But the reality is that of course I have an opinion on 50SoG. Everyone does. My friends in the BDSM community largely abhor it. My partner has given me horrified recountings of multiple plot-points that are often written about on the internet as abusive. And tons of people I know mock its language choices.
On the other hand, it’s sold a ton of copies, made a ton of money, and is a subject of positive interest and very often enthusiasm in the romance space. Lots of people find it turns their crank just right.
And amid all of that, I’m supposed to feel something.
But I’ve largely avoided reading it so I don’t have to. I’m pretty sure it’s not my cup of tea, and I would likely be concerned at its misrepresentations of safe/sane/consensual and/or risk aware kink (I’ll talk about the difference between the two terms when my and Erin’s upcoming novelette Room 1024 comes out in April).
But at the same time, I’m not really interested in policing other people’s fantasies or assuming that readers don’t know the difference between fantasy and reality. I’m also wary of engaging in the (internalized) misogyny that often gets directed at romance and erotica readers and writers. And I don’t want people to feel bad about what turns their crank. Rather, I want them to talk about it.
In fact, I’m a lot more interested in hearing about why Fifty Shades of Grey punches people’s buttons positively and building something useful out of the degree to which the book has helped to make sex and desire a more public conversation.
Now, I’m not saying other people should stop criticizing the book or worrying about the issues they’re worrying about. Those are legitimate, important, and helpful conversations as far as I can tell. I’m just saying I don’t feel like my contribution there would be useful or meaningful — to me or anyone else.
Besides, I’m sort of struggling with my own feelings about the intersection of media, sex, desire, and judgement.
This is where I tell you I’ve slept with a lot of people. More than 50. Probably not much more than 60; I’m not entirely sure. But I’m 42, my 20s were adventurous, and I don’t have the time or inclination to make a comprehensive list. It doesn’t seem important. I’ve practiced safer sex, I’ve gotten tested, and I’ve largely avoided any entirely disastrous choices.
But I’ve got a number, and to a lot of people it’s kind of a big one. I’ve never hid it from anyone, I’ve never been bothered by it, and when other people are bothered by it, I just generally decide to be bothered by them.
Some of that is a reflection of my peer group, of friends who aren’t judgmental whether they’ve had sex with no one or everyone, and of growing up in a queer culture that demanded sexual expression as our right and a sign that we were still alive in the age of AIDS.
Some of it is also just some strange internal intensity I’ve always had about my ownership of my body and my use of it as a tool, as an altar, and as a weapon. I danced before I spoke, so I’ve always known what my flesh could do.
Lately, though, I’ve been feeling a little shamed. Now let’s be clear, no one has been actively or passively shaming me. Rather, I’ve discovered my own insecurity about my number and about my history that I didn’t know I had. And I’ve discovered that in reaction to my creative life.
Starling (and the whole Love in Los Angeles series) is not a book for everyone, for lots of reasons, including that no book is a book for everyone. I’m cool with that. I’m even excited by it, because I’m thrilled when people who really want or need a book like Starling find it.
But one of the reasons its not for everyone is the degree to which it features both polyamorous and monogamish couples. And sometimes when people aren’t into that aspect of the book and talk about it, that feels weirdly personal.
It’s not just the book though. I’m also a SAG-AFTRA actor. That is, after all, part of where Starling came from; Erin and I wanted to write a story that was less about Hollywood glamor tropes and more about the realities of the hard work of making TV and film.
And because of this background, people often ask me things about how love scenes or kissing on camera works. And most of what I have to say comes down to — over and over again — that it’s just work.
But if you’ve never done that work, the idea of someone else telling you what to do with your body, or making you take off your wedding ring to play a character, or asking you to engage with someone else in a way that at least looks deeply intimate by the time it appears on screen, can be really hard to imagine.
It often seems legitimately uncomfortable (and, to be fair, as an actor it often is). It can even seem from the outside non-consensual (this isn’t true, again, it’s work, and it is handled in a dozen ways at a dozen points to make everyone as comfortable and safe as possible).
Because I’ve done that work (I got into the union by playing a nudist in Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus and look, can you say you’ve spent a day naked with Nicole Kidman?), because I’ve been in poly relationships, because I’ve been deeply engaged in the kink community, and because I’ve slept with what is — to many people — a lot of people, I know what some people think of me.
But until I started to make art about it, I never knew I cared.
So if you love Fifty Shades of Grey, I want to know why. If you struggle with other people shaming you for the fact that it turns your crank, I want you to be able to talk about it. because if kink is something you want if your life, that conversation where you can be open about your desires and advocate for yourself, is the first step to finding a way to do kink in a non-abusive, safe(r), and more responsible way.
Things that are awesome in comments on this post: your experiences, desires, questions, concerns, information about safe/sane/consensual and risk aware kink, and book and media recommendations. Things that are not awesome in comments on this post: Telling people what they are allowed and not allowed to find sexy or not in their heads.