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The Porno Closet

A few years ago I was a columnist for the Erotic Readers and Writers Association. Following is one of my columns.

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“I have recently been encouraged by several people to come out of the closet,” writes a contributor to one of my erotic anthologies. “This has led to interesting discussions regarding my daughter and being a mother writing deviant material.”

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I began writing porn when my kids were teenagers. This was in 1984, just before the explosion in women’s erotica, before sexually explicit writing was bound between two hard, aesthetically pleasing covers, and granted a modicum of respect as a genre. In those days, to write sex was to write pornography for Penthouse or Hustler or Jugs--and, almost without question, under a pseudonym.

 

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My first stories were published under the name Marlayna Dawson, which in retrospect sounds more like a soap opera character than a smut writer, but which I chose for its non-ethnicity and tinge of glamour. I never considered not using a pseudonym; not only did I assume that most porn writers used one, but at the time I was working at a battered women’s shelter and, given the feminist line-of-the-day linking porn to violence against women, it seemed prudent to keep my moonlighting to myself. Thus, I didn’t face any conflict about my kids–they weren’t likely to read the magazines in which I was published, and would never discover their mother was the foul-mouthed Marlayna Dawson.

But they already knew their mother wasn’t June Cleaver. I spoke openly about sex, was out to them as bisexual, and hung out with queers and other deviants. My son had, and still has, no problem with any of this: not only is he amused by his eccentric mother, but he’s formed close friendships with several of my lesbian friends. My daughter, on the other hand, is mortified by my activities (especially since I stopped using a pseud). I suspect that daughters in general tend to be more critical than sons because, as their mothers, we’re their role models.

Kids live and die by the opinions of their peer groups; if those opinions are conservative, as they tend to be pre-adolescence, a mother who “flaunts” her sexuality is frequently seen as a ‘ho. Then there are the kids’ parents, quick to judge any mother who doesn’t hide her sexuality, in whatever form, from her children. I was frequently “scolded” by such parents; even those who’d freely talk about sex with other adults would quickly shush me if I raised an “inappropriate” topic in front of the kids.

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The porno closet is not for mothers only. Sex writers hide from all sorts of people: parents, siblings, old friends, the dentist. But coming out to these people is very different from coming out to our kids: for one thing, we owe our children more than we owe most other people. More important, we risk so much by telling our children, particularly daughters, what we’re doing. We’re in these relationships for the long haul, and we don’t want to damage them unnecessarily.

Not that they’ll automatically be damaged by the revelation that Mommy writes porn: there are all kinds of daughters, and sons, and mothers, and each case is highly individual (for a glimpse of an enlightened viewpoint, read Susie Bright’s writing, particularly Mommy’s Little Girl). Also, it is possible to sign one’s name to sex writing without the kids knowing–Sallie Tisdale, author of Talk Dirty To Me, says her kids aren’t interested in and don’t read her work, so it’s been a non-issue for her. This probably isn’t the solution for everyone, though: hiding from one’s kids, and worrying about being “caught,” isn’t a great way to live.

There’s nothing dishonorable about using a pseudonym. While I would love it if every sex writer could proudly claim his or her work, I consistently advise writers who work with kids, or for the government, or who have a job they want to keep that might be jeopardized: Use a Pseud. Do pseudonyms perpetuate shame? Some people in the sex writing community think so. But even if it does, it isn’t the responsibility of a mother who’s afraid of her kids’ reactions, or who could even lose custody of them, to come out in order to elevate the genre. Nor is it the responsibility of the school teacher who could be accused of pedophilia (these are strange times), or the government worker who could be hauled in for questioning under the Patriot Act. You don’t owe it to the genre, the readers, or other writers. You owe far more to yourself, your children, and your relationship with them.

That said, each writer needs to ask herself why she does or does not want to come out. What will you gain by signing your name to your erotic writing? What will you lose? There are no hard and fast rules about this, and nobody has the right to tell you what you should do. Ideally, a mother might sit her kids down and talk about sex, sex writing, why Mommy does it, and why it’s okay despite what they may have heard elsewhere—but this approach depends on a host of other factors: the age of the children, their personalities, and other issues in their lives. By other issues I mean, are the kids having relatively stress-free childhoods? Or are family, health, school or money problems burdening them with adult-size worries? Are they happy-go-lucky kids, or are they having more than the usual problems negotiating life?

When my kids were ten and twelve, I decided, in a spontaneous gut-instinct moment, to let them know that “Aunt Stephanie” had in fact been my lover. At the time I believed I was doing the right thing by standing up for my beliefs and educating my kids. In later years, however, I came to regret it. My kids had just come back to live with me after four years with their father. My son had recently had his first seizure. I was a single mother getting by with, as Grace Paley put it, one hand typing behind my back. My kids were weighted with more burdens than kids should have to handle. By telling them about my sexuality at that particular moment, I was giving them one more burden.

 

Thus, I cannot present myself as a role model, and as I grope for words of wisdom to impart to young mother writers, I find the cookie jar is empty. I can’t say that I regret coming out as a sex writer—at this point I can’t imagine being in the closet, in regard to my kids or anyone else, since writing and editing sexually explicit literature has been such a big part of my life. If, like some erotic writers, I only wrote a story here and there for an occasional anthology, then I can easily imagine keeping it to myself.

 

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In the end, I told the woman who asked for my advice that the answer to her question was profoundly personal. If you feel you just have to come out, for whatever burning reason, I said, then you simply must, and let the chips fall where they may. You can try to do it in the most conscious, caring manner possible, by talking to the kids and explaining why you think sex writing is okay. But in that case, I do have some words of wisdom:

Be very sure that you are totally all right with it yourself. Be absolutely certain you don’t, somewhere deep inside, feel shame or embarrassment about writing sex. You just cannot hedge on this; you can’t hem and haw or be apologetic about your work. And do not fall into the trap of defending your writing as pristine erotica versus the filthy smut of Hustler or Penthouse: that will only undermine all sex writing. You must be prepared to defend pornography, erotica, sexually explicit literature–in fact, sex itself–with one hundred percent positivism. You’re up against heavy cultural assumptions here, and the only way your kids are going to respect what you do is if you respect it yourself. Kids can sniff hypocrisy a mile away. If somewhere deep inside you think sex writing is dirty and shameful but you want to do it anyway, then I advise you to stick with a pseud.

Now I’m dying to hear from other erotic writers. Do you use a pseudonym? Why or why not? If you have kids, and they know what you do, how do they feel about it? Tell your story in the comment box, even if you disagree with some of what I’ve said. Especially if you disagree.


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4 responses »

  1. Thanks for giving me some hope! I like to read hot sex because that is in my mind. I am trying to live a sexy life and also write sex if possible. I don’t know how much I will succeed.

  2. Hi Marcy,

    Thank you for sharing this previous column from ERA. I used a pen name a while, Lana Gail Taylor, then realized I’d gone with a pen name for the wrong reason. Other people’s problems with erotic fiction.

    Now I write everything as me because shame is something I won’t live with anymore and I’m proud of all my stories, erotic or otherwise.

    I wrote about being a mom and writing erotica once, here: http://singlemomsguidetolivingwithouthim.blogspot.com/2007/07/my-mom-writes-erotica.html

    Peace.

  3. You know… I have a few different blogs: geekporngirl, which is a lesbian fiction blog, and an erotic haiku blog, and then a collection of interlinked blogs that are related to my business life. At first I tried to manage these under one sign-in, but it created a trail to my professional blogs (which include my full name, business address, etc.) So, I got smarter and separated them. I’m not closeted in my person life, but I do work with people directly, in a way that requires comfort and trust, and I decided my clients didn’t need a glimpse into what my erotic life is, or may, be like.

    Thanks for your perspective. There are lots of reasons to keep one’s erotic life private. Lately I’ve been having similar issues–sending potential employers to my blog may not be a good idea. I might have to do some separating myself.

  4. I think it really comes down to the people we deal with. I would not necessarily be ashamed to write erotica – and I feel fairly certain that most of my family and friends would just roll their eyes at me – but as you’ve said here, society is not as accepting.

    Not only would I worry about my own employment situation, but I would worry about my children catching some flak. If their friends’ parents found my writing… or their teachers… or even their friends, it would be uncomfortable for them. Not something they need to deal with before they’re able to make an informed decision about supporting or not supporting my choices.

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