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Sex & Business (isn't that what it's always about?) February Book Roundup

Sex & Business (isn’t that what it’s always about?) February Book Roundup

February 28, 2014  |  reviews  |  1 Comment

Can you believe it’s the last day of February? I know there are literally fewer days in this month, but it always seems to zoom by, more than other months. Maybe it’s the beginnings of spring coming back and my eagerness for more spring. Fall is my favorite, really, but that baby-green color that the brand new leaves are? And the first signs—the magnolias, the crocuses, the daffodils? I love that so much.

Aside from it being a quick month, I traveled a lot. Which meant I did have some good time on airplanes and transit to read, but that I was usually using it for other things (like going over my notes for workshops). I’m learning that I can’t really multi-task effectively when I travel. I tend to think of the verb “to travel” as something I do in the background, and other things happen at the same time, but really when “I am traveling,” that’s sometimes all I can actively do.

(I know touring artists have said this kind of thing all the time, but it’s still interesting to discover for myself.)

So, this month, I read:

chokeChoke by Chuck Palahniuk. I picked up a few books by him because his work has been recommended many times over the years, and I thought it’d be an engaging, somewhat light read. This was the one I started with (though I did read Fight Club a while ago, after an ex of mine said it was her favorite book). I can’t say I liked it. At one point I tweeted, “I’m not supposed to like this main character, right?” I didn’t, but I understand he’s supposed to be an anti-hero. I guess I didn’t even like him enough for the anti-hero to work, I wasn’t that sympathetic to his stories and I didn’t like his level of manipulation. I don’t know if I’ll pick up another by Palahniuk. If I do, which do you recommend?

allegiantThen, because the first one was such an easy and fun read last month, I picked up Allegiant by Veronica Roth. Unfortunately, I thought it was the second book in the series, but it was actually the third, and because it’d been about a month since I read the first one (and it was light breezy skimmy reading for me, not deep attention), I was a little lost at the beginning but just went with it. I didn’t even realize until about halfway through the book that it was building up to The Big Reveal of the series. A variety of folks who saw I was reading this series recommended to stop with the second one, because the third was so bad; I didn’t think it was bad exactly, and the twist was somewhat interesting, though of course the science is not sound at all. “Because genes!” is not good. I kinda blew the wad with reading the third one second, so I probably won’t go back to the second one. Still, it was a fun read.

specialtopicsI picked up Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marsha Pessl because I read Night Film last month and loved it, but it was what stumped me. I was totally on a fiction roll until I started this one, and then it was just a liiiiiittle too dense and just a little too smarty-pants for me, and I put it down and stopped. I didn’t finish it, though someday when my attention span is a little better, I’d like to try it again.

switchAfter an absence, I picked up Switch by Astrid Knowles again, which I’d seen some smart quotes from on Tumblr I think and figured it might be a promising BDSM novel. Uh, not really. Thin and trite and not very good writing and not very hot. Still, it’s written from a submissive girl’s perspective, with a lot of dominant worship, so I like that part. Enough to finish the book, though not really enough for it to have made an impression.

protocolsI’m constantly in search of really good power dynamic writings, so I picked up two. The first was Protocols: A Variety of Views (Power Exchange Books Resource Series) by Robert Rubel, which was a disappointment. It’s a collection of essays from a variety of well known M/s and D/s folks, many of whom have excellent credentials and have been instrumental in the leather communities for a long time. I suspect that they as people are amazing, and that they have lots of great ideas that I would love love love to learn from, but they didn’t translate very well to these short essays. A number of the essays started with, “What is BDSM?” which could be useful if you’re writing an entire book about BDSM, but these are short essays on protocol specifically, so I suspect the average reader already has some knowledge. I would’ve loved more advanced ideas and less beginner, and more editing so that the writing wasn’t quite so clunky.

eroticAlong with Protocols, I finally picked up Erotic Slavehood by Christina Abernathy, which is actually two books together: Miss Abernathy’s Concise Slave Training Manual and Training With Miss Abernathy. The first, the slave training manual, is quite good. It is a bit elementary, a beginner-to-intermediate level, but I really liked the writing style, the knowledge, and the smarts of Miss Abernathy, and I don’t say that about very many d/s books. The second half of the book is a training guide with exercises, suggested readings, journal prompts meditations, and all kinds of things for a submissive/slave/s-type to explore. I loved it! I wish I’d read it before Submissive Playground, though perhaps it’s good because it could have been influential. I highly recommend it to s-types, and I promptly passed it off to rife to work through.

journeyabandonmentThe Journey from Abandonment to Healing: Turn the End of a Relationship into the Beginning of a New Life by Susan Anderson … I don’t have much to say about this. I am still grieving, and on any given day somewhere from 10 to 70 percent of me is in some sort of despair process. I assume it’s temporary, I trust it will keep evolving, but it’s been hard lately. So I am trying to learn about the grief process, to lean on the teachings and helpers who have done this kind of thing before, and not just dwell in my own heartbreak hotel.

sexySexy Sailors: Gay Erotic Stories edited by Neil Plakcy was so much more than I expected. Not just better (though yes, better writing than many of the other books I’d read this month) but also more engaging, more interesting, more fascinating. I’m not really into sailors or boats, but there’s a whole language associated with it, and in addition to the language, an entire men’s culture that is quite curious to glimpse into. And, I really liked all the cock-centric dirty parts. I don’t read much gay boy smut, but I think I should change that. I fucking love Cleis Press—any time I pick up an erotica anthology by them, it never fails to have high quality writing, dirty scenes, thoughtful characters, and so much sensual, smokin’ hot language (which is exactly why I pick up erotica instead of watch some dirty scene). It’s so good for sex geeks like me.

startupLast but not least, The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau. I was hoping this had business advice in it, but it reads much more like The Four Hour Workweek, which is useful for motivation but not so much for detailed infrastructure implementation, which is the phase I’m currently in. I’m looking to make some business decisions and studies in the near future, so I took a shot in the dark and started here. Not so much. But I’ll keep shooting—I have some other ideas.

If you have any book recommendations, I would love to know them! What have you read lately that’s been amazing? What do you think I’d love?

PS: Photo of me at Feelmore 510 in Oakland is by Lauren Cohn-Frankel.

Gender, Poetry, and Smut: Current Recommended Reads

December 17, 2013  |  reviews  |  4 Comments

I have stacks of books on my lists to tell y’all about, and so many other things to write to you about that I often don’t update you with what I’m reading. But, I know some of y’all are book nerds, so here ya go. Some beginnings of my attempt to get through this backlog.

And hey, who knows, maybe it’ll be a perfect last-minute dark-time-of-the-year holiday gift for somebody.

bk-butch bk-troubling bk-excluded

Butch Geography by Stacey Waite (Tupelo Press). A poetry collection … I read the review over on Lambda Literary and ran out to snag my own copy. It really is as beautiful as the review says. Waite writes with precise language and beautiful turns of phrase and enjambment about gender, navigating the world as a masculine of center person, and love. If you’re into gender and butch things and poetic words, this is for you.

Troubling the Line: Trans & Genderqueer Poetics TC Tolbert & Tim Trace Peterson (Nightboat Press). This anthology includes a wide range of poets, some examples of their work, and some statements (“poetics”) of their purpose and intentions behind their poetry. I find those essays in particular so compelling. The whole thing strikes me as very academic, so there is a lot of theory and big, fancy words that I feel like I could squint and strain to understand but I just kind of don’t bother (unless, you know, I really want to), but even so, I love reading the words and seeing two of my favorite genres—genderqueer theory and poetry—come together. Fascinating—and, as far as I know, the only book of its kind.

Poets include Samuel Ace, Julian Talamantez Brolaski, Micha Cardenas, kari edwards, Duriel Harris, Joy Ladin, Dawn Lundy Martin, Eileen Myles, Trish Salah, Max Wolf Valerio, John Wieners, Kit Yan, and more.

Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive By Julia Serano (Seal Press). I’ve said for years that I consider Serano’s first book, Whipping Girl, required reading, and this, her sophomore publication, is likewise just as essential. Feminist and queer movements can be so exclusive, can reproduce all sorts of misogyny, racism, transphobia, transmisogyny, classism, and dozens more -isms—I have experienced and witnessed so much of that first-hand, and it frustrates me, as someone who is deeply committed to feminist and queer movements. And yet … sometimes I have no idea what to do about it. Serano puts forth all kinds of theories and concepts that I really like—the first one that comes to mind is explaining feminism through the concept of double standards. Keep up with Serano through her blog, where she’s got information about book signings and readings, and where she’s been posting excerpts and definitions of terms she coined or is using extensively in this book. It’ll give you a good sense of the tone and concepts included in Excluded (see what I did there? Ha ha!).

bk-bbe14 ble14

Best Bondage Erotica 2014 edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel (Cleis Press). Oh! It looks like this is technically released January 1st, though I did just see that Rachel received her box of copies to send out to Amazon reviewers (get in touch with her and get a copy of the book in exchange for writing it up on Amazon!). I’m not sure what the last Best Bondage Erotica collection was that I read … maybe I haven’t read any of them? I’ll be honest, I’m not very into bondage—but that’s partly why I absolutely loved Laura Antoniou’s introduction to this book, which basically said, “Uh, I’m not that into bondage.” Hah! Cracked me up, and also, I identify with that. “I’m much more into power,” Antoniou writes. Yeah, me too. And yet … and yet. She goes on to explain the value of these stories, and I admit they kept me turning pages. I particularly loved Kathleen Delaney-Adams story “Tart Cherry,” but that’s because I am a sucker for a kinky femme bottom who knows what she wants. Still, it’s beautifully written and sweet and dirty, and it stood out.

Best Lesbian Erotica 2014, edited by Kathleen Warnock (Cleis Press). There was a bit of news about this year’s BLE collection, and while I have a lot of questions and confusion and thoughts from that article, I don’t really need to go into that here. I mean, I am kind of the lesbian erotica cheerleader (despite having complicated relationships with both the words “lesbian” and “erotica”). But still, I come back to BLE year after year, I submit my stories, and I always, always look forward to reading it. This year, the story I submitted is the kick-off piece, the first one in the book (thrilling!), and I was lucky enough to be part of the release party here in San Francisco and hear almost ten of the stories read aloud. I think this year’s is a good collection, well-written and well collected, though there aren’t very many stories in here that I’ll be going back to for jerk-off material, mostly because they aren’t Daddy/girl or heavy BDSM based (which tends to be what I seek out these days—I know, SHOCKER). Still, Cheryl Dunye & Sarah Schulman’s script for the full length campy porn Mommy is Coming is included, and that’s fascinating.

Actually, speaking of Mommy is Coming, here’s the trailer:

Um yeah. Definitely recommend that one.

Aaaand that concludes this current book round-up! What have you been reading lately? Anything good to recommend?

Why Lesbian Erotica is Valuable Activism

December 10, 2013  |  essays  |  2 Comments

ble14I’m reading some erotica—along with Jen Cross, Carol Queen, Amy Butcher, Xan West, M’kali-Hashiki, Cheryl Dunye, BD Swain, & Jiz Lee—to celebrate the release of Best Lesbian Erotica 2014 this Thursday night. (Details here and here and here.) I’m so excited to have helped curate an amazing lineup, and I am now sacrificing all the luck I have to get a good audience to show up. If you’re in the area, come!

I’ve been thinking about “lesbian erotica” lately, how edgy it is, how valuable it is. There’s a bit of controversy around this particular publication of Best Lesbian Erotica, and while I have a lot of thoughts about that article, I still have a lot of my own feelings about how important lesbian erotica is, and how it helps on the process of building one’s some people’s identities. (“One” here meaning someone FAAB who tends to prefer to sleep with other FAAB people, at least at some point in their life.) [ UPDATE: Katherine commented, "So, why don’t you feel that lesbian erotica is important to building the identity of trans-feminine spectrum lesbians?" And of course that's a valid point. I'm sorry to have excluded trans women from that statement, and that was an oversight on my part. I was trying to be specific, and ended up being TOO specific. It doesn't really matter who "one" is in that sentence above, all that matters is that some people use lesbian erotica to develop their own identities, and that's my point. It is valid for all kinds of genders and orientations, and I never meant to leave anyone out. I'll try not to write so hastily in the future, and be more careful. See my comment for a bit more of my thoughts. ]

I realized I wrote about my own experience with it, and why I think queer smut (“lesbian erotica”) is valuable activism, in my introduction to the 2012 Best Lesbian Erotica anthology, so I figured I’d share it with you here.

See you Thursday night, right?

Introduction to Best Lesbian Erotica 2012

I know what I want.

I knew exactly what I was looking for when I read the submitted stories for this anthology: dirty, smutty, smart about gender, smart about power, packed full of sex with the bare necessary descriptions of setting and context, and, oh yeah, good writing. It doesn’t have to be dirty in my personal favorite ways—with sultry accoutrements and costuming like stockings and strappy sandals, or with strap-ons and lots of fucking, or with blow jobs and dirty talk. I like stories where the characters are so turned on and lusty that I feel it too, even if it is not my particular kink or pleasure. I like stories with unique descriptions and rolling prose and insatiable narrators and rising and falling action. I like stories where I want to recreate the action for myself, when I am inspired by the delicious positions and settings and words.

Yes, and the words, let’s not forget the words. That’s what these kinds of books are all about, really. If you wanted a quick, easy turn on, you could load up any of dozens of queer porn sites—there is no shortage of real, good queer porn out there these days. But for some of us that is too crass, and a well-done turn of phrase gets us swooning and biting our lips and rubbing our thighs together even more than a dirty video.

I didn’t always know what I wanted. When I was coming out in the late 1990s, though there was a serious lack of queer porn in the video stores, there were plenty of people paving the landscape for what would become the blossoming queer porn of the 2000s. Diana Cage, On Our Backs magazine, Good Vibrations, (Toys in) Babeland, Annie Sprinkle, Susie Bright—and, of course, Tristan Taormino. It was Tristan’s 1998 Best Lesbian Erotica anthology that for me clicked something into place, something I could no longer pretend wasn’t there. I would hide the book in the back of the shelves at the bookstore where I worked so it wouldn’t get purchased, and I’d sandwich it between two others and sneak it into the stock room to read when it was slow. I wore creases into the spine with Toni Amato’s story “Ridin’ Bitch” and Karlyn Lotney’s story “Clash of the Titans.” I was genuinely confused as to why I liked these stories so much. What was this affect they had on me? Why did I love them so much? What did it all mean?

I began to find other books, short stories, and essays that helped move my budding baby dykery along: Nothing But the Girl—oh, swoon. That essay by Anastasia Higgenbotham in Listen Up: Voices From the Next Feminist Generation. Cunt by Inga Muscio. Breathless by Kitty Tsui. And the Herotica series, which was erotica for women before Rachel Kramer Bussel’s prolific erotica editing career.

I bought one of the Herotica books at a little indy bookstore—now gone—on Capitol Hill in Seattle when I visited one summer, before moving there. But it proved to be too threatening to my boyfriend who, enraged some night after yet another argument about my sexuality, stabbed that book and two other lesbian erotica books with the wide-handled screwdriver which I’d used to masturbate since I was a teenager.

These books are filled with three powerful things: 1. women, who are 2. empowered, 3. about their sexuality (which, by the way, does not involve men). Even the books themselves are threatening.

These books of lesbian erotica are not fluff. They are not nothing. They are not frivolous or useless.

For queers coming out and into our own, they are a path.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve managed to snag myself a lesbian bed death relationship, going out of my mind with desire and disconnection. I stopped writing, because the only thing that I was writing was how miserable I felt, how much I wanted out of that relationship—a reality I wasn’t ready to face. I decided that to work off my sexual energy, I would either go to the gym or I would write erotica. Well, I ended up writing a lot of erotica, rediscovering this tool of self-awareness and self-creation that had led me to smut in the first place, and I began writing myself back into my own life, back into the things that I hold most important: connection, touch, release, holding, witness, play.

My first published smut story was in Best Lesbian Erotica 2006. Between the time I wrote it and the time the book came out, I was beginning to end the bed death relationship, in no small part because I’d reminded myself of the value of the erotic, of my own inner erotic world, of erotic words. Between the time I wrote it and the time it came out, I started Sugarbutch Chronicles, which has carried me through these last five plus years, often being my sanctuary, support circle, best friend, and confidant.

Writing these stories, for me, has not been frivolous. They have not been nothing. They are not fluff or useless.

For me, they were a path back to myself when I got lost.

When I was lost, I had no idea what I wanted, aside from the basic daily survivals: work. Eat. Pay bills. Sleep. Shower. But when I wrote, when I connected with my own desire, I felt a little piece of me bloom and become in a bigger way. I felt more like myself.

I turned again to the great books of smut to help me find myself, to help me find a way back to a partner, a lover, a one night stand—hell, even an hour with a Hitachi was sometimes enough. The Leather Daddy and the Femme. Mr. Benson. Switch Hitters: Gay Men Write Lesbian Erotica and Lesbians Write Gay Male Erotica. Back to Basics: Butch/Femme Erotica. Doing It For Daddy. And Best Lesbian Erotica, always Best Lesbian Erotica. I still eagerly buy it every year to see what the guest editor’s tastes are, to see what the new trends are, to read the emerging new writers, to get my rocks off.

I rediscovered what I wanted through reading smut and writing it. Through carving myself a path in connection with a lineage of sex positive dykes and sex radicals and queer kinksters and feminist perverts.

After six years of writing and publishing erotica, I am thrilled to be a guest editor for the series which sparked me into queerness in 1998, thrilled to be choosing stories for the same series that published my very first piece, “The Plow Pose,” in 2006, which helped spark me back to myself. It is so exciting to be contributing to this queer smut hotbed that Cleis Press has helped nurture all these years, and I’m so glad to continue to be part of it in new ways.

I know what I want, now. And lesbian erotica, or as I prefer to call it, queer smut, has helped me not only visualize what is possible, but create a path toward getting what I want.

The stories in tis book reflect my taste, my favorites, my personal hot spots, certainly, but also the best-written stories from a large pile of well-written stories by some of my favorite authors, like Kiki DeLovely and Xan West and Rachel Kramer Bussel. There are some less-well known writers in here whose work you may not be familiar with, yet, but who will leave an impression on you, writers like Anne Grip and Amy Butcher. I found dozens of moments of signposts, signals directing me toward myself, words illuminating my own meridians of ache. With each story, with each act of lust, with each dirty command or submissive plea, I rediscovered my own want.

I hope you find some of what you want within these pages, too.

You can still pick up print copies of Best Lesbian Erotica 2012 via your local queer feminist independent bookstore, or, if you must, through Amazon.

And: Come see me & Jen Cross, Carol Queen, Amy Butcher, Xan West, M’kali-Hashiki, Cheryl Dunye, BD Swain, & Jiz Lee read smut from Best Lesbian Erotica 2014 this Thursday night, 12/12, in San Francisco at the Center for Sex & Culture. $20 at the door includes a copy of the book! Details here.

What’s in our sex den? Books, of course.

December 6, 2013  |  miscellany  |  3 Comments

“I wonder if anyone will notice that our videos have the same background?”

“Well, I mean, we do live together.”

“Right, it’s not like it’s scandalous. You’d just have to be really paying attention to the details.”

“I love that we keep all the books in the bedroom. It’s such a sex den.”

“Haha yes! The reading nook, the alter, the huge bookshelf, the meditation setup, the sacred objects storage shelves, and then the sex toy shelves and the bed. Sex plus den.”

“Exactly.”

Welcome to the Submissive Playground! from Sinclair Sexsmith

the GENDER book Fundraising Update! from the GENDER book