Monday, January 25, 2010

Webster's Dictionary Banned in California for Sexual Content

The Guardian reports some southern California school districts have banned Webster's Dictionary because of it's "graphic" definition of oral sex as "oral stimulation of the genitals." Banning books in a hysteria over sexual content has truly, truly reached a new low.

This strikes me as the perfect thing to post on a blog called Geeky Sex -- it's an attack upon sex and upon geeks. I mean, who else would look up oral sex in the dictionary, right?

I could point out how ridiculous this is on a number of levels: for instance, it is so non-graphic a person who had no idea what oral sex is probably couldn't picture the act from this definition and would at the very least need to look up "oral" and "genitals" as well.

But what would be the point of explaining how ridiculous it is. I would rather talk about the fact that sex-phobics have become so frightened of sex that they have started attacking words, rather than ideas, and attacking them in the most basic, elemental way. In the past they've been content to ban ideas that are adjacent to sex -- for instance, the 779 pages of Ulysses that don't contain explicit sexual imagery. But that no longer is enough. Now they will not be content until they have banned the entire English language, for it isn't until children are condemned to a state of total illiteracy and ignorance, able to communicate with each other in only through grunts and gestures, that they will be safe from knowledge of sex.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Five-Foot Shelf - Update #1

A few weeks ago, I wrote that someone needed to make a list that collects the absolutely indespensible sex-positive sex books so bookstores that don't have a clue about good sex writing would have a standard to aspire to. I likened this to the Harvard Five-Foot Shelf, a collection of supposedly indespensible literature in 51 volumes selected by the president of Harvard University about 90 years ago.

I was foolhardy enough to undertake this project. However, I wasn't quite foolhardy enough to believe I could select the 51 essential sex books all on my own, so I sollicited recommendations from my readers. I've received a few comments and e-mails full of suggestions

Here's what we have so far.

Annabelle River, of Annabelle's Manifesto recommends:
- Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
- Mommy's Little Girl, by Susie Bright
- Public Sex by Pat Califia
- Fear of Flying, by Erica Jong
- The Devil at Large, by Erica Jong
- Different Loving, by Gloria Brame & William Brame
- Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, by John D'Emilio
- The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, by Elna Baker

Teresa of The Teresa Jusino Experience, recommends:
- Virgin: The Untouched History, by Hanne Blank

Via e-mail, D. M. recommends:
- Whipping Girl, by Julia Serrano
- My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
- Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein

Cleofaye recommends:
- Sex for One, by Betty Dodson

I wish to also nominate the following books that no one else mentioned:
- Justine, by DAF de Sade
- Philosophy in the Bedroom, by DAF de Sade
- Opening Up, by Tristan Taormino
- The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, by Tristan Taormino
- Henry and June, by Anaïs Nin
- X: The Erotic Treasury, edited by Susie Bright
- Sex for Dummies, by Dr. Ruth Westheimer & Pierre Lehu
- Under the Roofs of Paris, by Henry Miller
- Some of the themed erotica collections from Cleis Press edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel -- but I've only dipped into a few of them and don't know which specific ones to nominate!

Finally, I wish to use my editorial power to promote the following books directly to the list:
1. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, by Alfred Kinsey
2. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, by Alfred Kinsey
3. The Guide to Getting It On, by Paul Joannides
4. SM 101, by Jay Wiseman
5. The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton & Janet W. Hardy
6. Anal Health and Pleasure, by Jack Morin
7. The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex, by Cathy Winks & Anne Semans

We're off to a good start but we're never going to finish it without your suggestions. Please send them -- and encourage your friends to send theirs!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Young James Dean

You must watch this music video of "Young James Dean" by Girlyman. It is directed by Margaret Cho. The song is about queering gender identity and the video features a lot of really hot butches, femmes, trans guys, drag queens and other awesome queer people.

Via Margaret Cho's Blog

The Paradox of 1960s Erotica

This weekend I was in Chicago to visit Annabelle and to do some research on a new project. For the project (which I'll talk about later), I spent part of the day on Saturday and Sunday at the Leather Archives & Museum in East Rogers Park looking at vintage erotica and learning about the history of the Chicago gay leather scene. I've already written almost a year ago about LA&M's exhibits on the history of the gay leather community in Chicago and their wonderful collection of books about BDSM -- I'm still looking for a private collection to equal it in New York.

Most of the erotica that I looked at at LA&M this weekend was the pulp variety from the 1960s. It always strikes me how very different old erotica is from today's variety. Today, erotica stories tend to be fairly realistic depictions of sexual encounters you could actually have. Not so in the pulp stories of the past. Those stories are full of fantastic and bizarre situations. They take place in exotic locales -- Europe, New Orleans and (the most debauched of all) New York. They're filled with immoral Oriental girls and insatiable mulattos who coerce their victims with razor blades. And despite the fact that these books were being labeled obscene and their writers, publishers and distributors persecuted for being moral degenerates, the stories are -- fascinatingly -- full of negative messages about sex. Promiscuous female characters are shamed as sluts and harlots. As surely as the sun rises, a woman who gets a taste of sex will fall into a spiral of depravity and degradation, homosexuals usually end up dead, and sadists are possessed of an uncontrollable bloodlust that inevitably leads to murder.

This echo of moral judgement is one of the most fascinating things about erotica of this period -- the very condemnation and sex-negativism that interfered with the sale of this kind of material is the source of most of most of its stories. It nearly qualifies as Stockholm Syndrome. The books ridicule and perpetuate harmful stereotypes about the very kind of people who presumably consumed them. Why do the authors and publishers decry and lament the conditions that allow them to make a living? Why do the readers of these appreciate such a thorough denunciation of perverts like them (or, at least, the type of pervert they would be if they could find the courage)? It is paradoxical, so say the least!

Another striking thing about these books is how many of them insist that the subject matter is true. Often this comes as a disclaimer on the cover or before the title page that goes something like this: "I wish I could tell you what you're about to read was fiction but, sadly, every horrible word of it is true." It then goes on to explain that the names, locations and other particulars of this true account have been changed to protect the identity of the characters from anyone who might try to fact-check the "true story."

Another variation on this theme is the so-called "documentary" book. These expose the "sordid" details of the underground sexual communities of the day -- homosexuals, sadomasochists, sex workers -- in a format that poses as either journalism or psychology. One suspects from the very unrealistic dialogue in the "interviews" that the material in most of these books is made up wholesale, but some of the most famous ones are probably actual reportage. These books are so fascinating because they both condemn sexual "perversion" while at the same time feeding it. I mean, for what reason would anyone buy such a book except for the thrill of reading about all the hot things it condemns? One wonders how many people found their sexual subcultures after reading condemnations of them in books like Louis Berg's The Velvet Underground.


While at the Leather Archives, I also had the chance to see a fascinating documentary by filmmaker Ron Pajak called Quearborn and Perversion. The film details the history of the gay community in Chicago, beginning in the 1934 and ending in 1974. The film was a fascinating account of what it meant to be gay and lesbian in one of America's toughest cities at that time. It takes it's name from the Chicago police department's nickname for the corner of Dearborn and Division Streets, a prominent gay cruising area at that time.

I wish I could discuss the film at length but I was recovering from the flu that night and rather loopy, so some of the details are eluding me today. However, I did very much enjoy the Q&A after the film with director Ron Pajak and Chuck Renslow, who opened the famous leather bar Gold Coast in June 1958 and spoke very eloquently about the period, including some interesting anecdotes about bribing the police to avoid raids.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Geeky Sex: Now on Twitter

Somehow I forgot to mention... I'm a Twit.

I joined Twitter a week or two ago. If you have an account, please follow me. We'll see if I can say anything interesting in 140 characters and I'll make sure you never miss a Geeky Sex post.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sex Worker Literati - 1/7/10

Yesterday night I went to Happy Ending Lounge on the Lower East Side to see Sex Worker Literati, a monthly reading by people who are or once were sex workers of various different types. Sex work activism (and I think this event qualifies as activism since increasing sex worker visibility is a major goal) is a cause I support but in which I don't feel very engaged -- I've never been a sex worker, nor have I ever known one well (to the best of my knowledge). Having never been to this event before I was a little worried that I wouldn't relate to the stories. Turns out anyone can relate to good writing!

Sex work activist Audacia Ray hosted the event along with David Henry Sterry, the author of Hos, Hustlers, Call Girls and Rent Boys, a book about sex work that has been getting quite a bit of press lately. A number of writers read on the theme of "My First Time." Ray started it out with a story about anally fisting a New York Fire Fighter when she worked at a massage parlor and the evening took off from there. Zoe Hansen told about the first time she used heroin (and made us all want some). Chelsea Summers told about her first night working as a stripper. Jennifer Blowdryer told us about her first porn movie with hilarious, deadpan delivery. David Henry Sterry told the most heartwarming bestiality story anyone's ever heard. Scarlett Fever told us a hot story about working in a Times Square strip club. Damien Decker closed out the evening by telling how a black man raised in upper middle class Sweden fakes enough racial hatred to become a professional interracial cuckolder.

This highpoint of the evening for me was somewhat unrelated to the main event (so often the case). I met Chelsea Summers through a friend of mine, and talk to her about why men aren't often sex writers and whether Fleshlights are creepier than giant veiny dildos. I've been a fan of Summers's writing for Filthy Gorgeous Things and her blog pretty dumb things ever since I heard her interviewed by Susie Bright more than a year ago.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

So True

The Onion reports: Nation's Nipples Severely Under-Clamped, U.S. Bureau Of Masochism Reports.

This article is both funny and heartening to see.

Many have praised the study as an urgently needed wake-up call, saying they hope it will encourage more direct government involvement in the public's eroticized pain needs.

"With any luck, this study is just the beginning," Topeka, KS submissive Glenn Lange said. "Unless we want to live in a nation where you'll only find nipple vices or welting rods in a museum, the government needs to step up."

However, citizens like Nathan Cardozzi of Boston disagreed, claiming that increased government regulation would only stymie what has always been a private act of exquisite torture between two or more consenting adults.

"Mmmph mmmph mrrrr mmmmph," Cardozzi said through the ball gag he was forced to wear to plug his filthy voice hole. "Mmmmrh mrrrhhhhh mmmph mummm."

"Mmmrphmphmmhmmmrh," he added, slowly shaking his head.

via My Licit Affairs

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sex, or the Lack Thereof, in Contemporary Literature

Just in time for my Five-Foot Shelf project comes a a fascinating article about sex in modern literature in yesterday's New York Times Magazine!

The article, written by Katie Roiphe and entitled "The Naked and the Conflicted," essentially accuses the most recent generation of male novelists of being prudes, and it backs up its claims. Citing the work of Michael Chabon, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers, Benjamin Kunkel and Jonathan Safran Foer, and comparing them to male novelists of the previous generation such as John Updike, Norman Mailer and Saul Bellow, the author makes a case that male novelists have become a lot more hesitant to explore sexuality than their prececessors.

Rather than an interest in conquest or consummation, there is an obsessive fascination with trepidation, and with a convoluted, postfeminist second-guessing. Compare Kunkel’s tentative and guilt-ridden masturbation scene in “Indecision” with Roth’s famous onanistic exuberance with apple cores, liver and candy wrappers in “Portnoy’s Complaint.” Kunkel: “Feeling extremely uncouth, I put my penis away. I might have thrown it away if I could.” Roth also writes about guilt, of course, but a guilt overridden and swept away, joyously subsumed in the sheer energy of taboo smashing: “How insane whipping out my joint like that! Imagine what would have been had I been caught red-handed! Imagine if I had gone ahead.” In other words, one rarely gets the sense in Roth that he would throw away his penis if he could.

The literary possibilities of their own ambivalence are what beguile this new generation, rather than anything that takes place in the bedroom. In Michael Chabon’s “Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” a woman in a green leather miniskirt and no underwear reads aloud from “The Story of O,” and the protagonist says primly, “I refuse to flog you.” Then take the following descriptions from Jonathan Franzen’s novel “The Corrections”: “As a seducer, he was hampered by ambivalence.” “He had, of course, been a lousy, anxious lover.” “He could hardly believe she hadn’t minded his attacks on her, all his pushing and pawing and poking. That she didn’t feel like a piece of meat that he’d been using.” (And of course there are writers like Jonathan Safran Foer who avoid the corruptions of adult sexuality by choosing children and virgins as their protagonists.) (…)

The younger writers are so self-¬conscious, so steeped in a certain kind of liberal education, that their characters can’t condone even their own sexual impulses; they are, in short, too cool for sex. Even the mildest display of male aggression is a sign of being overly hopeful, overly earnest or politically un¬toward. For a character to feel himself, even fleetingly, a conquering hero is somehow passé. More precisely, for a character to attach too much importance to sex, or aspiration to it, to believe that it might be a force that could change things, and possibly for the better, would be hopelessly retrograde. Passivity, a paralyzed sweetness, a deep ambivalence about sexual appetite, are somehow taken as signs of a complex and admirable inner life. These are writers in love with irony, with the literary possibility of self-consciousness so extreme it almost precludes the minimal abandon necessary for the sexual act itself, and in direct rebellion against the Roth, Updike and Bellow their college girlfriends denounced. (Recounting one such denunciation, David Foster Wallace says a friend called Updike “just a penis with a thesaurus”).

This generation of writers is suspicious of what Michael Chabon, in “Wonder Boys,” calls “the artificial hopefulness of sex.” They are good guys, sensitive guys, and if their writing is denuded of a certain carnality, if it lacks a sense of possibility, of expansiveness, of the bewildering, transporting effects of physical love, it is because of a certain cultural shutting down, a deep, almost puritanical disapproval of their literary forebears and the shenanigans they lived through.

I live at the crossroads of being a sex geek and a literary geek (as well as several other kinds of geek, to be perfectly honest) and I have been feeling exactly what this article is describing this way for a long time, without being able to express it so well. I’m a fiction writer and lately I’ve been wrestling with the question of how to incorporate my interest in sexuality into my work. I’ve been having a hard time. While I’m certainly familiar with all the great writers who have talked about sex in very interesting ways I can’t get over the feeling that sex is not literary. Or at least not appropriate in contemporary literature.

Roiphe does an eloquent job documenting this, but doesn’t go looking for the causes (except for suggesting at one point that novelists of the past generation might have been emboldened by court decisions to explore topics formerly banned under obscenity laws). It’s nothing but speculation but I wonder if it’s a side effect of the proliferation of writing workshops, and the homogenizing effect they have had on the most recent literary generation. The creative writing workshop has moved novel-writing into the academic sphere. When Plato separated intellectual rigor from physical pleasure, he bequeathed a stuffy attitude about sex to modern academia.

I also wonder if the publishing industry has something to do with the decline of sex in contemporary literature. It’s difficult to prove that publishers rule out publishing authors write about sex—but the fact that most books that take a serious look at sex are published by small presses is People’s Exhibit Number One. With the exception of a few smaller presses like Cleis or Greenery that publish erotica that is also well written, major publishers are not especially eager to take literary writing that includes sex.

A personal experience also makes me suspicious of publishers. A few years ago, I had very little trouble getting a story I wrote about a political topic published in a major literary review. My follow-up story was about polyamorous teenagers and I shopped it around to a dozen major reviews without any luck. Maybe they just didn't think the story was as good as I thought it was -- there's no way to know -- but I couldn't help feeling the topic played a role. It seems likely that the sexual revolution of the ’60s and ’70s, coupled with fall of obscenity laws, created a brief period when writers who talked about sex were welcomed by publishers. The backlash of second-wave feminism and political correctness may have set up the opposite effect. Today’s writers may want to write about sex but concentrate on other topics because they just can’t get those books published.

In any case, I greatly recommend you read the entire article and not just the excerpt posted above, and kudos to the Times Magazine for choosing to publish such a thought-provoking piece.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Five-Foot Shelf

I have a new project I'm going to start working on in the New Year: The Five-Foot Shelf of Sex Books.

You may have heard of the Harvard Five-Foot Shelf. It's a collection of fifty-one books put together by the president of Harvard University in 1909 that defined the canon of American academia for most of the 20th century. But whereas Harvard's list is a bunch of boring books by dead white men, our fifty-one books will be the hottest and most informative books on sex.

What inspired me to undertake this project? Let me tell you.

Yesterday I went to a large, independent, suburban bookstore. I was looking for a book by Dan Savage to give to someone as a late Christmas gift so I looked in the bookstore's small sex section. I did not find the book I was looking for. As a matter of fact, I didn't find any books by Savage, any books by Tristan Taormino, any books by Betty Dodson, any books by Jack Morin, any books by Easton and Hardy. I didn't find what I consider to be the best sex guide on the market: The Guide to Getting It On, by Paul Joannides. I didn't find the top-rate runners-up in that category, Good Vibrations Guide to Sex or Sex for Dummies. I did find one book only by Violet Blue, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Susie Bright. Jay Wiseman's SM 101 was there, as were three of Rachel Kramer Bussel's themed erotica anthologies from Cleis. Mostly, I found books on how men can have multiple orgasms, how women can have orgasms at all, 365 sex tips (many of which seemed either obvious or ineffective), 365 sexual positions (many of which seemed to be the same), and an enormous number of Penthouse Letters collections. The inescapable conclusion: I am clearly not reading the same books about sex that most Americans are.

At this point, you're probably cutting off my rant to say, "And this surprises you?!?"

No, it doesn't surprise me. I was utterly unsurprised when I failed to find what I was looking for. That's what got me started thinking. Why wasn't I surprised that some of the greatest sex writers were missing or under-represented at an otherwise well-rounded independent bookstore? If I went into that bookstore's literature section and failed to find any books by Twain, Hemingway, Joyce, Austen, Proust, Faulkner and Tolstoy, I would march up to the information desk and ask them why they didn't have those authors' books. Experimentally, I asked about Dan Savage at Information. "Oh, is he that Savage Nation guy?" they asked me. No, that's Michael Savage. They didn't know who Dan Savage is.

While we expect and require a mainstream bookstore to have great works by classic authors, no one expects and requires them to have reliable, entertaining and well-written books about sex. I started wondering, wouldn't it be a great thing if there was a list of key sex books that all bookstores should carry in their sexuality section? Wouldn't it be great if patrons started asking, "Here's a list of books, why don't you carry them?" Wouldn't it be great if there were a website that scores bookstores based on what percentage of the books on the list they carry?

Well, I've decided to start working on it. I'm hardly a crusader or an activist, but what the hell, right? Somebody's gotta do it. If somebody wants to jump in and help me, or just steal my idea outright, they're welcome to. But in the meantime I'm going to give it a shot.

STEP ONE: Making the List.

Where on Earth to begin?

I'm not going to pretend to be qualified to choose, but that's okay because the best way to begin is the ask for help. If you are reading this, I want you to write me a comment. Tell me what book or books you think should be on the list.

A few guidelines: It seems to me such a list should represent a variety of sex books. I think the classics (Sade, Kinsey, Westheimer) should be represented, but they shouldn't exclude modern books the might be more accurate or relevant. I think books about safer sex, birth control and STIs should be featured but they shouldn't be allowed to dominate the list and create the overall impression that sex is extremely perilous. I think a variety of sexual practices should be represented: there should be something for straight, gay, lesbian, bi and trans readers. There should be something for people into sadomasochism, bondage, dominent/submissive relationships, common fetishes. There should be informational books, literature, history and erotica represented. And -- because I'm an English nerd -- I think we should favor books that are well-written, captivating and fun to read over books that just present information with no sense of style.

I await your replies.