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.)