by the two halves of Sophie Mouette
We confess: We’re kind of Call for Submission Whores. New anthology guidelines go up on Erotica Readers and Writers and our dirty minds immediately start trying to come up with scenarios. From sexy cowboys to men in uniform (and the men who love them) to music to fun with latex and rubber, we’re game to try just about anything. (In writing, that is. Our personal lives are…personal.)
But once in a while, an anthology theme throws us, and it’s not for the reasons you might think. Okay, the latex and rubber anthology was challenging. Teresa used to date someone with a parts-per-million allergy to rubber, so when she thinks rubber, she didn’t think “sexy,” she thought “Where’s the nearest emergency room?” Still, after much exercise of the empathic imagination, she came up with something.
That anthology theme wasn’t Dayle’s personal cup of tea, either. So she wrote it from the perspective of a wife discovering her husband’s fetish and deciding to give him a birthday he’ll never forget. A rubber bathing cap wasn’t her idea of a sexy toy, but she loves her husband and is willing to try, and she gets incredibly turned on sharing in her husband’s reactions. In the end, Dayle feels, sex is better when there’s a connection between the participants, and a story is sexier when there are characters you care about.
(Sadly, that anthology was cancelled—so if anyone’s looking for a couple of hot and sexy stories about rubber, give us a call!)
Anyway, the anthologies that throw us have been anthologies that asked for different ethnicities as major characters. We’re both about as middle-class whitebread Americans as they come. (Different areas of Europe, perhaps, and Dayle is one-quarter Mediterranean—but white girls who have to look back a few generations before they can find family members who trotted across the pond.)
We feel pretty confident putting ourselves into the head of someone whose sexual kinks aren’t ours. The mechanics may be different, but sensations and emotions draw more from the characters than from whatever acrobatics or props are involved. But in a world where race is such a hot-button issue, where white authors and artists are routinely called to task for playing off racial stereotypes if they don’t do their homework or “cultural appropriation” if they seem too fascinated by a culture other than their own, how much does one dare to get into the inner sexual and emotional life of someone from a very different background? Not to mention just describing them in a way that’s not clichéd or, worse, offensively stereotypical?
In “Special Delivery,” Teresa’s story in Iridescence: Sensuous Shades of Lesbian Erotica, she got around that problem by making her own discomfort a plot element. The point-of-view character’s a white lesbian who’s attracted to the sari-clad hostess at her favorite Indian restaurant, but knows that part of her fascination is the lure of the exotic:
“I felt like I was being Weirdo Stalker Chick, and in a way that would make my more politically savvy friends scold me. I knew damn well that the source of my crush was at least as much the exotic-to-me packaging—the pretty saris, the bindi, the delicate gold nose ring that connected to her earring with a fine chain—as the woman herself.”
This being fiction, our heroines find a way to get past their surfaces differences and hook up, but Teresa felt far more comfortable dealing with the familiar issue of white liberal guilt trips than dealing with her Indian lesbian more directly.
Dayle went a similar route for her story in the same anthology, in that she also chose to make her narrator white. But rather than touch on any personal uneasiness, she wrote about two women who’d been together for a while, who loved each other and found each other beautiful in a way that transcended their ethnic differences. Her main character loved her partner for herself, not for any specific exoticness. The conflict they have to overcome is one that could happen in any partnership: the strain that going back to school can put on both members in a relationship.
Set in racially diverse southern California, our novel Cat Scratch Fever couldn’t have an all-white cast and be even remotely believable. Surprisingly, though, the toughest character to get “right” was our bad boy Lance, who, although white, might as well have come from another world. Trying to make a barely legal, hip-hop-loving reformed gangster sound believable was an exercise in writing about a foreign culture, far more so than the well-educated professionals, José the zoo vet (Hispanic) and Melissa the animal handler with a degree from Stanford (Asian). (Now, we love the character we created, but we’re pretty sure a real nineteen-year-old hood would laugh his fool ass off at our attempts at slang. Someone’s probably laughing right now at our use of the word “hood.” But at least we’re pretty sure we haven’t outright offended anybody.) Which probably goes to show that writing across any major divide in experience—age, class, race, sexual preference—can be a challenge.
Can a white woman truly pull off writing about a black woman? About a man, no matter what race? An upper class person about a poverty-stricken one? Where does the line get drawn between an honest attempt and a descent into un-PC cliché?
Or are emotions and passions universal, even when the particulars of experience differ?
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
by the two halves of Sophie Mouette