Monday, March 3, 2008

"I" is for "Indecent"

by Janine Ashbless

It’s difficult writing an indecent erotic story. Or at any rate, it’s difficult answering the call from Cleis Press for an anthology entitled I is for Indecent. What would you write that would make such an anthology stand out from any other? Isn’t all erotica indecent by definition? (If it’s not, is it doing its job?) You couldn’t read a single page from any given erotica anthology out loud in church without offending everyone. (Actually you couldn’t read the Song of Songs out in church without offending people so maybe that’s a bad definition. The Bible has its share of thoroughly dirty verses: take Ezekiel 23:20: "There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses." Note that this is supposed to be a complaint, in context. Sounds pretty impressive to me!) As the Erotic Alphabet series editor Alison Tyler says in her foreword "what’s indecent to me may be just another Friday afternoon for somebody else."

But indecent behaviour doesn’t have to be extreme. It doesn’t have to be non-vanilla (that would appear in K is for Kinky, showcased in two weeks). It doesn’t have to be unpleasant or unethical (I guess that would appear in N is for Nasty which is due out in the next batch of Alphabet erotica). So what sets Indecency apart?

Take a look in the dictionary:

Decent: adj. conforming with current standards of behaviour or propriety.
Decency: n. correct and tasteful standards of behaviour as generally accepted.
From a root meaning "be fitting"

That’s the clue. Indecency is not and cannot be defined by any one person’s tastes. It’s defined by the society we live in – "AS GENERALLY ACCEPTED". It is entirely about the complex rules our particular society has for behaviour in any particular situation. We don’t get to choose. The rule of the majority trumps individual freedom. So on a beach in Rio bare breasts are not indecent; in Saudi Arabia bare ankles are. The first woman cycling in bloomers was indecent. The first gay kiss on TV was indecent. Janet Jackson’s "wardrobe malfunction" during the Super Bowl was counted as indecent (rather surprisingly) but Judy Finnigan’s similar mishap on British TV was simply a cause for hilarity. A dress that would be glamorous if you wore it to the Oscars would be indecent if you wore it to your parent/teacher evening. Getting your dick out in your own bedroom is not indecent; getting it out on a colleague’s desk emphatically is, and as for getting it out at a birthday party for 5-year-olds … Let’s just say We’re Not Going There.

Being indecent is about breaking the unwritten rules. It follows, of course, that as more people do it so the boundaries shift. Standards of behaviour are redefined all the time, gradually. The first streaker at a sports event was considered a front-page shocker; nowadays they are greeting with giggles and cheers. And there is safety in numbers. If 10,000 cyclists go naked all at once (to protest against our society’s dependence upon oil and the vulnerability of the human body to powered vehicles) then the mere fact that there are so many of them means that they are likely to be regarded as acting in poor taste rather than indecently – at these annual events nobody gets arrested. But one man hiking the length of Britain naked (to protest against our body paranoia) gets arrested 17 times and spends months in jail.

(Stephen Gough, the Naked Rambler pictured here, is an interesting case. In the course of his walk this ex-Special Forces eccentric was repeatedly arrested, but in England the police would generally question and release him having decided he was harmless. In Scotland he was considered a danger to traffic and the authority of the State, and was repeatedly convicted and locked away. The unwritten rules of behaviour are not the same in the two countries. Scotland also has the distinction of having convicted a man for indecency and put him on the Sex Offenders Register for having sex with a bicycle. Sounds funny, until you realise it was his bicycle, in his own room, and cleaners had walked in on him. The privacy to wank, anyone? )

Indecency is about not conforming to standards. Being indecent always has a cost, even if it is only in terms of your own shame. And witnessing something indecent gives you that mental rush, that moment when you have to try and make sense of what you’re seeing and fit it into your picture of the world. The moment of vertigo when you have a choice; to accept or reject, to laugh or scream, to understand or condemn.

I rather like indecency, so long as it is not done with malice or threat. I like the peculiar innocence of someone delighted by their naked body and keen to show it off – Wow! Look at my willy, guys! – and unselfconscious of its flaws. I admire the courage and humour of streakers: check out Streaking The World for many amusing photos. I like the fact that a certain actor not a billion miles from Cardiff cut his on-set birthday cake with his cock (Imagine the mess!).

And my choice for I is for Indecent? I wrote Wet, which is about someone getting caught short on a night out by the desperate need to pee, in a public place.

We made it across the final road to the block concealing our multi-storey car park. There were stairs up to the entrance and a wheelchair ramp, and both looked equally impossible to me. I stopped.

"I’m not sure I’m going to make it."

Terry turned to face me and pushed his hand between my legs to take a firm grip, making me moan with equal parts shock and gratitude.

"Get a room," suggested a passerby cheerily, but Terry ignored him.

"Hold it in," he ordered, rubbing my clit. "You’re going to get there. Just hold it in."

(Does she make it safely to the toilet? No chance.)

Mathilde Madden went for a different angle on impropriety, with her story The Things You Do When You’re in Love focusing on a dom woman making her sub boyfriend’s darkest wishes come true:

The lavatory at this semideserted filling station in the middle of nowhere is disgusting. Dirty and sordid. I’ve told you before how much I’d like to see you naked in here. In this dank little room lit by a bare bulb that has one of those high level tanks and a filthy broken sink.

You probably remember me saying that. Because you strip, without being asked, as soon as the door is closed. Your cock is hard and you’re a fucking pervert and you’re probably thinking that this is the place where you’re going to get raped. You’re thinking right.

But I kiss you first.

Shocked, just a bit? You should be. Because these are indecent stories. They’re about breaking the rules. Our instant reaction to someone breaking the social rules is and should be shock. But what happens next is important. We need to confront indecency every so often because we need to practise exercising our judgement. Sometimes when you break the rules you genuinely hurt and damage people. Sometimes you don’t. We need to practise being able to tell the difference, and moderating our reactions accordingly. The instant response is not the end of the process.

Let me mention an extremely indecent man: David Blaine, the street magician. When Blaine started out on his endurance feat in London, sitting for 44 days in a Perspex box suspended by a crane, the public reaction was markedly, extraordinarily hostile. Here was a man doing something we wouldn’t, couldn’t, and couldn’t imagine wanting to do – deliberately starving himself to the edge of collapse in order to test his control over his own body. In our self-indulgent society this made no sense. It broke the rules of acceptable behaviour. And so the Great British Public taunted him, threw things at him, shone lasers at his eyes to blind him, and whacked golf-balls at his box to break it. Newspapers spat blood railing at his "selfishness", about how he was "mocking the starving in the Third World". Perfectly normal people expressed rather strongly the wish that either a) he would die of starvation or b) some passing lowlife would "teach him a lesson" by shooting him dead. Our instinctive reaction to someone who fails to conform is to wish to hurt and kill him. Our instinct is to hate. And that’s something we need to be very wary of.

So here, in I is for Indecent, a cute and pretty little paperback, we have 15 stories by me, Mathilde, Donna George Storey, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Sommer Marsden and others, "guaranteed to offend and titillate" as it says on the back cover. Harmless little fictions. Entertainments. And just maybe they can be good for us too.

Thanks to the lovely people at Cleis, you can comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of I is for Indecent! (Result of the draw this Sunday.)

Buy on Buy on
Janine Ashbless

Website: Myspace & Blog: My Pictures


Anonymous said...

Oh god - amazing picture research!

Indecent made me think of the indecent exposure type thing too - but in the end I wrote something else. Kind of.

Great post and thanks for the snippet from my story!

leatherdykeuk said...

Fascinating background to the book. The Scots bicycle case was absurd. Did the cleaners get reprimanded for invasion of privacy? I think not.

Janine Ashbless said...

I thought your story was great Mathilde - edgey but not nasty. It was a story about an entirely mutual relationship carefully and responsibly worked out by the participants. Even though it sure doesn't look like that to start with!

As to the bicycle case ... Was it the inclusion of a bicycle that made it so offensive? Or would the police have reacted in exactly the same way had he just been wacking off? My mind is still boggling at the absurdity of the injustice.

Madelynne Ellis said...

Gah, I didn't get past the first 50 words of my attempt at an indecent story. Much kudos to you ladies who managed to make the mark. It sounds like a fascinating read.

I can't help feeling the police/prosecution service/jury were just being vindictive in the bicycle case. Exactly who was he hurting?

Eloise said...

Interesting post, as always. Do we end up reacting with anger/the desire for violence to indecent things? I certainly remember the first female streaker quite clearly, and there wasn't much anger or violence directed her way, despite it being big news.

David Blaine on the other hand has a fairly long history, in the UK at least, of being regarded as a "freak" to put it mildly. Being a freak and a publicly available helpless target might have tipped people over the edge rather more than any feelings of indecency, assuming those that attacked him regarded him as indecent. The Great British Public has a rather long history of violence towards "them" after all, and he's clearly not one of "us" (even if I'm not really one of "us" for most sets of "us").

But I'd love to read the book please!

Jeremy Edwards said...

Excellent essay, Janine!

[Attention Random Number Generator: I already own I is for Indecent (and am very much looking forward to reading it)! By the way, RNG, please give my best to your partner, Sequential Letter Iterator, and all the little subscripts and superscripts.]

Janine Ashbless said...

I certainly remember the first female streaker quite clearly, and there wasn't much anger ... directed her way

And if Janet Jackson had popped hers out at a British sporting event there wouldn't have been howls of protest, abject public apologies and an enormous fine for the broadcaster. Different countries/settings/genders/bits of anatomy = different rules.

Bare breasts in Britain tend not to be seen as grossly indecent unless they are in an enclosed public area (such as when breastfeeding in an office or a restaurant). People can get pretty damn shirty then.

Like I said, unwritten rules are very complex.

Eloise, you can borrow my copy!

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

Great pictures--and ohmygawd great excerpts! ::drools::

My story that I wrote for this anthology went for the indecent exposure angle, but I think Alison deemed it fun, but not quite indecent enough; she's holding it for later in the alphabet.

Alison Tyler said...

I love the research that went into this post! Defining these little pocket-sized books of porn can be daunting. Why is Indecent different from Kinky? How is Nasty not Perverse? What's up with Trashy and Raunchy and...

Oh, my. I think I'll go back and look at your indecent photos just a little bit longer.


P.S. Janine, I loved your story so much, I started the book with it.

Nikki Magennis said...

Great post, Janine, and I do love those streakers!

I have to agree with Eloise that I think people lobbed stuff at D Blaine because he seems to be a bit full of it, not because he was naked.

Hold on, was he naked? Am I just imagining that? I am, aren't I. Damn.

Congrats on the book, both!

Janine Ashbless said...

Oh, gosh, I wondered about submitting for Perverse but nearly disappeared up my own arse trying to decide what it might mean. So I've taken the easy road and submitted a story for Master instead.

So - How did you make the title decisions, Alison?

(I really enjoyed finding the illustrations for today's post, btw.)

Janine Ashbless said...

Argh, sorry Nikki et al. I didn't mean to imply Blaine was indecent because he was in a nappy, but because he defied the "correct and tasteful standards of behaviour as generally accepted".

Amanda said...

another fascinating and well written post. your story sounds fantastic. i would definitley love a copy of this book. i'm working on a story about smoking, something that is considered to be taboo, perhaps even indecent in this day and age. interesting how what is indecent changes over time. those low rider pants that are still popular here would have been indecent in the 50s. or showing one's ankle in an earlier century. imagine writing an erotic story based on revealing those smutty little ankles ;)

Janine Ashbless said...

Ah, smoking - that's interesting - something that becomes more socially taboo over the years.

Of course in China in the days of footbinding, a woman's feet were considered the most erotic/forbidden part of the body to reveal or depict.

angell said...

I for Indecent hrmmmm...?

I can think of quite a few things that would be considered indecent (by people who aren't reading this). LOL.

Love the story Mathilde. :D

Madeline Moore said...

I do so love these pretty little books. I think the cute covers make the insides seem even dirtier - if possible. Great post, Janine. You've set the bar high for the March Monday Erotic Alphabet posts. I'm on last, (L is for Last) so I have time to's amazing how deeply one can delve into words + kink.
Fun for everyone. Again, thanks for this post, I loved it. Oh! Thoughts?

I think in Canada we tend to pretty sanguine about 'indecency' Here in Toronto we have, at various times, been able to smoke pot legally, bare our female breasts legally (I think we can still do that, but not when we're holding a windshield wiper and wiping for change) and legally hold same sex marriages.
What you cannot, must not, do - is smoke cigarettes. Big no no. Prompting one pundit to remark, 'Toronto - a place where you can marry a fag, but not smoke one.'

Alison Tyler said...

How did you make the title decisions, Alison?

I had help. I mean, the end titles are not always what I started with. Initially, P was for Panties, and K was for Kiss and L might have been for Lust, I'm not sure. With Cleis' input, the final line-up emerged. Some were easier to choose than others. C, for instance, gave us quite a few to choose from.


Olivia Knight said...

Bare breasts in Britain tend not to be seen as grossly indecent unless they are in an enclosed public area

...except, of course, at college pubs in response to the sung chorus of "Get yer tits out..." But breasts are such wonderful, happy, bouncy things, every society should encourage their sudden revelation.

One astonishing British taboo is, apparently, sheer tights in winter. You can wear a dress that barely skims your bum without anyone batting an eyelid, so long as you wear thick black tights. Wear skin colour sheer tights with an above-the-knee hemline - even an INCH above the knee - and you're openly stared and sneered at by passers-by, who first do the up-down eyeflick, then recoil, then deliberately look away from the offending sight as their noses curl. Indecency has never been so easy...

Olivia Knight said...

P.S. I'll be the one in the sheer tights flashing my tits, then.

Amanda said...

here in Ottawa, we're just too damn cold to do anything indecent. i wear legwarmers instead of stockings ! nice to meet a fellow Canadian, Madeleine

Kate Pearce said...

And what is considered indecent changes through the ages as well-so how are we supposed to keep up?

I loved the excerpts and the whole post, the pics were great too!

I'm glad you went for 'L is for Leather', Alison, or I might not have written the story :)

Janine Ashbless said...

C, for instance gave us quite a few to choose from

I think the definitive answer to what C Is For is right here!

Altogether everyone...

Alison Tyler said...

I was leaning more toward this one.


Janine Ashbless said...

Apparently "cookie" is indeed slang of some kind for your prefered word, Alison.
We all found this out because Blue Peter, our most venerable children's TV show, staged a vote to pick the name of their new cat. When "Cookie" won they faked the results because it was considered indecent in some circles. Major scandal when the story broke!

Jeremy Edwards said...

So what did they do—fall back on that traditional feline name, "Pussy"?

Kat said...

I've always wondered about this series whenever I happened by it at the erotica section in my local bookstores. I'll have to check it out!

rlr260 said...

"C is for cookie..." everybody sing! (silence)Oops, sorry, got carried away!

I love the alphabet books, and already have ABCD. I'm looking forward to the whole series.

Sweet Samantha said...

I don't think I've ever done anything indecent :(

I need to find a man to corrupt me.

Anne Tourney said...

And witnessing something indecent gives you that mental rush, that moment when you have to try and make sense of what you’re seeing and fit it into your picture of the world. The moment of vertigo when you have a choice; to accept or reject, to laugh or scream, to understand or condemn.

I think you've put your finger on one of the things that makes writing erotica worthwhile -- being able to impart that sense of shock and joy and wonder to unwitting (but not unwilling) readers.

Peeing in public has always been a huge turn-on for me. I've mostly done it when drunk -- and admittedly, have not always been able to get my panties off first -- but there've been a few sober occasions when I was able to fully appreciate the revolutionary nature of the act :).

Jeremy Edwards said...

Don't look now, Anne, but there seems to be a line forming to buy you drinks.

Portia Da Costa said...

Wonderful post, Janine. Thanks for such a well researched piece.

Tantalising excerpts too. :)

t'Sade said...

Oh, you got me on that first picture. :)

Well, and the rambler. I have to respect anyone who was willing to do that, to risk being arrested for his beliefs.

Anonymous said...

OMG those are awesome fav were all the naked bike riders!