May 31, 2013

Posted by in Jade Melisande, Reviews | 0 Comments

Best Sex Writing 2013 Blog Tour

best-sex-writing-2013When I first decided to review Best Sex Writing 2013: The State of Today’s Sexual Culture, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel and published by Cleis Press, I had no idea what I was actually going to do for my post. A straight-up review? An interview? A review-in-tandem with a close friend? Maybe a give-away? I was a little lost, because not only had I never reviewed a non-fiction book, I don’t even read much non-fiction. But I wanted to read & review this one for many reasons, at the top of which was a desire to challenge myself to think and write critically about a topic that is very important to me. And no, I’m not talking just about sex here (we all know that’s an important topic for me!) but about the discourse and conversation we are having about sex in this country. So in spite of my initial misgivings, I decided to tackle it.

There’s a good reason this topic is at the top of my “things I think about” list, not the least of which is the fact that I have an almost-twenty-one year-old daughter and a seventeen-year-old son. The daughter is taking a sexuality class at college, and, well…the Boychild is seventeen. He probably thinks about sex every other millisecond. Ergo: sex is a frequent topic of discussion in our house.

I realized some time ago, however, that this is probably not the way it is in most “normal” households. Sex (except, perhaps, the “birds and the bees” talk) is still taboo as a discussion topic in many American homes. Indeed, in my parents’ house, sex was never discussed. And there is so much more to this conversation than just the “how” of it – concepts like consent, safer sex, sexual orientation and – gasp – sexual pleasure.

So, after I had read through most of the essays, I asked my daughter to read it. Then I left it on the table, and a few days later my son mentioned that he had been looking through it. A couple of days after that, my daughter asked me if she could bring the book to class, and later told me of the lively discussion that it had engendered – mostly about the fact that it had been her mother that had recommended the book to her, and further, that we talk about sex as openly as we do.  As the days have gone by, we have talked about the essays, ideas and concepts in the book, and not only with my children, but with my partners, my uncle’s husband, my sister, a coworker.

This, ultimately, is the power and beauty of this collection of essays. In her interview with DL King, Rachel Kramer Bussel says:

“I think fiction, erotica included, can say very powerful things about sexuality, but nonfiction, speaking our truths and investigating the many worlds and subcultures and mores and laws around sex, is just as, if not more, important. Sex doesn’t have its own section of the newspaper, but it permeates the news, from the front page to the business section to arts and sports and travel.”

This is why having these discussions is important, now, with my children. They hear about sex all the time, in all the wrong – and some of the right – ways. I want to help them learn to scrutinize and evaluate what it is they are hearing and reading for themselves.

For instance when the topic of bisexuality came up the other day, starting with someone saying “I don’t believe men who say they’re bisexual. They’re just in denial about being gay,” I pointed to Seth Fischer’s essay “Unicorn,” and a lively discussion ensued about the spectrum of sexual orientation, as well as a person’s right to self-identify.

Sex toys were also a hot topic, after my daughter read Isaacson’s “Can a Better Vibrator Inspire an Age of Great American Sex,” and subsequently attended a sex toy “review” in her sexuality class. As we sat in the living room and casually discussed different sex toys, I was reminded of reading the essay on an airplane with W earlier in the week, and wanting to talk to him about what I was reading, but feeling anxious about other people hearing our conversation. What I realized in that moment is that the essay is not just about sex toys, but about the conversations, we, as a society, have about sex in general; about what we are allowed to talk about and what we are comfortable talking about.

And there I sat, talking with my daughter about that very topic.

There are many essays that we have not yet discussed, and maybe never will – essays that I found deeply moving, such as Carol Queen’s “Ghosts: All My Men Are Dead,” which eerily echoed the conversation I had had only days before with my uncle’s husband, in which he told me that all of his friends and lovers from “before” were now dead of AIDS – and that he has been living with HIV for 22 years; or sad and perplexing, such as the “poly” misadventure of “When On Fire Island…” There are, after all, things even my children don’t want to talk to me about.  But I’m okay with that.  They don’t have to want to talk to me. What I want is for my children to have the knowledge and language and comfort to be able to discuss sex, without shame, in all its myriad forms, with whomever they choose – but most of all with themselves.

This book is a good start to accomplishing that.

“I want this book to come alive, not literally, but in the sense that it gets talked about, debated, passed around,” Bussel says in her guest post on GeekyNymph.

If my example is anything to go by, she has succeeded.

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