Posts Tagged ‘pink ghetto’

Best Sex Writing 2008 contributor interview: Lux Nightmare and Melissa Gira

December 7, 2007

This is part 1 of a series of interviews I’m conducting with contributors to Best Sex Writing 2008 about their pieces in the book and their work generally. Consider them and this blog a companion to the book itself. Lux Nightmare and Melissa Gira wrote about “The Pink Ghetto” in a series of posts at Sexerati, which I reprinted as one piece in the book. The bios below are from the book.

Lux Nightmare has been obsessed with the Internet since 1994, obsessed with computers since 1987, and obsessed with sex since 1982. Career highlights include founding and running That Strange Girl (the first altporn site to feature both male and female models), interning at Nerve (back when it was cool), and keeping the masses educated about sex since 1997. She is the former Features Eeditor for Sexerati.com, a blog about sex, culture, and everything in between, and is working on a book about her years in the altporn scene.

Lux Nightmare

Lux Nightmare

What was the genesis for your piece on the Pink Ghetto?

I’ve been working in sex, in one way or another, for over ten years now, so I’ve had a lot of experience with the pink ghetto⎯and, more specifically, with the difficulty of promoting work (even intelligent, academic work) that might fall under the label of NSFW. I finally got so frustrated with the entire state of affairs, with being told that my work wasn’t “appropriate” because it dealt honestly with sexuality, that I had to put a name to my frustrations. Hence the Pink Ghetto.

What kind of reaction did you receive to it, both from others in the pink ghetto and those outside of it?

I think the most vocal reactions have come from people who’ve found themselves ghettoized for their interest in, or work around, sex–and those reactions have all been positive, thanking me for putting a name to this phenomenon. People outside of it have also reacted in a positive manner–for many, I think it was the first time they’d really even taken time to think critically about the way sex-related material and work is ghettoized.

How have your thoughts about the topic changed since you wrote the piece?

Yes and no. Though I’m still convinced that there’s a lot of stigma attached to sex-related work, I’m starting to feel more hopeful about the possibilities for breaking down the barriers and removing the stigma. These days, I’m more of the opinion that if you present sex-related–even sexually explicit–material in a very straightforward, noncontroversial manner, you can usually get people to accept it as noncontroversial material.

Lux, at the end, you talk about some of the pros of the pink ghetto and the opportunities you’ve been given within it. Do you think the pink ghetto shouldn’t exist at all (even though clearly it now does)? What would your ideal pink ghetto look like?

The nice thing about being discriminated against is that if you’re able to overcome that discrimination, you’re pretty much automatically in a place of power. The bad thing about being discriminated against is that it makes everything that you do that much harder.

I recognize that I’ve gained a lot from my choice to work in a stigmatized field⎯but it’s also cost me a lot as well. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think anyone benefits from stigma. There is no “ideal” pink ghetto: I’d much rather see the pink ghetto completely dismantled. We’d benefit far more from living in a society where sex and sexuality are not taboo topics, where we can speak freely about these subjects without fearing for our reputations.

What are you working on now?

I spend a lot of time working on Boinkology, my blog/podcast about sex and culture, and educating the masses about sex any way that I can.

Melissa Gira (melissagira.com) is a blogger, writer, editor of Sexerati: Smart Sex. (sexerati.com), and a contributor to $pread magazine and the blogs BoundNotGagged, Gridskipper. An international sex worker rights’ advocate, mobile media maker, and shameless sex futurist, she fully unpacked three times in the last year and prefers to work out of her purse-sized office: cell phone, wireless keyboard, and dv camera, wherever a cheap GPRS signal and fancy lipgloss can take her.

Melissa Gira

What was the genesis for your piece on the Pink Ghetto?

Sex blogging has been a decently fertile ground for some smart new sex thinking, and at Sexerati, I’m always pushing for more. I approach the sexblogosphere as a community for generating dynamic and collaborative sexual theory & of course, practice–though the practice is what gets a disproportionate amount of the attention. There’s nothing wrong with writing about fucking, with foregrounding your sex life in your sex writing, but to do so means that as a writer, you are not choosing sides–writer vs. subject, expert vs. participant–and this still requires taking a risk: that you might be minimized for doing what we new media types are supposed to value, stating our biases and situating ourselves in our work. When it comes to sex, that means risking being a slut, and I say, it’s the only ethical to do, to own that, to challenge that. My hope is that we can be so brazen about it that it becomes utterly uncontroversial.

What kind of reaction did you receive to it, both from others in the pink ghetto and those outside of it?

I’m just glad for Technorati, so we could track who was calling back out to the essay series. It resonated far outside the sexblogosphere, which to me means it actually succeeded in reaching its intended audience.

How have your thoughts about the topic changed since you wrote the piece?

Death to the Pink Ghetto, and Long Live the Pink Ghetto. Writing on the so-called sex ghett–which, even at the time, I knew was a deeply racialized and loaded choice of frame–drew out other sex professionals, put us into conversation around why we think what we do is important, and offered opportunity for us to consider the rules of working in sex. Will we use the ghettoization of what we do to support one another, as outsiders unified, or will we play that stigma as a way to gain respect from those “outside” sex? The ways that those at the margins regulate their own success by imposing an internal hierarchy of stigma back on one another fascinates me, and saddens me. Addressing this internal stigma forms the next prong of the dismantling the “pink ghetto” altogether. So long as we regard our work as outside the scope of “normal” journalistic investigation or normal human curiosity, well, we do it to ourselves.

Melissa, you wrote, “What is so less noble about thinking sex rather than money, rather than politics, religion, or art? Sex being so fully embedded in the human experience, I want to put out there that there really is no way to engage the culture on ‘what really matters’ without looking at sexuality.” I confront this all the time, too. Why do you think sex, as democratic and accessible a topic as it should be, is so threatening to so many people?

I used to think this was because sex had somehow been made occult, that real sex education was hard to come by, that sex media wasn’t reflective of most people’s sexual desires, and it was that lack of credible information that perpetuated a fear of sex, both for “consumers” and to scare off those who might want to start doing one better and make their own sex ed & media. After over ten years now of working in sex online, I have to double back on that assumption, one that still reigns. We have no lack of cultural conversation ongoing about sex, but it’s one that outright alienates many people from their sexuality. The supposedly positive “answers to sex” that are proposed–to buy more sex toys, sex manuals, sex recreation–presume that sex is a problem to be solved, and who wants to believe that, really? Deep down, no one wants to told they are damaged and need fixing, ignorant and need educating.

What our sex positive forebears were pushing for, in their innovating sex stores, sex publishing, and sex culture, was not a consumer-based “answer” to a problem. The sex-positive paradigm shift they were pushing for, and that we’re facing backlash for now, never arrived fully enough to hate on as much as we, the next generation, are being asked to. We as sex professionals could change this sex alienation fundamentally if we could just drop this “sexpert” thing–it might be a great tool with which to sell books, but it’s not doing much to help folks find sexual self-reliance in the longterm. The “answer” to sex isn’t in a book, much as it pains me as a writer to say this; it’s in sex itself.

What are you working on now?

I’m doing a fair amount of traveling and community education around blogging & social media as tools for advocacy and social change. In two days I’ll be Malaysia for an international gathering of sex worker activists, in January I’ll be presenting at sex::tech in San Francisco and the Spring brings me to Atlanta for Sex 2.0, and summer to the Desiree Alliance’s conference in Chicago. You can always catch up with me at melissagira.com.

Read their piece and more (see below for table of contents) in Best Sex Writing 2008.

Best Sex Writing 2008 will be out in December 2007!

November 5, 2007

Best Sex Writing is an annual series publisher by Cleis Press. For the 2008 edition, to be published in December 2007, Rachel Kramer Bussel is the editor.

Below is the publisher’s blurb and interviews, updates and event info coming soon:

Do Jewish girls give better blowjobs? What does it mean to be a modern-day eunuch? Would you want to work in the pink ghetto or live in the glass closet? How “hung” are African-American men? What happens to a celebrity sex tape star in Iran? Best Sex Writing 2008 answers these questions (and raises many more) as it probes the inner lives of those on the front lines — political, personal, and cultural — of lust. From dangerous dildos to professional submissives, the erotic appeal of twins, sex work, pornography and much more, these authors delve into the underbelly of eroticism. Probing stereotypes, truths, and the tricky areas in between, Best Sex Writing 2008 opens the bedroom door and explores the complexity of modern sexuality with thought-provoking, cutting-edge essays and articles.

Introduction: One Little Word, Infinite Interpretations

Big Mouth Strikes Again: An Oral Report • Rachel Shukert
Double Your Panic • Kevin Keck
Battle of the Sexless • Ashlea Halpern
Kink.com and Porn Hysteria: The Lie of Unbiased Reporting • Violet Blue
The Prince of Porn and the Junk-Food Queen from Insatiable • Gael Greene
Tough Love • Kelly Rouba
Dirty Old Women • Ariel Levy
Stalking the Stalkers • Kelly Kyrik
Sex in Iran • Pari Esfandiari and Richard Buskin
Surface Tensions • Jen Cross
Sex and the Single Septuagenarian • Liz Langley
The Pink Ghetto (A Four-Part Series) • Lux Nightmare and Melissa Gira
To Have or Have Not: Sex on the Wedding Night • Jill Eisenstadt
How Insensitive • Paul Festa
The Study of Sex • Amy Andre
Dangerous Dildos • Tristan Taormino
Absolut Nude • Miriam Datskovsky
The Hung List from Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America • Scott Poulson-Bryant
The Glass Closet • Michael Musto
Menstruation: Porn’s Last Taboo • Trixie Fontaine
Buying Obedience: My Visit to a Pro Submissive • Greta Christina

Introduction: One Little Word, Infinite Interpretations

Sex. One little word, so much drama. One little word, so many interpretations, definitions, permutations. For some, sex means ecstasy. For others, it means procreation. For some, it means sin outside the confines of marriage. Many believe that only heterosexual penetrative sex qualifies for that hallowed three letter word; everything else is either foreplay⎯or forbidden. For a lot of us, myself included, sex is an ever-changing, ever-evolving set of acts, philosophies and identities. It teaches us, thrills us, empowers us, confuses us, electrifies us. Sex drives our lives and our lives drive our sex, in all sorts of complex ways. Pleasure and danger, as the famous Carole Vance anthology called it.

When I thought about the kinds of writing I wanted to include in this anthology, I knew I wanted to read about the kinds of sex that make the world, not to mention one’s head, spin. The kinds of writings that throw our notions of what sex is into disarray. The kinds of writings that will long outlast the chronological year printed on the cover of this book because their meanings and messages will continue to be read, debated, questioned, and answered. These pieces, taken as a whole, give a broader view of sex than you’ve likely ever considered, dealing as they do with biology, gender, crime, politics, the environment, health, religion, race, and much more.

Here you’ll find a wide array of writings about the state of modern sexuality, taking you everywhere from the front lines of erotic activism to insightful analyses of everything from sexuality studies to menstruation porn to naked college coeds. From large publications such as Playboy, Penthouse Forum, and Out to smaller indie outfits like $pread, Heeb, and Other, as well as online publications and books, each of these pieces contributes to a whole that shows that sex, the act(s) and the topic(s), is much more complex than most of us give it credit for. Whatever definition you currently have for sex, prepare for it to be shattered.

Best Sex Writing 2008 includes two pieces that are very near and dear to my heart. As a Jewish woman with a passion for cock-sucking (not to mention Monica Lewinsky), I found Rachel Shukert’s “Big Mouth Strikes Again: An Oral Report,” a fascinating look at the ways Jewish women’s mouths have come to be, in the popular imagination, permanently open. While she offers up a few jokes and puns, she bolsters them with a thoughtful essay that goes way beyond the conventional wisdom. Bloggers Melissa Gira and Lux Nightmare break down the meaning of “The Pink Ghetto,” a place where I and many of my peers find ourselves, whether we like it or not, simply because we’ve chosen to write about that vexing three letter word that’s always stirring up so much trouble.

I’ve also included several personal essays here because I believe they demonstrate some powerful lessons about how sex plays out in our lives. The sexual karma delivered to Kevin Keck in the form of twin baby girls, after a high school career spent lusting after his own town’s version of the Doublemint Twins, is deliciously twisted. Gael Greene takes us back to a headier, more hedonistic time when, freed from her marriage, she could seduce the notorious porn star Jamie Gillis, inching into his supposedly seedy world while reveling in his dirtiness, literally. Journalist Scott Poulson-Bryant, in an excerpt from his excellent study Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America, a mix of personal experience and impassioned journalism, asks whether the stereotype of the black man as America’s most horny, the one who by his very definition signifies sex, is true or even relevant. These pieces you might very well be able to relate to even if you’ve never been horny for twincest, had an affair, or been a black man, because their authors’ words go beyond their individual circumstances to shed light on the current erotic climate.

And then we’ve got some more unique territory. Out of all the pieces here, Ashlea Halpern’s exploration of the lengths today’s eunuchs will go to remove their genitals, “Battle of the Sexless,” makes me squirm the most, with equal parts fascination and horror, yet I’ve reread it now numerous times. There’s something appealing and at the same time appalling about this state of affairs that Halpern delves into with a sympathetic eye.

Many of the authors here directly address the politics of sex, and demand that the status quo give way for a broader vision of sexual inclusion. Trixie Fontaine’s discussion of piss and menstruation porn is one that, like Halpern’s, may make you uncomfortable. And that’s exactly her point: while some may find her work abhorrent, others are equally turned on by it, and the fact that capitalism doesn’t trump human blood is indeed worth investigating. Tristan Taormino looks at the important issue of phthalates in sex toys, while Violet Blue takes mainstream media to task for its biases when it comes to porn reporting. Ariel Levy’s “Dirty Old Women” explores relationships between adult women and teenage boys, asking what it means to be molested when you’re male: “For many Americans, being a real grown-up requires a penis. And if you’ve got that, even if you’re only fifteen, you must have the maturity and the manliness to know what you want to do with it—even if that involves intercourse with a forty-two-year-old. Who among us would say the same thing about a fifteen-year-old girl?” Her exploration of the motivations of these teenagers and their seductresses (she calls Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau “the poster couple for pedophilia or true love, depending on your point of view”) makes us reexamine our assumptions about male sexuality. It’s no surprise that Levy’s piece also surfaced in a volume of Best Crime Writing; the intersection of sex and the law has countless permutations, and it’s often to the legal system that we look for answers to help us define what “acceptable” sex is. Elsewhere in this collection, in “Stalking the Stalkers,” Kelly Kyrik examines real attempts to catch pedophiles in the act of luring children via the Web.

One of the great new frontiers of sex writing is college newspapers, where sex columnists are starting with a base of knowledge I wish I’d had when I arrived at the University of California at Berkeley, helping educate their fellow students and working out the logistics of sex in print. This new generation is bold, brave, brash, and ballsy, and one of the best and brightest is Miriam Datskovsky, who wrote the Columbia Spectator’s “Sexplorations” column. Here, she takes us inside the phenomenon of naked parties on campus, calling bullshit on them, in those precise terms.

For all the jokes, hand wringing, and ink spilled about Paris Hilton, even her recent jail time, we are a country whose consumers made 1 Night in Paris zoom to the top of the porn best-seller charts, resurrecting an interest in celebrity sex tapes that’s seeing burgeoning sales once thought to have gone the way of Pam and Tommy. But what happens when you’re an Iranian actress caught fucking on film⎯or possibly fucking on film? Pari Esfandiari and Richard Buskin investigate the case of Zahra Amir Ebrahimi, who’s embroiled in a sex scandal about a tape in which she may or may not star, offering insights into the changes in Iranian culture which have made sex both more and less taboo. The situation has seemingly worsened in recent months; in June 2007, Iran’s parliament, in a 148-5 vote, approved a measure saying “producers of pornographic works and main elements in their production are considered corruptors of the world and could be sentenced to punishment as corruptors of the world.”

As for the word “Best” in the title, I’m the first to admit that this is a fully subjective call. Sex is everywhere, and I encourage you to read more about it on the growing network of sex blogs and mainstream and alternative publications, or take pen to paper (or fingers to computer screen) and write your own sexual manifesto.

I thought I knew a lot about sex when I started working on this book. I’ve had dozens of lovers, I wrote a sex column for the Village Voice for two and a half years, I’m on staff at an adult magazine, and I have listened to countless confessions of sexual peccadilloes and adventures. But when it comes to sex, we can all learn something, as you’ll see from even a brief perusal of the table of contents or by skimming any of these chapters⎯I certainly did.

Sometimes I think sex is a code word for every dirty, naughty, perverted thought anyone’s ever had. For some it can be encompassed in a kiss, for others a flogging, a performance, or an intense masturbation session. For others, like that famous maxim about pornography, they know it when they’re doing it. Sex is broad enough (and powerful enough) that we will continue to write, talk, and debate about it for centuries to come⎯when we’re not busy engaging in our preferred version of it. When I tell people I write about sex, I can see immediately whether their judgment about me has changed in the second it took me to say it. Most of the time, I don’t have time to sit and explain how complex a topic we’re talking about. Now, I can just hand them this book, which asks just as many questions as it answers, and hopefully does what good sex should do: leave you wanting more.

Rachel Kramer Bussel
New York City