Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Gazing Into The Abyss
“To encounter erotica designed for the other is to gaze into the psychological abyss that separates the sexes.”
.Tracie Egan Morrisey
Let’s do a quick recap of the theme. Here’s how it goes:
Suzie Bright is an iconic feminist and an early pioneer of "Herotica", erotic story collections written by and for women. She's best well known as the editor of the "Best American Erotica" anthology series which ran for over a decade, and is the author of the semi-autobiographical "How to Write a Dirty Story", which is the best craft book on this genre that I know of. Whatever your taste its an excellent writing course in itself. There is a famous writing exercise in this book, designed to help faint hearted wanna-bes to free up their fantasies and put them into words. You get three wishes. The first is a fantasy that could be performed in the real world and you'd truly jump on if you got the offer. The second is a fantasy that could come true, maybe, but you would only accept under certain strict conditions. The third is a fantasy that could never happen, because its impossible or too squicky to endure, but lots of fun to imagine.
So the challenge this week is to pick one or more of these exercises and share with the world. My answers to the first two aren’t that interesting. But the third one, that has a beat and you can dance to it. Here’s a piece of what I did with this exercise the first time around:
“ . . . When Gregor Samsa woke one morning from unsettling dreams he found himself changed from a monstrous vermin into a woman.
A long time ago he had once gone to sleep as a man and awakened in his bed as a large cockroach. Now after dozing as a lonely cockroach under the toilet, Gregor had awakened as a woman. Though certainly a step in the right direction this constant change of species was becoming a disturbing habit.
It wasn’t that bad being a cockroach, more like getting used to living in a new and hostile neighborhood. But the sex was just awful.
Although he knew instantly that he was no longer a roach, his discovery that he was now a woman progressed in stages. He knew he was human. He sensed his familiar place in the bed, dressed in a soft silky nightgown of some kind. His arms were here; his single pair of legs down there, and his skeleton was inside now where it belonged. As he moved, those arms and legs felt different somehow. And his chest – that felt pretty strange. His hips felt bigger. More roomy. But it was the place between his legs that felt different and vaguely disturbing in a way nothing else did.
There was barely a moment to wonder whether he had once been a man dreaming he was a roach or a roach who had been dreaming he was a man, when he felt the thick tops of his thighs rub against each other. That was a shock and he felt the first twinges of panic.
Where was it?
Where the fuck was it?
He had always enjoyed waking up in the morning with a terrific boner and then deciding if there was enough time available to do anything with it. He felt a little dampness down there, but no hard and friendly cream horn.
His right hand ventured below to see what the deal was, and his forearm brushed something soft and full laying spread out on his chest under the silk as though a kitten were sleeping there. He caressed it and rolled it gently in his palm. In the center there was an unfamiliar nipple soft and large with a long tip.
Tits? I got tits?
He caressed them and it felt nice. A little friendly squeeze and it felt even better. These are pretty righteous tits, he thought. Somebody here has some real jugs. Why? And then the fear began.
He threw back the comforter violently, looked down at himself and howled. . . .”
That later became “Loves Tender Gender Fender Bender” which appears in the Coming Together collection of my stories. It’s a continuation of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”, except that in this tale, Gregor Samsa who had previously awoken to find himself changed into a giant insect, has now awoken from being an insect to being a woman. His sister Greta as it turns out.
My answer to the third exercise is that I would like to be incarnated as a woman for one day to see what that experience is like. We’re not talking about being a transsexual. This is about, like my Samsa, waking up one morning in the natural body of a woman and experiencing sensation and pleasure and even emotions as a woman experiences them, but from a man’s point of view. If that could happen the first thing I think I would do is go off somewhere and pleasure myself to find out how that feels and how a woman experiences orgasm. I’d want to know how that would be different from the way a man experiences it, or even how a man imagines a woman experiences it. I might even – this is squicky – seduce a man to find out what penetration feels like.
There are fundamental differences I would expect. Male sexual desire is typically experienced as assertive, a desire to possess, dominate, bring out the woman’s pleasure and finally thrust and penetrate when she expresses her submission. Men often talk among themselves about sex in this way as a form of conquest. “Did you pork her?” “Did you nail her?” “Did you score with her?” Now before the ladies reading this get mad, I offer my caveat that this is a kind of minimal stereotype at best. This is the instinctive default setting of the male mind and fantasy. In that I am accurate. Having said that, men do dream of sexually aggressive women, and variety makes the world go round.
For a woman, or a gay man, I suppose it would be often the opposite. To allow yourself to be taken and penetrated requires a certain acquiescence and submission, to allow yourself to be pierced and briefly inhabited within by a man sensualizing your body with his requires some trust. Not to mention what will happen to your body if pregnancy takes hold and your life changes forever. It’s one of the great mysteries of the feminine that women spend a great deal of time being inhabited by other people. A man’s tumescence inserted within during sex, and later a child growing inside her womb. What being does a woman have to have for that kind of letting go, to allow another person to dwell inside of your flesh however briefly? To let down her defenses that much? A man feels an aggressive desire to thrust, enter and fill. Does a woman feel an empty space hungry to be filled?
These states of mind are not trivial. From an evolutionary viewpoint what men and women want are profoundly different. For the male it’s a moment of conquest and release and he can move on without consequence. Therefore on some primitive level any woman who will lay down for a few minutes will do as well as any other. Men are capable of focusing a great deal on shallow physical attributes rather than character. Women are often more forgiving on physical attributes but will instinctively want a steady man of a certain character and social qualities who can protect and provide for her and the infant they make, as well as offering emotional intimacy.
And what would an orgasm feel like for a woman? Not exactly the same as for a man. I consulted a few ladies about that scene which appears later in the story. I went to the ERWA Erotic Mind website and fished around to get an idea of how women described it. For men orgasm is a rising rush of pleasure released in a burst of urgent mind blanking expulsion and relief not that far away from a good piss. It is a great feeling of emptying, physically and emotionally. The relief is profound. Until that moment there is nothing in the universe, nothing you are thinking of except the object of your passion. Women romance writers definitely have that part right. When the moment passes it’s a sense of letting go and even distraction. Other things come immediately to mind. Bills to pay. What time you’re getting up in the morning. Men often feel depressed and lonely immediately after orgasm and want to withdraw into their heads which can drive a woman crazy. For a lot of us guys the ideal woman would be a wildcat in bed and after you come, she’d turn into a pizza.
For women, orgasm seems to be more of a gathering storm of intense intimacy and vulnerability, a gathering of tension, like a big emotional sneeze building up out of your reach until the anticipation is driving you crazy. Then ephemeral release, without the finality of discharge and ejaculation, sometimes but not always relief. Something like that. That was the feeling I’ve tried to capture in this story, which for the male character was a very alien experience, as alien as reaching down that first moment and finding nothing hanging between your legs.
I can’t tell you how much fun I had writing that story, and it was the expression of the fantasy spread out in that third exercise. In a way it was a privately written erotica made public. I believe in writing exercises, because for me writing is an exquisite art. There are things you have time to explore in words and plot and dialogue that painters and musicians only get to touch on. All other forms of art are vignettes, but with writing you can explore a notion at full length. Why wouldn’t you want to develop some mastery of language and the ability to express complex ideas and explore them?
But there is another aspect to this exercise also, the thing Tracie Morrisey is talking about. Romance and erotica are uniquely placed genres for an author not just to imagine the other gender but to look into the abyss that separates the sexes, to try to put yourself on the other side and feel what the other feels physically and emotionally. To try to BE that other and bring that across to a reader.
That, I think, is a very fine challenge.