In 2006, I approached Carol Queen and asked whether she would be interested in reinstating the Erotic Reading Circle. I’d learned about the ERC during my first three months in San Francisco, when I was running my first erotic writing group for sexual trauma survivors. At Community Thrift (one of my my favorite bookstores in San Francisco), I came across a book entitled Sex Spoken Here, which anthologized some of the amazing work that had been shared at the Erotic Reading Circle during its run at Good Vibrations. In their introduction, the co-editors, Carol Queen and Jack Davis, described the power, beauty, and community that the Erotic Reading Circle had nurtured during its run into the mid-90s. Here I was, a newbie to San Francisco in 2003, researching the healing/transformative potential of erotic expression for survivors of sexual violence. “Wait,” I thought. “Why doesn’t a space like the Erotic Reading Circle still exist?”
A few years later, I had had the good luck to be introduced to Carol, began facilitating an erotic writing group at the Center for Sex and Culture, and even though I was still starstruck whenever I spoke to her (an experience that continues to this day!), I asked whether she would be interested in rebooting the Erotic Reading Circle under the Center’s auspices — and she said yes! We’ve been meeting monthly (every fourth Wednesday, 7:30-9:30pm, at the CSC) ever since — that’s coming on 8 years now — co-facilitating a space in which erotic writers can bring their work and have it received with respect, enthusiasm, and generous feedback.
A couple of years ago, we (along with our co-editor, the tremendous Amy Butcher) put out a call to our ERC regulars, asking for submissions for an anthology — we wanted to share with the larger community the strong, hot, layered, complicated, powerful writing that shows up at the Reading Circle every month. The book that resulted from this call — Sex Still Spoken Here — includes stories, poems, and essays from 27 ERC authors. It also includes excerpts from a conversation among the editors (in which we discuss the power of creative erotic space, the importance of erotic writing to the larger literary community, and the ways in which the ERC has supported new and established writers in the SF Bay area for all of these years) and a brief how-to guide, for folks who’d like to bring a Reading Circle into their own communities.
Self publishing costs money. So does paying authors. The editor have volunteered hundreds of hours on behalf of this project. The Center for Sex and Culture is a long-established non-profit doing extraordinary work in our community, and needs your support in order to get cultural products like Sex Still Spoken Here into the hands of folks who need to know that erotic expression comes in a whole lot more than 50 shades. Please support this project — every single dollar helps. Through our indiegogo campaign, you can pre-order the book (in print or e-format), or avail yourself any of our other tantalizing perks. You can also pass the word — if you have ever participated in the ERC or one of Writing Ourselves Whole’s erotic writing groups, I would ask you to please forward this message. Every step helps further the ERC’s mission to create more awareness and respect for the vast breadth of erotic creative expression, and to hold open a consistent space for those writers who are willing to risk writing the erotic.
Good morning (it’s still morning technically) — I have here a little cup of decaf coffee loaded up with cream and a sleepy pup and a full and achy heart. Is Monday welcoming you in with its tender arms? (I know Monday often feels more like a grabber — I just wondered about shifting that story a little.)
Today I feel softened and broken open and a little weepy. Writing Ourselves Whole’s tenth anniversary benefit and celebration on Saturday was a gorgeous success: a roomful of writers and friends, wonderful food and drink, and about fifty items donated for our silent auction and raffle! What an astonishing space we made together. Continue reading “Fierce Hunger — so much love.”→
Good Monday to you (morning or afternoon or evening, depending on where you are!).
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This weekend I heard Jane Hirschfield talking about her latest book of poetry on a local NPR radio program and one thing that stays with me from that program (besides the tremendous power of her poetry) is one of the reasons she gave for the importance of poetry in her life: she said she wanted her life to be more permeable. The interviewer had asked why we should welcome poetry into our lives, and Jane had said, I can’t answer for everyone, but I can say why poetry is important in my life, and she began her answer with a list of ways that poetry opened her and her life, and permeable was just one of those, but it stuck fast in me, and rung true. Yes: permeable. When Emily Dickenson says, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry,” she is talking about that experience of permeability, how poetry invites, allows, requires that we allow life and possibility to move through us. That’s the deep intimacy of poetry, that vulnerability that is required of us as we read, because the experience of a poem, the tethering of our own ideas into the metaphor of the poem, the way we lace ourselves into the meaning, the reading, the possibilities, suddenly, we are intimately interwoven into the mind and experience of the poet, we are together, there is no separation.
I was grateful for that reminder.
Saturday night I got to hang out with a number of people I admire greatly (Carol Queen, Robert Lawrence, Gina deVries, horehound stillpoint, Marlo Gayle, Allison Moon) at the LitQuake LitCrawl, where we read stories about sex, desire, music, home, lesbian werewolves, occupy wall street, the metaphysics of longing, the power and uses of erotic writing, sex and parenting, so much more in that hour of reading. The room was packed — we had the auditorium at the Women’s Building. I felt so proud to be in that room, proud to get to count myself among the number of the readers, folks who are brave enough to risk writing about sex, talking about sex, putting shit out on the line, saying things we’re not supposed to say, breaking taboos; there’s more — I felt part of something.
There are times when I’m ashamed to be an erotic writer, that’s the truth. I’m ashamed because I know my father’s ashamed, because I know this work makes many people uncomfortable. On Saturday I didn’t feel ashamed — some of the dust and pebbles of that feeling got brushed off me as I listened to the other readers, felt such deep and beaming pride for them, felt, too, so wildly grateful to be one of their number up there in front of a big room full of people wanting space to hear about sex, wanting public space for some honesty about how complicated and gorgeous our desiring is, how messy and fucked up and funny, how necessary.
Here’s the piece I read on Saturday — I cobbled together pieces from workshop writes and from this blog, thinking about the power and uses of erotic writing, my forever topic. I think I want this to be a longer piece, but here it is for now:
I lead erotic writing workshops. My father does not like that I do this work. About a year ago, I got reminded, again, that the queer daughter is the opposite of the ‘good’ daughter. The queer daughter can never be the good girl. Audre Lorde told me that years ago, but I have to keep on learning the lesson.
I’m still thinking about that line I brought as a prompt to the Femme Conference workshop, from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”: You do not have to be good.
What would you write if you did not have to be good?
Here’s an writing prompt: public sex. Create a list of places where something dirty could go down (or, even better, where you could never imagine something salacious erupting), and then let one of those sites choose you, and write what happened there.
Here’s something I wrote in response to that prompt at a workshop earlier this year:
It’s not like everyone doesn’t know I’ve got a thing for sex in bathrooms — and honestly, the more public the better. The night Jolly got her hands wedged there down beneath my slatted skirt we were at the dyke bar on the far side of an odd town. The place was broke down and gorgeous, flocked with the preened and disheveled, smelled like CK One and beer and hairspray, and was hotter than that sweet funky spot right between my tits beneath that goddamn corset.
I was far from home, visiting family, untangling myself from history and loss for the night, just looking to get a little bit drunk and a lot surrounded by my own kind, and was well on my way to meeting both those aims when Jolly pushed up behind me on the barstool and introduced me to a third.
Never seen you here before, ze said, leaning into me enough ze kinda destabilized my equilibrium –or was it just that little fat strong hand ze held up to get the bartender’s attention?
Never been here before, I said, forced to lean back against hir so I wouldn’t fall off the damn stool. Ze smelled like Marlboros, whiskey, sex and suddenly I was clutching my fishnetted thighs together. The bartender was flirting with some fauhawked argyle-wearer at the other end of the bar, and Jolly, who stood a good coupla inches over me, tilted hir greaser-slicked dark head down and flashed me the rinsewater grey clouds that hid in hir eyes, and said, Know where the john is?
Not yet, I choked.
Ze had my hand in hirs, urged me down off the barstool, just as someone threw a dollar in the jukebox for “Cherry Bomb.” Jolly was all tight black t-shirt, engineer boots, torn denim, and me with the aforementioned corset and tight-assed pencil skirt that flared into pincers and foam at the hem, which fell just mid-thigh. We didn’t need to introduce ourselves, our bodies had done that for us, and as ze closed the door to the stained and band-stickered single stall back by the pool tables, I leaned back against the wall and put one boot on the toilet. Jolly pursed hir lips, slid hir tongue down to make that kind of wet suckling sound someone lets loose with when they’re contemplating something very interesting or stupid or dangerous— I guess I was all of the above.
What’s erotic writing good for? This is what my father wants to know.
Ok, for me, what it’s good for is getting my body back up off the floor, pulling me back out of cobwebbed corners, delving into the interstices and sewing, with the sweat of a pen, all my pieces back together again. Porn is good for reminders, it’s good for training fantasies into friendships, good for naming your own devices.
Another response to a prompt: this one was, describe something you’ve forgotten.
Who taught him how to walk in high heels? His mother certainly never put a line of tape down on the hard wood floor of their dusty living room and presented her boy with that information: Put high heel pumps on this way, hold the bottom in your one hand and press the shoe onto the opposite foot, or with platforms, if they have a buckle, press your legs together and lean your knees to one side, swishing your skirt or the bell bottoms of your jeans out of the way so you can see to do up the strap. Then stand tall, see, shift your center of gravity some, lean back onto them — like that — good! And now it’s one foot in front of the other, directly in front, honey, and let your hips go — good, just let your hips go.
He wonders if even girls got that kind of instruction—it was the 70s, after all, and his mother was more cork-soled comfort than platform boots by the time he started marveling through her closet after school, the days he got home so far before her, the days his name was Latch Key. He doesn’t remember how he learned this precious thing, this thing that separates the men from the flamboyance, this thing that sail-sells his faggot flag high and free. He had no Queens to teach him and he doesn’t remember especially examining how the rich, trashy ladies on Dallas shifted their bodies when their feet were pitched forward in stilettos. Somehow, the knowledge got in, like somehow he got himself inside a fine leather bustier and little denim hotpants, like he got himself inside words like Darlin and Mary, like he got himself inside another boy’s drawers.
He knows not all the fairy boys, the girly men, like to put their weight inside sequins and femininity, but he does— and he doesn’t remember when it landed clear as a furled fake eyelash that this made him no less of a man, but he carries that knowing in his bones like he carries the knowing how to let his hips shift easy like balls of butter in their sockets when he’s wielding a pair of high heels through a room full of wringing wet men, and this knowing his momma doesn’t know she gave him is what will save his life.
Why does erotic writing matter? Why does it matter whether or not you’re in your body? Why does it matter whether or not you’re in your honest self, your heat and desire? We want more than to be trapped into the holes that our perpetrators drove us into. We want more than the body of loss that we became. We want more than for our bodies to be the landscape of our terror. We want our bodies also to encompass joy — and this writing, it can be one path to our (re)embodying that joy, even before we try it on off the page.
I have learned a tremendous thing to do with the not-good-daughter, the bad girl living in me. I have made her into an alter ego. My father doesn’t know about her, which is all right with all three of us.
(here’s one more response to a writing exercise — the prompt was, if I listened to my body…)
If I’d listened to my body, I would have gotten up about a quarter of the way into the fucking, gently but firmly encouraged the butch off of me, maybe even unbuckled the strap-on while I was disengaging myself from that young one’s musty flannel sheets.
As it was, I stayed. Why? Because I was hopeful. And horny. I stayed, spread-eagled and doing my damndest to hump myself into some kind of urgency while the baby butch had used the dildo like a pneumatic drill after approximately 17 seconds of so-called foreplay — apparently the kid had been working out, ’cause she was super proud of her biceps and kept flexing them while she sweated and pounded over me. Had I not been so clogged with wishes for a good lay, I would have put my girl teacher high femme hard hat back on and moved to climb out from the jackhammer pit about 8 minutes in.
Can you imagine? I was imagining, ’cause it was helping me get off. I’d lean up, put a hand on the butch’s sweaty chest (what was the unfuckable’s name again? Oh yes: Commando. Seriously.) and said, Hold up. Excuse m, e. I gotta go.
No tension, no raised voices, no drama. Yes, my cunt would still be aching and hopeful and clutching at Command’s commando like maybe it could learn to do something different, a maneuver,, a trick, in spite of Commando’s obvious unfamiliarity with its possibilities.
Here’s how it was going inside my head: Commando would have frozen at the expression on my mussed face, one of all raised eyebrows and creased cheek to one side, lips pursed like Really? and so, I would’ve been able to slide myself (not really wetly enough) off the still cock, reach my nimble fingers to Commando’s hips and unbuckle the harness quick like butter would not be melting in this bed and yet before the stunned stud could respond. I’d push again between that thin butch’s small breasts, lean in for a long and too-urgent kiss (an indication, let me tell you, of my still pressing throb between the legs) and lean Commando down onto her broad back while I managed to install Commando’s contraption around my own wide and wanting hips.
Wha–? Commando might’ve said, from between my flush and swollen lips (the upper ones, since she hadn’t managed to find my lower ones with her own).
Hold still, honey, I’d’ve said. I’m doing something here. And then I’d start to nudge the fat and not quite realistic head just to the other woman’s lower lips, nudge, too, the backside of the dildo rough against my own clit. That’s it, now. And just how much better it could have gone from there—
Take any of those prompt for your own writing today — and keep going with your work, knowing it keeps you permeable, open to the elements, alive and vulnerable, tough and meaty like the stuff of every heart.