I highly recommend that you check out the interview with Carol Queen that we’ve just put up at Sex in the Public Square. Carol is one of the most fascinating, intellectually alive people I’ve ever known, and although this interview was done in 2005, it’s an excellent look at her ideas and her history and if you haven’t read her already, it gives you a sense of her voice. Props to Sabrina Chapadjiev, who conducted the interview and published it originally in her ‘zine Cliterati. Below is a short excerpt from the interview to whet your appetite:
In an essay on sex writing, you wrote that you think you “â€¦draw believable men, but do not grapple or invest in those characters the same way you do in writing women.” Why do you think this is?
Partly it’s because my relationship with women has been so full of discussion on identity and dissent around what any given sexual thing means. I can’t think about any deep discussions or arguments I’ve had about men about the meaning of various sexual acts in the same way that I’ve had them ad infinitum, with women. Often, these arguments are just in my own subconscious. I’ll talk back to things people like Gloria Steinem or Catharine MacKinnon have said while I’m doing something else, like washing dishes. Washing dishes and having arguments with Catharine MacKinnon — that’s always fun. Also, because my feminist identity is so strong and was so early developed, and because it dovetails historically with lesbian feminist identity, there is always an awareness for me that there are other ways that other women would be think about the same set of circumstances. I have to grapple with those things. I don’t have grapple with the experience when I’m writing from the perspective of men.
In terms of erotica, what you’re working with is a language that is pretty loaded. I mean, what vocabulary do you have besides “fuck” and “hot, throbbing cock”? Is it hard for you to work with those words in a way that is separated from what they’ve been loaded with?
That’s a really excellent question. I think a lot of people who want to write erotica come up against the language, particularly if the language hasn’t been comfortable for them in the past. Women who’ve been feminist and people from fairly conservative environments might hear those words and be offended. They’re extremely loaded words for many of us. I try not to generate a clichÃ© when I write. Because really the biggest problem with that language isn’t that they’re dirty words, it’s that they’re clichÃ©d dirty words. Plus, the words, for their loaded-ness, have an erotic charge for many people as well. I want to honor and utilize that, because they have an erotic charge for me. I figure that if I stay fairly close to what is erotically compelling for me, in terms of not only the characters and they’re actions, but also the language I’m using to describe them doing it, then hopefully other people will get that response as well. And hopefully, it won’t be too off-putting. If it is too off-putting for someone, then that person needs another story. A writer can not be all things to all people. They have to develop a voice and do what they’re called upon to do, and that’s sort of where I leave it.
Another interesting thing is that you’re dealing with a subject matter that is, for the most part, loaded for many people. I’ve talked to a lot of incest survivors and rape survivors and women that have had to deal with looking at sex in a not positive way. For those women, sex has not become sex anymore. It’s become something different. Are you aware of these women as an audience, ever?
Well, I don’t write directly to that audience or let myself go into a place of concern that, “Wow, if I get too explicit, it’s going to freak someone out.” I can’t stop short of where I’m aiming for that reason. I can’t let somebody other than I be the primary reader. What I hope is, that in some cases at least, even people that have not been able to have good experiences around sexuality will be spoken to. That is, if they end up reading my stuff at all, which they certainly may choose not to do. I hope that one of the two things that I try to have in all my writing will speak to them. One of those things is that I try to bring intelligence to erotica. I try not to dumb any of it down, ever. I want it to be erotic writing that can make people think and that can feed the brain, as well as all the other parts. Another thing I hope is that adding more complexity and intellect to the sex writing will actually be a positive thing. You don’t want your sexuality simplified, reduced, and constructed, which is what abuse can do. Not always, but can. I hope that making it non-simplistic, being no holds barred and over the top, will actually be useful.
Of course, any reader always reserves the right to say, “I’m not going there with you.” Even with my more explicit smut or any argument that I’m spitting out in an essay. I just hope people will go, “Oh, that’s interesting!” Or at the very least. “Huh! I never thought of it that way!” To me, that’s the main exchange I hope for with a reader. If they then go along for the ride, well then, that’s fabulous. So even if somebody hasn’t had good and very consensual sexual experiences, my hope is that pulling out all the stops gives a vision of a sexuality that’s so important to people that it’s clearly more layered and worth taking risks for. That it’s more than what some people think sexuality has been for them so far.