Where I stand (On disability in the Smut Marathon)

I was nervous about Round 3 of the Smut Marathon. In fact, scrap that – I’ve been nervous about every round. But this was different. In previous rounds, I’ve been nervous about the voting. This time? It was reading what everyone else had written that had me anxious.

Character flaws are fascinating to me. I’d be the first to tell you that I don’t like ‘body beautiful’ erotica, and that extends to personalities, too – I prefer characters who struggle with anger, self-confidence, conforming to social norms. Characters who battle with mental health issues. The fact that the word ‘flaw’ is so subjective, because after all, aren’t we all flawed in some way?  This should have been a round that suited me down to the ground.

Except – as I said to someone very shortly after receiving the assignment – it didn’t.

I didn’t want to read about disability.

For the benefit of Smut Marathon participants who may not usually read this blog or who don’t follow me on Twitter, I identify as disabled. I have left-sided hemiplegia, which is a type of cerebral palsy, caused, in my case, by brain damage at birth. My left leg is an inch shorter than my right, so I walk with a limp. I trip over a fair amount. I struggle with my balance. I lack dexterity in my left hand. My mental health is also compromised – maybe because of the brain damage, maybe not.

It’s not difficult to live with, in the grand scheme of things. And yet, it can be fucking impossible to live with nonetheless.

And so I didn’t want to see, in the competition, any character whose flaw was disability. The world tells disabled people that they’re undesirable every single day. We don’t need to see it reinforced in fiction, too.

What I really didn’t expect, though, was to see a disability that could be mine. A character with ‘a heavy black lift in his shoe,’ a lift which was, nonetheless unable to ‘hide the limp’. I blanched. I freaked out a bit. I had, as is typical for me, a bit of a rant on Twitter.

I had said, on more than one occasion, that if this happened, I would withdraw from the competition. I feel that strongly about it. And yet, I haven’t. I’m uncomfortable with it, absolutely, but the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve realised that part of the reason why I’m uncomfortable is because I don’t quite know where I stand on this issue.

My main problem with the piece is that it doesn’t reframe disability as desirable. It tells the reader two things – that a) one person is capable of seeing past the disability, but this is the exception, not the rule (‘They saw disqualifying weakness’) and b) that the woman sees past the disability (‘What their pitying stares missed, she always saw. They missed the way his hazel eyes changed like quicksilver as his lips took control of hers, kissing her with careful command when he reached her. They missed his piano playing fingers, long and warm, brushing higher and higher up her thigh…’) The disabled man is desirable in spite of his disability, not because of it. And it’s writing that shows someone as desirable because of their disability that would really push the boundaries.

And yet. I’m not sure it’s possible. I’ve certainly never managed it.

There is good writing out there about disabled people making their peace with their bodies (one of the things that saddened me in Round 3 of the Smut Marathon is that the pieces about characters with physical flaws were not generally written from the viewpoint of that character). This wonderful piece by Keah Brown is excellent on that topic. But even there, Keah acknowledges that it’s difficult: ‘Admitting that there is comfort in pain is a strange but necessary truth. Happiness and acceptance still take more work for me, and that is also a necessary truth.’

Last year, I wrote an erotic short story about a character who also shares my disability, which can be found in the anthology Goodbye Moderation: Lust. It confronts the issue of disability head on, I hope – I really wanted to write something that didn’t shy away from my true fears:

“‘Tell me again,’ he says, ‘which words you wanted me to say.’

My voice is barely even a whisper. ‘Spastic,’ I say.

‘Say please.’

Jesus, really? There’s an uncomfortable pause.

‘I’m not doing anything until you ask nicely.’

‘Fuck. Okay. Please.’”

The problem is, I felt obliged to close that story in a more optimistic and palatable way, not just for the reader, but for myself, too. I couldn’t envisage a world in which disability, or disabled slurs, could be repositioned as sexy. I could only conjure up a world in which an ablebodied character helps the disabled character to make their peace with their disability:

“On my back, the words are different. Down my spine, they read:

Beautiful

Hot

Incredible

Strong

Mine

The tears start all over again as he gathers me in his arms and rains kisses all over my face, my neck, my hair.

‘That,’ he says. ‘That is what I see. None of the bullshit you made me write. When will you start to see that? It doesn’t matter what other people see. All that matters is what you see.'”

My male character sees past the disability. He wants the disabled character to see past the disability. Neither of them can envisage a world in which someone is actually able to see disability itself as hot.

It doesn’t stop me really wanting to read a story where someone does.

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The Fallen Woman

‘I push open the door and stumble through, tripping over my own feet and falling head first into the office.

Double crap – me and my two left feet! I am on my hands and knees in the doorway to Mr Grey’s office, and gentle hands are around me helping me stand. I am so embarrassed, damn my clumsiness. I have to steel myself to glance up. Holy cow – he’s so young.’

– E L James, Fifty Shades of Grey

I didn’t get that worked up when Ana fell at the start of FSoG. According to a friend, that was as it should be.

‘Bella is clumsy in Twilight. That’s the whole point.’

Maybe it is the whole point of Twilight. I don’t know. I haven’t read/seen it. What I do know, though, is that Ana’s clumsiness is completely fucking irrelevant to Fifty Shades.

I’m not sure that E L James thinks it is, however. I think E L James thinks it might be how Christian spots that Ana would make a good sub. After all, there’s lots about BDSM that confuses E L James – the fact that it’s not born out of a disturbed childhood, the fact that the love of a good woman can’t ‘cure’ somebody of it, and the way no fucking helicopter can make up for the fact that nowhere in the book does Ana suggest she might have submissive leanings.

Anyway. I wasn’t that bothered at the time because it was just a book. Not a book that had sold millions of copies. Not a book that had changed the landscape of erotica. Just a book. And then this happened:

He sank into an elegant crouch in front of me. Hit with all that exquisite masculinity at eye level, I could only stare. Stunned.

Then something shifted in the air between us.

As he stared back, he altered … as if a shield slid away from his eye, revealing a scorching force of will that sucked the air from my lungs. The intense magnetism he exuded grew in strength, becoming a near-tangible impression of vibrant and unrelenting power.

Reacting purely on instinct, I shifted backward. And sprawled flat on my ass.

– Sylvia Day, Bared to You

I’m a big believer in the power of chemistry. But I can honestly say I’ve never sprawled on my ass due to a guy’s ‘elegant crouch.’

I did a bit of Google research earlier this year, when I first started thinking about this. Surely, I reasoned, women falling must be an established trope in romantic literature. I couldn’t find anything. And then it occurred to me that maybe falling/injury is a modern update of this:

“MY DEAREST LIZZY,—

“I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I suppose, is to be imputed to my getting wet through yesterday. My kind friends will not hear of my returning till I am better. They insist also on my seeing Mr. Jones—therefore do not be alarmed if you should hear of his having been to me—and, excepting a sore throat and headache, there is not much the matter with me.—Yours, etc.”

“Well, my dear,” said Mr. Bennet, when Elizabeth had read the note aloud, “if your daughter should have a dangerous fit of illness—if she should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley, and under your orders.”

– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Romance relies on a weak heroine almost as much as it does an alpha hero. In the past, illness was enough to create a situation in which the hero and heroine are thrown together. These days, it’s harder to convince the average reader that a woman ‘needs’ a man, and so romance does everything in its power to recreate that situation of old. There are various approaches – the heroine can be pregnant, sick, young, poor or just plain clumsy. Because if she doesn’t need rescuing, the author is (ostensibly) breaking the pact they have with the reader.

I’m a cynic, but I was a sucker for Mills & Boon in the past. I loved these women who needed saving so much, I didn’t just read them; I made some shoddy attempts at writing them, too:

He knelt beside her and kissed her gently. She opened her eyes and gave him a sleepy smile. “Bedtime?” he asked.

She nodded, but made no attempt to move. He stood up and gathered her into his arms. She kicked off her stilettos and snuggled up against his chest. He handed her the warm mug, and headed for the stairs.

In their bedroom, he sat down on the edge of the bed and set about undressing her. He slid the straps of her satin dress down and placed her briefly on her feet so that she could step out of it. He unsnapped her suspender belt, removed her stockings and unclipped her bra. As he pulled her white cotton nightdress over her head, she gave a contented sigh, still half asleep. He pulled back the duvet and laid her down.

I think I excelled myself with that particular piece (in my defence, I was eighteen when I wrote it). The FMC has a minor case of being a bit tired, but it affects her so badly that she gets carried upstairs by the hero, undressed by him, and even ‘laid down.’ She couldn’t be more passive if she tried.

Looking back, it wasn’t the passivity that attracted me to writing these kind of women. It was the bodies that they’d need for these kind of scenes even to work. Women who get carried up to bed must naturally be willowy and feather-like. Not only that, I think I thought they were also easy women – if you could simply scoop a woman up and literally put her exactly where you wanted her to be, she wasn’t exactly going to cause you many other problems. And god, I wanted to be that kind of girl.

Luckily, I’ve grown out of that. A bit, anyway. But I’m still writing women who fall.

Falling is seriously grim. I know that not only from my own extensive experience, but also because I’m hyper-alert to other people falling. When I did the Moonwalk back in May, I witnessed a horrific one – an elderly lady tripped over a tree root and gained momentum as she attempted to right herself. Just as I thought she’d regained her balance, she went absolutely flying. And the smack of body hitting concrete, of other people’s gasps, they bring back every fall I’ve ever suffered. I hate seeing it almost as much as I hate doing it.

So we have to stop writing falls as though they’re romantic. They’re not. They’re painful, humiliating, scary. But those things can all be sexy. There’s one particular scene that’s stuck with me from Unfaithful with Richard Gere and Diane Lane, where she falls and we see the aftermath as a series of vignettes designed to foreshadow the risks and pain inherent in the affair she’s embarking on. She eases her tights away from an oozing graze. There’s a flashback to a boiling kettle hissing as she does. It’s all a bit predictable, perhaps, but it turned me on.

I’m fascinated by cuts, grazes, bruises. And not just the ones caused by kink, either. Watching skin knit back together, or blood bead, waiting to spill. The stickiness of it as it clots. The metallic, iron-rich taste of it. I completely accept that these things won’t work for everyone, though. They’re fairly dark, I guess.

Essentially I feel much the same about falling as I do about disability. We need to write it, to see it in the media, to acknowledge that it’s part of many people’s reality. It’s not kooky, or adorable, or cute. What it could be though, if we wrote it well, is really, really fucking hot.

Just missionary: why *anyone* can write a sex blog

It looks like I had it all planned out, doesn’t it? I think I’ve even gone so far as to claim in an earlier post that the whole ‘(of sorts)’ thing was designed to let me write about anything I wanted because I don’t believe that there’s any reason to split blogs into strict genres. It’s almost believable.

Except it’s actually bullshit. The real reason I tagged the qualifying bit on the end is that I’m so clearly *not* a sex blogger – six sexual partners, five of them for one night only, a fear of receiving oral, a flirtation with a d/s dynamic that wasn’t even a thing when I started writing SBOS – I wanted to write about sex, but I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously.

Where am I going with this? Well, I read this post by Girl on the Net earlier and started thinking about which of my posts get the highest hit rate or number of retweets. It’s harder for me to tell than her – the majority of my posts have similar figures – but without a doubt, two types of posts get retweeted more than others. The sex ones and the ones in which I write about my relationship with my body.

But you’re not reading me for the filth. The sex I have, d/s dynamic or not, is pretty vanilla. My love life is a car crash, but I hope you’re not reading me for that reason, either. I hope you’re reading me because you can relate. I hope you’re reading me because I try to capture the mundanities and the day-to-day dramas of my life as much as I do the ‘Wow!’ moments.

One thing I’ve learned in the course of blogging is that I don’t want to document all the sex I have, and certainly not in public. Generally I’ll write about sex for one of two reasons: because a particular detail is haunting me, or because I’ve learned something about myself. If I wrote about every sexual encounter, it would leave you cold. Fucking can be as dull to read about as anything else.

If Girl on the Net gets the urge to do any more stats analysis, I’d be really interested to know how the posts about her relationship stack up against the really filthy ones on throat fucking and the like. Because I’m a fan of both but it tends to be the ones about navigating the realities of life with her partner (including the sex they have) that stay with me the longest. And again, not because my reality is in any way similar, but because I’d rather there was one cock, one cunt and an insight into the emotional dynamics behind the sex than three cocks, tits everywhere and a face covered in jizz at the end of the post.

If it sounds like I’m slagging off posts about the kind of sex acts the majority of us might never try, I’m really not. Hell, I’d never have stood in uncomfortably damp knickers in the queue for security at Gatwick if it hadn’t been for this post. It’s just that I wish there were more sex blogs out there and I wonder if what puts people off is not just the thought of putting the most intimate aspects of their lives out there for the world to read about, but the fact that they don’t think they’re having the right kind of sex for a sex blog.

There’s no kind of right sex for a sex blog. If you want to write about it, there’s a good chance I’ll want to read about it. Even if it’s just missionary.

‘The Theory of Everything’ or ‘Writing Disability’

‘Yeah, she liked it. She thought maybe it glossed over his disease a bit, but yeah, good.’

So said a friend about a friend of hers who’d already seen The Theory of Everything, the film about Stephen Hawking and his first marriage, when I told her I was going to see it at the weekend.

And you know what? I thought it was bloody good.

I think you’d be hard pressed not to like it, if Rom Coms are your thing (although, admittedly, there’s not that much Com). Eddie Redmayne is amazing as Hawking, Felicity Jones is perhaps even better as his wife, and well, it’s set in Cambridge, and when is Cambridge not beautiful? Certainly not when a huge budget has clearly been spent on giving it extra soft lighting and sparkle.

But the motor neurone disease needs that soft lighting and sparkle, right? To make it watchable?

Well, no, I don’t think it does, actually. And that’s exactly where the film triumphs.

If it glosses over the grim reality of the disease, and certainly my friend’s friend was not the only one to think it does, it glosses only over the physical side, not the psychological. Personally, I’m ok with that. I don’t want this post to become a debate about whether the primary purpose of showing more disability in books, films and the media in general is to ensure people with disabilities are sufficiently represented in those areas or to educate the wider population (although I’m happy to discuss this in the comments), but I do know that I don’t think the representation of physical pain/distress tells us much. What it’s important to show is the psychological damage that disability causes – the shame, the frustration, the anger – and without a doubt, The Theory of Everything doesn’t hold back here. It’s in the inability to match finger to thumb (I’ve been there), the inability to eat unassisted, the gradual triumph of the flight of stairs over the able-bodied man.

I don’t have motor neurone disease, or anything remotely that severe. I’ve never been told that my disability will cut my life short. I’m not in permanent, irreversible decline. But I do know what it’s like to watch your body let you down – for years mine steadily overcame its own issues – I was told I might not walk, and then I did, my limp became less pronounced, my left hand ceased to want to ball into a fist at all times – and then all of a sudden, it didn’t. I had hip pain, knee pain – neither of which I’d had before – and I was back in the MRI scanner for the first time in eighteen years. A day at a craft fair bizarrely threw my hips so out of sync I could barely walk. I had frequent neck ache, back ache and indigestion – caused, the physio said, by the fact that my rib cage was likely twisted because my right side was pulling too hard when compensating for my left. But I care less that people understand the physical issues than that they understand how I feel – why I’m scared, why I’m angry, why I’m ashamed. If I’d started life able-bodied? Yeah, I can’t even imagine…

But this isn’t the first thing I’ve watched about Stephen Hawking, and I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s not that nice a guy. Sure, the film is based on his wife’s autobiography, and he left her for his nurse, so she was never going to paint him as a saint, but it’s such a relief to finally see something that shows you that someone can be hellish in spite of their disability, and that the physical difficulties just exacerbate the problems of excess pride, stubbornness and selfishness. I’m so, so tired of seeing disabled people described as role models, ‘inspirational,’ or worst of all ‘cute’ (yes, Channel 4, I’m looking at you) – they’re *people*, and as such they come with a full range of emotions, hopes, dreams, fears and faults.

It’s why, in a way, I think erotica is an interesting genre in which to write disability. i’ve touched briefly before on my belief that the best erotica delves into the psychology of its characters and I think the psychology of disability is fascinating – how do you develop sex positivity, body positivity, healthy relationships, when living in an ableist world that does its best to remind you, often, that you’re not *normal?* Too much focus, at the moment, is put on disability as difference, when really, it’s not – it’s often  just a magnifying glass on the physical insecurities that everyone suffers. As such, it deserves to be written not just for the sake of fair representation but because it highlights universal fears and concerns.

I have two concerns though, when it comes to writing disability, and the first is personal. I’m revising the first draft of my novel at the moment, and there’s no doubt the FMC is pretty much a carbon copy of me. I don’t regret that, because it’s important to me to see physical disability depicted in sex writing for all the reasons I’ve given above, and doubtless she’ll stay disabled right up the final draft, but ultimately I think as you mature as a writer you hope to move away from writing your own issues and insecurities, and I think this is an issue I’ll always be too close to to view it impartially. Nor do I think you have to have experienced disability to write it well. I have no issues with able-bodied people writing disability, provided they do their research properly, just as I hope that ‘cripping up’ (ugh) will never be widely seen as equivalent to ‘blacking up.’

My final concern, and my final point, for that matter, links back to disability as ‘cute.’ It’s not cute. It’s equally not sexy (which isn’t to say disabled people can’t be hot, just that that hotness is about the person, not their disability,) but judging by the way erotic romance is currently portraying mental health issues, you’d never know that. Take Sylvia Day’s Captivated by You as an example (and a longer post on this is coming soon.) The MMC (there’s no way I’m calling him the hero), Gideon Cross, has a history of being abused, and as such, some pretty severe MH problems. Can he be sexy nonetheless? Of course. Is he sexy because he’s ‘damaged?’ No, FFS.

Writing disability isn’t something that needs doing because it’s ‘cool.’ Physical disability and mental health issues aren’t having their fifteen minutes of fame, they’re the reality of the world we live in. We need to stop writing disability as a quirk that makes characters interesting and start writing interesting characters who also have a disability. And please, if you do, spare me the cute…

Don’t read clickbait, read this: **The Competition**

During October I’ve been taking part in the ridiculously named #NaBloPoMo. With literally a minute to spare, I posted the final post last night – it was preceded by thirty others, one for each day in the month. I’m not sure that I’ve done my finest blogging over the past thirty-one days, but there have been posts I’ve been proud of, and perhaps more importantly, posts that have inspired posts on similar topics by other great bloggers or provoked discussion on Twitter. Posts that have reminded me what I love about blogging, essentially.

My other campaign in recent months has been ‘Don’t read clickbait, read this instead,’ which is my own take on #FF – suggesting Twitter accounts and bloggers that have far more to say than the majority of list posts that seem to dominate the ‘traditional press’ at the moment. At last check, my blog reader contained 119 blogs – I don’t read all of them on a regular basis, but what I like about that selection is that it’s pretty diverse – there are blogs on food, sex, fashion, beauty, parenting, disability… Essentially, if it’s good writing I want to read it, whether or not it tallies with my life experience.

To mark the end of #NaBloPoMo, I wanted to do something a bit special, something a bit like the Polished competition that I ran a few months back. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I didn’t want to run another erotica competition – I follow and am followed by a lot of great erotica writers, but I equally want to involve people who read my blog and who would like to join in but who don’t write fiction. Or about sex, necessarily.

So the challenge is to write a non-fiction post (full rules below) on any topic that you like. Given that the competition isn’t limited to sex I didn’t want the prizes to be sex-related either, so I’ve gone down the more generic route of what I love: books.

There are 2 prizes:

Charlie’s Choice: £15/$25 Amazon voucher

Readers’ Choice: £10/$15 Amazon voucher

The Readers’ Choice will be a poll once the competition has closed, so even if you don’t enter, please do vote for your favourite post.

The Rules…

(1) You must write a non-fiction (op-ed or real life story) blog post. No fiction, please.
(2) The post must (obviously) be your own work.
(3) There is no minimum length for posts, but they must be no longer than 1500 words.
(4) You must post the piece on your own blog and link back to this post in order for your entry to be counted.
(5) You *do not* have to write about sex or women’s issues. If you want to enter a piece about food, fashion or steam trains, that’s fine by me. That said, obviously it’s fine to write about sex and women’s issues too.
(6) The competition closes at 23.59 GMT on Saturday, November 8th Sunday, November 9th. Any entries submitted after this point will not be considered.
(7) The winning entry will be the post that I like most/find most interesting. The Reader’s Choice prize will be given to the post that receives the most votes in a poll.
(8) You consent to me linking to your post in a list of all the entries once the competition has closed and reproducing your post on Sex blog(of sorts) if it wins.
(9) Should you win, you are happy to share your email address with me for the purpose of sending your prize.
(10) Your post must have been written on or after Nov 1st 2014. Please do not enter posts from your archive.

Please do read the rules above carefully. If I’ve missed anything, or you have questions, please let me know…

Charlie xx

How nice is too nice?

Twitter is having a moment. It feels like *everyone* is talking about bitchiness, or trolling. Not just the sex/relationship bloggers either, but more widely than that – beauty bloggers, lifestyle columnists…

I’ve witnessed a bit of it, but nothing like on the scale it’s apparently happening. I don’t really get nasty tweets, or cruel emails, but other bloggers clearly do – Laurie at MyPOTL wrote this this week on the subject.

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