There is tremendous power behind sexual words and pictures. Erotica and pornography can be used to titillate and educate. These can also be used as a record of how people lived during different eras, the social and political climates of a given point in history. Debates revolving around pornography often boil down to the importance of freedom of speech, how we view different segments of society, and the politics of power hierarchies. It is within our sexually explicit works that we find identity.
It's Queerer Than You Think It Is: Post-Millennial Bodies, Sex, & Porn is a collection of essays exploring the sexual realm and the politics of sexual representation. This collection strives to reach a middle ground between readable prose and more academic studies as it bridges popular culture and scholarly discourse. Striving to cover a variety of controversial subjects including varying forms of feminism, homosexuality, pornography, prostitution, current sex laws, definitions of "erotica" versus the "obscene," censorship, and sexual humor as political commentary, it is my sincere hope that this collection sparks a note of confusion or agitation in the reader. We need to think about many of the disturbing issues we are now facing because the politics of the sexual image is not going away. Nature is here to stay.
We begin this journey with "Sweet Potato Pie: Women, Pornography, and Catching the Third Wave of Feminism." Here we find conflicting views about the nature of feminism and the future of free speech. The debate between the growing pro-censorship feminist movement, backed by the religious right and other conservative organizations, squares off against the third wave sect which celebrates female sexuality in all its forms. A caldron of complicated issues is analyzed as a gateway to our understanding of female sexual and political power.
"Dancing Cheek to Cheek: Gay Men and Pornography Obsession" takes on the stereotype of the oversexed gay male in all its colorful forms. From the pulp fiction novels of the 1950s to the video explosion of the 1980s and 1990s, gay men have consistently consumed ever-increasing quantities of pornography.
"Bone Tickling: The Politics of Sexual Humor" is a lighthearted romp through the fields of laughter as political statement about our lives and the entire sea of oppression surrounding us. From gay, lesbian, and feminist humor we gain insight into the true faces of our struggles while misogynist and homophobic laughter seeks to impale us.
"Take Me At Midnight: Vampire Sexuality" gives It's Queerer Than You Think It Is a (hopefully) entertaining twist with its study of the mythic vampire and vampiress in literature and film. From the starting point of the fiend depicted in English Romantic literature through Count Dracula and twentieth-century films to the novels of Anne Rice, these intriguing dark figures continue to haunt us. Here the repressed sexual energies of human beings take form in one of our most popular and scandalizing monsters, the dark sexual archetype.
"Busted: Sex and the Law" is a brief look at how legislation dictates what we can and cannot do behind closed doors. Is the government the best barometer of what is healthy or destructive for society or are laws governing individuals' sexual conduct just another card played for political gain? What we do not understand about sex laws and their inherent ramifications can hurt us.
"Pandora's Hive Takes Flight: The Buzz on Prostitution" is a peek at the world's oldest profession. From streetwalkers to high-priced Beverly Hills call girls to the world of male hustlers, the rights of prostitutes is not only a heated subject but its history is a study of human nature and social evolution.
"Stripping It" is an exploration of erotic dance. From temple dancers to Sufis to modern nightclub strippers, erotic dancing has been a means to attain religious ecstasy and a way for people to supplement their income. Tolerance for stripping changes with every historical age and is particularly popular during times of social upheaval. Also explored are the dancer's body as political instrument and the complications of distortions in the dancer's self-perception of his or her own body as a reflection of psychological distress.
"Erotica vs. Pornography: A Delicious Debate" and "Erotica: Literary Lovechild" take into account how society's definitions of the obscene conflict with those of sex writers and much of the reading public. What we call a particular brand of literature can have a serious impact upon its availability and market value with regard to censorship and supply and demand. Here tricky semantics can make or break an emerging writer. While "romantic" literature targeted for women continues to be a growing goldmine for publishers, the stigma of "writing porn" dictates the (un)marketability of many of our best authors.
It's Queerer Than You Think It Is took an unexpected detour resulting in "Busting Out of Candyland?n: The Perils of Self-Censorship." While researching sex writers and their craft I found an unusually high incidence of writers' references to parental influences. Many describe fears of parental rejection lurking in the back of their minds, inhibiting their progress. This is probably my favorite of this collection. The title of course refers to the popular children's board game of the 1960s and 1970s. The essay is an exploration of what we want to show the world with our writing in conflict with conscious or unconscious fears of rejection, rooted in early childhood. I also took a look at how a parent's death can affect a writer.
We conclude with "Pornographic Propaganda," a brief look of how views of sexual materials can be manipulated for political gain. Although skewed towards a sex-positive and anticensorship stance, this essay takes on those who would appeal to sexual fear and lack of knowledge as a means to support a conservative agenda.
Although It's Queerer Than You Think It Is is hardly an exhaustive or politically balanced study of human sexuality, it is a good springboard to raise further questions about our sexual natures and the consequences of allowing political factions to determine what is best for all of us. It is a place where many questions are raised. It is a difficult challenge to try to learn about ourselves.
The post-modern era has been filled with finger pointing and accusations as one group blames the ills of the world on another. True, this is as old as the human race, this primitive desire to bond with one group to ward off the power of another, but advances in communications have turned our world into a giant movie theatre. The screens of our televisions and computers, the books and magazines we purchase at the shopping mall, all show the power and magnitude of sexual words and pictures.
Some of my research includes what some have called "dated discourse" because it includes materials from the 1980s as well as the 1990s. One friend said to me, regarding the battles between Camille Paglia and other feminists like Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, "Aren't they over now?"
Well, yes and no. They are no longer at the forefront of our news or the covers of our magazines but now is an excellent time to examine the politics of the sexual image and pornographic literature. It is time to try to determine the next set of questions we face as we move on into this new millennium.