Note to family members and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life: This one you almost certainly want to stay away from. It discusses my sex life in some detail… and discusses aspects of my sex life that you probably don’t want to know about.
I recently did a very interesting interview with a very unexpected outlet: First City Magazine, the city magazine of Delhi, India. They did a long, thoughtful piece about the new Best Sex Writing 2008 anthology, and they included short interviews with several of the book’s contributors… including me.
The whole article is worth reading. Alas, it’s not currently on the web (they have a nifty blog, but their magazine isn’t online yet — the article is in their April 2008 issue, if you want to order a copy). But they graciously gave me permission to reprint the full text of the interview they did with me. We talked about my piece in BEC 2008 — Buying Obedience: My Visit to a Pro Submissive — along with definitions of sex, people’s expectations of sex writing, “Singing in the Rain,” and more. Enjoy!
First City: Tell us the process of being one of the chosen ones on the anthology. How did it evolve?
Greta: The piece, “Buying Obedience: My Visit to a Pro Submissive,” was a piece I wrote for a small, interesting, eclectic magazine here in San Francisco called Other. Actually, I originally wrote it for a different magazine, but it wound up being a lot longer than they were willing to publish — and one of the nice things about Other is that they publish longer, more in-depth think-pieces as well as short pithy ones. That’s increasingly rare in the magazine business.
Anyway, I thought that would be the end of it. I figured it’d run in Other, I’d reprint it on my blog at some point, and that would be that. Then Rachel Kramer Bussel, the editor of Best Sex Writing 2008, asked if she could reprint it in her anthology. I was thrilled. I like this piece a lot — I think it’s some of my better writing — and it’s on a topic that rarely gets talked about. Most writing about sex work is written about the workers; there’s not much being written about what it’s like to be a sex work customer. I’m glad to see it get a wider audience.
In your piece, you describe a visit to a professional submissive. Can you briefly explain what that involves?
Sure. Many people have heard of professional dominants: women (or sometimes men) who you pay to dominate you, spank you, whip you, order you around, etc. A professional submissive is like that, but the other way around: it’s someone you pay so you can dominate them, spank them, order them around, etc. There aren’t very many: it’s not an area of sex work you go into if you don’t enjoy it, and enjoy it a lot.
Like pro dominants, most pro submissives won’t have genital sex with their customers: largely to avoid prostitution laws, but partly to keep some boundaries. Typically, a customer of a pro dominant or submissive gets off by masturbating at the end of the session. But different people define “sex” very differently. The pro sub that I hired didn’t call what we did “sex,” but I sure would.
“Sometimes I think sex is a code word for every dirty, naughty, perverted thought anyone’s ever had,” is how Rachel puts it in her introduction to the book; how sex becomes like a representative word to use, sort of all-encompassing, even though it can (and does) mean different things to different people. What do you think? (And yes, I have read Are We Having Sex or What? So, is the question redundant then?)
That’s an interesting way of putting it. I’m not sure I’d put it in those words, but she has a point. I do think our culture has a tendency to define sex very narrowly… and at the same time, we see it everywhere.
I definitely think this question applies directly to my piece, since the experience I write about — visiting a professional submissive — is very much one of those “Are we having sex now or what?” experiences. The pro submissive I visited, Rachel, was very clear that “sex” was off limits: I could dominate her and spank her and such, but I couldn’t have sex with her. And yet, even though I completely respected the limits she set, a lot of what we did I would most definitely call “sex.” Our personal definitions of what did and didn’t count as “sex” were very different. It’s one of the things that made it such an odd experience.
I thought the book (title and cover) might attract readers on the lookout for great sex writing, in the sense of this being a pick of the act of sex, described well by writers? Which it’s so not, right? What do you think?
I do think people who are purely looking for a naughty thrill may be disappointed by the book. There is sexually arousing, erotic writing in it — I think my piece is sexually arousing and erotic (a lot of it anyway) — but that’s not the main thrust of the book.
But even the pieces that aren’t naughty and exciting are very mind-opening. And that’s arousing and erotic in a different way. Having an open mind is key to having a great sex life.
What’s the response you’ve got so far to the book/your piece?
Positive so far. Mostly people are curious and interested. I haven’t gotten any angry “How could you oppress that poor woman by giving her money to spank her?” letters so far. Maybe I will, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Is there an ideal reader or audience you’re expecting?
Not really. Anyone who’s interested, I’m happy for them to read it. I would like it to be read by people who think paying for sexual pleasure makes you either a sleazy exploiter or a pathetic loser. But the piece isn’t just a pro- sex- work- customer polemic. Anyone who just wants to know what visiting a pro submissive was like is my ideal reader.
I think Buying Obedience gives us perhaps the best post-good-sex description in the book (‘loose, rumpled, hormone addled strut people get when they’ve just gotten it good’), besides making you wonder about paying for sex (and not just how weird/surreal it can be) vis-a-vis “pro bono sex.”
Thank you! What a nice thing to say.
Would you say you set out to achieve something for the reader, with the story? Bringing the anxieties you felt out into the open, so readers could identify? Or was it just about the writing of a personal experience for you?
My goal with this piece was just to be as honest about the experience as possible. Like I said before, there’s not a lot of writing about sex work from the customer’s point of view. So I just wanted to write it as honestly as I could. I didn’t want to demonize it, of course — I do think sex work can be a valid way to have sex, both for the worker and the customer — but I didn’t want to sugar-coat it, either. I just wanted to be as honest with my readers — and with myself — as I possibly could, about every aspect of the experience: good, bad, and just plain odd.
Other than that, I tried very hard in this piece to be both personal and analytical. I definitely wanted to describe the physical, emotional, sexual flavor of the experience as vividly as I could… but I didn’t want the piece to just be descriptive, either. I’m a very analytical person, and for me trying to understand an experience is a big part of capturing the flavor of it.
Any personal favourites from the book?
I think my favorite is “Sex in Iran.” It’s such a perfect portrait of how powerful the sexual impulse is. Sex completely defies any attempts to repress it. It makes me both angry about the terrible sexual oppression
that goes on in Iran and elsewhere in the world… and optimistic about the possibility for sexual pleasure despite it, and even for the oppression to someday be overturned.
Finally, just for fun: One song/book/film (all or one) that translates as ‘sex’ to you?
I don’t know about just one book or movie or song. I’m a very sexual person, and so many of them translate as ‘sex’ to me!
But I’ll tell you what’s leaping to mind right now: The dance scene between Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in “Singing in the Rain.” The one where she’s wearing the green dress and is slinking around like crazy. She’s just so brazen, so open about her sexuality, so blatantly seductive… and she’s so beautiful and graceful doing it. They’re both such beautiful, graceful people, completely sensual and comfortable in their bodies. I’ve always thought that was one of the hottest sex scenes in the movies… even though there isn’t any sex in it!
Excerpts from this interview originally appeared in First City Magazine, New Delhi, India. Reprinted with permission.