Writing About Sex

I’m currently working on Rearrange The Sky and getting stumped somewhere pretty unexpected. Sex. Now, I’d like to think I know a lot about sex since I’ve had a lot of sex. [If you’re my mother: I was just kidding. I’m still waiting for marriage.] Despite this fact, I seem to have trouble writing about sex. And since I’m writing a quartet of love stories this is becoming a bit of a problem. I can’t avoid sex altogether because it’ll start to seem unnatural. Besides – it’s kind of important to my plot! I feel like I’m performing a delicate tightrope-walking act. One misstep and my characters have fallen into a bad porno full of terrible clichés, another misstep and they’re back in 6th grade health class with its clinical language. Not to mention the difficulty writing about sex with trans men when the common terms used for their anatomy are often seen as offensive and upsetting to the men I am writing about.

What do I do? I’m at a loss. I’ve been reading as much porn as I can get my hands on (purely for research purposes of course) and it hasn’t helped much. I even got my hands on a copy of The Joy of Writing Sex: A Guide for Fiction Writers by Elizabeth Benedict. It’s a good book, but I still feel like my sex writing is horribly mediocre. The biggest problem? I haven’t found much to use as an example for my writing. My sexual pairings are:

1. trans man on hormones with top and bottom surgery and cisgendered man with cerebral palsy
2. trans Daddy on hormones with no surgery and cisgendered boy
3. non-transitioning male-bodied genderqueer and pre-everything trans man
4. femme trans man on hormones with top surgery and non-transitioning genderqueerish female-bodied butch

The mechanics alone are enough to make my head spin, and then when you bring in factors of race and gender and privilege etc. it’s enough to make me want to scream. Perhaps that’s the point. Transfolks navigate a lot of difficult spaces – particularly where sexual intimacy is concerned. Sex with a trans partner is usually not an easy and unthinking “insert tab A into slot B.” It’s complicated. I want this book to show those complications but I also want it to show the beauty and sexual creativity that can result from them. I want this book to show my characters – trans men/genderqueers/men with disabilities/men of color – as whole people with average sex drives – not as the sexualized creatures of porno or the tragically celibate figures of medical textbooks. Unfortunately, as often happens with sex, my head is getting in the way. I’m so worried about how to write that I’m having trouble letting go and allowing things to progress naturally.

Published in: on January 17, 2009 at 10:53 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Oh you definitely have to get out of your head for this kind of thing! Just say to yourself that it’s okay to write total crap for the first one or two drafts (cliché/medical/whatever) as long as you let go and get something on the page (something you find fun and sexy would be helpful). Then you bring your brain back into the picture later to edit all that and worry about the rest. Gosh if you’re thinking about racism, classicism, AND transphobia while you’re writing sex scenes, I’m not surprised you’re having trouble!! Phewf. Those things are not sexy!

    I was helping Emily B. choose a writing class to take at the New School in NY this semester and there was a 300 level one on erotic writing. I thought that could be interesting (or possibly awkward, or both). I wonder if there’s a class like that in your area…

  2. You give good advice. Just writing is exactly what I’m trying (and failing) to do. And you’re right – those things are NOT sexy. I would love to take an erotic writing class. Maybe I should look around for one…

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