by Kristina Lloyd
All writers get bad reviews. If you write erotica, your sexuality gets reviewed as well. Trust me, you sometimes need a thick skin to deal with this. We are all, as individuals, never more vulnerable than when we reveal our desiring selves to others, and smut writers do this on a grand scale. Sure, it’s framed within a fiction and no one can see us blush. But with that distance comes a space which allows strangers to pass judgement.
Here are a few things that have been said about me. I mean, about my books:
Most of the sex scenes are degrading - not arousing.
Great if you like the idea of being humiliated and called slut etc., not so great if you don't.
Ilya is a man who truly doesn't respect Beth in the least, doesn't even like her.
You would think that an erotic fiction book would be at least a little bit sensual
I pitied Beth more than I wanted to be in her place.
One of the worst Black Lace books I have ever read.
I found some of the BDSM disgusting.
Nothing against a kinky read but I don’t like mental abuse in erotic books.
My grumble isn’t really with negative comments; I think it’s par for the course when you’re a writer. And I’m pleased to report, they’re vastly outnumbered by the very many positive, insightful, considered reviews my work has received over the years.
No, my problem is with the way erotic humiliation is so frequently misunderstood, reviled and marginalised. I write a lot about women who get off on being used, degraded and verbally dominated; about rape fantasy; about discomfort, conflict, fear. Pain isn’t my kink. Spanking is off my radar. Rough stuff and psychological humiliation is more my theme although, of course, the physical and the mental don’t form neat parcels for anyone. When I write about this and someone says 'Ew! Gross!', they're saying that what turns me on is wrong.
An editor once reminded me that erotic fiction needs to focus on pleasure rather than be a vehicle for dysfunction. I was so stunned by this I didn’t eat worms for the rest of the week and almost quit my basket-weaving. I am not dysfunctional. I am not damaged. And what on earth is ‘pleasure’ anyway? It sounds suspiciously like scented candles to me. The notion that female erotica should be softer and more romantic is wildly offensive. Ditto the implication that a women who wants to be dominated by a man must be lacking her own mind. She doesn’t want it. She’s merely a victim and it’s her damaged, self-loathing psyche talking. Oh, purlease.
I get a lot of pleasure from unpleasure, from being made to squirm, from hating it and loving it all at once. All those who are with me, say ‘Ay!’ One of the most moving erotic scenes I’ve ever read is in Stephen Elliott’s My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up. The narrator, a male submissive new to the BDSM scene, after hours of being tied, gagged, hurt and demeaned is fucked with a strap-on. Elliott writes:
I had never been entered before. She leaned across my back, wrapping one arm around my chest and gripping my neck with her other hand, occasionally squeezing my windpipe so I couldn’t breathe for a second. I cried again, but it was a different crying. I was very comfortable. I don’t think I had ever been comfortable before.
'Comfortable' might seem an odd word to use in this context but I think it’s perfect. For me, it’s that sense of dreamy, egoless relief that arises in the tension between pleasure and unpleasure. Subspace, to use the jargon. A lot of my characters (jeez, I can’t think who they’re based on) get off on being treated badly, on being distressed, reduced, shamed and scared. They’re not screwballs, nihilists, emotional masochists or lacking in self-worth. It’s a sex thang. They can still function.
Beth, my central character in Asking for Trouble, is a woman exploring her taste for sleaze, danger, submission and humiliation. Ilya is the enigmatic stranger she’s newly involved with. She confesses her fantasies to him: ‘I just like picturing things where I’m being used, objectified, degraded, that kind of stuff. It’s liberating. I’m in someone else’s hands. I’m not being me.’
Once upon a time, academics wrote about Black Lace books and the new phenomenon of women writing porn. One academic, analysing Asking for Trouble, quoted the above dialogue and said, ‘So once again then, we see in the woman who liberates her sexuality and embraces eroticism the simultaneous flight from selfhood.’
Guh? Flight from selfhood? Isn’t half the point of sex the way in which we can transcend ourselves? (What’s the other half? Someone remind me? Oh yes: cock.) In Split, my spooky puppets and bondage novel out early next month (US, January), I explore what submission and degradation mean a little bit more. Kate is falling in love with Jake, the strange and beautiful curator of an isolated puppet museum in the Yorkshire Moors. She’s gradually coming to understand how the power imbalance of their sexual relationship fulfils her:
He breaks me down, strips me of inhibitions and when I’ve sobbed and climaxed until I don’t know who I am, he wraps me in his arms, so soft and tender.
Do I sound like a masochist? I don’t feel like one. The point isn’t the pain and I don’t suffer. Or rather, I go beyond suffering and into a new space. If I could get there without it hurting, I would. I think that’s why I like it when Jake calls me ‘slut’ and makes me feel bad. It takes me there, helps me lose myself […] and it’s as if I’m in a nothing space, floating. I am so free there.
It’s such a feeling to be free of yourself. I didn’t understand it at first. I think it scared me but I’m getting to know and understand it. I’m coming to realise that I want this not because I’m worthless and I must suffer. It’s because I’m human and life’s tough. Letting go is so powerful. Surrender transforms me. I adore oblivion.
Kate, like Beth, is a woman conflicted about her sexuality. I think this is true of a lot of people whose kinks are on the dark side, and I think this is OK. We hear a lot about ‘sex positivity’ and having a ‘healthy’ attitude; and while I applaud the sentiment it leaves me feeling a tad uncomfortable. It seems so neat, clean and tidy, and leaves little space for angst or doubt. Where we want to go and what we want to do or be done to us can be disturbing, terrifying, upsetting and exciting. It’s pleasure but not as they know it. Accepting conflict and contradiction is a significant part of accepting our messy sexual selves. I’m sure ‘sex positive’ was originally meant to encompass this but it’s easily miscast to imply unproblematic happy-jolly-fucky sex. It can make me feel dirty, and not in a good way.
I like brutes and bullies with a nice line in contempt. I like back alleys, seediness and squalor. I like scary scenarios that make my heart beat faster. All these things break down the ego and strip away the veneer of the civilised self. And when you’re without that constructed identity, when your dignity and self-respect have been put on hold, then boundaries shift, inhibitions are lost. If anything, those who like to indulge in being broken down need to have a very secure sense of self. They must be continually piecing themselves back together again afterwards.
I imagine a scene. To some eyes, it may look like a woman on her knees in a crack den, sobbing in shame with her hair full of piss, being mocked by a couple of thugs. But for plenty of people, suffering and degradation is intensely erotic. It’s the pleasure of unpleasure, of being split between yes and no. I like it there. I’m comfortable. The scented candles can go hang!
Monday, October 1, 2007
by Kristina Lloyd