On creating inclusive, multicultural erotica in the age of Trump
In the nine days since I woke up and learned that Donald Trump had been elected president, I must admit that everything I do with my life has seemed largely pointless, from sex journalism to erotica editing to even blogging. How could it not be n the face of public discussions in 2016 in favor of a registry for Muslims and praising Japanese internment camps? The question that made my 41st birthday on the tenth and the rest of the ensuing days pass by in a blur of bingo and the blahs has been, What am I doing to make this world a better place? Because I had already been in somewhat of a creative lull and mental haze, the answer I kept coming back to was: nothing.
It felt ridiculous to be talking with the social media manager I had been so proud of myself for hiring about what quotes and images to use to promote my books, like I was ignoring the very real problems that have exploded into our world with a vengeance since last week’s news, despite not being able to take my eyes away from my increasingly scary Facebook feed for more than a half hour at a time.
And then copies of my new anthology, Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 2, arrived, all 200 that I had purchased in a burst of optimism and eagerness. There’s always something thrilling about seeing a book with my name on the cover for the first time, knowing that it went from a mere concept in my head into an actual paperback that will soon be on the shelves of bookstores and sex toy stores in all its shiny glory. I savored that moment, realizing that the book was bigger than me, and that I had authors who were excited to be published, many of them for the very first time, and that by helping them share their work, I might also be encouraging future authors to get writing. So I stopped feeling despondent for a little while and got to work packaging up those books and mailing out contributor copies to my 21 authors from around the world. I actually think my trips to the post office are my favorite part of the anthology editing process, even more than opening those boxes, because I get to be the one to deliver something that’s so much more than the sum of its individual parts to the people who helped create it, without whom the book wouldn’t exist.
Holding those books in my hands made me realize that while I don’t consider myself an activist, what I can do in my own small way, is continue on with my vision for inclusive erotica. When I took over editing the series (which used to include calendar years in its title; my editing started with Volume 1), I decided to make some changes. One biggie was that authors who’d been published in one of my volumes before wouldn’t be able to submit again, in order to make room for more voices. While I’m only contracted through Volume 4, my dream is to get to edit 10 volumes, and in the process, publish writing by over 200 amazing authors, while also boosting their profiles and helping them gain a dedicated readership. I also started doing more outreach to writers who might not consider themselves “erotica writers” but who might want to contribute, because I believe there are so many people with brilliant untold stories that speak to their deepest desires, even when times are hard, even when other things may seem and actually be far more urgent than plain old s-e-x.
Now, I vow to do even more of that, because while I only have 65,000 words to do so, within that space, I want to publish the types of authors who may not be heard in mainstream erotica, yet whose perspectives are vital and urgent and powerful and lively and fierce and tender, who find eroticism within circumstances that may seem unlikely or unusual, whose fetishes defy categorization, whose desires continue unabated no matter how many hurdles, internal and external, they have to jump through to act on them. I want to continue to seek out women from small towns and big cities, from atheists to dedicated believers, from brand new adults to those many, many decades their senior, to contribute and make this a more varied, diverse series and share aspects of sexuality that help us understand each other better. This may be my Polyanna side showing, but I hope that in illuminating how sex and lust and love play a role in the lives of the kinds of women readers may or may not know in real life, these stories bring us all a little closer together.
So here is what I will ask you: please think about women and gender nonconforming/nonbinary people you know who might have a fascinating erotic story to tell, and pass on my call for submissions for Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 3. The deadline, December 1, is soon, but for those with stories to tell, I hope this call inspires them (and I will be editing Volume 4 next year, so stay tuned). Authors whose stories are accepted for publication will receive $150 and 2 copies of the book (plus as much social media promotion and support as I can possibly provide).
While I intend these volumes to be timeless and, hopefully, still in existence twenty, thirty, fifty years from now, I also want them to grapple with what it’s like to live and love and lust now, in such a chaotic political climate, not just in the United States but all over. I want them to run the gamut of human experience and look at how sex and religion, sex and age, sex and race, sex and disability, sex and gender, sex and anger and sadness intersect. I don’t want cardboard cutout characters or agendas, but humanity in all its messy imperfection. I want characters who break the rules (their own and society’s), who try something new, who surprise readers and themselves by following the path their desire takes them, even if it’s not “smart” or “rational” (perhaps especially if it’s not). I want them to defy stereotypes and slut shaming and the notion of being “good girls.” I want characters who deserve (and maybe even get, or have gotten) their own novels to truly see thir journeys to their fullest course. No, these aren’t essays, and their primary purpose still needs to be to arouse readers, and perhaps offer them an escape from the real world, but I don’t think that’s antithetical to also giving those consuming those words something lasting to think about.
On a personal level, I also am grateful that I’ve already got a mini book tour in the works, because I’m sure if I had the option of planning one now, I’d chose instead to stay home, to savor the small comforts of my little corner of suburbia, where people from different cultures do actually live together in harmony, rather than going out into the big wide world where it seems like we are becoming more and more divided and the worst of humanity is on full, loud, public, scary display.
Will anyone want to hear erotica read to them after the inauguration? I have no idea, but one of the things that has sustained me through editing anthologies over the last 12 years is taking an often lonely process that happens solely in my home and channeling it into something that brings real, live people together in a room. I also believe we need our independent bookstores and sex toy shops more than ever to be community spaces, places where we can find new ideas and entertainment, and I’m proud and honored that they want to work with me and my authors.
I don’t know what the future holds, for my country or my career. But right now, I know that this is my path, and I intend to use it to help other writers get published, get paid and help spread their words as far and wide as I can. It may be a drop in the ocean in terms of making the world a more understanding, less hateful place, but it’s the drop I can offer.
Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) has edited over 60 anthologies, including Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, Begging for It, Fast Girls, The Big Book of Orgasms and more. She writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture and teaches erotica writing classes around the country and online. Follow her @raquelita on Twitter and find out more about her classes and consulting at eroticawriting101.com.