I once wrote a poem that explores the theme of Shakespeare’s sexuality. The opening stanza goes like this:
In Shakespeare’s day,
all the actors were gay
while the women all wanted it ruder
And the sluttiest old crone
Rested up on the throne
And her name was Elizabeth Tudor.
I mention this here so, from the onset of this review, you’ll be aware that my attitude toward Shakespearean studies lacks any of the reverence associated with bardolatory.
There are lots of Shakespearean theories thrown out for discussion:
The one obvious thing that the majority of these theories fails to take into account is that Shakespeare was a writer. Writers, by their nature, are mercurial. I’m a writer and, if I thought it would improve my chances for publication, prestige or promotion, I would happily describe myself as an earl of Derby and/or Oxford, or as a gay man or a dead contemporary playwright or a Jewish woman.
The authors who’ve contributed to Salome Wilde’s Shakespearotica: Queering the Bard, seem to appreciate this mercurial quality. The stories they’ve contributed to this eclectic collection of gay erotic Shakespeare appropriations demonstrate a diverse range of approaches to the bard.
This section, from Jean Roberta’s “A Well-Placed Pinch,” shows how one of the contributors has managed to compile something contemporary with a clever suggestion of Shakespearean gender ambiguity.
"I am intrigued, my lad," announced Olivia to an invisible audience. "What secret could you be hiding? Do you have some monstrous deformity under your clothes? If you want me to believe you are a trustworthy messenger and not a scoundrel or an ogre, you must reveal yourself as God made you."
Claire hoped Irene didn't really mean what her words suggested. She wondered if this was Irene's idea of a fair test, an ordeal that a suitor must survive to gain a lady's attention and respect.
"Rude boy!" exclaimed Rosie, tossing her hair over her shoulder and pushing out her chest. "My mistress wants you to take off your clothes."
Claire tried to think of a Shakespearean response, but words failed her.
"You know you want to," said Irene, clearly as herself, looking Claire in the eyes. Then, resuming her role, she went on. "I wish to see what is covered by thy rich doublet and cunning codpiece. What better way to display your courage and honesty than by showing me what you've got? If you do as I ask, I may grant you a favor in return." Irene bubbled with sensuous implications, but Claire noted she wasn't making any promises.
Then there’s this science-fiction adaptation from Tilly Hunter with “As We Like It: A Romance.”
Few people come to the biodome. It was my mother's favorite place, although she felt deep guilt over the amount of water it wasted while the villagers eked out muddy puddles at the bottom of their wells. She had a tender heart. People think her spirit haunts this oasis, and so they avoid it. My father had been unkind to her when it became apparent one daughter was all she would bear him, and some say her early death was hastened by her unhappiness.
Ross lifts my knee-length shift, a thing of flimsy mauve silk, worn to impress at the duke's table. The dye comes from a plant that grows only on Wilmcote, one of the forest planets that orbit a lesser sun in the outer reaches of our galaxy. It costs hundreds of ducats to color one dress. The shadow of my curves shows through in certain lights. I think Ross appreciates its femininity as a contrast to his own trousers and shirt, although I prefer plainer and more practical attire. He grasps my hips and bends his head to my pubic mound, his lips skimming over my belly.
Or there’s “Much Ado About a Kiss,” this modern interpretation from Caitlin Ricci:
Jack shrugged and smiled, showing his perfectly white teeth. "True. But at the same time, it's just a sex scene. And a fake one at that."
Alex bit the inside of his cheek. That was exactly the problem he had: a sex scene with the man he'd had a crush on since the day he'd tried out for the all-gay production of Much Ado About Nothing. "Yeah, but it should be believable, right? So, I thought practice might be good." His face was on fire as he looked away. "Might be less awkward, at least," he mumbled.
"Sure. It would have been fun to have one of the other scenes. The guy playing Beatrice gets all the fun lines, and our characters hardly ever talk," Jack said with a sigh.
Alex agreed with him instantly and was curious to know which ones Jack liked the most. "Like which lines?" he asked.
Jack shrugged. "I like the one 'I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.' It seems to fit sometimes."
Startled, Alex looked up at him. "That's a strange line to pick. Do you scorn love? Like Beatrice does in the play?"
"No. Not at all. If I could find it, I'd jump at the chance to have it for myself. But I’ve been told that far too many times in my life to believe every guy that tries," Jack replied with a shrug.
A lot’s been written about Shakespeare and a lot more will be written as writers re-imagine Shakespeare’s stories for this and future generations. This entertaining collection shows that today’s contemporary erotica writers are more than capable of being inspired by the bard’s stories to develop their own dramatic flair for the erotic.
This book was a challenge, to say the least. I try to assess erotica according to how successfully it would appeal to its intended readership, but The Raptures of Time is such a tangle of genres that it was hard to get a handle on just who that readership might be. The science fictional element of a time loop with some vague connection to long-gone aliens doesn’t have enough consistency for serious science fiction fans, and those whose main interest is gay anal sex may appreciate the variations made possible in an alternate world, but get impatient with trying to follow the twists and turns and gaps in the plot.
Still, the book has a certain elusive charm to it, especially in the earlier parts, and eventually it dawned on me that the right mindset for appreciating it is very similar to the suspension of disbelief that makes (or made—does anyone read Edgar Rice Burroughs these days?) The Land That Time Forgot a fun read. Don’t try to make sense of it; just go with the flow (and, in this case, the occasional blow.) So what if a vicious predator in a hundred-and-thirty degree jungle setting has white fur? Why fur? And why on earth white? Never mind. Just tap into your inner adolescent and enjoy the ride, and be happy that these days you can get fantasies of endless buttbanging and addictive semen and rectal orgasms along with your adventure story.
The world-building is based around gay sex being the central focus of the various cultures encountered, often as a type of religious ritual. The first couple of tribes encountered are described in detail with some plausibility; male-on-male (and male-in-male) sex makes sense as a means of limiting population in a hunter-gatherer society where nature supplies enough food for limited numbers, and there’s no need for agricultural laborers. But as the book goes on, there seems to be less and less attempt to make sense of the world, and in the scenes set in the future, the major difference depicted is just the great advance in underpants technology.
As far as the sex scenes go, you do certainly get plenty of buttbanging for your buck. You get creativity too, to the point where you might wish the author weren’t trying quite so hard. A reader whose blood has been diverted from the brain by the exceedingly (and sometimes impossibly) hot sex may well not care what happens in the intervals in between, but as the story goes from culture to culture in this alternate world (or worlds) it gets more and more likely that some of the details will exceed your squick-out tolerance.
My favorite aspects of the book involved the occasional sly commentary on politics and religion. The use of “Raptures” in the title (and frequently in the sex scenes) was clearly a dig at the current “Rapture” cult, and my one laugh-out-loud moment came when the main character wonders whether, if he ever gets home again, he’ll be able to register as a Republican. “After sucking cocks and taking them up my ass, I might have to register as a Democrat.”
All in all, if you think your horny inner adolescent would enjoy a science fictional adventure story filled to bursting with gay sex, you could do worse than reading The Raptures of Time. Just go with the sensuality and don’t try to make much sense of the plot.
Erotica is about the journey. Whereas romance focuses on the end of the road, the elimination of obstacles and the consummation of desire, erotica frequently concerns itself with the twists and turns required to get to that point, and sometimes, with the mishaps that send you hurtling off the highway and over the precipice.
Thirty-One Days details the erotic journey of its narrator, a self-absorbed, egotistical, insecure young man, from het-sex god to gay submissive to (possibly) mass murderer. Related in an informal first person that's not quite stream of consciousness, it's a harrowing trip indeed. To call this book “raw” would be an understatement. Extreme sex, extreme violence, pain, humiliation, drugs, knives, branding, blood, piss, shit and vomit – you'll find all this and more in this four hundred plus page novel. Yet I would not say the book is pure exploitation. I don't think Ms. Jefferson (Amazon identifies the author as female, a surprise to me) wrote this tale purely to shock. There are nuggets of truth buried in even the most outrageous scenes. The main character (dare I call him a hero?) feels real, with his alternating doubt and bravado, his continued attempts to resist the temptations of his dark side and his continued failures. The book definitely made me squirm at times, yet I wanted to keep reading – not because I particularly like the violent and degrading sex, but because I was fascinated by the protagonist's downward spiral.
As the book begins, it's the first of December. The narrator (whose name I never noticed, but whom Amazon identifies as “Derek”) and his drinking buddies dream up a crazy challenge. Each of them will fuck thirty one different women, one per day until the New Year. The other three guys who take the pledge last no more than a day or two. Derek, on the other hand, is a chick magnet. All he has to do, it seems, is smile and the woman's in his bed.
The book gleefully recounts the details of each encounter. Initially, Derek targets girls his own age – ex-girlfriends, the bartender at the local watering hole, visiting coeds he meets at holiday parties. As Christmas approaches, his conquests become more ambitious and risky. He beds a sexually curious sixteen year old one night, then her insatiable forty-something mother the next. He stalks the classy, curvy middle-aged librarian, who just happens to be his next door neighbor, and buggers her among the stacks. At a company party, he tempts the pregnant wife of a colleague into the restaurant kitchen and fucks her until she bleeds.
Ms. Jefferson has a finely tuned sense of timing. The structure of Thirty-One Days is deliberate and artful. The fateful thirty one days of debauchery unfold in flashbacks, interspersed with scenes from the present, where Derek haunts the narrow, spunk-scented corridors of gay sex clubs, trying to convince himself he's not a homosexual. Despite his determination to do nothing more than prove his dominant masculinity, he is repeatedly drawn into situations where he allows himself to be bound, beaten and sodomized by other men, particularly a skinny, effeminate but intelligent guy named Stevie who is both his nemesis and his mentor. The book alternates between Derek's confused, increasingly violent homoerotic adventures and his heterosexual pre-New-Year's fucks, which each day grow more extreme but less enjoyable. The narrator hints at a crisis, but only in the last quarter of the book do we discover what event has sent him spinning into the world of leather, poppers and glory holes. Of course, we suspect (as does he) that a sexual attraction to men and a craving for abuse (as both receiver and giver) were latent in his nature all along, but something had to snap before he could consciously consider such a thing.
So, is this so-called erotica arousing? Thirty-One Days is powerful, visceral, uncomfortable, disturbing, disgusting at times. Many readers will find the blatant misogyny of its narrator acutely offensive. Although his thirty one women ostensibly consent, many of his conquests deserve to be called rape. He doesn't kill any of his women – quite – but he comes close in several cases. He's concerned at first, both about their pleasure and their safety, but as the month goes on, his cruelty and callousness reach almost unbelievable levels. Some readers may feel he deserves the rough handling he gets at the hands of the “queers” to whom he finds himself attracted.
With all these caveats, I have to admit that some parts of the book pushed my buttons. The encounter with Cathy, the librarian, was one of the hottest scenes I've read in while. Then there's the protagonist's barely remembered meeting with “God”, the mysterious Uber-Master of the most vicious club he attends. God, it turns out, is trans and exquisitely powerful and alluring. The dream-like interlude perhaps sums up the narrator's sexual confusion. The Master's dualism is a mirror of his own nature.
Ultimately, I'm not sure it was the author's intent to arouse, or at least not exclusively. Some readers will call this book pornography of the worst sort, the kind that glorifies the abuse of women and equates sex with violence. Perhaps they're correct. On the other hand, Thirty-One Days is also a well-crafted, thought-provoking novel that asks difficult questions about the nature of desire. If it's porn, it's some of the best-written porn I've ever read, though not necessarily the sexiest.
It isn’t easy to show bisexuality in a short story for the same reasons that it’s difficult to be a bisexual person. That is – people define a character’s sexuality by their lover’s gender. The contributors to Twice The Pleasure meet the challenge in various ways, from showing a poly couple welcoming another lover to ‘just this once’ affairs, from ‘straight for you’ surprises to ‘here, we’re all queer.’
These contributors have put together some amazing, sexy stories, but the ones that caught my attention because they were incredibly well written short stories, worthy of serious literary praise, were Lori Selkie’s “The Robber Girl,” and Tahira Iqbal’s “The State.”
In “The Robber Girl,” Gerda finds a mentor in a female bandit. She is honed into an instrument for revenge-- not for the robber girl, but for herself. You don’t know what she decides or if she comes back to her lover, but you will wonder. The knife play is exquisite, but not too much for a casual kinkster. The sex is shown in vignettes that serve as teasers, leaving you wanting more. The sex is hot, and the dialog—oh, how it sparks! It was such a delicious tale that I had to read it a second and third time to try to figure out how the writer was evoking those images in my mind.
While I’ve never met her, I’ve been aware of Lori Selke for years. Tahira Iqbal is a new name for me, but after reading “The State,” I’ll keep my eye out for this writer’s work. “The State” was filled with such rich sensory detail. I enjoy a lush read, and this was it. There’s a sense of dread and loss hanging over this story, of isolation and loneliness. The melancholy is evoked so well and yet seamlessly with the sex, which is a difficult thing to do.There are many strong contributions to this anthology. There’s revenge sex, gender bending, a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan (Jean Roberta knows how to make me smile), and a lot of women taking vacations from what’s expected of them to get—as Jacqueline Appleby so aptly puts it—“What I Want, What I Need.” Maybe you’ll find some of that here too.