Posts Tagged ‘books’

2013 3 Oct

Extra Book Covers for “BDSM & Culture: 50 Shades of Stereotype”

So, right now I’m telling everyone about my latest book. I mentioned that I’m pretty excited about the cover:

I got this cover by running a design contest at the website 99Designs. (You can see all the entries in the contest here.) But after I announced the contest on Twitter and started telling my friends about it, I was surprised that a few people got upset. One of them linked to this comic that talks about why contests are bad for artists.

To be clear, I have entered many contests in my life as a writer and artist. I’ve won some and lost some, and I don’t think that I have been exploited. But I was already feeling bad about the amount of time that some people invested in my cover contest … and my friends’ comments clinched it. So I started trying to figure out a way that I could make my contest a little better for the people who didn’t win.

One thing I can do is link to the contest itself, so you can all see the extra covers. The other thing I can do is display a few runner-up covers here on my blog, and link to the creators.

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2012 6 Nov

Clarisse Thorn Talks Porn: Censorship, Sex Workers’ Rights, & More

A writer named Justin Cascio just interviewed me for an article about porn. I enjoyed answering his questions, so I thought I’d share my answers with you, too.

* * *

The Worst Part About Censorship is [scribbled out]How do you define pornography?

A famous lawmaker was once asked to define porn. He said: “I know it when I see it.” That definition makes me uncomfortable because it’s so unclear. Unclear legal definitions only serve the interests of people in power, and they create a bad environment for everyone else. Unclear definitions force creative people to guess whether their work will fall into an illegal category, and thus they create what activists call a “chilling effect” on free speech. This means that people censor themselves even when they aren’t doing anything wrong, because they basically don’t want to go anywhere near things that might be illegal.

It’s especially important to note that anti-porn legislation and censorship has consistently been used to silence a broad array of people, including sex writers like me who create theoretical or political material. Here is one very mild example: I get tons of emails from people who can’t access my blog because I’m censored by their university or whatever. That’s messed up; I mean, for God’s sake, I’ve lectured at some of these universities! If we must legislate porn differently from other types of media, then it should have a clear legal definition.

However! For everyday folks who aren’t lawyers or judges, the definition of “porn” is quite fuzzy. (Definitions are often fuzzy with sex-related issues.) I don’t see a big difference between porn and erotica, or between porn and romance novels for that matter — except that they have different target audiences. In that sense, I suppose that I think of “porn” as “visual media showing explicit sex, which is usually (but not always) aimed at stereotypical heterosexual cisgendered men.”

I’ve been talking about my new anthology a lot lately, but I want to mention it again because it’s totally relevant here. I just collaborated with an amazing tech writer, Julian Dibbell, to create an anthology called Violation: Rape In Gaming. The anthology collects different essays and perspectives about sexual assault in all kinds of games — video games, roleplaying games, etc. (I also wrote an introduction that explains different types of games, so if you’re not a gamer, you can still understand the anthology.) I think that this volume really gets at the heart of some porn-related issues, and hints at some of the definitional problems; if you’re interested in problems of porn, you should definitely check it out.

What is the ugly side of the porn industry, and how are regular users responsible?

The important issues of porn are the same as the important issues in all types of sex work. Did the participants consent? Are they working in a respectful, safe environment? I recently read an excellent article about cam girls by Sam Biddle, and I love that article because it talks about both the super-empowered wealthy Western women who make great money and live a fairy-tale life … and also the women, often in the Third World, who are clearly unhappy and exploited.

One thing I particularly appreciate about that article is how it points out that exploited cam girls are much harder to speak with directly than rich, self-employed cam girls. I firmly believe that there are many sex workers who freely chose and enjoy their jobs, but the following facts must be acknowledged:

1) Less privileged sex workers — people who are at a disadvantage because of their race, class, gender identity, or whatever — are more likely to be exploited and abused and silenced, because their disadvantages will be used against them. For example, a poor person is obviously more likely to do work that they hate because they’re desperate for money.

2) Less privileged sex workers are less likely to have the time, education, or knowledge to effectively articulate their experience. Sidenote: please check out the Speak Up! trainings, which are intended to educate sex workers on how to deal with the media, and help sex workers describe their own experience.

3) As a result of these factors, the discourse is often dominated by privileged sex workers. This is a serious problem. The activist Audacia Ray, who is a personal hero of mine, has an article about this. When you look at porn, this means that a lot of the sex workers we hear from around the online gendersphere — maybe most? — are having an awesome time.

And I certainly think that privileged sex workers should talk about that as much as they want! Shout it from the rooftops! But I also think we must be cautious about drawing conclusions based solely on those voices. I particularly appreciate privileged sex worker writers who both love their jobs and make an effort to highlight less-privileged voices.

So, what are a porn consumer’s responsibilities? I would be absolutely thrilled if more porn consumers would boycott porn whose employees are exploited. I acknowledge that it’s not always easy to tell whose employees are exploited, and whose aren’t — especially given the three considerations I listed above. Years ago, I published a two-part interview with a BDSM pornographer named Tim Woodman, and the most interesting part was the second half, because that was where he responded to audience criticisms from the first half. Tim received questions like: “If some porn models are being paid hush money, then how are consumers supposed to know which porn is okay?” And his answer was, honestly, that it’s often difficult and nuanced. (The male feminist writer Thomas MacAulay Millar wrote a response piece called “I Can Never Tell.”)

I have often thought that it’s past time for “fair trade sex work,” where ethics becomes a selling point. I have also often thought the most feminist thing I could do would be to open a brothel where the employees are treated well. Honestly, if it weren’t illegal in my home country, I might have done this already. (Which, incidentally, highlights one of the problems of making sex work illegal: making sex work illegal mostly chases away ethical people, whereas unethical ones don’t mind so much.)

In the meantime, there are feminist pornographers who work really hard to put out ethical porn. I couldn’t possibly name them all, but it’s worth checking out the Feminist Porn Awards, as well as the documentary Hot ‘n’ Bothered: Feminist Pornography. Here’s a nice piece called “The Five Hallmarks of Feminist Porn.” And for those with an interest in BDSM, I recommend the challenging documentary Graphic Sexual Horror — it really gets at the meat of these issues.

Extra credit: the male porn star Tyler Knight has some excellent writing about his emotional difficulties, like this piece. Just in case you were thinking that everything is peaches and cream for male porn stars.

Can porn use become a problem?

Anything can become a problem. I don’t have time for people who claim that sex-related stuff is more likely to become a problem than other stuff that feels good.

When I’m with people who are capable of starting the conversation from an agreement that “sexuality is not necessarily bad” and “people have different sexual preferences,” I sometimes have interesting conversations about porn use being a problem. But you have to start there.

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2012 31 Oct

Blog Hop: Q&A about Writing, plus Links to Other Writers

Richard Jeffrey Newman asked me to participate in a Blog Hop in order to intro­duce new authors to new read­ers. If you’ve come here from the link posted on Richard’s blog, wel­come! If you’re a reg­u­lar reader of mine or came upon my blog by chance, I’m about to talk about my upcoming projects and then link you to some other writers.

Oh and also, Happy Halloween! I’m Selina Kyle this year (the new Anne Hathaway version). And I get to be in San Francisco for Halloween 2012, which is my favorite place to be for the holiday, and also my favorite holiday. I’m in such a great mood. So before I answer questions about my writing, I want to show you one of my favorite costume pictures:

An image from Kirsty Mitchell’s Wonderland series of photographs. Click the image to embiggen, or go to her site to see much larger versions of many photos.

* * *

Now for questions!

What is the work­ing title of your next book?

The title is smartsex: S&M For Everybody or maybe smartsex: S&M Overview.

(Anyone have better title ideas? Let me know in the comments if you do! I’m so bad at titles.)

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It’s the first in a series of short ebooks, and I’m not writing them all myself — I’m recruiting some talented writers to work with. When I published The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn earlier this year, I went through everything I’ve written about S&M, and I was struck by how much I know about the topic that has never made it into my articles. I also sometimes present a long S&M Overview lecture, and people have suggested that I make it into a webpage or something.

Plus, I’ve had an interest in larger cultural issues for a long time — a lot of the essays in The S&M Feminist aren’t actually about S&M or feminism; instead, they’re about polyamory or HIV or manliness or some other gender/sex topic. So I’ve been looking for ways to branch out. For example, I just co-edited an anthology called Violation: Rape In Gaming that talks about both S&M and feminism, but mostly talks about Internet culture and game technology and virtual identities.

So I was thinking about my desire to branch out, and I came up with this idea for a series of short ebooks about sex and culture from various perspectives. The series is tentatively titled smartsex, and right now I’m working on the S&M overview essay, which will include S&M cultural observations and S&M history, and also the usual basic S&M communication questions, et cetera. As near as I can tell, there aren’t any comprehensive S&M 101 documents that cover all those different things at once.

And I want to do the same kind of thing for other sexuality topics — I won’t reveal what else is in the works right now, but I will say that I’m excited to see it all come together. I think that readers will be surprised by some of the topics I’ve chosen.

What genre does your book fall under?

I always have to put my books in categories for marketing purposes, and it can be surprisingly difficult. For example, I put Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser in Amazon’s “Feminist Theory” section, and then I wasn’t sure what to pick for the second section, so I picked “Sexual Instruction.” The book is about investigating a subculture of men who trade tips and tactics for seducing women. It’s also about my own concurrent and relevant experiences with sex and relationships. So it’s not like other books in the “Sexual Instruction” section … but the category kinda works? (The Smashwords version is easier to label, because they have a “Sex & Culture” section.)

Anyway, I guess the S&M overview will probably go in “Sexual Instruction” too. Not sure about other categories yet.

Which actors would you choose to play your char­ac­ters in a movie ren­di­tion?

I always thought that if a movie is made of one of my books, I want to play the main character myself. But I guess they probably wouldn’t let me do that. I suppose I’d settle for Nicole Kidman … especially if she wears that incredible red dress that she wore for Moulin Rouge. Or Anne Hathaway. You know, if you twisted my arm. ;)

What is the one-sentence syn­op­sis of your book?

Between Rihanna and Fifty Shades, it seems like S&M is everywhere we turn nowadays; learn the basics about its history, culture, and complexities from sex educator Clarisse Thorn.

Will your book be self-published or rep­re­sented by an agency?

I’ve been doing well with self-publishing (not that I’d turn down a major book deal). The smartsex series is also great for self-publishing because each piece will be short, yet thematically linked to the others. Incidentally, if you’re interested in self-publishing, then you should totally read my primer on how to do it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your man­u­script?

Still working on it. There’s a lot of awesome, intense stuff going on in my life right now — I hoped to be done with this by now! — but I really should be done with the first draft sometime next week.

What other books would you com­pare this to within your genre?

I have a list of recommended S&M books on my S&M resource page, and I continue to stand by all those recommendations.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

There are lots of amazing books and educators discussing S&M, and I owe a debt to so many of them. I try to give credit where credit is due, to thank the people who have gone before me, and to promote the work of others. But — this is going to sound so corny, but when I really have to thank someone, I try to thank my audience. I receive the most incredible feedback at my lectures, in comments on this blog, and from fans around the Internet. It keeps me sharp and motivated.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s inter­est?

People consistently say that my work is very interesting even for people who aren’t into the things that I’m into. (My favorite review of The S&M Feminist is titled “20 Things You Can Take Away From The S&M Feminist Whether You’re Into S&M Or Not.”) I have always believed that there are huge lessons to be drawn from S&M — general lessons about culture, relationships, and non-S&M sex. I hope that non-S&Mers will be willing to read and learn from this piece.

Here are the writ­ers whose work you can check out next:

Andrea Zanin — S&M, polyamory, general sex geek

Charlie Nox — feminist pickup artist guru

Kitty Stryker — sex worker, S&Mer, activist

Ozy Frantz — feminist masculinity writer

Peter Tupper — S&M historian

* * *

2012 18 Sep

Reaching People: A Parable with Bookstores, Libraries, Museums, and the Internet

Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve worked in more than one bookstore. I read obsessively when I was growing up; I wrote constantly, and I wrote so compulsively that it didn’t occur to me to write professionally until my twenties. I didn’t see writing as work — it was just something I had to do. Stories were sacred. The name Clarisse came from Ray Bradbury’s classic anti-censorship tale of book-burning, Fahrenheit 451.

At my second bookstore, I was working behind the counter one day when a middle-aged Black woman came in. “Is this a library?” she asked.

“No,” I said. My tone edged on rudeness. Wasn’t it obvious that this was a bookstore and not a library? It was a city storefront — whereas libraries have nice façades and sometimes pillars, right? I mean, my library did. I had seen libraries without pillars, but I figured that at least they made an effort, perhaps with elegant doors or incised stone signage.

“Sorry,” she said, and left.

An antique postcard depicting the pillared edifice of Chicago’s Blackstone Library branch (only a few blocks from Obama’s house!). The image came from this Chicago postcard history website.

A year later, someone else came in and asked the same question. This time, it was a Black gentleman. I was less snide this time, and more puzzled. He, too, left when I said “No.”

There were other differences in how many (though not all) Black customers interacted with the store. For example, Black customers would often ask for Philosophy but leave empty-handed if I showed them the gigantic section containing Kant, Kierkegaard, Heidegger. One of my coworkers eventually solved the mystery by asking which authors the customer sought; we learned that when most Black customers came in and asked for Philosophy, they’d be looking for authors we shelved in our tiny New Age & Occult section.

After years of working at that store, I thought I knew all the bookstores in the neighborhood. We even kept a directory of neighborhood bookstores on the counter, so that people could do a bookstore tour of the area. But one day I was out with a boyfriend grabbing brunch at a place we didn’t usually go, and we passed an entirely different bookstore. When I went in, I discovered that it stocked crystals and incense and books by authors I’d never heard of; a lot of the authors were New Age. I browsed for an hour. Not a single other White person came in.

That store? Was maybe four blocks from the store where I worked. It wasn’t in our bookstore directory. My boss had never heard of it. And it had been around for years.

A while after that, my boyfriend and I were driving across an area of the South Side where we didn’t normally go, and we passed a book-lined storefront that sported a laser-printed sign: LIBRARY. “Oh my God,” I said. “Pull over right now.”

“In this neighborhood?” he asked.

“Pull over,” I insisted, and I jumped out of the car before he was even done parking. I ran into the storefront. “Is this a library?” I demanded at the counter, although I could already tell from the spines of the books on the walls.

“Yes.”

“This is a branch of the Chicago Public Library?” I couldn’t believe it. It was a storefront.

“Yes,” said the Black librarian patiently.

I left, exhilarated by the discovery, but also humbled. I wished I could go back in time and apologize to the woman who’d asked: Is this a library? I hadn’t said anything overtly rude, but my entire demeanor had been rude. I’d thought that my answer was obvious, but she’d been accustomed to libraries in storefronts, whereas I’d never heard of such a thing. The truth was, I had responded to a perfectly reasonable question by being patronizing and cruel.

This was one of my first concrete lessons in accessibility.

* * *

I told this story to my friend Lisa, who works at the amazing Chicago social justice site Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (which incidentally hosts my glorious Sex+++ Documentary Film Series). In return, Lisa told me a story she’d heard about the Smithsonian, one of the most famous and established museums in the world. The Smithsonian offers free admission and it happens to be located within walking distance from some very underprivileged neighborhoods. But the museum collects demographics from attendees, and people from those underprivileged neighborhoods almost never go to the museum.

Lisa was recently involved in curating an exhibit (now open) about the history of a Chicago gang, the Conservative Vice Lords. Brilliantly, the exhibit was placed — not at the Hull-House Museum — but rather in an urban activist gallery that has neither a nice façade nor any pillars. The exhibit includes “pop-up” sections that move around to different places in the Conservative Vice Lords’ original neighborhood. In other words, it goes to the community whence the Conservative Vice Lords came. This is especially important because that’s not a community which is accustomed to having space in a museum, and isn’t likely to go visit one.

So here is a useful moral about making something accessible: outreach is part of accessibility. If an exhibit, or a piece of art, or whatever is really intended to be reached by the public, then sometimes it has to seek out the public.

The Conservative Vice Lords exhibit did not yet exist in 2009, when I went to work in sub-Saharan Africa. But I’d already heard Lisa’s parable of the Smithsonian. It was much on my mind as I spent time in one semi-rural African town; I sought out their library within my first 24 hours. I started feeling like something was wrong as soon as I looked at their books.

The books were mostly in English. That made sense, for that particular area, because books in the local language were scarce and the local language was rarely written anyway. (The newspaper was in English, too.) But the actual books that were stocked … well, there were some African writers, like Chinua Achebe. But the majority of books in the library were donations from the USA.

I found a cheesy thriller featuring a suburban housewife who falls for a handsome kidnapper. I found an obscure novel by my favorite fantasy author, Tanith Lee. I found old books by the early-1900s British humorist P.G. Wodehouse; he sets many of his novels on gently rolling lawns with golf, or in high-class townhouses with butlers. I sat around that library a lot, and my instincts were confirmed when I did not see a single local person read those books. They came in for shade, and conversation, and for newspapers and magazines.

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2012 22 Aug

Catch Me at Burning Man for a Signed Book, ALSO, upcoming stuff!

The Bliss Dance statue was my favorite thing at Burning Man, the first year I went. Here’s a picture of the statue as it was set up later at San Francisco’s Treasure Island:

Bliss Dance Statue - Treasure Island

Photo credit to jdm650, on Flickr

I wasn’t planning to head to Burning Man this year, but a friend awesomely gave me a free ticket, so I shall unexpectedly be there. (You know who you are. Thanks again.) I’m leaving today.

If you or someone you know will be at the Black Rock Desert, then find me on the playa and I’ll totally give you signed paperback copy of either The S&M Feminist or Confessions Of A Pickup Artist Chaser (while supplies last, I guess …). If I’m wearing lipstick, I’ll even put a lipstick kiss on it.

A clue for locating me: Ceci n’est pas une pipe dream. Or you could just, you know, look up Clarisse in Playa Info. Assuming I get around to entering my location.

Upcoming Stuff!

* I am really, really excited to announce that I’ve been developing an anthology on the topic of rape in gaming with the legendary tech journalist Julian Dibbell. (Julian’s article “A Rape In Cyberspace” is a landmark; he was one of the first smart writers to take on Internet culture. I’m honored to be working with him.) Hopefully, the anthology will be out in late September. I am, however, feeling stymied and uncertain about the cover design. If you or someone you know would be able to design an awesome ebook cover for an anthology about rape in gaming, please get in touch!

* I was hoping to finish and release my erotic romance, Switch Seductress, previous to departing for Burning Man. Unfortunately some technical concerns intervened. So: look for Switch Seductress in early September. In the meantime, here’s the description for you:

Kara, a beautiful escort-turned-history-professor, has married the man of her dreams. He’s an ethical, dedicated activist who loves to torture her sweetly — and loves ordering her to seduce and destroy his political enemies from Corporate America. But Kara is falling for one handsome corporate target. Can she keep her hot dominant husband, her hot submissive lover, and stick it to the Man?

Heh … I can’t get over the fact that I wrote that.

* I also plan to release a short story about Sita, of the South Asian epic The Ramayana. If you aren’t familiar with the Ramayana and you have any interest in folklore whatsoever, then I highly recommend the fascinating anthology Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia — it’s free to read online!

* And there’s more! Stay tuned.

Moderation Note

Burning Man is off the grid, so there’ll be no Internet for me while I’m out there. For the next week and a half, prolific commenter Infra has generously agreed to moderate comments; I figured I could rely on him because he’s left the most comments around here lately, and he seems like he won’t be driven power-mad by the responsibility. (Right Infra?) (Also, thanks.)

2012 17 Aug

S&M, Open Relationships, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” and Me

LarssenCover2I just finished reading the third book of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy — it starts with the world-famous The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, then continues with The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. They’re good books: incredibly detailed procedural mysteries starring a charismatic middle-aged journalist and a brilliant girl hacker. Actually, they’re a bit too detailed for me — at one point I realized I’d just spent half a page reading about the brands and styles of apartment furnishings that a character purchased at IKEA. Seriously. And no, it was not even a little bit important to the story. So I skimmed a lot. But I guess some people like that, and there’s plenty of other stuff about these books that I like.

Larsson, the author, was apparently a feminist anti-racist journalist who did some pretty interesting work himself. He clearly had a lot of revenge fantasies against men who abuse women, and he liked creating powerful female characters, but those aren’t my favorite parts of these books. I do enjoy how he represents some subtleties of how abuse happens. For example, he shows quite clearly how disabled people (or people who have been designated disabled by the state) are vulnerable to abuse by those who are in charge of them. (Apparently the movie version is more graphic than the books, when it comes to rape scenes; I haven’t seen it.) But those aren’t my favorite parts either.

Mostly, I like how he represents S&M and open relationships.

I’ve said before that if I could get my dream representation of S&M in the media, then I’d want a couple who does S&M … and it ain’t no thing. This is true in the Millennium novels, and I love it. The characters have relationships, some of which are awesome and some of which aren’t. Some of them break up, some of them don’t. The author doesn’t bother being graphic, detailed, or generally concerned about the S&M. It’s not portrayed as a sign of dysfunction, anxiety, or self-esteem problems. It’s just something that the main characters do, and it’s not even a big deal.

Better yet: one of the characters is raped and later does consenting S&M with a consenting partner, and it’s still okay! Amazingly, we have an author who truly gets that consensual S&M is different from abuse! (As I pointed out in my piece on S&M and the psychiatric establishment, there are even people who use consenting S&M experiences to work through past abusive experiences. That doesn’t happen in any of the Millennium books, though; I just wanted to make a note of it.)

LarssenCover1I’ve been thinking lately about how, for me, S&M isn’t something that I personally obsess over anymore. I mean, of course I think about it. I’ve got so many years of experience doing S&M, researching S&M and teaching about S&M that I have a kind of S&M-lens that fits over my vision at all times. I believe it’s really important that we think clearly about S&M, and I think that S&M theory is relevant to a lot more things than most people think. Yet it’s not a thing for me, you know? It’s just something I do. I remember that a few years ago, I knew some experienced S&Mers who told me that they felt this way, and I was like “huh?” Now I get it. And it’s awesome to see it portrayed.

And open relationships. Larsson never uses the term “polyamory,” but there’s an ongoing open relationship between the journalist character and a colleague, and I like that, too. I also like how Larsson doesn’t downplay the difficulties. Jealousy is a problem more than once, and it’s dealt with in a variety of messy ways. In my upcoming erotic romance Switch Seductress (I plan to release it next week!), I’ve been working to portray both functional polyamory and problems that can arise during polyamory. It’s not easy to do, especially when you’re aiming to be accessible to a general audience, and Larsson gets my heartfelt applause for trying.

The books made me think a lot about where I want my relationships to go. I’ve written before that ideally, I’d love to someday have a primary relationship with one person who I live with, raise kids with, et cetera. I’d also like to have secondary relationships with other people when that happens. In the Millennium books, the journalist has a relationship with killer sexual chemistry and extreme intimacy, which is nonetheless a secondary relationship: his partner is married to another man. I want that.

But one thing I’ve been wondering lately is: how much can I develop a relationship like that before I have a stable primary relationship in place? I’m not asking whether people in general can do this; I’m wondering about it for myself. This year a relationship fell apart with someone I care about a lot, mostly because he’s not primary relationship material — and yet he’d be fantastic secondary relationship material. In theory, there’s no reason not to date him, but it’s just that if I don’t have a primary relationship in place, I can’t seem to prevent myself from wanting to escalate the relationship I have with him. It’s difficult and painful territory; and I’m not sure what to do about it, except stay away from it for the foreseeable future.

How much does it even make sense to have a secondary relationship with someone I’d consider having a primary relationship with? But on the other hand, if a man isn’t primary relationship material, then why is he worth having a secondary relationship with? There are so many contextual factors shaping the answers to these questions, and personal factors too: how much chemistry do we have, how bonded do I feel, what’s going on in the rest of our lives.

I guess we’ll see how it goes. Stay tuned, folks, as always.

Final note: Larsson gets into sex trafficking a bit during the various plotlines, and so I’d be interested to know how sex worker activists would review the story. All I know about Sweden is that they have a particular set of laws around sex work that some feminists claim are awesome; but I also know that many actual sex worker feminists (and people who study sex work) believe the laws are harmful and bad. It’s one of those situations where certain feminists who are Utterly Appalled by certain types of sex have made legislation that affects the lives of women who are actually having those kinds of sex. And in these situations, the bogey of sex trafficking is often held up as a banner for why that legislation is necessary, even though the legislation is hurting women. So when I see super-dramatized representations of sex trafficking, especially set in Sweden, I kind of automatically feel skeptical. But maybe in this case, I’m jumping the gun. (If you’re interested in learning more about the complexities of the trafficking debate, then I can’t recommend this paper by Bridget Anderson and Julia O’Connell Davidson enough. It’s incredibly nuanced, detailed, and smart.)

LarssenCover3Larsson died before these books were published, and apparently he planned more. That’s pretty clear from the sudden ending of the third, which left loose ends. I’ll also say that the first book, as is so often the case, is just generally better than the other two. Still, they’re all a fun read:

1. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

2. The Girl Who Played With Fire

3. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest

(Full disclosure: the above Amazon book links contain my referral code, so you’re kicking me a tiny commission if you buy through one of those links. If you don’t want to do that, then search for the books on your own.)

2012 7 Jun

“The S&M Feminist” NOW AVAILABLE, plus: reading tomorrow in Berlin!

At long last!

I’ve learned from my previous experiences. This time, I’m releasing all formats of The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn at the same time.

* Click here to buy it for Amazon Kindle for $5.99.

* Click here to buy it for other ebook formats at Smashwords, also $5.99.

* And click here to buy it in paperback for $14.99.

* Also! If you’re in Berlin (or you know someone who is), I will be reading from The S&M Feminist and answering questions at Schwelle 7 on Friday at 8pm. Here’s the event on Facebook. I have totally gone international!

For this collection, I included all the articles that readers requested, and many more; I’ve written quite a lot since I started in 2008. There are 48 pieces in all, plus introductions describing the context in which I wrote them and thoughts I’ve had since writing them. Plus cute “study guides” in case you like that sort of thing! I recommend S&M resources, too, and have a glossary of common S&M terms.

The amazing adult sex educator Charlie Glickman, of Good Vibrations fame, has already posted a great review of The S&M Feminist. Excerpt:

Clarisse isn’t afraid to talk about her own experiences with BDSM, relationships, and sexual politics. But she’s also not afraid to explore some of the issues around consent, violence, and safety that a lot of the kink cheerleaders would like to sweep under the rug. She brings a refreshing honesty to her writing that is often lacking. Add to that a deep commitment to feminism and sex-positivity, and you have an amazing combination.

The tension between kink and feminism is a tough one to hold onto and most people end up firmly in one camp or the other. What makes Clarisse’s writing phenomenal is her steadfast refusal to avoid doing that. The clarity with which she discusses both sides without resorting to caricatures or stereotypes is simultaneously inspiring and challenging. If you’re interested in either or both, I can’t recommend her enough.

Thank you, Charlie! And on Facebook, the writer Alyssa Royse said:

I’m not especially into S&M and struggle with the word “feminist.” But Clarisse’s writing about autonomous sexuality is second to none. She can help you find peace and power in your own ideas of sexuality in a way that few can, simply by being brazenly and powerfully true to herself, in the gentle way that only someone who isn’t trying to please anyone else can be.

Now just for completeness, here’s the full book description:

Clarisse Thorn is a sex-positive activist who has been writing about love, S&M, sex, gender, and relationships since 2008. Her writing has appeared across the Internet in places like The Guardian, AlterNet, Feministe, Jezebel, The Good Men Project, and Time Out Chicago — and this is a selection of her best articles. Also included is Clarisse’s commentary on the context in which she wrote each piece, the process of writing it, and how she’s changed since then. Plus, there are “study guides” to help readers get the maximum mileage from each section!

Clarisse has delivered sexuality workshops and lectures to a variety of audiences, including museums and universities across the USA. In 2009, she created and curated the ongoing Sex+++ sex-positive documentary film series at Chicago’s historic feminist site, Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. In 2010, she returned from working on HIV mitigation in southern Africa. She has also volunteered as an archivist, curator and fundraiser for that venerable S&M institution, the Leather Archives & Museum. For anyone with an interest in activism, S&M, polyamory (open relationships), dating dynamics and/or sex theory, this book is guaranteed to give you plenty to think about.

Yes! Buy it! Kindle. Or Smashwords. Or paperback. And tell your friends. Your lovers. Your reading group. Your local dungeon. And anyone who’s anywhere near Berlin. (San Francisco, I’m coming for you next ….)

2012 25 Apr

My Interview with World-Famous Pickup Coach Adam Lyons, and Updates to “Confessions”

Right after I released Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser, I met the world-famous pickup artist Adam Lyons at the SXSW-interactive conference, where I announced the book release and spoke on a panel about feminism and pickup artistry. I seized the chance to interview Adam and add his perspective to my book. You can read the interview below, and it is currently part of Confessions, but the process of updating the book was weird enough that I want to talk about that first. If you don’t care about the intricacies of ebook publishing, then you should skip down to the photo of Adam and his wife.

(Adam Lyons is not the same Adam as my partner in Confessions, by the way. They’re totally different Adams. If I’d known Adam Lyons before I published Confessions, then I would have given “my” Adam a different pseudonym. C’est la vie.)

I’m learning a lot of lessons from publishing Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser. It’s been so interesting and challenging … although I feel kinda bad for my readers, who are in the role of guinea pigs as I test new approaches! Thanks for your patience, folks. I promise that the release of The S&M Feminist: Best of Clarisse Thorn will go much more smoothly.

Publishing an ebook with Amazon Kindle can be frustrating, but Kindle is such a big platform that it can’t be ignored. The next biggest ebook publisher is Smashwords; unlike Smashwords, if I update the Kindle file, the change takes a while to register. What’s worse, if I make a change and I want the people who already bought the Kindle book to receive the change, then I have to email Amazon and ask them to allow those folks to download the new version. On Smashwords, a person who’s bought the book can download any version, anytime.

Anyway, I emailed Amazon around March 20th, telling them that I’d fixed some technical errors (a few footnote links) and added a new section. I asked Amazon to allow people who already paid for the book to download the new version. (This request was in line with their policy as I understood it from a previous email exchange.) I also asked them to let readers know that if they don’t want to download the new version of the book, they could find the extra section on my blog.

So this morning, I got a message from one of my readers, telling me that Amazon sent her the following message yesterday (April 24th — over a month after I filed the original request!):

We are happy to announce that an updated version of your past Kindle purchase of Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser: Long Interviews with Hideous Men by Clarisse Thorn is now available. The version you received had the following issues that have been corrected:

Significant editorial issues were present.
Also, new content has been added.

Then the email explains how to download the new version, with no further details about the changes. Sigh. Oh well. I apologize for the confusion. I thought it would be easy to update the book with my Adam Lyons interview, but it seems that the reality — even with e-publishing — is that a work should be treated as complete from the first day it’s on the market.

Anyway, if you bought Confessions before March 20th, then you should now be able to download the new version on either Smashwords or Kindle. (The physical copies are totally up-to-date; I released them on April 15th.)

And! Without further ado, here’s the section about Adam Lyons. It appears at the end of Chapter 6: Down The Rabbit Hole.

* * *

Adam Lyons with his wife, Amanda.

After I released this book, I was recruited for a panel about feminism and pickup artistry at the South-by-Southwest Interactive conference. It was a really interesting panel that included the famous PUA coach Adam Lyons. Naturally, I grabbed the chance to interview Adam Lyons so that I could add his perspective to this book. (Since the interview took place after this book’s initial release, you know you’re reading Confessions Version 2.0 if you’re reading this sentence right now.)

We met in an apartment that Adam Lyons rents for PUA training courses. The place contained a hefty amount of booze, a bunch of leftover pizza, and some instructors who were all worn out after a weekend of teaching. The guys invited me to go play Lazer Tag after the interview, but I regretfully had to decline.

Adam Lyons is one of nine coaches listed as “significant figures” in the Wikipedia entry for the seduction community. Compared to some other top coaches, he’s relatively new, but he got into the community when it was still pretty underground. “In maybe 2005 or 2006,” he told me, “The Game had just come out. I was halfway through reading The Game and I knew I had to try this. So I managed to find this bootcamp company and get in touch with them. My contact was like, ‘Come and meet me in a Chinese restaurant,’ so I took an envelope full of cash and I met him in a Chinese restaurant. He took the cash and counted it, and told me to meet the group in a particular bar later that week.”

“What did you learn?” I asked.

“In my first program, I learned the ‘fall on the floor technique,’ where you run up to a girl and you just fall on the floor. It was ridiculous.”

I laughed. “That would totally work on me. I’d think it was hilarious.”

“It can work surprisingly well,” Adam Lyons acknowledged. “But I once introduced a guy to my wife who then kept falling out of his chair, and it was so terrible. Anyway, most of the other ‘techniques’ didn’t work at all. For example, in that first program, they made me walk up to all these girls in the street and say, ‘I’m the kissing bandit — now you have to kiss me!’ It was so awkward.”

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2012 20 Apr

“50 Shades of Grey,” “Fight Club,” and the Complications of Male Dominance

This is a longer version of an article that originally appeared at Role/Reboot.

Much is being made of the highly successful S&M erotica novel 50 Shades of Grey. People are blaming feminism for making women into submissives, blaming feminism for preventing women from being submissives, blaming women for having sexual desires at all, and a whole lot of other boring and typical stuff that comes up in any conversation about women and S&M. News flash: it’s not the feminist revolution that is “causing” women to have fantasies of submission. S&M fantasies have been around since the beginning of time.

As an S&M writer, I hear a lot of allegations about how “all” (or “almost all”) women are sexually submissive and how this must Mean Something. This is echoed in the coverage of 50 Shades of Grey, in which everyone is demanding to know What It All Means About Women. I wrote a piece a while back called “‘Inherent Female Submission’: The Wrong Question,” in which I took on a lot of this stuff. But there’s another submerged question here — about men. There’s plenty of talk and stereotypes about how men are inherently violent, or more aggressive than women, or “the dominant sex.”

As I said in my previous article: I think it’s quite questionable whether women are “inherently submissive,” but my conclusion is that I don’t care. It doesn’t actually matter to me whether women in general are “inherently submissive” (though I really don’t think women are), or whether submissive women’s preferences are philosophically Deep And Meaningful (though I’m not convinced they are). What matters is:

1. How women (or any other people) can explore sexually submissive preferences consensually,

2. How women (or any other people) can compartmentalize submissive preferences so that their whole lives are safe and fulfilling and happy, and

3. How women (or any other people) can be treated well in arenas that aren’t even relevant to their sexuality — like the workplace.

This is also how I feel about these ideas of “inherent male violence.” I don’t buy that men are “the dominant sex” or that men are “inherently violent.” Based on what I’ve read, it seems quite clear that individuals with higher testosterone levels — who are, incidentally, not always men — often experience more aggressive feelings. Yet that’s a far cry from large-scale generalizations, and it’s also frequently irrelevant to questions about how people can best deal with those aggressive feelings. Plus, psychological submission can be a very separate thing from physical aggression levels.

Much of the time, when it comes to aggression, anger management is the answer, the same way a naturally shy or submissive person needs to learn to set boundaries. But there are circumstances where catharsis is completely acceptable. Lots of perfectly decent men have urges towards violent dominance; what do they do about it? How much do they agonize, like Christian Grey in 50 Shades of Grey, and how much do they explore their desires in a consensual and reasonable way?

I always thought that the late-90s movie Fight Club was fascinating primarily because of its lens on masculinity and violence. It’s not just about the violence men to do each other, but to themselves. Quotes include “You have to give up; you have to know that someday you’re gonna die,” and “The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club.” I first watched it before I knew much about S&M, but now whenever I think about it, I think about how the idea of a fight club — where people would get together and fight, for catharsis and community — is so very reminiscent of how a lot of people experience S&M. Fight Club even has safewords. Someone says stop, you stop. I obviously don’t support the endpoint of the Fight Club story (i.e., blowing up buildings), but the idea of establishing a men’s community via a fight club seems reasonable to me.

So, what are the practicalities of dealing with aggressive or dominant tendencies in the sexual arena? As an S&M person, I’ve experimented with dominance as well as submission, but because violence is so associated with masculinity, I turned to some egalitarian male S&Mers for advice. I believe that even for non-S&M people, their perspectives make a really good lens for ideas of gender and violence and power. Of course, the first thing one of my friends told me was: “I’m not sure I really see dominance in general as being particularly masculine. I don’t really think it’s a gender associated thing.”

That gentleman, who comments around the Internet under the name Scootah, went on to add: “I’ve certainly worried about my kinks in the past. I mean fundamentally, I get really, really turned on by grabbing someone by the hair, throwing them into the wall, backhanding them, etc. That’s a pretty disturbing thought for an egalitarian who’s worked with abuse victims. I spend a lot of time considering the ethics of my kinks; my partners’ enthusiastic consent is a major priority.”

Jay Wiseman, author of the famous S&M primer SM101, talks about his own early fears towards the beginning of that book. He writes about how he began having sadistic fantasies, and went to the public library to research them. All he could find was portraits of serial killers, which scared the hell out of him. He writes:

I decided to keep myself under surveillance. I made up my mind that I was not going to hurt anybody. If I thought I was turning into someone that would harm somebody else, then I would either put myself in a mental institution or commit suicide. And thus I lived, waiting and watching to see if I was turning into someone that I needed to shoot.

Fortunately, Wiseman found partners who were open to exploring S&M with him, and went on to write extensively about safety and consent and communication within S&M. Trying to communicate in an egalitarian way is arguably the most complicated part of any S&M encounter; as Scootah told me, “There are certainly elements that could potentially unbalance a relationship in my favor. I’m a big reasonably strong guy. I do usually make more money than my partners. I also have this whole sense of position in the local S&M community. I mostly just try to be aware of those things. I try to be very careful about not taking advantage of that and negotiate clearly and not pressure people.”

There are lots of ways to do clear negotiation, including asking open-ended questions before any S&M actually happens: “What are you interested in? Could you go into that more?” There’s also a huge emphasis on talking through the S&M encounter afterwards, as part of the post-S&M processing we call aftercare. As another gent who goes by Noir said: “It really helped me to have a few great, feminist S&M partners. Having that echo of ‘it’s OK, I want this,’ as well as the honest feedback when I do wrong really helped shape how I experience S&M, and with who. It’s meant I learned how better to read and grasp the people in my, er, grasp.”

Noir also noted, “I strive to use dominance and submission as a tool for helping my partners become stronger, in ways that also feed my S&M preferences. For example, I tend to form long-term interests with women who want a ‘safe space’ to extend and explore their ability to be sluts, with all that can imply. But in the process, we also explore how becoming more confident in one’s sexuality also can reflect into everyday life. Also, just coming to spaces in the S&M community can be a goldmine of information. All a dominant man has to do is read, listen, open up and understand. One thing I learned was that my fears about reenforcing our messed-up society were shared by women into kink… but also that my ways of approaching the topic, as ‘oh, we’re so controlled by society!’ were themselves pushing too much agency out of women’s choices. There’s a balance there that we guys who identify as both feminist and kinky have to respect, and that can come from listening to feminist women struggle with these issues, themselves.”

The alternative sexuality advocate Pepper Mint (who has his own blog) told me that in terms of putting gender on his experiences, “I am a bit genderqueer, and I personally experience dominance with either a feminine or masculine vibe from moment to moment. Certain activities — like punching — feel masculine, while others — like whipping — feminine in the moment. Also, I switch, meaning that I don’t always take the dominant role. Strangely, my most clearly masculine S&M activity is masochism. I always feel very manly while taking pain. I don’t think I can clearly explain why these things have attached to gender in my head, though presumably I’m being affected by cultural tropes to some extent.”

The consensus in general was that dominance, whether masculine or feminine, is something that happens in an encounter… not outside it. As Pepper put it, “New guys often want to play hard or do hardcore things, and will often boast and swagger. Kinky women almost always recognize this as dangerous bullshit. Learn to chill out and not take yourself too seriously, and learn to start with a light careful touch when playing with someone new. Learn to ask for help and guidance, both from others in your S&M community and from your partners.”

Scootah agreed: “The first mistake I see newbie doms make is trying too hard to be some kind of bad ass. Admit your inexperience. Be seen learning. Be modest and have a good time. Learn to communicate well, and to really be friends with your prospective partners.”

For me, the bottom line of these conversations is that questioning gender roles, and understanding gender complications, is an ongoing process. People have a lot of urges and preferences that are politically inconvenient and which we will never fully understand. Whether we’re shaped by biology or culture, those feelings will still exist for now, and we have to deal with them. There are ways to do almost anything such that people respect each other, though — whatever the implications for gender or power. Violence is complicated ground, but it can be used in balanced and consensual ways that end up bonding people together. 50 Shades of Grey and Fight Club are both examples, and I haven’t even touched competitive sports!

* * *

This piece is included in my awesome collection, The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn. You can buy The S&M Feminist for Amazon Kindle here or other ebook formats here or in paperback here.

* * *

Linkbait time! Here’s what some other folks are writing about Fifty Shades of Grey:

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2012 14 Mar

“Confessions” is doing awesomely! Here’s an excerpt!

I am completely thrilled to announce that Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser is doing awesomely. Within two days of release, it reached #1 in both the Feminist Theory category and the Sex category on Amazon! There are testimonials and reviews linked in my last post (and in the comments). If you haven’t bought it yet, you totally should. (Also, you can become a fan of Confessions on Facebook!)

A number of people have asked whether I’ll release it in physical form, or on another electronic platform. Due to popular demand, I will release physical copies of the book within the next few weeks — but they will be fairly pricey, because it’s a long book and production costs will be high. UPDATE: I also released the book through Smashwords, where it can be downloaded in any format. DOUBLE UPDATE: Click here to buy the book in paperback at CreateSpace!

I’m also really happy to tell you that my panel at the SXSW-interactive conference went well. The panel was about pickup artists and feminism, and SXSW took a recording, so I’ll link you to the recording as soon as it’s released. Also! The well-known pickup artist coach Adam Lyons was on the panel with me, and I was able to snag an interview, so watch this space for more on that.

So yeah. Buy my book on Amazon or on Smashwords or in paperback at CreateSpace. It’s awesome, I promise.

* * *

Before I give you an excerpt from Confessions, let me show you a classic photo of what pickup artists call “peacocking”:

The gentleman in the boots is Mystery, and the one in the snakeskin suit is Neil Strauss.

Aaand … here’s an abridged excerpt from my book! (Previously run on Role/Reboot.)

* * *

My dress was bright red, I was wearing an obscene amount of eyeliner, and I was surrounded by thumping music and flashing lights. I’d spent my evening hanging out with pickup artists (PUAs) in their natural habitat: a nightclub. They were a mixed group. Some seemed shy and awkward, some blustery, and some completely confident. One of them took a shine to me: David, a PUA instructor who wore a lavender rhinestone-studded suit to the club.

Most of the PUAs departed the club around 1 AM, except for David, still hilariously out of place in his sparkly suit.  We hit the dance floor again until David asked, “Want to go get something to eat?”
 
“Sure,” I said, and left the club with him.  On our way out we ran into one of my non-PUA friends, who gave David a sharp look.  “You get her home safe,” said my friend.
 
“Of course,” David said amiably.
 
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