Writing Wednesday – Should erotica writers hide?

Meant to post this earlier today, but it’s been one of those days, by which I mean crazy busy. In any event, a quick PerNoFiMo update. Last night I passed the 20K word mark on Whip It, which means at just a little over halfway through the month, I’ve already met my minimum goal. Now to see how much more I can write before November is out. If I can turn out 1500 words a night, every night, until the end of the month, I could hit 40K words. But I’d have to write at least 1500 words every night, and there in lies the challenge.

We’ll see what happens. For now, I’m 20K words farther into this novel than I was two weeks ago, and that’s an accomplishment as far as I’m concerned.

Now onto today’s discussion topic. While reading through the Erotica Readers & Writers Association blog, I came across this post by M. Christian. The article is about the hazards of being an erotica writer and the need to protect oneself from the slings and arrows of the righteous, the intolerant, the uptight and the inhibited. Among other things, M. Christian urges the need for erotica writers to hide what they do. I can understand why he offers this advice. For erotica writers, the threats of being fired, stalked, harassed, arrested, of losing one’s home or even one’s children are all very real.


Here’s my problem with this. You can’t ever hide completely, not if you want to write. You can’t hide and get your stories published. You can’t hide and promote your work online. You can’t hide and go to signings or conventions. You can’t hide and write. Because once you write those words, those awful filthy words about the most forbidden subject of sex, you’ve already revealed who and what you are. You have made your mark in the erotica genre. You have left evidence for others to see. Short of deleting the file and wiping the hard drive (or for you low-tech writers, burning the notebook and throwing away the pen), you can’t get rid of that evidence. You did the deed. You dared to write the porn, the erotica, the smut, the whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-this-genre. You wrote it, and it’s yours. Oh, you can use a pen name, you can promote only online, and you can demur when people ask what you write about, but still. If you write sexually explicit material, then you have already put yourself at risk for being fired, harassed, stalked, etc. Computers can be searched. Pen names can be revealed. You yourself might trip up and let slip some detail that would allow people to connect your story with your name. Even if you just write one erotica story, one steamy sexy scene, and hide it away in a dresser drawer, it’s still there for someone to find and you’re still going to be at risk. It’s like trying to take a dip in the pool without getting wet. Even if all you do is just put your little toe in the water, you can’t not get wet.

For my part, I have never hidden what it is I do. I have never used a pen name. And somehow I have never suffered any of these horror stories that I’ve heard about from other writers. Maybe it’s because I’m not in as vulnerable a position as others are. I’m a stay-at-home mom; I can’t get fired from that job! And I’m in a good, stable marriage. My husband knew from the start what I was writing. So did my parents. To this day, my mother introduces me as ‘her daughter who writes porn.’ My husband’s family all know what I write. My friends know. Heck, even our pediatrician and my daughters’ teachers know. I have never made a secret of this. And yet somehow, I’m doing okay. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. Maybe my own personal horror story of stalkings and obscenity charges and court cases are just around the corner waiting to happen. Who knows?

What I do know is that anyone who tells me to hide the fact that I am an erotica writer might as well just tell me to never write erotica in the first place. The consequences are dire, so don’t even dare it. But telling me to not write erotica would be like telling the late Charlton Heston to not let anybody know he liked guns. To paraphrase the man himself, I will only stop writing porn when you can pry my keyboard from my cold, dead hands. Until then, risks be damned. I’m writing.

About Cynical Woman

Cartoonist, Artist, Geek, Evil Crafter, Girl Scout Troop Leader and Writer. Also, a zombie. I haven't slept in I don't know how long.
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  1. I think it only really matters if you have someone who has a vendetta against you, or someone who wants to make trouble for you, or a boss who truly believes erotica is porn and you are Lilith for enjoying and/or writing it.

    Of course, if you watch some of these teen shows that air at 8 pm, they are nearly as graphic as some erotic novels. And if you make beaucoup bucks writing erotica, people often have a different vision of what erotica is. (grin)

    You can imagine the raised eyebrows I get for being an erotica publisher. (grin)

  2. I hide but to an extent. You are right, if you hide completely you will be very limited in exposure. I mean if you want others to read, they will damned well know or find out who you are. I do have kids and I have a degree in a field where I work with a vulnerable group of society (see I’m hiding again, using selective wording). I don’t work now but like you said, there’s that risk of accusations and evil eyes looking what i write all the time. Overall I’m a straight and narrow person so I kinda chuck any potential fire from critics to the wind when it comes to associating the nasty thoughts in my mind to my child rearing abilities and field of work.

    In general though I am a sneaky person. Tiptoeing around the shadows is what I do. So online anonymity was like the best thing ever when I first met it lol.

  3. Marci,

    I don’t even get the raised eyebrows any more! People just sort of look at me, nod, and say, “Yeah, I’m not surprised.”

    If a person does work with people who are vindictive or judgmental, then yes, they are going to face problems when it comes to writing and being outed. Some people have nothing better to do than to make other folk’s lives miserable, and they’ll dig up whatever dirt they can find to do that. So I do agree when M. Christian says assess your risks. Take an honest look at your position in life and the people around you and understand what’s the worst that could happen. However, I also think that if people see these risks and find them unacceptable, they should not put pen to paper. This genre is not for the fainthearted.

  4. DeidraK,

    I completely understand. But what’s important is that you understand what you’re getting into by writing erotica. I think that would be a better message to send to people in this genre than just “hide.” Be aware of what could happen if you’re outed and decide whether you want to take those risks or not.

    Kudos to you for daring to write!

  5. I see the ‘public/hiding’ aspect of writing erotica to be similar to membership in many other sexuality oriented groups such as bdsm or swinging. I dislike the idea of being told to ‘hide’ because I don’t think we are doing anything wrong. At the same time, I recognize the value of discretion, because it helps prevent unnecessary trouble.

    So like bdsm’ers, for example, there will be folks (porn writers) who are completely ‘out’ and happy to discuss what they do with anyone who doesn’t run away. There are some who will discuss what they do selectively and some that will remain deeply closeted. I really think that has to be an individual choice based on personal risk assessment.

    I use a pseudonym and try to keep it difficult to trace my real identity from my pseudonym. The main reason is to allow me to control who knows about my writing and who doesn’t. I’ve told maybe two dozen people in my real life about my writing and invited them to read my stories. But that list does not include my in-laws or my employer. I don’t want to invite them into this part of my life, and the pseudonym makes it harder for them to stumble in.

    That said, I did have one reader correctly identify me. He was a good friend who recognized an incident I’d put into a story. It turned out to be an amusing lunch after he emailed me and, in many ways, was equivalent to running into someone I knew at a bdsm club. He couldn’t exactly accuse me of being more of a deviant than he was because he’d obviously had had to be reading porn in order to figure out who I was (instead of just running google searches on my name).

    So yes, the risk of exposure and other bad things is there the moment I set pen to paper, but I do have some control over the amount of risk I’m facing. And I think all authors do, and should.

  6. Big Ed,

    You are right. All authors should take control over the amount of risk they’re going to face, and I have no problems with people using pen names and choosing not to tell their employers or family members, etc., that they write erotica. It is very much up to the individual to assess their own situation and decide how to deal with it. However, as you illustrated, people can figure things out even if you don’t tell them. If a writer is so scared of being discovered that they feel they must hide or lose their job, then maybe the solution isn’t to hide at all but to not venture into the genre in the first place. It’s called risk for a reason. No matter how much control a writer thinks they have over the situation, there is still the chance of being found out. And it’s important we all understand that. Telling writers to hide really isn’t useful advice at all, in my opinion. Most writers are already doing that anyway! Telling them how to handle the potential consequences should they occur would have been much better advice, I think.

  7. We’re in strong agreement, about the risk. But the trick is manageability.

    In both the bdsm and swinger communities, as a general rule, MAD applies. No one’s going to say, to a vanilla acquaintance, “hey, I saw Big Ed at the bdsm club” because doing so means they de facto admit they were there. Furthermore, the club is likely to ostracize folks who engage is such casual outings. So there’s some risk still (the person outing you might not care), but there’s some mitigations. Online doesn’t have the same built in mitigations and so requires a different thought process.

    However your last sentence raises a question–how do you give advice on how to handle the consequences?

  8. When I first started writing I was *strongly* advised to use a ‘nom de porn’. Since then I’ve become much more relaxed about getting ‘outed’, to the extent that anyone who tried should be able to find out my real name in no more thasn a few clicks. But my circumstances are not the same as others’, so I believe it has to be an individual thing.

    I have noticed a gender-imbalance thing: Purely from observation it’s apparent that female erotica writers are more open to let their real names be found than male ones are. Or perhaps I’ve not sampled widely enough?

  9. Big Ed,

    Good question. How do we prepare for and handle the potential risks of being an erotica writer? In my opinion, the first step should be to arm one’s self with information. Find out what the obscenity laws are in your local area, and what could happen if you’re found to be violating them. Check to see if your workplace has a history of digging into employees’ personal lives. Do some research and see if there are any local groups in the area that frequently protest “immoral” material or host book burnings of Harry Potter. In a nutshell, know the territory you live and work in.

    Second, find other erotica writers online (for a group that’s supposed to be in hiding, we’re awfully easy to get in touch with). Ask if they’ve ever encountered any problems and how they’ve handled them. Consider joining a group like the Erotica Readers and Writers Association for moral support and for a place to turn to when you find you need advice. One thing you can talk to these writers about is how to keep your pen name separate from your real name. How many degrees of separation do you need to have to minimize the risks? If you’re on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Yahoo Groups, if you blog and promote, what do you really need to do to protect your identity. Since I don’t use a pen name, it’s not a subject I’m familiar with, but I say, FIND OUT!

    Talk to your family! Especially your spouse. If you have a husband or wife who simply will not tolerate or understand sexually explicit material, you have a serious problem and maybe you should not be writing erotica in the first place. The fact is, you can’t hide anything from your spouse, not for long anyway, and if you try, they’ll most likely start digging through your computer and personal folders to find out what’s going on. Be open with them about what you’re writing, or don’t write it at all.

    Brush up on First Amendment law. Research cases where members of the adult entertainment industry have go to trial to defend their work and their rights. Perhaps one of the best people to look at is Larry Flynt. publisher of Hustler magazine. You want to talk about people dealing with the consequences of producing porn and erotica? This man is in a wheel chair for the rest of his life because someone shot him over what he was publishing. And yet he hasn’t stopped what he’s doing.

    While you’re at it, read up on Susie Bright, the god mother of erotica. She’s an editor, author, educator, parent, and sex positive feminist who has spent a life time working on erotica in the mainstream spotlight. She runs a weekly audio show on Audible.com where she frequently discusses freedom of speech issues, among other topics.

    It’s a lot of work isn’t it, those suggestions I’ve made above. The thing is, it’s easy to tell folks to hide. It’s not so easy to tell people how to arm and protect themselves. That requires time, research, and serious thought. Still, I think it’s better than hiding. Hiding separates us all and makes us more vulnerable. Banding together with other writers, learning about the law and freedom of speech issues, makes us better prepared to deal with any problems.

    If anybody else has specific suggestions on how to deal with the risks of being an erotica writer, I’d love to hear them!

  10. Steveh11,

    I won’t say yea or nay to the idea of gender-imbalance with regards to the risks of being outed. I’d honestly have to see a study done on it, rather than listen to anecdotal evidence. While you may have heard of more men having problems than woman, I can say I’ve know more women who’ve been threatened with job loss than men over their writing. Again, this would require doing and survey and gathering actual evidence. Keep in mind, also, that we live in a country where you can easily find magazines like Hustler, Penthouse, Playboy, Juggs, etc., for male readers but as far as I know, there’s just PlayGirl out there for female readers. Is this evidence of bias against women in the adult publishing industry? Who can say?

  11. Helen,

    That’s not quite what I said.

    I said that ladies are more open to letting their real names be found out than guys are. I’m open to the idea of it being Perception of risk vs the Reality of it. Maybe guys are more risk averse than you ladies are? Simply put, “I don’t know”. I just offer the above as an observation; perhaps some future Social Scientist will get their PhD by researching into the statistical truth of it.

  12. Steveh11,

    Again, I can’t say whether or not this is the case. I know of quite a few female writers who are very concerned about having their pen names revealed while many male writers are quite casual for it. As you say, unless someone conducts research and gathers the data, we’ll never really know 🙂

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