by Jean Roberta
My actual posting date was March 26, but my post wasn't ready then, and someone else's post conveniently appeared. I hope I can slide this into an available date.
One aspect of sexually-explicit fiction that doesn’t seem to be discussed much is its connection to parody (or in some cases, libellous caricature), or imitations of work that is usually taken more seriously. Sex is a funny activity in some literary traditions, dating back to Lysistrata (ancient Greek comedy from approximately 450 BC). The British tradition of the Christmas pantomime is always advertised as family-friendly, but there is usually a “Dame” (over-the-top female character played by a man in drag) and a lot of double-entendres intended to amuse the adults while going over the heads of the children, who are entertained by the fast-moving plot, which often occupies the same territory as a Walt Disney movie: a familiar story such as Aladdin or Cinderella. Adding sex (even in the form of mildly naughty suggestions) to a traditional story tends to debunk its seriousness.
In the lead-up to the French Revolution of the 1790s, Queen Marie Antoinette was apparently a favourite subject of satirical writing, some of which focused on her “furious womb” or supposed inexhaustible appetite for sex with people other than her husband, the last of the French kings named Louis. The purpose of this type of porn was clearly to ridicule the contemporary Court, and it didn’t help that the Queen Consort was originally a foreigner from Austria. I don’t know how much influence this kind of underground fiction had on the actual revolutionaries who stormed the Bastille and dragged much of the aristocracy (including the royal family) to the guillotine, but it certainly didn’t encourage the kind of respect for the hereditary upper class that lingers on in Britain to this day.
There is a parallel tradition in porn films, which I discovered when I held a position on the local film classification board in the early 1990s. Some porn films are deliberately based on popular mainstream movies of the time, which is why I got to watch Edward Penishands, among other epics. The relationship between Hollywood and the porn industry seemed to be friendlier than that of Marie Antoinette’s detractors and the ancien regime. As far as I could tell, the people who produce visual porn often want to comment on popular culture, not necessarily to sneer at it.
Two literary traditions that have contributed to sexually-explicit art (both porn and more complex erotica) are fan-fiction (including “slash”) and tell-all paperbacks with titles like: I Was Joe Rockstar’s Sex Slave. When I was starting out as a sex-writer, just before the beginning of this century, I didn’t think I was influenced by either of those genres.
I learned about Kirk/Spock “slash” in the 1980s, and I was intrigued that some writers were willing to spend time and effort constructing a love affair between Captain Kirk and the half-alien Mr. Spock from the Star Trek TV series, even though stories about copyrighted characters couldn’t be “published” for sale. They could only circulate in the form of little ‘zines, and then on-line, among devotees. I liked Star Trek, but I didn’t feel moved to write about a male/male affair between two major characters since I didn’t have male plumbing myself, and didn’t think I was likely to get the details right.
In 2000, an anthology titled Starf*cker: A Twisted Collection of Superstar Fantasies was published by Alyson Publications. It was edited by a major sex-writer, Shar Rednour, who collected other sex-writers’ fantasies about actual people whom they hadn’t actually fucked, or vice versa. I was aghast. To this day, I don’t know why that book didn’t give rise to a flurry of lawsuits. This seemed like an updated version of eighteenth-century porn about Marie Antoinette.
I had already promised my Significant Other that I would never violate her privacy by describing her in my stories about sex. I thought I had even less right to describe sex scenes starring real people I had never met in person. I prided myself on being saner than a celebrity stalker.
However, the popular culture of today and yesteryear has a huge influence on sex-writing, and every literary tradition involves a certain amount of imitation. Anne Rice’s homoerotic vampires of the 1970s are clearly descended from the nineteenth-century vampires of Bram Stoker and Sheridan Le Fanu, even though every writer seems to have a slightly different take on the bloodthirsty undead. Writers with a distinct style and an appealing imaginary world tend to spawn imitators.
Over time, I wrote two stories based (at least loosely) on Lewis Carroll’s dream-like novel, Alice in Wonderland (1865), a BDSM fantasy based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” a story about a contemporary woman who composes raunchy little ditties in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan (who wrote comic operettas in late Victorian England), a lesbian fairy tale based on “The White Cat” by Countess d’Alnoy (circa 1690s, pre-revolutionary France), a modern lesbian threesome involving a version of the Shakespeare romantic comedy Twelfth Night for a Shakespeare-themed queer anthology, and a sexually-explicit story about the conception of King Arthur, based on the brief version in Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (from the 1480s, itself based on French sources).
After all this frolicking in the imaginary worlds of earlier writers, I was prepared to write something more clearly satirical, even if it didn’t include explicit sex scenes. In late December, I tried my hand at a Sherlock Holmesian mystery story which suggests more scandalous sex than it delivers. (Several women are found naked and murdered, but the thickening plot reveals something much different from Victorian conceptions of lust, adultery, or perversion.) I don't know yet whether this story will be published in the foreseeable future.
In the winter of early 2016, I read a call-for-submissions that had been cooked up by a publishing couple at an annual literary con in Baltimore, Maryland, named Balticon. The working title was "Inclusive Cthulhu" and the stories were to be based on the work of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). The editors asked for stories which would horrify Lovecraft himself by deliberately challenging his prejudices: racism, White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant chauvinism, class snobbery, misogyny, homophobia. The stories needed to be Lovecraftian in some sense. I wrote a story and sent it off. After several months, I was asked for revisions which I was glad to make (the revised version gives my plucky heroine a happier ending). I waited some more.
At last, the editors have sent out contracts and announced that the book, now titled Equal Opportunity Madness, is due to be launched at Balticon near the end of May 2017. I’ve never been to this con, and I would love to go. (Baltimore is the setting of the comic musical Hairspray, about the cultural Spirit of the Sixties. I experienced that as a teenager.) I bet Baltimore has good weather in the spring, and a trip could be inspiring.
Alas, I'm afraid to cross the border from Canada under the current political regime. Before I could board a plane, some new ban would probably be in place. As a Canadian citizen who was born in the U.S., I could be treated with suspicion even if I travelled with no electronic gadgets whatsoever.
I’ll just have to stay in my own real-life setting until the regime changes, while visiting others only in my imagination.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
by Jean Roberta