This Monday, the latest anthology of Best Lesbian Erotica Of The Year was released from Cleis Press, edited by S L I C K regular, and much-celebrated kinky, butch erotica writer, Sinclair Sexsmith. It’s not lost on me that the timing of this book release during our pandemic holidays, means that it would be perfectly reasonable to celebrate all the upcoming holidays by falling deeply into the pages of Best Lesbian Erotica Volume 5, in whatever state of dress you prefer, with whatever company you prefer (sometimes none at all), and exploring the erotic wonderlands the writers below are beckoning you into.
I was also excited to see this description of the book, because, as you know, diversity of perspectives and voices is immensely important to me: “The fifth volume of the Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year anthology series explores and expands on the very definition of eroticism with a diverse mix of queer, non-binary, trans, and polyamorous #ownvoices that will have you quivering with delight and wondering what more you can explore—no matter how you identify.” I wanted to get to know some of these writers, who are out here redefining eroticism, and they very graciously offered a peek behind the curtains.
Six Contributors To Best Lesbian Erotica Vol. 5
Tobi Hill-Meyer is an indigenous chicana trans woman with 15 years experience working in the LGBTQ movement. She is editor of the Lambda Literary Finalist anthology Nerve Endings: The New Trans Erotic, author of children’s books A Princess of Great Daring and Super Power Baby Shower, and director of the award winning erotic documentary series Doing it Online. Currently, she serves as Co-Executive Director for Gender Justice League.
Amy Butcher is a writer, illustrator, and silver fox “liminal guide” who enjoys leading people through transformations. She is the illustrator of the adult coloring book Wonder Body: A Sophisticated Coloring Book for Curious Adults, co-editor of the 2015 IPPY Gold Medal winning anthology Sex Still Spoken Here, and author of the 2012 award-winning mystery novel Paws for Consideration. When she’s not glued to a keyboard, she can be found traveling, bicycling, lifting heavy weights, or binge-watching British police procedurals on Netflix.
G.B. Lindsey was born and raised in California, where she earned her undergraduate degree from UC Santa Cruz, before moving to Northern England for her master’s. Her first love has always been writing: as a child, she cultivated such diverse goals as becoming “a cowgirl…and a writer” or “a paleontologist…and a writer.” Aside from her salacious ongoing affair with the horror genre, she engages in dedicated flings with sci-fi, romance, historical fiction, and short stories. Other hobbies include singing, the occasional period drama movie night, and devouring scary film after scary film. When she’s not working in kidney transplant or studying up on Arthurian myth, she relaxes at home in California with a good book and her cat, Hadrian.
Amanda N was born in Missouri, but was raised in and still resides in Pennsylvania. Currently, she takes care of elderly individuals, has two children and a fiance, and is working towards her Bachelor’s in Human Development and Family Studies. After she obtains her degree she hopes to work as a Disabilities Advocate. When she isn’t busy taking care of everyone else, she enjoys reading, crocheting, and recently discovered diamond dotz. She needs to get out of the house more!
Kathleen P. Lamothe is a white, able-bodied, kinky, femme, transsexual performance artist who lives with the simultaneous gift/curse of an ADHD brain. She currently resides on the Musqueam, Squamish, & Tsleil-Waututh territory (Vancouver), after having been raised in occupied Mohawk (Montreal) & Algonquin (Ottawa) territories. When she’s not pissing off the gaygeousie or aiming her ADHD hyperfocus superpowers towards dense journal articles about cognitive neuroscience & positive psychology, she can be found going to 12-step meetings, getting tattooed, practicing mindfulness & compassion meditation, and ultimately challenging people’s notions about what a “good” or “respectable” trans woman is. Note her photo: I got this tattoo (which is a modified/altered version of the Cleis Press logo) in August 2008…and literally, before it had even healed I’ve dreamed of having something published by Cleis with this photo as my “headshot” …so, you know, it’s not quite the (exact) dream realized but getting closer for sure ;)
K. J. Drake is a white genderqueer writer dyke: kinky, trans, and chronically fatigued. Barista by day, writer by night, they also spend time cooking, researching obscure nerdy interests, flirting with cute queers, and knitting. They always have too many tabs open.
Their Answers To My Questions
Kamala: How long have you been writing erotica and how does it feel to have a story included in the very-celebrated Best Lesbian Erotica series, edited by Sinclair Sexsmith? Will you be showing this off to future potential dates?
Tobi: I self-published my first erotic story as a zine in 2006 and have been in Best Lesbian Erotica off and on since 2010, and edited my own anthology, Nerve Endings: The New Trans Erotic. Back in 2010, it felt like a major accomplishment to get into Best Lesbian Erotica (BLE). It was the first time I had seen a story in BLE that focused on trans women and didn’t even have any cis women in it. Working with Sinclair is always great!
Amy: I’m always honored (get down on bended knee?) to be in a collection that Sinclair has edited. I have so much respect for their skill and curation both as editor and writer. What makes me sad in this Covid-year is that we won’t be able to celebrate all together at the traditional ‘Drunken Careening Writers’ session at KGB bar in New York. Getting a chance to hear the stories read live and in-person, collecting autographs from the other writers on their pages of the paperback book, that was always such a highlight.
Kathleen: I’ve been writing erotica off-and-on since 2007 or 2008. And, after all that time, I can say that I’m absolutely delighted to finally have a piece published in a real-life “can smell the fresh paper” book, instead of my usual ‘zine or on-line format. Like Amy though, if I’m being 100% truthful (with both myself & the reader of this interview) my “absolute delight” comes tempered with a bittersweet flavour at not being able to do any readings of my piece in person.
G.B.: I’m extremely excited! It was a real compliment, having this story chosen for the anthology. I have been writing erotica for what feels like ages, unpublished until 2014, and I’ve only recently started writing from the grey-asexual perspective, which is something I personally identify with. Representation of different types of asexuality sounds somewhat at odds with erotica on the normalized surface, but it’s really not at odds at all. To feel represented in anything I read is wonderful; to be able to contribute to that representation in this anthology is amazing. I could see myself showing it to dates, and I’m not going to lie: part of that would be a “Hey, this is what I write, so you’d better be on board.”
Amanda: I am incredibly proud of myself. One: This is the first time I have ever really written anything as a whole. While I have written bits and pieces, I never put anything together. Two: I have always doubted myself. Whether it be in the things I write, my actions, or who I am as a person. I still didn’t believe it had been accepted till I saw the table of contents. For someone to read and accept what I have written, it is an incredible feeling.
As for showing it off to a date… I am, at times, a very awkward person. As someone who is still discovering what they do and don’t like, and being ok with what I like, this would probably make me feel more awkward. However, I am currently engaged to someone who finds my awkwardness sexy and is willing to discover my kinks.
K. J.: This is actually my first-ever published story! Looking back, I’ve been writing erotica, or trying to, since I was about 12. Of course, those first efforts were hilariously embarrassing, and immediately deleted. It took a lot longer for me to write anything sensual that I was willing to show to anyone else, even my closest writing friends. To be part of the Best Lesbian Erotica series — honestly, it’s an absolute dream come true. I’ve admired Sinclair’s work for years, have looked up to them and learned so much from their writing.
And YES I actually did add it to my dating profile! You know, “What are you doing with your life? Making coffee and writing erotica.” It’s been a delightful conversation-starter.
AMANDA I’M SO EXCITED FOR YOU, finishing something and having it come together is such an exhilarating feeling!
Kamala: From your perspective, what makes a story erotic, versus just a story? And in the context of lesbian erotica, what are some of your favorite ways or places to show-off eroticism?
G.B: For me, it’s all in the touch. And not just the physical touch, but how each member of a given relationship resonates with the others. The touch of personalities, the touch of differences, the touch of mutual understanding or learning. My favorite erotica contains an emotional quality walking hand in hand with the physicality of the scene. There needs to be something at stake, whether it’s learning about each other or learning about oneself. The blood of the reader needs to pump harder, the breath of the reader needs to quicken; there needs to be tension on several different levels for it to really resonate with me as a writer and as a reader. I tend to focus a lot on the different ways a person can touch another, both physically and mentally, and the exploration of trust (whether it’s large or small) between the participants plays a big part.
K. J.: No matter what I’m writing, whether it’s erotica or just a description of what I saw on my morning walk, my favorite place to linger is the sensory details. The color of the flower petals, the scent of the grass, the taste of the mist. I want my reader to be able to imagine themselves fully grounded in the scene. With erotica, I start thinking not just about individual sensual details, but the way they weave together and build toward a satisfying climax.
Since I’m queer and writing for my own queer community, I want my readers to feel grounded in a broader way. I want to tell stories that reflect the beautiful ways we love and make love to each other, while still acknowledging our flaws and struggles. I want my readers to feel like my stories could really happen to them, if they had an especially good day.
Amy: I tend to write erotica that is a little odd and often relies on humor. I think there is so much in the reality of sex that is quirky and strange. Laughter can break the tension of this highwire act of arousal, humanize us, and create space for compassion: for our quirks, our needs, our tenderness. For me, the erotic in the story comes from a tension between parts of ourselves. To really stretch a metaphor, imagine our conscious rational self as a driver who is happily steering us through life, using turn signals, obeying the speed limit, and all. Meanwhile, our unconscious desires, which have been patiently sitting in the back seat, finally get fed up and suddenly leap forward, grabbing the steering wheel. In control, they lean their head out the window and yell, “Woohoo!” as they close their eyes, trusting that their other senses are enough to steer the car. Definitely unsettling, but there is wholeness in that wild ride.
Tobi: For some people, being erotic means that the bottom line is how well it turns on the reader. I think that’s important, but I always try to write stories that show a more complete vision of what sexuality means for the people in my community. That might involve struggling in a relationship, feeling valued only for your sexuality, healing from trauma, or other things that might feel complicated to showcase in an erotic story. To me, however, that just makes the story feel more real and help me be invested in the characters as people who I’m rooting for. Sometimes a story can be the hottest when you know just how much that orgasm means to someone.
Kathleen: You know, instead of the question posed (“what makes a story erotic, versus just a story?”), I’m actually much more interested in questions such as “What are the differences between erotic stories told from explicitly LGBTQIA+ perspectives versus more cis-het perspectives?” And to build off of what Tobi said, my main response is that erotic stories written from lesbian (and/or queer and/or trans) vantage points typically tell deeper/more nuanced, meta narratives (about any number of broader themes relevant to LGBTQIA+ lives & communities) rather than more straightforward “Wham bam thank you (for the orgasm) ma’am” storyline.
Amanda: For me what makes a story erotic is the feeling that it gives you. Does it make you tingle or give you that feeling that starts in your belly and radiates out? Does it make your mind feel heightened or floaty, or both at the same time? Those are the feelings I want, I want a body high, not just an orgasm. When someone is reading something erotic, they should be getting something from it that the otherwise can’t get from a normal story.
Kamala: In the writing showcased in this anthology, what were the parts you were most invested in getting right or that you feel most proud of?
Kathleen: Given that it’s estimated that queer, and especially trans, people are somewhere between 2 & 5 times more likely to struggle with addiction(s) than their straight/cis counterparts, I’m really proud of how I was able to compassionately portray the active-addiction-to-sobriety recovery journey that Kyla (the main character) was able to make.
Tobi: I took a risk writing this story. I usually write stories that model healthy relationships and the best way to handle things. But this time I wanted to try writing about a character who was bitter, frustrated, and lashing out in a way that might be questionably ethical. I really struggled with finding a balance where she was not an outright jerk, but also not a model for how to handle a difficult situation either — just a flawed and hurt person who you can sympathize with regardless of whether you agree with her actions. In the end, I wrote multiple versions of this story and I’m still not sure which version best fits that balance.
Amy: The nursery rhyme parts. I’m not a poet or a rhymer so those were hard for me to write without seeming too dorky. Overall, pacing and rhythm play a big part in this story. It’s definitely one that is meant to be read out loud.
I love reading what Tobi just wrote about taking a risk to write about an imperfect character who might be “questionably ethical” (I can’t wait to read her story!). That risk taking is one of the things I love about erotica, both as a reader and as a writer. Erotica gives us a chance to safely explore behaviors or desires that maybe aren’t so admirable, to see how they feel and what they bring up. It is like trying on clothing at a store, to see how it fits, without necessarily having to buy. Who am I if I wear this fancy coat? Is this material scratchy? Or, as I look in the dressing room mirror, who is this surprisingly hottie sporting an unfamiliar style. And all this can be tried on from the safety of the page. :)
K.J.: Oh gosh, I spent so long on the description of my narrator’s outfit. It’s this very carefully chosen, rakishly butch outfit. I wanted the outfit to not just feel true to the character, but to capture that experience of pulling variously-gendered pieces out of my wardrobe, fitting them together until they strike just the right genderqueer tone. The purple-and-black necktie that my narrator wears is actually a tie I own (and am fond of).
Amanda: This story started as something really small. It started as a note to my partner trying to explain what it was I wanted in the bedroom. Then when it started to develop into a story, I wanted it to feel like it could be almost any couple. Hence, there not being any names. Around 30% of the story is based on real-life events or experiences, those burgundy boots and the little black dress are real. The other 70% is based on the “what-ifs”. More than anything I wrote this for me. I wanted to see and feel the “what-ifs”, in my mind I went back to the moments that happened in reality and thought “what would have happened if I did this/that instead?” Even if the story was for me, I still wanted it to be relatable. Like when we can’t find the handle to the door we are back against. Or when our partner prefers quickies, but we want something more drawn out.
G.B: I really just wanted a narrator who rang true for me. Hopefully, someone others could identify with as well. Another hefty aspect of my story was successfully conveying the history of the two characters without relying on any kind of overt flashback or exposition. The story truly depends on knowing where these people are coming from, so I hope I was successful in bringing that forward for the reader.
Kamala: If you could set the ideal scenario for someone to really luxuriously get into your story, what would you suggest? Should I be naked on a beach, should I be in a robe with a hot toddy reading, should I be blindfolded while my lover reads aloud to me?
K. J.: Ooooh, those are all such good suggestions! I’m so sad we can’t all get together for in-person readings, because these ideas sound like so much fun. Ideal setting? Goodness, I feel like I should gather assorted lovers and conduct A/B tests: blindfold ON vs blindfold OFF, fleece robe with HOT TODDY vs terrycloth robe with HOT CHOCOLATE. Seriously though, now I really want to blindfold a partner and read the whole story to them by candlelight.
Amy: Oh, gather your friends together in a cozy spot and have someone read this aloud. There is something magical that happens when we share eroticism in community!
Kathleen: The ideal scenario would be for someone to be among other audience members, in a dark corner of a bathhouse/play party, watching the story being read as part of a larger performance art piece with ambient, albeit harsh, noise ala Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music LP playing in the background.
G.B.: Gotta say, I really like the idea of having my story read to a blindfolded listener in an intimate setting. I have never considered that before, but I think it would lend itself well to this tale: depriving certain senses so as to enhance others. But a group read, as Amy suggests… Ahhhhh, that sounds like a fantastic idea! May I further suggest a pajama party?
Kamala: Can you share some of your influences or places you go to for inspiration? Are you indebted to particular things you’ve seen, read or heard that ask you to ruminate further?
Kathleen: If people enjoy my erotic writing I want them to know that my ability to imagine & write is supported, in no small measure, because I’m standing on the shoulders of LGBTQIA+ writing & performance artist giants like John Preston, Annie Sprinkle, Diamanda Galás, Ron Athey, Carol Queen, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, and, perhaps most importantly (re: influential), Pat Califia, Robin Sweeny, & the other members of the lesbian S/M collective Samois.
K. J.: Quite frankly, I would never have dreamed of writing this story without first reading all the excellent erotica on the Sugarbutch website. Sugarbutch, along with Autostraddle’s own NSFW Sunday, were some of the very first places I saw people like me, with bodies and sexualities and genders like mine, being portrayed as desirable, as sensual and erotic and worthy of close, adoring attention. In particular, I’ve been particularly moved by the writings of the late Xan West, who wrote erotica featuring disabled and autistic characters with a deep respect and a grace that I can only aspire to. More personally, I owe so, so much to my steadfast circle of writing friends. They were there when I wrote my first oh-so-tentatively-sensual fanfic, and they’re still cheering me on now. Meagan, Ruth, and the whole NFE gang–y’all are the best.
Amy: I owe a huge, huge, huge debt of gratitude and inspiration to Jen Cross and Carol Queen. For years, they hosted a monthly Erotic Reading Circle at the Center for Sex and Culture (CSC) in San Francisco. (Everything about that sentence makes me sad as CSC and the people and San Francisco I loved are no longer there). Jen and Carol created an amazingly open and supportive space. Having the chance to read my erotic writing out loud to others was such an important part of my growth as a writer. It taught me that if I was literally shaking afterwards, then I knew I’d tapped into some deep truth in the writing (and that I wouldn’t die by having shared it). Listening to other writers was just as important. The diversity of styles and kinks and depictions of eroticism was far and wide and you never knew what would emerge. All of it was received and held with grace and respect. I feel so lucky to have been a part of that circle.
G.B.: I read A LOT. Traditionally published, untraditionally published, fandom published… I tend to set a reading goal for the year nowadays, but it truly does not reflect the sheer amount of exploration I do by reading. I have these periods of extreme intake followed by periods of extreme output, and sometimes they can even shut each other out. That said, I have some amazing friends who have always shown support and interest in reading what I write. I get inspired often by the everyday things that happen to me or that I observe happening around me, and my projects are constantly being influenced or morphed by whatever’s going on.
Amanda: My friend, Molly, was my biggest cheerleader when I was writing this. She would read it every time I changed something and she let me bounce ideas off of her. I also owe my partner so many thank yous and probably some flowers! She was not big on the idea of me submitting this at first, especially since it is a very personal story. However, she knew it was important to me to at least submit it and see if it went anywhere.