Sunday, June 20, 2010

Exclusively Human

By Lisabet Sarai

June is officially GLBT Pride month, so I thought we should celebrate at the Grip by discussing same-sex relationships. Since I bored everyone last week with my personal BDSM confessions, I don't think I'll talk about my own limited but precious same-sex experiences. Instead, I'll focus on writing same-sex erotica and erotic romance.

I've published a fair amount of M/M and F/F material, including my most recent novel Necessary Madness and my story "Rush Hour" in D.L.King's Lambda finalist collection Where the Girls Are. As I mentally reviewed my GLBT work, I came to an unexpected realization. More often than not, my same-sex pairs are not exclusively gay or lesbian.

My characters may be attracted to someone of their own gender, but they don't usually identify themselves as an official member of the corresponding homo-erotic community. Quite often, they have some experience with, and even desire for, the opposite sex. Even in my M/M romance (where, I've discovered, introducing any M/F interaction can be the kiss of death from a marketing perspective) a character may have a heterosexual back story. Rob Murphy, the hunky cop in Necessary Madness, is divorced with two kids. He's primarily interested in other men, but he doesn't fit completely into the gay pigeon-hole.

In my same-sex erotica, bisexual characters are common. My story "Clean Slate", which will appear in Rachel Kramer Bussel's upcoming collection Smooth, involves a young woman with a history of gang membership who has become engaged. The emotional trauma of having her gang tattoos removed (as required by her fiancé) drives her into the arms of the curvaceous laser therapist who has been erasing the past from her skin. In "Mad Dogs", my first male-male story, the protagonist finds himself aroused by a gay orgy even though he's never had a homo-erotic fantasy in his life:

The place reeks of fish and rusted iron. Under these raw smells, I catch a whiff of Bom’s sandalwood cologne. He has lapsed into Thai with his cohorts, abandoning any attempts to communicate with me. Still, he makes sure that the bottle in front of me is always full.

Overwhelmed by the beer and the day’s events, I must have slept. I wake, disoriented, in near-darkness. A halogen lamp mounted on the next pier sends uneven shafts of light into the shack, but until my eyes adjust, I can barely see anything.

The chairs clustered around the formica-topped table are all empty. The table itself is littered with dozens of empty bottles. The room is quiet enough that I can hear the river lapping against the piles that support the building.

Then I recognize the sound of breathing. As this is sinking in, somebody moans.

Bom?” There’s a creaking sound off in the corner.

Here, Gary.” His voice is muffled. Someone bursts into laughter, which breaks off suddenly to become a groan of pleasure.

I’m beginning to be able to make out my surroundings. There’s some kind of platform at the far end of the room. The platform is covered with pale, writhing, naked bodies.

Come on, Gary,” Bom coaxes. He is on his knees, poised above the prone body of one of his friends. Even in the dimness, I can see the gleam of his perfect skin, the smile on his ripe lips, the saliva dripping down his chin. He bends once more to the cock jutting up in front of him.

Another of his mates is positioned behind Bom’s hips. He grabs Bom’s buttocks, pulls them open, and begins lapping at his friend’s anus.

I think that I should be disgusted, but I’m not. I’m fascinated. My cock hardens rapidly. If I were sober, I’d probably find this alarming, but at the moment, it seems completely normal. I unsnap, unzip, and wrestle my cock into the open air. It swells further, grateful to be set free. I stroke it slowly, root to tip, my attention fixed on the scene in front of me.

For a while the action is languid, dreamy, slow motion caresses punctuated every now and then by a sharp intake of breath or a sudden groan. My cock surges in my hand in reaction. I can hear the slurp of tongues against wet flesh, but it’s a bit difficult to see the details.

Hardly realizing what I’m doing, I move closer, still stroking myself. The guy with his face buried in Bom’s ass sits back on his haunches. He looks over at me and grins as he rolls a condom over his impressive prick. He says something in Thai. Bom hikes his rear up higher. He wiggles his butt in invitation.

One of my favorite stories, "A Quiet Evening at Home", begins with the main character going to visit her boyfriend and noticing the woman sharing the lift:

Even by New York City standards, the woman next to me in the elevator was exotic. Skin like dusky velvet, pomegranate lips, eyes that you could drown in. One earlobe displayed seven gold rings of decreasing diameter, while a gold chain looped through the other and dangled to her bare shoulder. Her jet hair, elaborately braided and beaded, hung down to her waist.

Full breasts strained against her crimson tank top, which was damp with sweat. Her cutoff shorts were ragged and dusty, but they showed off the lovely swell of her hips to fine advantage. Red nail polish screamed from her fingers and her sandal-clad toes, all of which were decorated with rings of silver.

She was laden down with two obviously heavy bags of groceries, plus a purse and a huge tote bag. There was a sheen of perspiration on her brow. I could smell her natural musk, delicately augmented by some floral scent. I took a deep breath.

I could come up with many other examples, but I think I've made my point.

I think there are two reasons why my same-sex stories are not gender-exclusive. First, I don't have much real-world experience with gay and lesbian subcultures, but I have enough to know that the reactions can be fierce if you don't get the details right. Butches, femmes, bois, trannies, leather daddies, bears and bikers—the official GLBT world is complex, mysterious and highly politicized. I don't want to screw up and earn the scorn of the people who dream up and apply these labels. I don't mean to sound sarcastic. I'm certain these distinctions are meaningful and important to the people who have created them. I humbly admit that I don't fully understand this world and probably never will.

Second, I personally believe that sexual desire transcends biological gender, that practically everyone has some potential for being aroused by a member of his or her own sex. The guardians of the labels will probably disagree. My philosophy is unquestionably influenced by my own polymorphously perverse psychology. I'm attracted to both men and women—specific individuals, not entire classes—so it's easy for me to believe that other people are the same. Many of the individuals with whom I've been intimate have similar opinions, but this could be self-selection. Readers at least do not seem to find my switch-hitting characters implausible—or maybe they're just too turned on to be critical! (I can only hope!)

On the rare occasions when I write strictly gay or lesbian characters, they often don't fit into the expected mold. Loretta, the young lesbian software engineer in “Velvet” (in BLE 2009), breaks up with her girlfriend because Rhys criticizes her for wearing make-up and keeping her hair long.

Fortunately, GLBT includes the “B”, bisexual. So I guess I'm qualified to celebrate GLBT Pride Month with everyone else. Each of us writes what comes naturally. In my case, that means characters whose sexual identification is fluid. For me, one lover can be male, another female—each relationship is with an individual, not with a gender label.

I'm wondering about the limits, though. For a long time I've been chewing on an idea for a sci-fi erotic romance in which one of the characters is a hermaphroditic mutant. I think it would be a delicious challenge to write love scenes in which the male or female aspects of this character's sexuality were alternately ascendant. Publishers to whom I've pitched this idea have been uniformly unenthusiastic—not about the idea per se but about it's commercial prospects.

What the heck—I may write it anyway, just to explore the potential. Who knows? Now that vampires are getting tired, maybe hermaphrodite tales will be the Next Big Thing.


  1. Hi Lisabet. Nice blog, and some lovely excerpts. I'm intrigued by your hermaphroditic mutant idea. Perhaps a pair of alternating hermaphroditic mutants would be a great challenge, but quite rewarding to write.

  2. Lisabet!

    Three things.

    one: I don;t care if anyone read your thing last week or not - it was deep. It was interesting. Anyone who skipped it should go back right now and take a look because it was written truly and it raised thoughtful issues about the power dynamics in relationships which gave me the idea for my theme in july - dynamics in character relationships.

    two: I was thinking while I was reading your post here, how always the soul of erotica is the same regardless of genders, which is the expression or experience of pleasure. Your here stuff isn't just the mechanics but its about the experience of the pleasure, which is the part i would have a hard time writing if I did a M/M story because in my case I would be faking it.

    three: I didn't realize the marketing issues involved in gay or lesbian writing, how it would have to be restricted to certain formulas in order to be published. That;s rough. I suppose that comes from the intense politicization (sp) of gay rights at this time that makes it a hard subject to take on. It must be hard to be published in that field unless the writer restricts himself to following the rules.


  3. Hi Lisabet,

    The Mutant Hermaphrodite's Next Big Thing! Will that be the title you're using?

    Seriously, I thought your blog this week made a lot of sense, apart from the initial comment where you said you'd bored people last week. I've never been bored by one of your posts.

    And your comments about the fluidity of arousal for individuals rather than labels made perfect sense. I had thought everyone thought the same way but you've made me re-assess that call.

    Great post,


  4. As usual, your posts are always insightful and interesting. I suppose no matter the topic, the challenges for publication remain the same. We all have to write something that sells. Even though our genres are miles apart, I still love your style...and you.

  5. Lisabet -

    Another confused person here. What makes you think anyone was bored by last weeks post?

    I read Necessary Madness, and I thought you captured m/m dynamics. And of course I read your story in Where The Girls Are. Not everyone is a gold star lesbian or gay man, so writing characters with a bisexual or heterosexual past actually speaks more to real life experience for LBGT readers.

  6. Hello, Willsin,

    Thanks for your comments -- I don't recall having seen your name here at the Grip before. (If I'm wrong, please chalk it up to my deteriorating memory!)

    I wasn't thinking about alternating sexual characteristics. What I have in mind is an individual who has both male and female genitalia and both aggressive/passive, assertive/nurturing aspects to hir personality.

    All the best,

  7. Hello, Garce,

    I don't think that gay or lesbian erotica is nearly as constrained by market issues as romance. However, if you write for an exclusively gay or lesbian audience, and you place your characters in that culture, you have to be accurate or you'll lose the respect of your readers. It's the same thing with BDSM--if you write about "the scene" (which I usually don't), you'd better know what you're talking about or you'll be dismissed as a clueless wannabe.

    In romance, things are different. I received criticisms in several reviews of Necessary Madness because the book included two brief M/F scenes between the villain and his henchwoman (is there such a thing?)

    Thanks for your kind words about my post last week, too.


  8. Hello, Ash,

    Actually, reading Garce's story "Love's Tender Gender Fender Bender" has made me think twice about whether the physical aspects of arousal are at all the same. He does a much better job of describing the female experience of being horny than I ever have.

    However, the experience of attraction--of wanting to touch someone and be touched--I feel is in some sense universal and pan-gender.

    All the best,

  9. Hey, Ginger,

    Thanks for dropping in at the Grip! I really appreciate your support. And I admire your ability to bring the past to life.


  10. Hi, Kathleen,

    My comments about my post last week were stimulated by the paucity of comments. Actually I've wondered whether readers were scared away by the checklist.

    Thanks for the comments on Necessary Madness. I'm working in the dark, really, when it comes to M/M. I have zero personal experience--I've hardly even seen any M/M porn. My writing comes from intuition and from reading erotica actually written by gay men.


  11. Interesting post!

    I know what you mean about getting details right, but to some extent it's probably impossible to get all details right for all readers--though when something is enormously wrong, it usually shows (for instance, stories where somebody clearly gave the heroine a quick sex-change to rework the thing to the m/m market.)

    I think all any of us can do, really, is try to find the readers who want to read what we write. I've been lucky in having a gay friend who pre-reads my stuff for physical impossibilities, but he's a lot like I am as a person--over 40, a homebody, avoids crowds and loud music--so his opinion on what makes a good story is likely to be different from a 20-something club kid's. And my wife and I have more in common, as a couple, with our het siblings than we do with many of our lesbian friends. We both see ourselves as human beings first, gender second.

    "Male" and "female" traits...? Aside from sperm production and lactation? Sure, there are general differences, but everybody's a combination of traits and they seldom line up bing-bing-bing on the blue or pink blanket.

    As for the commercial prospects of your sci-fi novel... you'd have to go a long way to surpass Ursula K LeGuin's "Left Hand of Darkness," but a concept isn't a story and how you tell the tale makes all the difference. Why not write it and see what happens?

  12. Love this post, Lisabet, and the modeling/permission around writing from POVs/sexual experiences other than the writer's own.

    Also: so grateful for characters that break community expectations -- we need those voices!



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