Tag Archives: writing about sex

take up space in the public arena for the erotic body

I miss my early morning company — there are no owls here to accompany me into this early morning writing time.  I had strange dreams, and they’ve faded now. My body is still in need of help, but it’s better.

This weekend I started thinking again about offering a sacred sexuality class, a group for women (to begin with) where we can write about the pleasures of the flesh and how exactly holy they feel to us — how much it matters that we are in our desire, that we feel our longing body, that we discover how to allow pleasure to bring us all the way open to another person, and, more importantly, to ourselves.

Right now, it’s hard to think about how to justify such a group, just as it’s been difficult to do a lot of promo for the fundraiser for Sex Still Spoken Here, the Erotic Reading Circle anthology — there are wars and violence all over the world. Israel has invaded Gaza, and hundreds of people are dying. The rebels in the Ukraine are shooting planes out of the sky. The people of Syria are dying in thee hundreds. People are sending their infants and children across international borders, alone, in order that they might be safe and free. The people of Sudan find themselves in the middle of a civil war. Every paper I open is filled with stories about sexual violence and atrocity. How can this be a time to speak about erotic pleasure and investigation, about sexual delight and recovery? Isn’t that the last thing on our minds: our own joy?

I spent awhile yesterday reading a story in the New York Times Magazine about the former president of Penn State, who can’t understand why he is being held to account for his lack of action in the Jerry Sandusky case. I avoided the main section of the paper, filled not just with stories about war violence but also about sexual violence. Last week there was a story about young woman who brought charges of rape against her perpetrator on a college campus, and now regrets having done so, given the terrible mess the college has made of the whole thing. I couldn’t bring myself to read that story.

I am grateful for the (apparently sudden) increased attention to sexual violence across the globe, and for the reporting about the way rape is used as a war crime, as a tool of control and isolation, the way sexual violence shows up on college campuses, in church settings in families, in shelters and so-called safe zones, in children’s homes  — how many children’s charities like the one run by Jerry Sandusky are simply either organized by or targeted by criminals to use as corrals of prey? I am grateful for the increased awareness of the prevalence and pervasiveness of sexual violence — and I mostly can’t read all the stories about it that show up in the newspaper or in my newsfeed these days. I turn off the radio. I close the paper. I close the tab on my web browser.

A couple of months ago — have I written about this here? — I broke my car after listening to the beginning  of an NPR news story about a mob rape at a rally somewhere in the middle east or northern Africa (Egypt, I think), and the broadcasters played an excerpt of a recording made of the assault. No warning, no heads-up, no note to listeners: hey, in the next thirty seconds, you might hear something that will take you back to your childhood. Given that we know how prevalent sexual violence is, in homes and in other settings through out an individual’s life, here and around the planet, does it not make sense to assume that a vast percentage of your listening audience might be profoundly and negatively impacted by playing such a recording? I get it that you can’t give a warning in front of every news story — but if you’re going prefix other stories with warnings to your listeners that there might be language in the coming story that they might find offensive (the n-word, the f-word), then don’t you think you might want to use that same logic and apply it to stories about sexual violence, especially when you are going to be unleashing the sounds of someone actually being violated? If it helps, keep in mind that you have male survivors in your audience, too. Maybe that will help you to take survivor sensibility into account — for goodness’ sake, you don’t even have to just worry about women anymore. I hit my radio’s power button so hard with the heel of my hand that I ended up sending my radio back into the bowels of my car’s dashboard — now there’s a little hole in the dashboard, reminding me to pay attention to what I’m listening to.

Once upon a time, I thought it was my responsibility to take in all of these stories, to read or watch or listen or otherwise consume whatever stories showed up in popular culture about sexual or domestic violence — it’s important to be informed, I told myself any anyone who, after listening to me ranting at the news, asked if maybe I wanted to listen to something else. I shouted at my radio while driving home from work and shouted at tv news broadcasters over my third glass of wine. I thought that, as an activist and victim’s advocate, it was my personal responsibility to listen and analyze and respond. But the trouble was that I didn’t respond (except sometimes in my notebooks, and in loud and angry rants that made it impossible for anyone to watch the tv news with me). Instead, I drank, trying to get away from what was already inside me and what was now also coming at me from the outside. I lived the life of a sexual violence survivor, I worked with recent victims and survivors, and I consumed stories about victimization — I didn’t think I had the right to get away, to take a break from the reality of sexual violence, its pervasiveness and use as a weapon of terror and control over folks of all ages, genders and ethnicities. I burnt out over and over and over again with this mindset.

I’ve let myself off that hook, though. These days, I don’t read most of the stories about sexual assault that I come across, and don’t believe that that decision makes me any less potent as an advocate for survivors. I am grateful that the issue of sexual violence is getting more attention. I am glad for the relative amount of space these stories take up in the front section of the New York Times these days — not, of course, at all because I am glad these crimes are occurring. The ideal situation would be for us not to need column inches for stories like these, because rape was no longer being used as a weapon, because men (and women with the same mindset) no longer acted on the belief that others’ bodies exist solely for their use and pleasure. But that’s not yet the case in the world I live in, so I am grateful that these stories now rank as “news” in the minds of news media. Yet, I don’t feel I need to consume each and every one of these stories anymore. I carry enough stories in my body and bones. I give myself permission to turn the news off, to turn the page, to read something else. I’ll be sitting with those stories later, in writing groups, responding to the powerful language of survivors who are finding words for their own experiences of trauma and resilience.

This started out as an apology for wanting to hold open space for the pleasure and the power of the erotic body at a time of overwhelming sorrow, violence, shame and loss. But when is it not that time in our culture? When is there not always something more important to think about and deal with than the tender and exquisite possibility of our erotic selves, the quiet and insistent voice that demands something more than devastation, that manages to hold on to our capacity for joy even in the face of betrayal and evil? Sex can be used to sell everything but our own piece of mind; sex is fine when it’s manipulated by the same hands that want bodies available for their own pleasure, when it’s manhandled in service of the buying public’s mindless consumpton — it’s not fine when it’s offered as a space of empowerment, deep embodiment, and true self-control. Sex can take up airtime when it’s used as a weapon, or as a means of selling cars or beer or electronics or clothes or anything else. Sex is censored when it represents only itself. Sex is viewed as trivial when its presented as a wholly healthy human capacity, or when we ask, how can those of us who have been harmed through sexual acts reclaim the body’s birthright to joy and pleasure? How can (noncommercial) pleasure be as newsworthy as pain?

And so I apologize, have been apologizing all the years I’ve offered erotic writing groups, at least internally: I know, this is frivolous, I’m sorry. It’s not as important as the real work you’re doing, trying to call attention to violence or “end” violence. I know, I’m taking about eros, and that’s so much more discomfiting to you than talking about violence.

Why apologize, though, for trying to change that very fact — for wanting to undo the violence we have so thoroughly inhabited that we find it easier and more comfortable to talk in public about hatred than about embodied love. Why is that our preference? Why is that the way we want our world to be?

The voices in myself that call me out, that clamor for apology, that tell me I have something to be sorry for becuase I want to make space for erotic voices, erotic language, erotic celebration, erotic joy — even and especially in the aftermath and the shadow of our sexually violent culture — are the same parts that have worked all these years to keep me safe by keeping me quiet and small: if we don’t rock the boat, maybe we won’t get hurt. Even with all lived evidence to the contrary, still these parts of my psyche want to pretend like this might be true.

I’ll let you know when I’ve scheduled that sacred sexuality writing group. In the meantime, consider the power and beauty of embodied and complicated erotic expression — particularly in the face of silencing and violence — and hold open some space for your own beautiful and layered erotic self. Check out Sex Still Spoken Here and other media that take up space in the public arena for the erotic body.

Grow your words this summer — upcoming writing opportunities with Writing Ourselves Whole

ripening tomatoes, June 2013What words are ripening in you these days? Want to harvest those phrasings and images onto the page? Come and join us at one of our many writing groups and workshops. Here’s what’s the summer schedule looks like around these parts!

Write Whole-Survivors Write. Open to all survivors of trauma
8 Monday evenings beginning July 8, 2013.
Fee: $350 (ask about scholarship/payment plan, if needed)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Gather with other trauma survivors and write in response to exercises chosen to elicit deep-heart writing around such subjects as body image, family/community, sexuality, dreams, love, faith, and more.

Reclaiming Our Erotic Story: Open to all lgbtq women survivors of sexual trauma
8 Tuesday evenings beginning July 9, 2013.
Fee: $350 (ask about scholarship/payment plan, if needed)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Find community around the complexity of desire, and transform your relationship with your creative self through explicit erotic writing.

Dive Deep: An advanced manuscript/project workgroup
Next series begins begins July 2013
Fee: $200/month (multiple-month commitment)
Limited to 6 members per group; 1 space available
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Designed for those working on (or committing to) a larger project, such as a novel or memoir. Divers meet three times per month for writing, project check-in/accountability, feedback, coaching and peer support.

Online writing groups
6-week summer sessions begin July 1, 2013
Fee is $100-150 (sliding scale).
If you are not comfortable joining an in-person group, we offer online groups as well. This summer, our Write Whole: Survivors Write online is open to all queer/LGBTQ survivors of trauma; Reclaiming Our Erotic Story online is open to all women survivors of sexual violence. No special software required — just a computer, internet connection, and desire to write in supportive community.

Writing the Flood. A monthly writing workshop open to all
Meets the third Saturday of every month
Limited to 12. Fee is $50 (with a sliding scale)
Meets in private workshop space in Oakland, near Lake Merritt
Write in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories that have been too long stuck inside
Next Flood Write meets Saturday, June 15 (waiting list available). Mark your calendars now for the rest of the summer: July 20, August 17, September 21.

Create the space in your summer for the power of your good words! All workshops facilitated by Jen Cross. Email me with any questions, or visit our contact page to register!

writing the delicious body stories (why write about sex?)

(Today’s post comes from the book project writing I’m doing, and was inspired by an article I shared on our Facebook page yesterday. Consider this your prompt: how would your “why I write” or “why I write ___” manifesto read?)

First things first — when we write the stories of our bodies, we are writing sensory detail, we are developing character (on the page and off), we create dialogue, we write about place and time — that is to say, we are using all the tools of our craft. This is not merely an exercise in navel-gazing (as though sometimes navel-gazing isn’t exactly and only the right thing to be doing): this is developing our skill as writers.

Also: this writing makes us fearless. When we have written into the most frightening places in our hearts, into the places in our body that moan and sob without words, what can we not do?

And what about when we write the delicious body stories, the stories of our gorgeous desire, deep longing, sex that is wanted and complicated? What could that do for us?

Let’s make a list. This is what writing about sex can do:

1) Writing about sex can bring you back in touch with your bodily experience through the process of imagining and writing it out.

2) Writing about sex invites us to use everything as material — making even that terrible first date at the Power Exchange worthwhile.

3) Writing about sex can remind you how much fun the words of the body are.

4) Writing about sex, because sex is our birthright, can be way to offer tribute, thanks, and mourning, all at once.

5) Writing about sex is fun; it can turn you on while you’re writing (always a good sign) and can encourage you to explore in words something you had only imagined previously — or had not even allowed yourself to imagine.

6) Writing about sex can help you get more comfortable with the words of sex, making it more possible to say what you mean when discussing or negotiating play/sex or describe (in detail) just what sex you are consenting to — it can also make it easier to discuss sex, without or at least with less shame and embarrassment, with kids when they have questions, thereby breaking the cycle of silence and making it easier for them to talk to you and others in the future. We learn to model the kinds of conversation we want to be able to have.

7) In writing about sex, we learn to find language for our joy as well as for our struggle, learn to describe what feels good and why and how — in writing sex, we go to our own bodily experience first for reference and detail, even when we are writing about bodies different from our own. We start with our sensation and where it combines with our imagination. We use what we know and what we could know. We deepen those neurosynaptic grooves.
I also think this gets us paying closer attention to sex when we’re having (which is double-edged, of course, if we are paying closer attention just to get the words right for the next time we’re writing. A useful exercise for a moment, but, for me at least, the larger goal is to be fully present in the moment. Still, as writers, we often just can’t help ourselves).

8) Let me go back to joy: we are given much encouragement in this trauma-porn culture– in a society much more comfortable with violence than sex (and that often conflates the two and teaches us to do the same)– to find language for what hurts and what we have suffered. We can generally find a friend willing to listen to our struggles, and often find it ardor to get someone to sit down with us and talk with us about the really great sex we had last night. We are not supposed to put words to this joy. Why is this?
This is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that we who are survivors of sexual trauma know what a wonder it is that we even had the hot sex; we know all the chips stacked against the possibility of us ever having hot sex. We know what work we’ve done to be able to be in our body enough, and out of the flashbacks and negative body memory enough, to pick someone(s) who are present and kind and generous enough to make hot sex possible. We know what a wonder it is and we deserve for that wonder to be celebrated.

Our culture needs more joy, more sex, not less — not sex as advertisement or sex as product, but sex as embodiment, connection (including with ourselves), as creative manifestation, as transformative practice. What if more of us got to talk about that with our friends? To have more of the language of joy in our mouths?

9) Writing about sex can help develop our empathy for others.

10) We have heard about the power of writing what’s hard. We have heard about the power of writing envisionings, desires, affirmations — of finding deep, energetic and specific language for what we want. We have heard about the power of gratitude practice. Writing sex can be all of these things, and then some.

Writing sex is writing our trauma and our joy. It’s writing our gratitude and writing what we hope and long for. It’s finding our way into our own language of our body, finding the particular grammar and linguistics of our own skin and bones. It’s finding our tongue’s breath and breadth. It can be affirmation and revelation all at once.

That sounds like an overstatement, but I have been there and I have seen. I have seen how we soften and smile when we find and share the language of our longings, as fiction or poetry or declaration. I have heard that laughter
that is both embarrassed and brazen. I have felt the edges of us begin to crenelate. I have watched as we drop into our bellies, intense our arms, let our thighs fall open just a little: I have seen us find our center of gravity, touch more fully into what roots us now.

talking about writing about sex (a weekend with Dreamspinner!)

IMG_5130Good and gorgeous sunny morning to you. This morning, I’m feeling wildly grateful for the warmth we’ve been enjoying here around the Bay, for the smell of basil and jasmine, for the puppy’s panting next to me. I visited the midwest this weekend, and was reminded that, in the parts of the country where I used to live, spring is only just now arriving – the tree branches are still bare and it’s not even close to time to pack away the winter jacket yet because there’s still the possibility of a serious snow storm. My body can remember that cold, the deep expectation, the near-hopeless-but-still-maybe sort of anticipation, desperate the first wash of red buds on the maple tree. I don’t get that kind of exuberant reaction to spring anymore, since it never quite seems to get to winter here in California (at least not for this Nebraska-Maine girl), and I miss it – though I’m not sure if I miss it enough to move away from the sort of place where you can be in your garden all year round.

This past weekend I went to Chicago and got to write with a larger-than-usual group of experienced and published authors about the challenges and joys of writing about sex! I’m so grateful to Elizabeth North of Dreamspinner Press, who invited me to the Dreamspinner Press Author Weekend to lead a workshop with her writers. Elizabeth created Dreamspinner just six years ago, and now the Press offers a full and fabulously-varied line of MM romance (and a newly-formed off-shoot, Harmony Ink, offers LGBTQ Young Adult fiction). I got to spend a couple of days with the fun and nurtured community of writers that Dreamspinner attracts. These are fantastic and (many of them) prolific writers who turn in good books and, in return, are provided with consistently excellent marketing and sales – what a concept! Continue reading