Trying to become more “sex aware”
I’ve been on the sex-positive train for a long time, as a writer, performer, and sometimes-educator. People out in the world seemed quite happy and ready to pin that tag on me when describing a Smut Slam, for example, and when I looked over my own past, specifically the stuff that had made it into my autobiographical plays, “sex-positive” seemed about right, in an almost literal way. I had emerged from a religiously repressive upbringing, done a lot of exploring, and found that good sex was important and made me happy. Sex? Positive.
That all started to change when I was driving back from a Smut Slam with my lover last spring. It was the first time he had seen a slam—he had cheerfully agreed to be timekeeper for the evening, so he was right at the front, right in the thick of it—and I was eager to hear what he thought of this, one of my cherished artistic babies.
“It was wonderful,” he said, “but I felt left out. Everyone was talking about how good they were, or how many people were at the orgy. I didn’t feel like there was room for less experience, or unhappy endings.”
I wanted to protest, to argue the point, to defend the Smut Slam culture that I had unconsciously been cultivating. In this sex-negative world, those who flock to Smut Slams are drawn to spaces where we can luxuriate in our triumphs and abundance and sexual joy. But I sat with what he had said, and realized the truth pretty quickly: there is more to sex than that. The stories and truths that sex digs up can be infinitely more complicated, more diverse, more broad-ranging than simply a joyful romp. Hell, even a joyful romp will have some crumbs in it.
I needed to make room in my work for all of it.
Somewhere around that time, I arrived at the phrase “sex-aware” as a way to describe the way I wanted my work to be. I don’t know if I read the phrase somewhere, or if I just coined it, but as soon as I began writing it, I could feel the space, not just for the atmosphere that I was trying to create at the Smut Slams, but also for my own dramatic works as well.
My fourth and fifth plays—The Pretty One and nerdfucker—are not autobiographical, and they don’t deal much with the happy sexy fun-times. Some of it is harsh; in nerdfucker, for example, sex mostly just hovers in the background as a unspoken motivator in my character’s often bad decision-making. The sex in these plays represents a whole range of experiences.
The only thing I can say is, the sex is there. I don’t want my audience to look away from it, however it manifests. Nor do I want them to imagine that the work is only about sex. It’s just there, as another experience that can change things or not. It’s not on a pedestal, nor dragged through the gutter. Rather, it could be, in a specific instance or story or memory or action. But generally, sex just is. It is there for many people, and I want my audience to be at least somewhat alert to its influence on relationships, on self, and in society as a whole.
Hence “sex-aware” as the descriptor I want to claim for all the work that I do. It leaves room for a richer exploration of different types and amounts of sexual experience, and it also leaves room for my work to not always explicitly center sex in the action.
Audiences and reviewers still call my stuff “sex-positive,” and I’ll take it, because I think I know what they mean and it's fine. But I'm finding more to strive for as an artist doing sex-aware work.
When I make room for all the kinds of sex, and/or when I don't make it the subject of some kind of Odyssean quest, there's so much more room for life.
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