Written by Singer Joy.
Photo by Michelle Gutierrez Fernandez.
“Queer stories encouraged. No erotica.”
I see this kind of statement all the time in literary magazines that have otherwise beautifully inclusive submission guidelines, this “no erotica” tacked onto the end like an obviosity. Or “no explicit depictions of sexual activity.” Same difference.
Other guidelines that feel like they have the same energy?
- mags asking for “horny” writing but “not porn.”
- mags asking for explicitly queer characters but no sexual activity.
- mags refusing “downer” endings in sexual stories, or requiring that any sexual plot end “happily ever after,” or HEA as it’s called in the erotica biz.
Guidelines like these present a view of sex and sexual desire that is exclusionary, in addition to being plain unclear and not conducive to good storytelling. They hurt to see from fellow queers, especially ones who claim to be a safe haven from industry gatekeeping.
I’ve been asexual on and off since age seventeen, and i’ve been writing erotica since age twenty one. Maybe that sounds paradoxical, but writing about sex improves my ability to communicate my needs. Sex is a swirl of looks, touches, words, and feelings, not all of which feel right or natural to me, but are fascinating in their way.
I have to write about that shit. It’s compelling, and a vital part of my experience of queerness. My perspective is not always “horny,” but i am curious about bodies, which can be pornographic. My writing is not always an explosive, orgasmic, happy-ending kind of sexual endeavor, because sex isn’t like that for me. I don’t think sex needs to precipitate orgasm, nor should erotic writing.
Many of the most liberal lit mags censor erotic content out of custom, or because they perceive all genre fic to be poorly written. But sexual desire is still pervasive in such publications, dripping at the edges of every story– it’s just not explicitly discussed. It is as uneasy a place for asexuals as anywhere else, where allosexual people do not acknowledge or understand the hypsersexual media they see and produce.
Rather than being helpful to ace people, i argue that a blanket ban on erotic writing is just as hurtful to us, especially when put forth by our queer community. Where else can i actually talk about sexual desire and lack thereof but in situations that involve sex? Where else but in erotica can i say “see this thing you all do? See how strange it is?”
This is only one queer’s perspective, but there has to be a way to create a safe space for sex averse readers while also moving beyond a conservative censorship mindset.
Here are my suggestions for how to do it:
- Be clear, and explain yourself. If you really don’t want porn, don’t capitalize on a sexual aesthetic, or rely on what you perceive to be the thrumming sex drive nascent in all people for marketing. It’s icky, oddly exclusive, and unnecessary. No sex means no sex, and yes sex means setting explicit boundaries for which kind of sex. It’s just like regular consent.
- Present sexually explicit material thoughtfully. What kind of sex do you want to publish? why? “No sexual assault” is usually a good guideline, but how do you define that? Do you engage with stories of surviving assault or not? Why? How will you share this with your readers?
- Use content warnings well. In the digital realm, a CW can be an entire webpage to itself, which you have to click through and make a really conscious decision about. It can be an artistic piece of formatting, not merely an afterthought. CW/TWs are acts of care; they are tools for readers and writers to engage on equal terms, not penalties.
- Consider whether your guidelines are commercial (created to sell or maintain a brand) or ethical (created to uphold ideals). Many erotica-focused publications have been forced to maintain commercial guidelines around body, gender, and story type (M/M, F/F, HEA or HFN) to appeal to their readership. My hot take is that really queer erotica lives in a liminal space that cannot be demarcated by an orgasm or narrowly squished into any commercial guidelines.
- And please, unless you’re supporting and protecting marginalized writers and readers, don’t ban erotica. Do it to promote a plethora of manifestations of queerness, and do it for general sex education. The more we have access to diverse perspectives on sex, the more informed we are.
If you’re crafting a call for submissions, think about how you approach the erotic, and how you are or are not prepared to put forth that work into the world. If you’re a writer or reader, consider how you engage with erotic content and why; be conscious and thoughtful about sex, always.
If the answer is really “no erotica” for you or your pub, so long as you’ve discussed it and communicated it clearly to your constituents, that’s perfect.
Some of you will have to acknowledge that the exclusion of erotic content in your collection is a consequence of the vast project of misinformation about sex in the United States (and, really, everywhere). No time like the present to own up to it.
About The Author
Singer Joy is a queer musician, writer, and polytheist living in Providence, RI. She makes flowery anarchist theatre with her company Water House Collective. She’s also a zinester, an erotica enthusiast, and a Gemini. Find her work at singerjoy.com.