design: Jennifer Do
As readers of erotica, we are fortunate to enter doors to worlds that we are curious about, may not know much about, and or want to come alive, letting us experience relationships, sex, and intimacy on new and possibly deeper levels.
The Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year vol. 5, edited by Sinclair Sexsmith and published by Cleis Press, does this and more. I first learned about Sexsmith when trying to find nonbinary queer erotica and was delighted to find in this book more of their work as both a writer and editor. In this newest volume, queer characters can love, comfort, and move fluidly without apology or judgment. They simply exist.
Characters also give consent and an enthusiastic yes when they engage with one another—even when that is not communicated or explained. It doesn’t need to be. The writers do not talk to the readers, rather they let the characters swift through the environment, free to play in the fantasy. But there is real honesty and familiarity here.
It is a gift to see a spectrum of genders and sexualities in erotica. Sexsmith puts together writers who bring trans*, nonbinary, lesbian, polyamorous, asexual, those with disabilities, and other queer marginalized folx to expose and explore their deepest and darkest desires in one safe space.
While all of these stories tackle different approaches and encounters, the pleasures presented in these pages are given room to define sex in ways heteronormative society often does not explore or think about.
‘…Erotica isn’t only about sex,” Sexsmith writes in the introduction. ‘…This collection of stories is a meditation expanding on the idea of what eroticism is…the characters in this book explore all kinds of erotic encounters, finding refuge, finding connection, and finding themselves.’
For instance, in the story “Pure Energy,” written by Giselle Renarde, two women connect without touching, letting their passion and minds release the tension between them. And in a beautiful story about menstruation, “Blood” by Anita Cassidy, the moon pulls two lovers together, letting ‘their care for each other [create] a space beyond shame, a place of pure love.’
Then there is the story by Mx. Nillian Lore “On a Hot and Humid Night,” who presents three humans who enjoy seeing each other and find delight in obscure, public places. In another, Sexsmith’s own story slips between the pages, in “Whatever I want, Whatever I Say,” where nameless characters take joy in control and submission. ‘…I try not to think about sinking my finger into the slick of her…I don’t want her to rip; I want her to open.’
Throughout this anthology, both pain and pleasure are often desired, and this looks different for each person, based on their needs and wants.
Some stories do tackle depression, self-harm, and trauma. However, it is held with precision and tact. They ask the question; how does one find pleasure and safety when this is reoccurring? In media, there is often a misunderstanding between BDSM and abuse, where they are sometimes confused with one another. But BDSM focuses on consent and trust and can be a transformative and therapeutic practice. This is evident in “The Supplicant” by Michelle Osgood, (‘when they finally pull you free, you are shaking and gasping and unable to do anything but cling to their leg. Grateful for air, for sight. They have given you these things, you know’) and June Amelia Rose’s “Torrent and Tumult: A Bipolar Romance” (‘I realized that when I engaged in BDSM, I was reconnecting with the parts of myself that I thought I’d lost forever. I was becoming one and whole with my desires, with the universe, with my partners. And that was when true healing began’). For both these stories, BDSM and kink help achieve sanctuaries of self-care and security.
In this feminist erotica, the writing in this anthology is honest and vulnerable, accepting that while not all sexual acts are rosy, it does not need to be overpowered by abuse or hurt. While the work does not address directly the many ways that queer and marginalized bodies deal with racism, violence, and oversexualization, they are there, in the background, far away from the characters—providing freedom and centering their needs first, having each story provide light in every corner.
The Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year vol.5 comes out on Wednesday, December 8th this year. On January 29, 2021, The Feminist Erotica podcast will also be hosting a book club via Facebook live. Grab your copy now.
Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is “the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queer women” (AfterEllen), who “is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places” (Autostraddle). Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. Find more of their work at sugarbutch.net.