Reading lesbian erotica on an airplane is a surefire way to get noticed.
Let me back up a little. A few years ago, I had the privilege of attending a Pride Month panel put on by Cleis Press at the San Francisco Public Library. The panel featured such greats as Ann Bannon (of Beebo Brinker notoriety), Carol Queen (Exhibitionism for the Shy, Real Live Nude Girl, etc.), Felice Newman(The Whole Lesbian Sex Book: A Passionate Guide for All of Us), and Rachel Pepper (Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Children). The panel was outstanding, and I found myself sex-drunk on all of the foxy wisdom of these great sexperts. Since then, I’ve been a diehard fan girl of Cleis Press and all of their gorgeous publications. When I started writing for Slixa, I naturally thought of setting up a system that would allow me to review all of the incredible and necessary material Cleiss has to offer. I’m happy to report that I will be regularly reviewing Cleis Press publications for your, ahem, pleasure.
Imagine then my delight when I came home yesterday morning from a walk to find a generous package of books from Cleis waiting for me on my front stoop! I tore through the thick tape and cardboard label, the words FOR JULY WESTHALE emblazoned on the front. Inside, as promised, I found a stack of eight of the most scintillating titles I had ever seen—from sweaty gay erotica to sex manuals to sex theory, Cleis had made very good on their word.
When the package arrived at my downstairs neighbor’s door by mistake, I went to retrieve it, coyly interjecting, “Oh, this must be my newest box of anal short stories.” My neighbor’s face registered the quick understanding and forced visible tolerance that so many tame individuals adopt—you know, the this is me being really cool right now with the fact that you just said ‘anal short stories’ at 8 am on a Wednesday morning face. To his credit, he was a total champ about it, and I almost believed that he was unphased. Almost.
After much hemming and hawing about which book to start with, I settled on Wild Girls, Wild Nights, edited by Sacchi Green. I settled on this title primarily because I knew my own Sapphic tendencies would make me a willing and eager reader for this anthology. And I was right.
The book opens with an eloquent introduction by Green, who discusses her motivation behind curating the book. “Real encounters,” She states “real emotions, real people with overwhelming desires, drawing on memory rather than imagination to share their own true stories of lesbian sex.” I was immediately hooked and intrigued. In this world of fictitious sensory-overload, the concept of stories fueled by true and actual experiences excited me. After all, I am a fortunate enough to have had lots of hot, mind-blowing sex in my time. Would my own experiences make good stories? I thought to myself as I read through the introduction. There was that time on the train with an exquisite stranger. Hostels in Colombia, Ecuador, Wales. Bathrooms in discotheques. Tents in Yosemite. Yes. How enticing to be invited to participate as a visitor in something so utterly concealed. I confess that the notion of erotica written from lived experiences felt fascinating and exciting to me because it fulfilled my inner voyeur.
And, indeed, each story in the book is a little window into the bedrooms (and tents, and kitchens, and bathrooms, and clubs and and and) of each author, into the wonderfully blurry space between public and private. When erotica is fictitious, it is public property because it is a story that belongs to everybody. When erotica is based off of true events, it is private property put on display. And, oh, what a show they make!
The book begins with a story called Polvo de Hadas, or ‘fairy dust’, showcasing the desire a Chicana femme has to keep her butch sweetheart to herself. Taught from a young age that cinnamon and cayenne pepper are a magic combination that bring two people together forever, the femme concocts a mole to make her lover faithful, and the story ends with the lover licking cayenne from the lusty alchemist’s thighs, professing eternal love.
Not all of the stories promote an agenda of the monogamous, happily-ever-after uhauling that is often a stereotype of lesbian relationships. In "Hot Desert Nights", Dawn McKay tells a story of a risky one-night stand with a commanding officer in the thick of "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell". In Angel Propps’ "The Daddy I Didn’t Know I Needed" a waitress is taken home by a stone motorcycle stud and fucked senselessly while experiencing Daddy scenes for the first time. The interesting aspect of the Propps’ story is that the waitress exhibits emotional ambivalence during the scene: she is simultaneously thrilled by calling her new lover Daddy, and also full of intense shame (see my last article Oh Daddy! Debunking Daddy (& Mommy!) Issues). And of course, in one of my favorite stories of the collection, "Foxy and the Ridiculous Lesbian Orgy", Allison Moon harnesses (no pun intended!) the will of the universe by inviting twenty-five women over to her loft for an impromptu orgy that ends in a fox-hunt gangbang.
What I found particularly sexy about this book of erotica is that, not only are the stories told from lived experiences, they also convey a kind of realness and tenderness that can often be lacking in fictitious erotica. In Giselle Renarde’s Ring of Roses, two lovers are creating a relationship in the wake of a divorce, and the rupture shoots tinges of devastation throughout the story that only serve to make the romantic narrative more poignant. “She was right there, snoring beside me,” Renarde writes, “ yet I couldn’t get past the gnawing sensation that she’d never be mine, not entirely. Her house was full of meaningful knickknacks and mementoes, little reminders of a marriage that, in my mind, would never cease to exist. Was there really room for me?” Everyone has lived, or will live, the experience of an unequal dynamic; affection is and always has been a balancing act. The juxtaposition of one relationship ending while another begins is stark and heady, and resonated loudly through my body like a singing bowl.
When I come back to myself, the plane is somewhere over Wisconsin. The book, which I read through feverishly, combined with the presence and voyeurism of the other passengers on the plane had left me feeling disembodied and hopeful—a strange effect for a book of erotica to achieve. I almost feel sorry for the two passengers next to me (one, with his copy of the Times and the other with her dog-eared Danielle Steel) that they couldn’t experience the sensations I was, which is to say, being a voyeur in a true world of passion, while physically sitting on a sexless aircraft. Sacchi Green has curated a dynamic book with stories that run the gamut of experiences and contexts. How rife Hot Desert Nights is with anxiety close to that of pre-Stonewall trauma; the thrill of possibly being caught is achingly balanced with the very real consequences of a homophobic military.
Aside from providing the admirable elements of creative nonfiction, the book also serves to debunk the unfortunate and ridiculous idea of Lesbian Bed Death (which is, if you’re not familiar, the concept that monogamous lesbian couples become increasingly adverse to having sex with each other the longer they are together). Aside from LBD’s blatantly sexist overtones—goddess forbid that female-assigned-at-birth folks actually enjoy themselves sexually—the implications of the phenomena are that sex is something that can become static or stalled-out. Featuring many stories that tell of loud, riotous sex between committed long term couples, Wild Girls, Wild Nights takes the ridiculous notion of LBD and shows that there are still sheets to be tangled, tables to be broken, and power-dynamics to be enacted.
The tender realness and aching social context of many of these stories makes this one of my favorite erotic titles this year. After all, I find the truth invariably sexy: transparency and connectedness between two (or more!) people makes for better and more interesting sex, and the excitement and pleasure each character demonstrates is tangible. The surprising thing about this collection is that the same connectedness that makes the sex interesting also creates literary tension in the stories, therefore making the writing more multifaceted. If you find yourself in the mood for sexy stories that also do the (very attractive) work of representing various types of relationships, debunking sexist stereotypes, and showing the capacity for care between people, then this is your book.
Can’t get down with partnership-porn? Is tenderness not your jam? No problem! The stories in this book are hot enough on their own to have you running to the nearest private spot around (airplane bathroom) with your travel vibrator, excitedly pouring through all of the many many ways (and positions) that real lesbians pleasure each other.