Trans, Fluid and Genderqueer Erotic Writing: An Invitation

fluid3-0028

image by cog

Erotic fiction is the literature of desire. If that is the case, it might seem that writing Trans erotica would present little difficulty. It might be assumed that Transgendered folk would be happy to consume erotic fiction that pertains to their self-identified gender and sexual orientation. But I suspect this is not necessarily the case.

There are many Transgendered individuals who situate themselves beyond gender binaries, and/or beyond standardized sexual orientations. It would be easy to say that Genderqueer and Genderfluid people should write their own erotic fiction; that only they can fully accommodate their own erotic sensitivities. For cis-gendered writers there are dark warnings of appropriation, fetishization, objectification and writing beyond one’s own experience. Of course Trans folk should write  erotic fiction, but to say that only Trans writers should write it suggests a kind of literary segregation that I find deeply worrying. I think it also reinforces a laziness of imagination, a reluctance to engage in the necessary deep research, and a refusal of empathy. It is part of the miracle of fiction that writers and readers can traverse foreign landscapes and do so with respect and affection and – most importantly – be changed and enriched as a human being by that experience.

Although I am cis-gendered, predominantly heterosexual, female, I’ve always struggled with the limitations of those classifications as a writer. I often write male narrators and have written a number works that focused on gay and lesbian sexual desire. While mindful of predominant cultural norms, I’ve always been far more interested in exploring characters as radical individualities. Differences, paradoxes, schisms and discontinuities between my characters and their environments, their past and future selves, provide more fertile fields for me, as well as ready-made narrative conflicts. Although some of my earlier fiction was strongly liberationist in tone – narrative journeys to more settled and happy states of existence – I have lately become more intrigued by how characters experience and negotiate their desires within their present realities.

The challenge of writing Genderqueer erotic narratives compels me for a multiplicity of reasons. Within any genre, it forces the writer to be mindful of and constantly confront the fact that language, even those that don’t possess overtly genderized linguistic constructions, is gendered and sexually ‘normed’. This doesn’t mean that one is compelled to constantly attempt to neuter or queer the language (if that were even possible, it would probably result in stories that had some academic interest, but would likely be unintelligible to most readers, regardless of their identities) but it does require a hyper-awareness of that reality.

Erotic fiction presents even greater challenges. Sex may be biological, but eroticism is culturally constructed. 1 When we conceive of things, situations, others who arouse us, we build those eroticisms with an interior language that can never be free from the external one that surrounds us. Erotic fiction incorporates signifiers (words, symbols, imagery) that we have agreed, culturally, have erotic dimensions of meaning.  Erotic language is, I think, especially burdened by centuries of normativity, perhaps because – until very recently – it has been a subject we have had little permission to discuss frankly and openly in a language unregulated by the institutions who sought to control the discourse. 2 I would argue that our erotic discourse is still being heavily, albeit more implicitly, regulated: where once institutions like the  church, science and medicine acted as explicit arbiters of acceptable erotic discourse, consumerism now applies the greatest force in shaping how eroticism is discussed.

Erotic fiction always presents a challenge because what we call ‘sex’ is paradoxical. Graphic descriptions of physical eroticism of will always necessitate references to sites on the body where physical pleasure is to be produced. I don’t deny that it is possible to write tremendously arousing fiction that manages to do so without ever referring to the concreteness of body parts, but it’s rare and, moreover, it is often abstracted and surreal. For some readers, this is perfect. But for others, it is too removed from the body as an instrument of pleasure to be arousing.

We are, as biological creatures stuck, to some extent with sites of physical pleasure we have in the moment. True, these sites can be altered by psychological, hormonal and surgical intervention, but many, many trans folk do not choose to effect those changes. Moreover, for some people, those changes would not wholly afford them congruence in any case. I suspect that, if humans were free to engineer their ideal pleasure organs, we would see a vast landscape of variation in bioarchitecture. Similarly, if cultural imperatives didn’t play such a huge part in how we conceive of our organs of pleasure, their shapes and positioning might be entirely arbitrary. Indeed, erotic writing within the genres of sci-fi and fantasy has explored these possibilities.

Personally, what interests me more than current impossibilities, are conceptual reformulations that might disrupt normative associations. To put it simply, what is inherently gendered about a cock or a cunt?  What is inherently feminizing about being penetrated? 3 Why is a penile erection, straining to be caressed considered more aggressive than a clitoral one? Why is a breastless nipple considered less erotically charged? I’m not suggesting that biological imperative doesn’t play some part, but I would argue that it is a minor one that I think we resort to out of laziness of critical consideration. The vast majority of activities we consider physically erotic, as humans, have no procreative potential at all. Meanwhile, the list of culturally conditioned erotic assumptions is long. So I see, in that place where language and erotic arousal intersect, a fertile site for disruption.

Nor do I see this effort exclusively as having appeal to or an accommodation of alternative erotic literary interests. I suspect that disrupting the normative use of language in erotic fiction would benefit and reinvigorate all forms of the genre.

I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this topic, regardless of whether you are a Trans, Queergendered, Gay or heterosexual and whether you identify as female, male, fluid or pangendered. Any and all input on the subject is much appreciated. I am especially interested in knowing what aspects of currently available erotic fiction put you off or jar with your internal erotic landscape. Please let me know if you feel I have overlooked important aspects of this topic and tell me what you feel those are. Finally, if I have phrased anything in a way you feel is not helpful to encouraging the discussion, please feel free to let me know, either in the comments or via email or twitter of you’re more comfortable with that.

p.s. If you have found or written stories you feel address this subject, I’d really love to read them. Similarly, if you’ve found or written non-fiction essays or papers on this subject, I’d really appreciate a link.

p.p.s I just found a phenomenal series of posts by Xan West Writing Erotica for Trans Readers here. There are four parts to this (linked from the top of the page) Also a nice list of Xan West’s own erotic fiction here.

Notes:

  1. See Zygmunt Bauman’s “On Postmodern Uses of Sex.” Love & Eroticism. Ed. Mike Featherstone. London: SAGE Publications, 1999. Print. Published in Association with Theory, Culture & Society and, from a more writerly perspective, Octavio Paz’s. An Erotic beyond: Sade. Harcourt Brace, 1998.
  2. Michel Foucault (The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1990) argued that, since the Enlightenment, we have been talking about sex constantly but implicitly, and much of the way we discuss eroticism has been controlled through institutional regulation of the discourse.
  3. For an in-depth examination of this topic, see Jonathan Kemp’s The Penetrated Male, Punctum Books, 2013.

5 Thoughts on “Trans, Fluid and Genderqueer Erotic Writing: An Invitation

  1. Certainly, the definition and parameters of what qualifies as erotic vary from person to person. Graphic portrayals of penetrative intercourse or some equivalent thereof, for instance, are not always requisite in order for a story to qualify as erotic in nature. While I have a strong preference for androsexual homoeroticism among binary sexual options, I would take a well crafted genderqueer alternative with equal enjoyment, even without what is defined as “erotic” in Western culture (in other words, literary equivalent of porn).

    I wrote “Blacker Than Black” as a study in the exploration of gender neutrality and duality/ambiguity from the perspective of the reader. It was a daunting challenge to craft, and it does not succeed with a great spectrum of conventional M/M genre readers. It’s undoubtedly a niche within a niche, after a fashion. But oh, was it fun to play with disrupting assumptions. It was extremely gratifying to go about knocking over elaborate Lego constructs with a sledgehammer.

    Along the same lines, I’m currently working on a companion story to BTB, and while the play of pronouns is not what it is in the first one, there is still the challenge of portraying a transgender character who does not experience body dysphoria, nor harbors any intent of acquiring a physical “sex reassignment” as is pervasively mandatory in today’s social expectations (except in New York, which makes me ponder a relocation). I strongly suspect that my character’s non-aligned biology will create an even greater disconnect for cisgender readers than culturally-accepted “box”-adherence does.

    The challenge in crafting respectful and authentic trans* and genderqueer fiction containing some degree of eroticism (regardless of whether or not one chooses to define in such a way) becomes the lack of a binary selection switch as there is with cis-gender characters. It is not a matter of selecting “one” or “zero” for a specific setting. It is multifaceted like a kaleidoscope, and a fractional shift can rearrange everything. One character may prefer a conventional gender pronoun for the sake of simplicity, but that conveys very little about the potential spectrum of possibilities for that character beyond what the cultural assumptions convey. And as a writer, one certainly doesn’t need to adhere to those stifling assumptions.

    In fact, breaking free of the presumption of adherence creates a sort of invigorating inspiration with its liberation.

    • Hello there Rhi!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to tell me about your experience with this. Your point about gender pronouns being the least of issues is well taken. I am intrigued by your point that “physical “sex reassignment” as is pervasively mandatory in today’s social expectations”. Do you find that is the primary expectation in trans fiction? Can you talk a little more of what you refer to as a ‘binary selection switch’ and your kaleidoscopic approach?

      • I had a response drafted but my internet hiccuped and ate it for breakfast, so I’ll try again.

        I want to qualify this by saying that I don’t consider myself any measure of a “genre expert” and everything I’m saying is to some degree an expression or extrapolation of personal experience, perception, or attitude. I’ve tried to take care with my wording here, but I want to be clear that I am in no way attempting to make blanket statements about the content of attitudes, perceptions, or experiences of others. Also, I think I may have veered severely off topic, so my apologies in advance.

        That being said, I have no expectations about sexual presentation and specific alignment with socio-cultural norms. Alignment by default, in fact, is not an assumption I make when reading fiction, whether trans genre or otherwise.
        However, I think there’s some degree of expectation, especially within the realm of erotica, about alignment unless explicitly stated. That explicit statement is often made in trans fiction. Yet not all trans persons experience body dysphoria. There’s nothing “wrong” with being female and having a penis and loving your body and not wanting to change it. That’s an aspect of transgender, and that’s part of what I perceive as the kaleidoscope concept.

        I think part of the “assumption of alignment” influence is a result of the close parentage of and proximity to M/M. Another significant factor is the bleed-through of authorship that takes place. In my personal works, however, I don’t play that particular “game” of conformity, and most readers who pick up something I write do so with the understanding that nothing is to be assumed or taken for granted. I think the realm of trans fiction, erotica and otherwise, offers a positive space for exploring certain harmful socio-cultural norms and presumptions by removing their influence, and systematically destroying the boxes within which cis-gender persons perceive.

        There is always a measure of challenge in wrapping one’s head around a plight, perspective, or certain identity with which one does not have intimate knowledge or firsthand experience. For the reader, and doubly so for the writer. It isn’t impossible, however, and the exploration also runs the added potential of guiding the writer and/or readers through exploration of self identity, and in some cases a visceral connection that leads to a journey of discovery and redefinition. If any of us, as writers, only wrote what we knew, there’d be no speculative fiction at all, be it futuristic or fantasy. So, there’s that.

        With binary selection switch, I simply meant to reference the either/or approach to sexuality, gender identity, etc. Male/female, homo/heterosexual, or andro/gynosexual.
        The kaleidoscope approach, I think, more accurately describes the full range of potential in the spectrum of possible genders and sexualities. There is more to the T of the LGBTQ community than MTF or FTM. I think consideration and exploration of a larger range of the spectrum would encourage greater awareness and sympathy, as well as connecting with a larger segment of those who read trans fiction and erotica to connect with a character similar to themselves. This type of depth in consideration would also negate any accusation, however frivolous, of fetishizing trans persons in erotica. Then again, the M/M genre has long been accused of “fetishizing gay men” so it’s perhaps inevitable. One could viably argue that, to some degree, fetishizing in genre fiction is a social form of artistic exploration that leads to acceptance of that which we would otherwise not experience or understand.

  2. Thank you for honing in on some of the considerations.

    I think the case of the M/M genre, where the target audience is predominantly women, the accusation of fetishizing gay men is complicated. Although not massively read in the genre, most of the stories that I have read seem very much aimed at targeting fantasies that some women have about how gay men are together, rather than aiming at portraying gay men as subject. But one could say the same thing for anyone indulging in drag. Portrayals of the feminine in drag performance have little to do with a rounded totality of a cis-female experience. Hell, portrayals of people in porn have pretty well nothing to do with real experience.

    I’m fairly certain that demanding all fictional, dramatic or imagined characters be portrayed in the entirety of their subjective experiences would probably result in the death of art. Representation – mediation – is by nature limiting. And yet, realistic, rounded fictional characters do, on the whole, offer us more.

    I think erotic fiction, as a literary genre, will always walk the line when it comes to objectification. To be the desired other is always, to some extent, to be an object of desire. That doesn’t exclude or deny the possibility of subjectivity in general. I think it is always the paradox of being an erotic human.

  3. Henrietta on February 26, 2015 at 8:16 pm said:

    This is an interesting question to me, which I’m not sure I can answer, although I’ve been pondering it since you posted. I’m an agender person, with no attachment to my junk configuration or other possible junk configurations…although I suppose if it was a snap your fingers choice, I’d be intersexed.

    I enjoy salacious material with all sorts of configurations of people of whatever gender, although, again, with a slight preference for cocks being involved, as in my sex life. One of my biggest off buttons is that I have trouble with most talking in videos – it’s jarring and reminds me I do not know the people involved, plus I’m not that into what I’ll call porn style talk during sex. I also can’t deal with jarring written dialogue, and most written erotica is soooo bad that way. I get distracted in visual (still or moving) erotica by little things in the background, too. “Ugh, her nails. That electrical socket.”

    What I end up preferring most, as I look over my tastes, is people experiencing something new to them and being blown away by it, consensually or not. So Pat Califia’s “The Spoiler” is one of my favorites from my early adulthood, about a topman who likes to likes to top other topmen. Genitals don’t really even play into the story, although the characters in it are firmly part of gay male *culture.* Whereas she has some story in the same collection that’s Victorian girls playing with each other, but it’s a routine of their lives, so it didn’t touch me that much, even though their activity could have touched me in another context.

    I actually fully realized this issue with my tastes reading your stories here, which I enjoy very much. The Heat Sink story was shaping up very well for me, until I realized what the characters were going through was something familiar to them, and then it was just a well written, enjoyable, but not personally hot story for me, whereas the story about the girl on the table who had intercourse with a stranger, I found incredibly hot. But either story could have been about anyone of any sex/gender.

    Because so much of what I read and view turns me off, I don’t get much chance to think about what I *do* like, so this was a good thought exercise, even if I didn’t quite have an answer to your question.

Leave a Reply

Post Navigation