisabet,

    Fantastic post (as always). I hope I don't disappoint everyone this week when I blog about opening the front door and the back door...

    Best,

    Ash

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  8. Lisabet,

    Wow...thank you. I hope you never ever have to defend your choice of writing and continuously hope that there will come a day when we never have to worry if we will have to defend what we write.

    You are right - the pioneers before us deserve our respect, our utmost thanks for what they stood up against so that we can do what we're doing now, but there's no end to the number of erotic romance/erotica/GLBT writers that still are the targets of extortion and vile attacks because they write about sex *GASP*.

    It really is amazing and depressing. Movies are in cineplexes that depict the worst kind of graphic horrific violence, but introduce a vagina and a penis in any and all combinations of the above and all of a sudden everyone gets freaked out.

    I will not give up hope that one day we'll wake up and realize sex is not the problem, but for the time being, I will take your lead and write what I write and hope that the jackboots never echo outside my door...

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  9. Hello, all,

    Thanks for your comments. I'm still traveling with little access to the Internet, but I really appreciate your sharing your opinions. And I look forward to reading what the other Grippers have to say later in the week (though I may not catch up until next weekend!)

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  10. Have published an E-book which combines erotica and science fiction, and would clearly fall into the category of fiction which some others might consider seriously objectionable. It's the first of five providing Vayna's story, who is born into slavery and slowly progresses towards the Freedom she so ardently desires. The book's URL is www.eloquentbooks.com/Vayna of the Steppes.html The publisher can be reached at marketingmanager@eloquentbooks.com
    Thank-you.

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