Sext In The City

30 April 2013

I’d like to pretend that I’m proudly progressive and enjoy a little kinky lesbian bondage with my cereal in the morning, but quite frankly, I just can’t carry that look off. It’s probably just as well–during the process of writing that sentence, I dribbled my caramel infused instant coffee onto my chest. The truth is that someone out there probably finds my caffeinated dribble erotic–sensuous, even. We’re all made up of infinite contradictions and complexities, so it’s only natural that our sexualities will follow suit. It is thanks to erotic fiction that we have a means of exploring the boundaries, intricacies, hilarity, fluidity and often absurdity of our sexual identities.

Now, that’s fairly simple to accept intellectually, but I’ve found that people’s assumptions about this genre are usually of the knee-jerk variety. People who have more conservative values passionately feel that erotica is threatening and corruptive (but hey, I guess we have them to thank for vaguely hilarious pseudonyms); others who have more intellectual interests judge that it’s tacky and not ‘real’ literature. Those whose only exposure to it has been through 50 Shades of Grey (and the media hype surrounding it) often assume that it’s a synonym for ‘mummy porn’, or a frivolous women’s genre that lady-people read to pass the time once men have lost all interest in them.

Well, here’s some news for you, folks: to these assumptions, Melbourne’s erotic fiction scene just shrugs its shoulders, cracks a smile, and continues to exude cheekiness, tease and sex positivity. The events and projects that occur around town evade any Google search, instead gathering a strong following through word of mouth. Dettori, one of the two founders of Australia’s first queer erotic fiction publisher, BanQuet Press, confirms that “Melbourne is a hub of sexy artworks going on all the time”. In Melbourne, you do not read erotic fiction huddled in your basement during the darkest hours of the night (though of course that’s always an option). Instead, you share the experience through readings, writing workshops, anthologies and collaborations with other erotic art forms.

Little Raven, a Melbourne-based publisher of erotic short stories, novels, poems and comics, is the embodiment of this ethos. Despite only having been launched in 2011, it is already bubbling over with fun, quirky and inevitably kinky ways for people to get together and enjoy the genre. Directing Little Raven’s ventures is Van Roberts, who schemed up her current brainchild in the somewhat unexpected setting of a Professional Writing and Editing degree at RMIT. She is behind several erotic readings with a ‘spin the bottle’ element, bringing back the long-buried thrill (or terror) of that hormone-charged game. She has also compiled an anthology of erotic fiction entitled Little Raven One (with volume two on the way), produces Little Raven’s Lickety Split podcasts, and is soon to host an erotic writing workshop. Little Raven is currently collaborating with StripFest, an upcoming festival aiming to creatively celebrate Melbourne’s most iconic ‘strips’ and communities, by developing The Brunswick St. Strip. This creation will be a collection of erotic stories inspired by Fitzroy, and will be distributed to unassuming civilians throughout the area in a kinkily classic letter form.

In case you haven’t already noticed from this lowdown, Van Roberts is entirely awesome.

Behind these projects is the understanding that erotic fiction is more than just material for the wank bank; there’s an immense amount of joy involved and it plays an integral role in the exploration of sexuality for all kinds of people–you, me and everyone else. As Dettori elaborates, the five anthologies of queer erotica which BanQuet Press has published have given “over 120 newly established or just emerging writers and artists with a diverse range of ages, sexualities and gender identities” the opportunity to get published in an arena not just of tolerance, but of wholehearted, full-throttled anticipation. It might surprise you (as it surprised me) that from Dettori’s experience, a large portion of the demographic attending erotic fiction events are the elderly, wanting to write a piece for their partner or toy with facets of their sexuality they have not before explored.

I spoke to Aimee Nichols, who began her foray into erotic fiction by co-editing the Eroticus zine. Librarian by day, she is now a widely published writer of erotic fiction and a major player behind the development of the Melbournian ‘fat burlesque’ group Va Va Boombah. If you want to catch this bright thing in person, she will be joining Van Roberts in running the aforementioned Little Raven erotic writing workshop later this year. While studying literature at university, she found herself observing the attitudes of those around her and questioning, “why are people such dicks about genre fiction?” It’s true, many people fail to realise the amount of craft that goes into the writing of erotic fiction and genre fiction as a whole. Whilst porn recounts sexual acts, “true erotica gets into the detail,” Dettori explains. You have to take into account “the smell, the taste, the sound, the impact, the behaviour of the body, the anticipation, the sweating…”–not to mention characterisation and sexual motives.

Much like in other areas of Australian literature, it is important that we are telling stories unique to our own national experience. Given that it is so difficult to publish erotic writing in a financially feasible way within Australia, Dettori runs me through how many authors have published their work in America or the United Kingdom where there is higher demand. By doing this, however, the stories can often become “sanitised of anything Australian”.

Melbourne’s erotic fiction scene seems to have happily taken up this challenge and has put its own stamp on the genre, particularly through its cheekiness and open-minded curiosity, but also by retaining an almost childish sense of how funny sex can actually be. The more people I speak to, the more this idea rings true. I’ve heard tell of erotica about dolphins, mesmerising anthropomorphic spider sex and a tentacle-themed erotic anthology. Randall Stephens, a Melbournian performance poet whose work often delves into the erotic, is keen to point out that erotic fiction is “rooted in a sense of fun, which translates into ‘funny’ and jokes”. He can talk, given that he’s written the call and response poem BREASTS!, which rhymes as many words with the title as possible, whilst simultaneously tapping into our fascination with mammaries.

Krissy Kneen, the Brisbane author behind the erotic collections Swallow the Sound and Triptych, has accurately summarised the widespread public understanding of erotic fiction as being “when men write about sex it’s literature; when women write about sex it’s erotica”.

“People get weird about shit,” Aimee Nichols bluntly elaborates in agreement. Yes, they do. When speaking to Randall, he pointed out to me that sex is “everywhere and nowhere”; our merry society is simultaneously oversexed and undersexed in a contradictory situation where we’re bombarded with overtly sexual material daily, but feel that if a regular flesh-and-blood human, perhaps sitting across from us on the tram, is pursuing erotica for leisure, it is somehow inherently wrong.

Most of the people mentioned in this article are using pseudonyms. Perhaps in an ideal world there would be no need for pen names and erotic fiction wouldn’t be seen in such a judgmental and sensationalist light. Perhaps we would be more respectful of our sexual identities and better understand this vital part of our being.

Then again, in such a world the very word erotica would make me feel neither naughty nor thrilled. And where’s the fun in that?

“Precisely,” respond the creatives of Melbourne’s erotic fiction community with a wink.


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