My friend, Camel and I were invited to host a session at QTIPOC (Queer, Trans*, Intersex People of Colour) Collective Creativity on Erotic Fiction. The session took place on Sunday 1st December, at the Tate Modern, London. I read a few excerpts of my work, whilst Camel read a short story he had written. There was plenty of discussion and questions from the eight attendees. I have written out my notes that I prepared below.
These notes are our thoughts on erotic fiction, but unfortunately, they also play out in our everyday lives as QTIPOCs. We are often invisible in fiction, but we also become invisible to each other in real life; we find it hard to spot another QTIPOC out on the streets and even in queer spaces, we are often the only ones of colour there.
As QTIPOCs everything we do is political. Our bodies are routinely consumed by others, but we rarely get a chance to share our stories or share pleasure amongst ourselves. We are made to feel that we shouldn’t exist, that we can be either queer, trans* and intersex, or we can be People of Colour, but not both.
Some assumptions we face is that we are novelties: intriguing and different. However, people get tired of novelties quickly.
We are exotic: Black people are portrayed as hypersexual, animal like, and insatiable. We are there to be tamed. On the other hand, Asian women are often portrayed as submissive, and “Not like bossy white women.”
An interesting thought came up that when it comes to kink, whether we top or bottom, we are still there to serve. Little regard is given to our own sexual needs, or if it is, then it’s as an afterthought.
I spoke a little about the Erotica Cover Watch and about how the lack of people of colour on front covers were mostly ignored in that campaign. When people of colour are rarely seen on covers of erotic books, they often reflect stereotypes of aggressive black men, demure Asian people. I showed two positive examples of representation. The first was a cover of Iridescence (Du Pre, Jolie) that featured a tasteful photo of a black woman. I also showed the cover of Surrender (Bussell, Rachel Kramer) an anthology on submission that showed a black woman on the front cover. This was the only book in my memory that was not aimed specifically at black people, but had a black person on the front. I also really liked the image of submissiveness and strength (the model has eye-contact with the reader).
The issue of Class was raised. This is something present in a lot of kink fiction. Kink is portrayed as a rich person’s pastime: castles, expensive equipment and outfits are part of the package. Where does that leave poorer people? I asked the question, “How do you build a dungeon in a bedsit?” That question resulted in a few interesting suggestions! Kink is also portrayed as very white. Why would People of Colour want to be seen as slaves? Don’t we all want to turn the tables? Once again, it is very hard to find kink fiction featuring working class or black people. I provided one example, Leatherwomen 3: Culture Clash (Antoniou, Laura), which is incredible not just for the range of protagonists, but for being incredibly hot and well-written.
Religion came up. An assumption a lot of QTIPOCs face is that all religions are against anything other than vanilla (non-kinky) and heterosexuality. This seemed especially the case when it came to Muslim QTIPOCs
History and the assumed lack of it for QTIPOCs was spoken about. A few of the attendees told of how when they go to queer or kink spaces, it is assumed that it is the first time they would have ever been to a place like that. The frustration this creates was palpable as I listened to them share various incidents. In fiction this seems to be also the case, where there are no older QTIPOCs, and a lack of time settings other than the present day.
I was asked about how all of the above affected where I send my work, and who reads it. Well I can answer that out of over sixty erotic short stories I’ve had published, fifty-seven of them were published in the U.S. The novels I didn’t self-publish were also picked up by U.S places. There are a few reasons: there aren’t that many British publishers, and those who are around don’t tend to do many short stories. British publishers are also not very approachable; when I read a call for stories, they will spell out, in great detail, all the things they don’t want (protagonists must usually be white, slim and straight). Most U.S publishers I’ve dealt with are more open to diversity, however there is an interesting need in some places to have People of Colour who are only ever straight and very successful i.e. rich. Working class and poor people of colour are unwanted yet again.
All of the above issues add to the restrictions we put on ourselves and that that others put on us in the real world. I started writing erotic fiction because I never saw anyone remotely like myself in the stories I read. Seven years on, the situation hasn’t changed all that much. I find myself in a balancing act of writing from the heart, but also writing to get paid. When writing about QTIPOCs, I find myself self-censoring. I am guilty of wondering if some of my characters will come across as believable. In fiction, anything is possible if we can write it, but assumptions can really make writing it an absolute pain. It is not an easy thing to do, but I know that if I don’t write, there will be even less diverse erotic fiction out there. That means a lot to me. I quoted Junot Diaz: ‘If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.’
I ended the session by reading “Property is Theft” which appears in my anthology NSFW: Not Safe for Work. I’ll put the story out in my next blog post.
If you’ve read this post, and can think of other QTIPOC erotic books I’ve missed, please feel free to leave a recommendation in the comments. If you are a QTIPOC, does any of this ring true for you? Are your experiences completely different? I’m aware that I’m coming at this from a Black British viewpoint. I don’t expect every QTIPOC to have the same experiences as me.