Sunday, January 6, 2019

Coming Out as a Writer of Smut


When I first started erotic writing years ago, I kept everything on the down-low.

I did tell my mom that I was embarking on some erotic romance writing and that I wouldn’t divulge my pen name or any details. The only person who knew anything more than that was my husband (then-boyfriend), as we do nearly everything as a team. It didn’t take long before I divulged this to our writing group, but for years, word of what I wrote didn’t spread beyond that select group of people.

Part of it was due to embarrassment of writing erotic fiction and part of it was due to not wanting to be out as gay to everyone. (Oh, I should mention, it’s gay erotic romance and erotica I write.)

For example, at the time my day job was accounts payable and receivable at a battery warehouse. The boss was rather forward thinking, I think, but my co-workers and the delivery drivers were all very, hmm, redneck. I didn’t want any of them know I like dick, so that meant never telling them about what I write (not that I had anything close to a conversation with 95% of them).

When I moved onto my next job, a desk job at an office, I soon went on a trip to a writing convention in Calgary (just a few hours’ flight from here) where I had agreed to do a few author-type things, like a public reading of a smut scene. I told my boss what I was up to — my workplace is very gay, so liking dick is normal — but asked him to keep it secret.

In Calgary, I did that public reading of a smut scene. I was more comfortable there than I was back in my home city because I knew almost no one there. It was also a genre-focussed convention, so smut was fairly common there. I read the opening scene of Autumn Fire to a room full of middle-age and senior women. The opening scene is an anonymous bathroom blowjob. I was so uncomfortable. Afterward, a kindly older woman came up to me and gave me suggestions on how to make the scene even sexier, to really root the reader in the blowjob.

I managed to put aside the awkwardness for the rest of the weekend. I made some conference friends there — you know, the kind you hang out with for the weekend and never see again after that. A couple of them read my book over the weekend and told me they loved it.

Also at the conference was a female friend and her ex-boyfriend, and the ex fell in love with my bathroom blowjob scene and literally followed me around for the whole weekend. It was during that weekend that my friend found out her ex was bi and had kissed guys before. He was cute.

I was starting to get used to the idea that the world wasn’t going to end if people knew I wrote sexy fiction.

Still, though, I was happy to leave it all in Calgary.

However, when I returned to work the following Monday, a co-worker came up to me and asked me how my weekend in Calgary was. He wasn’t discreet. From his body language, I could tell he was trying to draw a secret out of me — a secret he already knew.

On the one day of work that I was absent — the Friday — apparently the whole staff had found out what I write. While some co-workers had that awkward “I’m uncomfortable that you write about sex” attitude that can be expected, the rest of my co-workers were surprisingly cool with it, to the point that they seemed almost proud of me.

Over the years since then, it’s been an interesting journey. Some folks are still of the “I’m uncomfortable that you write about sex” category and they try to cover it up by making jokes about sex writing that don’t really hide their discomfort. The rest, though, continue to think it’s very cool, especially the business aspect as I start up and grow a publisher, expand into podcasts, and somehow continue to write.

Since then, I’ve been slowly coming out to friends and family about what I do. A handful of those friends have gone on to read some of my books — which is a whole new level of awkwardness for me as a writer — and loved them.

Recently, I think I passed the final level of smut-writing awkwardness and exposing my smutty self. I published my latest novel, New York Heat, through my publishing company and needed it proofread. I had recently taken on a couple family members as proofreaders at the publisher to help us get through a glut of work and there was only one proofreader available and able to read my mammoth smut book (186K words, with 27 filthy gay sex scenes)… my mom.

She took it on with little hesitation, powered through it, and told me she loved it. She’s not eager to read another smut book by me right away — but she’s up for reading more if they appear in the production queue.

It’s kind of odd.

Six and a half years ago, I ventured into smut writing as a mental break from the crushing workload of my masters degree and the epic sci-fi trilogy I was trying to perfect. I landed a publisher for the first smut book and a year later that book was out, along with my first self-published short story.

I entered into a world of secrecy, not unlike a steamy and dimly-lit bathhouse. Little encounters happen here and there, names are not exchanged, and secrets are kept.

And over the five and a half years since that first publication, my confidence in who I am and what I do has grown. Shame and stigma have been cast aside. As I let people in on my secrets — sometimes not of my own choosing — I found that I didn’t face the rejection or ridicule that I had expected.

It’s like emerging from that dark and claustrophobic bathhouse and walking into the middle of a pride parade. Honestly, coming out as an author of erotic fiction was as hard, if not harder, then coming out as gay.

When I figured out what was going on with me — that I was gay — it took less than a year to come out. I wasn’t ready to fully admit it to myself until that fateful day I met the man who would become my husband. After meeting him, I came out a week later.

Coming out as an erotic author? Man, that took years.

But I’m glad I did. Just like being gay, I found being a closeted erotic author to be stifling, restrictive. And to be out about it was freeing, thrilling.

My name is Cameron D. James and I write erotic fiction — and I’m proud of it.




Cameron D. James is a writer of gay smut. His most recent publication is New York Heat.

9 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your success and coming out of the closet. One of my best friends is gay and we often talk about his journey and it never dawned on me what potential issues you could have when you are gay. We used to live in the mid-west where a lot of people are not very accepting of gays. He and his boyfriend love to go out with my wife and I as they can sit together in a booth without comments with us across from them.

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    1. Both being gay and being a smut-writer are ongoing processes of coming out. I am *constantly* having to come out as gay -- and sometimes it's still very difficult. The assumption, understandably, is that if I speak of my marriage or my relationship, that my partner must be female. Depending on the situation, I sometimes clarify the gender thing, and sometimes I don't. (No need to clarify for the bookstore cashier that my partner who's meeting me for coffee is a dude and not a woman when she refers to my partner as "her".) The most difficult, post-coming-out-to-family-and-friends, was coming out to my doctor. I had an issue I needed addressed and it was a gay-related issue -- I'd been out for about six years by then, but had never told my doctor. That was a very nerve-racking appointment, though it went off fine and my doctor had no problem with it.

      I find it's the same with writing. If some random person learns I write, I might tell them about the sci-fi and thriller projects I've got on the back-back-burner and not mention the smut, the publishing company, or the fact that I have 100 publications. When I choose to tell people, I get mixed reactions -- some surprisingly have no problem whatsoever (like my super-Christian friend) and others surprisingly have issues with it (like certain co-workers).

      And, much like being gay, sometimes this information is spread without my knowing it's being spread. When I'm introduced in a social setting, someone might choose to introduce me as gay (by mentioning my husband or something) without checking if I even want to be out to this person or in this situation. It's the same with the smut writing -- there are a few folks who like to tell everyone about what I write, even though I don't want everyone to know.

      At this point, I've decided it's just easier to go with the flow. If people know, they know. I have no shame over it.

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  2. Very interesting and insightful post, Cameron. You're right about some people being uncomfortable knowing that we write erotica and erotic romance. When I meet someone and they find out I'm a writer of romantic mystery/thrillers, I make sure to tell them what to expect up front. I may have lost potential sales, but I don't want to offend anyone.

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    1. I find this awkwardness comes out in all sorts of strange ways. I recently went down to Australia to visit my mom and step-dad (they have an across-the-world marriage where her primary residence is here in Canada and his is there in Australia). It was a chance for me to finally see the Australia side of my mom's life. I met a handful of their friends and oh-boy were they awkward about the smut writing thing. (The friends, not my mom.) They couldn't even look at me.

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  3. I tend to bristle when people assume that middle-aged and senior women must be prudes. After all, the older you get (up to a point, I suppose) the more sex you've probably had--and quite possibly read about. On the other hand, that assumption means that as one of those women I can have the fun of reading erotica to a younger audience and shock them into attention and the occasional gasp.

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    1. Ah, yes, I'm appropriately chastised. For me, it was just a very odd experience from the POV that I was so new to the MM genre that I didn't realize it was more of a female-dominated readership -- and with the woman who gave me feedback, I think I was thrown by the fact that she looked to be the prim-and-proper type and she's giving me feedback on a bathroom blowjob... That reading happened about four days after my first publication came out. I have grown a LOT since then. Nowadays, I wouldn't bat an eye at any of this.

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  4. Wow, my mom would never read my books. Never in a million years. When I talk about anything related to writing and/or being queer, she pretends she didn't hear me and changes the subject. :-/

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  5. You're lucky to be enmeshed in such a supportive environment, Cameron. Still, I understand that the process of coming out as an author of gay smut could be tough. Actually, it might be harder admitting you *write* smut than that you live it. It's a confession that you don't just do "that stuff" -- you think about it all the time.

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  6. Cameron, I think you've taken the right approach. People gossip and speculate about each other anyway, so you might as well take control of the narrative about you by being honest. That way, if anyone wants to disparage you behind your back by telling someone else that you (gasp) have a male partner, and (louder gasp) write about sex, that person would sound like a fool. The logical response would be, "Everyone knows that. What is your point?"

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