By Helen E. H. Madden
Unlike my esteemed colleagues here at OGG, I will not be reaching back into the golden years of my sexual youth, nor will I look at sex and censorship in our schools and libraries. Instead, I want to talk about recent personal history.
First, let me state two things. One, I am very secure in my heterosexuality. Two, being a heterosexual female, I like looking at naked men. Having said that, let's go aaaaaaaaall the way back to 2007. I had just signed a contract with Mojocastle Press for my first book, Demon By Day, and was looking for a way to promote myself as an erotica writer. There was a local science fiction convention coming up, one that I was quite familiar with, and lo and behold, on their programming schedule was a panel called "Love, Sex, and Romance in Science Fiction." It was scheduled for 10PM, and listed as a closed-door session. It was like that panel was made for me. Seriously, I heard angels singing Hallelujah when I saw it. I immediately e-mailed the convention staff and said I'd like to volunteer for the panel.
Since the convention staff knew me, and knew that I was an erotica writer, they said they'd be happy to have me. Oh, and there was one other guest who would be participating in the discussion panel. Helen, meet Author John Smith. Author John Smith, meet Helen E. H. Madden. Please, e-mail amongst yourselves and be prepared to host a panel together this upcoming weekend.
So I sent an e-mail introducing myself to Author John Smith, explaining who I was, what I wrote, and hey, here's my website at http://www.helenehmadden.com, complete with erotica art gallery! The very next day, I got a response back that was a little... surprising, shall we say?
(All quotes in today's blog post have been rewritten and names have been changed to protect the stupid, just so you know.)
From Author John Smith: "I never, I say I never have been more shocked and offended in all my life! How DARE you draw pictures of naked men?!"
Ooooooooookay. I immediately e-mailed back with an apology, stating it had not been my intent to offend; I was merely showing him my website as a way of offering my credentials for being on this adults-only panel. By the way, I added, I thought that adults-only meant we were going to discuss adults-only topics like erotica and erotic art in science fiction, and did you not see the warnings I put up on thumbnails page of my art gallery stating that there were images of male nudity on the site, so if you don't like that sort of thing, don't look?
Then I immediately e-mailed the convention staff to make sure I hadn't been wrong about the panel entitled "Love, Sex, and Romance in Science Fiction." Was it adults-only? Yes. Were we allowed to discuss sexually explicit topics? That was the general idea. Were we allowed to use sexually explicit terms and language. Oh hell yes! Wasn't that the point?
Relieved by the con staff's response, I e-mailed back to Author John Smith to let him know that I was willing to find some middle ground to work with him if he was uncomfortable discussing certain subjects, but did he understand that we were hosting a talk on sexually explicit material?
From Author John Smith: "Why yes, I did know. However, I saw those pictures of naked men on your website and I got scared. I don't like pictures of naked men. I am straight, so I only like to look at naked women. However, I guess it's okay for you to draw pictures of naked men if you want to. I mean, since you're a woman, I supposed it's only fair..."
Say WHAT? Excuse me? It's only fair that I, a simple female, get to create explicit images of naked men in a world that constantly deluges me with images of naked women? Why, how generous of you, you prick!
Imagine my outrage. Imagine me seething and frothing at the mouth as I read his follow-up e-mail asking if I had any images of a naked woman on her back, legs bent, knees spread, inviting someone to 'enter into a delicious wet treat.' Imagine my husband loading up the tranquilizer gun to keep me from hunting down this jack-ass and tearing him limb from limb. That particular evening was quite interesting, indeed.
I went to the convention, dreading what would happen. The last thing I wanted to deal with was some stupid sexist jerk who thought I had no business writing erotica or drawing male nudes. It would have been perfectly okay in this guy's mind for me to post images of naked and semi-naked women on my website, showing off their 'delicious wet treats,' but it must have seemed abnormal to him that I wanted to create sexual images of naked men, meant to appeal to me. Oh, the horrors he must have felt in being forced to deal with a woman secure in her heterosexuality and artistic freedom.
I got through the panel and dealt with the prick as politely as I could. But all that weekend he continued to repeat his request for me to supply him with images of naked women lewdly displayed. The first 40 or 50 times, I demurred politely. But eventually I got sick of hearing him say, "You know what you need on your website? Naked women doing nasty things! That's what people want to see!" So I turned to him and said, "Well, I'm rather busy right now, but if you care to commission a piece, I could put something together. I charge $50 an hour for digital artwork, and this looks like a 10-15 hour job. Shall I draw up a contract for the work?"
His silence was deafening. When he finally did speak, it was to stammer things along the lines of, "Oh no, I don't mean to bother you with paying work. It's just that if you happen to do any such drawings, maybe you could send them my way, because I certainly shouldn't have to pay for such things as porn customized to my sexual fantasies..."
Here's the thing. If I've got a hot button issue, it's this - women constantly have images of nude and semi-nude oversexed women shoved down their throats. Naked women are in the newspapers, magazines, TV, movies, etc.. But if we want to see a picture of a naked man? We have to search the internet for whatever grungy scraps the gay porn sites throw out to lure in paying customers. Even in the erotica industry, that hotbed of artistic sexual freedom, it's all about the naked girlies. Don't believe me? Check out the Erotica Cover Watch. They'll show you some prime examples of how naked men don't exist in the erotica genre. As for the rest of the world, I don't care how explicit we think things have gotten, for the vast majority, sexy = naked woman. Naked men do not exist, and creating images of naked men -- explicit, sexual images -- is considered so wrong it's ridiculous. Yeah, Justin Timberlake tears off Janet Jackson's top and the main stream media and polite society go nuts, but what do you think would have happened if Janet had reached over and torn off Justin's pants, leaving him standing with his dick hanging out? Can you even conceive that it might have happened? Or is the idea too radical to be imagined?
Last month I received a copy of Imagine FX, a digital art magazine I subscribe too. The cover showcased an image of a buxom blonde in skin tight, revealing clothing, sitting on top of a giant robot, sucking on a lollipop and reading a "Robots for Dummies" book. She was a pin-up girl, pure and simple, complete with pouty lips and nipple marks. I'm not mad that the image was on the cover of the magazine. It was a good image, well rendered, and it told a clear story. What pissed me off was inside that magazine, the female editor claimed that Imagine FX was breaking all the rules by showing a male samurai in full armor the previous issue's cover. Most of Imagine FX's cover images have been of buxom babes, so yeah, the samurai was a change in pace, but did putting a guy covered up in armor really qualify as breaking the rules? I e-mailed the editor with the following:
"I was very surprised to read your introduction to issue 40 of Imagine FX. You stated "We're breaking all the rules again... This time around we've got a beautiful creature on the cover." Well, the pin-up girl on the front cover... certainly was a beautiful creature, but she was hardly an exception to 'the rules' I've come to associate with IFX cover art... if you really do want to break the rules, might I suggest you put a pin-up **boy** on the front cover? Something pretty, pouty, and dressed in revealing clothing, maybe even sucking on something sweet while reading a 'For Dummies' book (because we all know that pin-ups, boy and girl, must be dummies)? Now that would be breaking the rules. But I suspect if you put a beautiful creature like that on the cover, you'd probably get fired."
Imagine FX has reprinted my e-mail in their letters to the editor column this month, and I'm waiting for next month's issue to see if anyone says anything about it. I won't be surprised if I get burned at the stake. But seeing that cover image, reading all that hogwash about breaking the rules, made me feel like I was dealing with Author John Smith all over again. Although I must say, dealing with that jerk did provide me with inspiration to do some new artwork. I went straight home after that convention and turned out this little beauty...
Belleraphon, by Helen E. H. Madden, 2007