Tristan Taormino: The Power of Erotica

“I absolutely believe that writing and publishing erotica, especially for minorities, is a political act. We must write our own stories, our own truths, otherwise our detractors and enemies will do it for us”

I picked up Best Lesbian Erotica 1998 when I worked at an indie bookstore, and it changed my trajectory. Suddenly I was asking myself, why do I love this lesbian erotica so much? I was seeking a new answer. I read it in the corners of the stock room on my break, hid it beneath large hardbacks when I worked at the information desk, and could barely tear my eyes from it when customers approached.

That book introduced me to Tristan Taormino, who was the series editor for Best Lesbian Erotica, published annually by Cleis Press, until 2009.

Quickly after picking up the 1998 edition, I sought out more from Tristan. I found her Village Voice column. I found On Our Backs, a feminist sex magazine that she edited. I’ve been following her work since, and there is much work to follow, as she writes widely.  Taormino has authored  seven books and edited twenty-three anthologies, in addition to directing and producing more than two dozen adult films and being a serious trailblazer for the genre of feminist porn.

Taormino has been incredibly influential in the fields of sexual education, queer visibility, BDSM, erotica, and queer desire—and incredibly influential on me and my own work. My own stories are included in a few of her anthologies, including her newest, Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica.

With Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Taormino has created a path for trans and genderqueer erotic explorations in a genre that  still sadly under-represents such themes .

Much of the stories in the collection are very personal and very elaborate about the narrator’s (and likely the author’s) inner emotional landscape around gender, sexuality, and bodies. I was immediately touched by the opening stories, and continued to be enthralled, entertained, emotional, and turned on throughout.

I caught up with Tristan to ask her more about the process of putting together this new, much needed, and ground breaking book.

You’ve edited dozens of anthologies. How is this one different?

Nearly all the erotica anthologies I’ve edited before have been centered around lesbian erotica; although over the years many of the stories have featured trans and genderqueer characters, this anthology is devoted entirely to erotica with those characters.

What was most challenging about editing a genderqueer and trans focused erotica anthology?

It’s only the second erotica anthology focused on transpeople, and the first to also explicitly focus on genderqueer folk, so there aren’t really any models out there. Because there is so little erotic writing by/for/about gender variant folks, I really challenged myself to have as much diversity as possible among authors, characters, and genres. I wanted to make sure there was a range of gender expressions, sexual pairings, settings, bodies… there were so many different factors to consider. Honestly, it was a lot easier to find writing by and about trans men and transmasculine people; I had a much trickier time getting stories by/about trans women—I had to actively look for those.

What are you hoping it accomplishes, or who are you hoping it reaches?

I hope it kick starts a new genre of trans and genderqueer erotica. If this book does well, I hope I can make it a series. I hope it reaches people from all different walks of life. Seeing our longing, desire, fantasies, and sex lives on the page is so important to gender and sexual minorities. I want this book to open up a dialogue among people about their own gender identity and how it impacts their sexuality. I also hope to push at the language boundaries a little. Writers and characters in this book use alternative pronouns like ze/hir/hir as well as the less common hy/hym/hys. Slowly, these new words—along with the use of they, them, their—are beginning to seep into our consciousness and people are using them more frequently in conversation. I want to see that shift reflected in our literature as well. Plus, I personally love to read phrases that challenge binaries, like his clit, her dick, or his tits.

One of the authors recently got a letter from someone who read the book. The reader wrote, “I’m not sure how to describe how important it was for me to read your story, because it hit upon so many facets of my identity. I’m female-bodied and femme and most people assume that means cis. I’m pretty sure I’m not cis and I’m darn sure I’m not trans, so what the hell does that make me? I know, but I didn’t think anybody else did until I read [this] line [in your story].” That’s the kind of reaction I was hoping for—and one that makes all the hard work so worthwhile.

Is erotica more than just jerk off material? Is it political, or activism?

I absolutely believe that writing and publishing erotica, especially for minorities, is a political act. We must write our own stories, our own truths, otherwise our detractors and enemies will do it for us. When I first handed in the anthology to Cleis Press, publisher Felice Newman called me and said, “I want your introduction to be required reading for my staff. It’s about so much more than erotic writing or trans and genderqueer erotica. This book has the potential to shed light on gender and sexuality in a new way and bring more awareness and understanding about it.” If Take Me There can accomplish that, it helps support the amazing work of transgender rights activists to increase visibility and affect public policy.

What influenced you to do a genderqueer and trans anthology?

I really feel like it’s time. When I passed the Best Lesbian Erotica torch to Kathleen Warnock, I was ready for a project that was entirely new, something that hadn’t been done before. I hesitated at first because I am not trans. But my partner of ten and a half years who identifies as trans and genderqueer really encouraged me to go for it. That’s one of the cool things about the book: some of the writers are trans and others aren’t, and it’s the same with narrators and characters. So, there are a lot of different voices represented, including those of transfolk as well as their partners and lovers.

You direct films in addition to editing erotica. What’s next for you in your work? Anything exciting on the horizon?

I am working on lots of new projects. This coming week, we are about to relaunch my website which has been entirely redesigned. I have another new book out this month, The Secrets of Great G-Spot Orgasms and Female Ejaculation. I’m headed out on tour for both books, and will be in New York City, Boston, Springfield, Amherst, Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco this fall. I’m still directing adult films, and my sex ed title The Expert Guide to Pegging: Strap-on Anal Sex for Couples hits stores in January. My next book is The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and The Erotic Edge from Cleis Press, which will be out in February.

I’ll be reading, along with Tristan, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Rachel K. Zall, and Laura Antoniou, at Bluestockings Bookstore in New York City on October 12th at 7pm