How to Write Dirty Books Without Even Trying

“By taking communion, he was acknowledging the divine nature of his immortal soul. His inner and outer beauty merged and became one, inviolate, complete. Of course, a person’s soul can never truly be possessed either. But unlike physical beauty, it can be shared: a pair of souls in holy, holy communion.”

Is this erotica? Amazon believes it is. So does Google Books. So do a lot of book selling sites.

My novel, Angel, is the story of a Christian minister whose assumptions are challenged when he finds himself falling in love with another man. Not only does Amazon categorize it under “gay erotica” it sometimes comes up with the tag “gay sex” even though the only sexual activity described on the page is kissing.

It never occurred to me that this was what constituted “erotica.” I admit that I don’t have first hand experience of gay male sex, which explains my confusion. In the straight world, for a book to be considered erotic, it has to contain descriptions of actual sex. I had assumed that the same principle would apply when the protagonists were two men. I didn’t know that it was considered explicit sexual content when two men’s lips touch.

Every time I turn around I find another site calling Angel “erotica,” so it must be true. Book sellers are in the book categorizing business, after all. They must know what they are doing.

“Paul leaned in again, and this time their lips touched, tentatively at first. Ian responded, gently teasing Paul’s lips with his own. An invitation and an answer.”  

Erotica.

I have not yet figured out how to capitalize on my salacious infamy. Some friends have suggested that now that it has been explained to me that I am a writer of erotica, I should embrace it—- go all “Fifty Shades of Gay” and make a million dollars. I should build up a following of avid erotica fans and churn out volumes of hot man-on-man action like:

“So they unfolded the futon, pulled out the afghan, and curled up to watch whatever was on TV. Ian rested his head on Paul’s right shoulder with his arm draped across Paul’s chest. Paul lazily ran the fingers of his right hand through Ian’s hair.”

I have been trying to decide what my porn name should be. My name is already Laura Lee. What can I come up with that is better than that? The thing is, I’m just not sure I can handle a gay porn writing career. Why?

Because frankly, gay men, I’m disappointed. All my life I’ve heard so much about your promiscuous sex lives, your freaky three-ways, your glory holes, bondage dens and anonymous encounters in the baths. Who knew that all it takes to get you off is resting your head on another man’s shoulder while you flip through the channels on TV?

You guys are boring! The straights get steamier in the Biblical epics on the Family Channel.

So a career writing gay erotica is not for me.  So let me take one more stab at getting your juices flowing before I retire from my pornography career:

“My personal feeling about why the church tries to promote sex
only within marriage is that ideally it preserves the real life-affirming
kind of sexuality. It’s not just about sensation and your own pleasure, it’s
about connecting to someone else on a deep and serious level. Maybe
churches are clumsy in how they express that sometimes.”
“Clumsy, like saying only straight people can have that.”
“Yeah, clumsy like that.”
“You think two men can have ‘life-affirming’ sex?”
“Yeah, I do. Of course they can.”

Are you breathing heavy?

Now it occurs to me that maybe I am not being fair.  It is possible that it’s not you, gay men, it’s me.

I read an article today on Indie Reader in which author Pavarti K. Tyler discusses the steamy texts of Anais Nin and Henry Miller.

“It isn’t surprising that Nin found it necessary to self publish. Art which challenges peoples’ notions of sexuality is always difficult to find funding for, especially the type which deals with women’s sexuality,” Tyler writes. “Historically in the US, erotica has had tremendous difficulty finding an audience… When she moved to America with her second husband, she found her titles had almost no market and were unavailable to the general public. Meanwhile, Henry Miller’s infamous works ‘Tropic of Cancer’ and ‘Tropic of Capricorn’ (also initially self-published) were achieving critical and financial success. What is interesting is that as crass as Miller’s prose can be, it was always considered ‘literature’, while Nin’s much more poetic style carried the less commercial label: ‘erotica’.”

A couple of years ago I read a novel by a male author.  It was the story of a gay male divinity student.  I can’t recall the author’s name or the title any longer, but what I do remember is that the book opened with the protagonist waking up in the morning after a particularly successful night cruising, and unable to remove his cock ring, still on from the previous night, he wears it to devotion under his robe.  I learned about that book through a review in the gay press.  It was reviewed there, in exactly the way “erotica” is generally not.  It was labeled as LGBT fiction.

So maybe it all comes down to that porn name of mine.  Angel by someone named Laura Lee just sounds like erotica.  So it must be.

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7 comments

  1. Laura, I just found this article (sorry it took me so long) and I’m completely astounded that anyone would call Angel erotica. It’s Lit Fic. LGBT Lit Fic. I seriously think that some people just don’t understand that a romantic story with a gay couple as the focus doesn’t HAVE to be about sex.

    1. Another thing I run into, besides the erotica thing, is the idea that a story about gay characters has to be a political statement. Those are the only two categories people seem to have for books about gay people– erotica or political action. I had a Christian reviewer recently say that the book should have given the other side of the argument. That is what you do in a debate or a political non-fiction book, it’s not what you do when telling the story of a character. (What is the “other side” of his point of view of what is happening, and where would it come into a story from the character’s point of view?) All of this, I guess, points to the idea that we put lgbt people clearly in the category of “other” and only think of people in that category in terms of risky sex or a political issue not as people with a full range of human experience.

      I read something recently by a woman who writes theology books. I think she has a PhD in divinity from Harvard. She wrote a book that uses the metaphor of God as a lover and she got a lot of criticism that essentially said she was lightweight and “girly.” I haven’t read her book, so I don’t know if it is “girly.” I’ve been starting to wonder, though, if writing isn’t one of those rare areas where men have more freedom to transgress traditional gender roles than women. Women can dress in “men’s” clothing and act as tomboys without too much criticism, but men can’t wear dresses without a big fuss. On the other hand, maybe men have more freedom to be sentimental than women and to still be taken seriously. I wonder if Mitch Albom was a woman how people would react. Would they think him too “girly” to be given a regular column? If a woman wrote about sports by focusing on the human stories of the athletes would that be considered too lightweight? I don’t know.

  2. This is ridiculous. In comparison to your story, mine are extremely erotic. Well, mine *are* erotic, but they’re erotic romances and there’s a difference between that and romance or erotica (it’s a recent new category built on the need to differentiate between pornographic stroke-offs and erotica with love stories). The straight romances usually have Erotic Romance categories, but the LGBT almost always only have “LGBT” and/or “Erotica – Gay”. There usually isn’t even an “LGBT Romance” category. It’s insulting. What about all those amazing LGBT historical stories? Or the Sci-Fi, or the amazing horror books Rick R. Reed writes? They’re either chucked under the Erotica wagon or stuffed into one big (and growing) “genre” of LGBT (not “LGBT – Horror”, where his books would be easier to find).

    Sometimes I think that retailers don’t really care that much about readers actually finding books. You’d have to know the exact title or author’s name to find the latest LGBT Horror, because there’s no genre link for it.

    Anyway, just continuing the rant from my own blog. These things really get me sizzling – in a bad way. I hope that one day we’ll be able to list our books correctly.

    1. I’m not that familiar with the titles you mention, but my preference would probably be sci fi first with an lgbt sub-genre, assuming that it’s a sci fi story that happens to have gay characters rather than a story about being gay that happens to take place in outer space. I am sure book sellers want people to be able to find and buy books, there is just some sort of sense that 1. gay is “other” and needs to be kept walled off from the “normal” books and 2. being gay is by definition all about sex. One can only hope that as society evolves these assumptions will seem silly.

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