You asked for them, and today our episode features Sinclair Sexsmith! Jera, Princess and Karen hosted the butch erotica writer on a lively Facebook Live where they talked about writing to be a better dom and how Sinclair’s writing has transformed their idea of consent.
Plus, we announce our next pick for Lit Lap, our bi-monthly book club! Be sure to stay tuned: there’s much more of Sinclair coming (heh) in later episodes.
Episode Resources: For more Sinclair, explore their website sugarbutch.net and follow them on Twitter @MrSexsmith (help them hit 10k followers!); Grab a copy of Best Lesbian Erotica series, Vol. 5; Visit friends of the podcast Wild & Sublime; Check out Sinclair’s book recommendations: ‘Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times and Roger Housden’s Risking Everything
Follow Feminist Erotica on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and email us with questions/comments/concerns at email@example.com. This episode is sponsored by Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast.
Voiceover Goddess: Welcome to Feminist Erotica, a podcast from Rebellious Magazine for Women. Join Jera, Karen and Princess for stimulating interviews that explore feminist representations of desire as well as short and sweet erotic snippets read by the authors themselves. This episode is sponsored by Just The Tip, Rebellious Magazine’s inclusive sex and relationship advice column, where you’ll find interviews with sexuality, researchers and educators, as well as compassionate responses to anonymous questions. Check it out at rebelliousmagazine.com/just-the-tip.
Karen: Thank you for jumping in. I can only imagine the like, Ah shit, I’m late!
Sinclair: I’m like, ‘I’ve got half an hour. I’m going to do my hair. I’m going to, you know, prep my notes.’ Whatever. I’m here. It’s all good. We’ll figure it out. I’m glad, I’m thrilled to talk to you all and thanks for making it happen.
Princess: Thank you for joining us and for being open to have this conversation. I always feel like it’s kind of weird. I know that this is the culture that we live in now, but you know, we just randomly hit people up. I’m like, ‘Hey! We’re doing a thing. Do you want to come and talk to us?’ And people are like, ‘Sure! I’ve never met you before. I have no idea what you do. Ah, it’ll be fine! Yeah! Send me a link. We’ll just, you know, do it in front of folks. It’ll be fine.’ But I was saying earlier, for our readers, when we asked who specifically they wanted to talk to, or wanted us to talk to. Your name was mad high on the list of folks.
Princess: So. And now I feel like I’m behind. I read a bunch of your work and I’m absolutely smitten with the work and, not just the writing stuff but also the example that you set for folks in trying to be a better human is really, really valuable. So, you know, thank you for being here with us tonight.
Sinclair: It’s my pleasure. Thanks. That’s big confluence and I appreciate it.
Princess: Well, that’s how we start.
Sinclair: Start with the good stuff, then go hard.
Jera: So for folks that are also less familiar, I’m just gonna read your bio and we’ll go from there. “Sinclair Sexsmith (they, them pronouns) is the best known butch erotica writer whose 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.” That’s according to Autostraddle. “Their short story collection, Sweet and Rough: Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalists for the Lambda Literary award, and they’re the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series,” which we’re going to get into. “You can find more of their work at sugarbutch.net.” And Mr. Sexsmith is – what is this, I can’t do math – 158, I think, followers short of 10K on Twitter. So you should go right now and follow them and start re-tweeting their awesome tweets. They’re a perfect person to follow if you want to be more in the know about queer erotica and kinky things. So you can find them on Twitter @MrSexsmith. There’s the plug.
Princess: I’m following right now.
Sinclair: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. And you know, you hover around 10. I’ve been, I swear, at like 9,900 followers for like a year. It’s like, Take a risk. Cause you know, people drop off and then other people come. So it’s just like, can’t quite. But Twitter is fun. Twitter is where I hang out the most. I think Twitter and Instagram stories. I’m on Facebook less than I used to be, you know, for lots of politic reasons, mostly. But it’s still where so many events happen. I try to still keep in touch.
Princess: When we reached out to Sinclair, it was twofold reasons. Number one, because we absolutely wanted to talk to them. And number two, because we, Feminist Erotica Podcast, has selected their book as our next book club. I want to say it correctly. Best Lesbian Erotica series, Vol. 5.
Jera: Woo! There it is.
Princess: Volume five is going to be our next book club for January. Our book club is bi-monthly so, is that already out? It’s already out, correct?
Sinclair: It comes out in like two weeks, I just got my box of books yesterday. So I-
Sinclair: This is like, I don’t think anybody has them yet. So I’m so excited. So excited about putting that one in the world.
Princess: We will definitely let you guys know when the book drops. So you can get your copies and read along with us. Everybody’s excited about this book, let’s be very honest and clear. This is one of the, I feel like this is one of the titles that people were also shouting out. Like we should read one of those, absolutely. So that’s going to be our book club selection. We will be talking again with Sinclair for that book club. So now that you’re here and you’re getting Sinclair, you’re going to get a second portion of Sinclair in January for our book club. You’re welcome.
Jera: With other contributors.
Jera: There’s gonna be an awesome conversation.
Sinclair: We’re doing some readings for this book in December and January, too. So I’ll let you guys know when the dates are and you can let people know because we’ll be, I’m going to try to get as many people as I can to read from their stories. It’s just so different to hear the authors actually read their work. I really love that. I love how much it adds when I hear it in their own voice.
Karen: Yeah. And one of the contributors, we won’t say who in case she wants to be on the DL, came to book club last night. I know! And it was like, very excited about being in the edition. And you know, I hate to silver lining this, but you’re having readings probably because you’re having them online, people from all over can come. Like our book club last night, New Jersey, New York, Vancouver, Dallas, Chicago. So-
Karen: I hope that ya’ll benefit from that.
Sinclair: Me too. It’s really exciting to get to read with more people because you know, when I’ve done books, readings, and tours with books and anthologies before, I’ll kind of cluster it around like, ‘Well, there’s five people in Seattle and Portland, so I’ll do one reading near there. Maybe something in, you know, New York, something in Chicago.’ But then there’s all these amazing people who I never get to read with because they’re in like Saskatoon, Saskatchewan or something. And, you know, it’s not that I would never tour there, but it would take more work. So it’s going to be fun, I think, to get more people from all over the place. And there’s a couple people I know who aren’t in the U.S. Definitely a couple Canadians, but then I think there’s even a couple of people overseas. So we’ll try to figure out time zones so we can make that work.
And I’m really excited about the range in this book, especially. There’s five stories, I think, with trans women in them. And there’s a couple, three or four stories with asexual and greysexual folks in them, who are talking about what it is to be erotic and sexual from that perspective, which I think is really great. And there are things that I don’t see very much in erotica and that I really want to see more of. So, I love getting to be the one to pick what we get to see more of. It makes me feel so honored to be trusted with something, especially something like this series. This is the, you know, it’s been 25 something, 26 years. So, there’s a lot of these, and they’re very influential. People really trust the series title. And I feel so honored to be part of it.
Karen: Is this – I know, Princess, I know you’re going to transition us but I wanted to ask – is this the first one of these you’ve edited?
Sinclair: It’s the second. So I did Volume 4 last year, and I was also the guest editor for 2012, which was, it didn’t have a volume number but it was eight years ago now. And at that time, the series was structured a little differently where they had a series editor that was in charge of all of it, and then a guest editor for each one. That was a little different. So it’s changed. It’s changed a little over the years and Cleis changed hands five or so years ago. So they used to be like very indie little, their own little unit, and they’re part of a larger publishing group now. So things have changed with the new ownership in that regard. But generally they’ve been really staying true to Cleis’ mission, I think. And they’ve been really invested in bringing, you know, different voices on and different kinds of perspectives. And, you know, there’s a lot of people who write lesbian erotica, or who would edit an anthology of lesbian erotica, who wouldn’t necessarily choose people with non-binary pronouns. I feel like I’m pushing the envelope of what lesbian means in these books and Cleis is like, ‘Right on! Let’s do that.’ They’re in support of that, which I’ve been really grateful for and little worried about at times, but excited to be working with them with that mission in mind.
Princess: Well, I think that the definition of lesbian is changing a little bit from what, you know, it was back in the seventies and eighties. So, you know, if you’re not creating work that connects with the change in times, then like, where are you actually doing?
Jera: You’ve got this anthology coming out. What are you excited about about it? So you’ve told us that there’s awesome inclusive representation. What else about the stories have surprised you?
Sinclair: I think the sweetness and the connection and the transformative-ness of these stories. As I was rereading some of these in the last week or so, because it comes out in like two weeks, they’re so full of heart. And that’s not to say that the characters are falling in love with each other. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. But they’re so full of characters bringing their whole selves to these encounters, and giving so much with each other and seeing each other. Some of it’s about visibility, some of it’s about validation, and there’s so much that happens in good erotica that is about life-changing events and permission to be who we are. Especially for folks like queer folks and trans folks and folks with different types of kinks or fetishes or folks on the Ace spectrum everywhere, we don’t see ourselves in mainstream culture. And minority folks of all kinds. I mean, I was speaking particularly of sexual minorities, but then people who are not white basically, and people who are not able bodied and people who are not neuro normative? What’s the word for that? There’s a word for it.
Sinclair: Neurotypical. And that’s the one I was looking for. Thank you. I get touched by erotica in general. And I think it’s partly because of how vulnerable characters are when they’re sharing their erotic selves, you know? We see this other version of people and I love that. It makes me really happy. And that touched feeling of like, the tears in my corners of my eyes. Even when the characters are just fucking like crazy, and they’re all happy and, you know, beating me, ‘Thank you ma’am!’ Or whatever. And I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s so great.’ You know? So it’s kind of a funny reaction, but I do have that a lot with erotica.
It’s funny to read it now, too. Cause I was picking and finishing these stories in January and February of this year. So it was all right before the lockdown happened. So it’s kind of weird to not see anybody wearing masks or dealing with COVID or, you know, going out in public. There’s no COVID in this book at all. So it’s a little strange actually to not see that. But I already know, I’m doing the next year edition and I already know I have a couple stories submitted that are set in COVID times. One is a Zoom scene. It’s so good! So excited about that one. I mean, that’s kind of an odd thing about it, but that’s just what happens in book life where you don’t finish the book a month before it comes out most of the times.
Jera: I feel like I’ve been talking to a lot of writers lately. An episode just dropped today with Jayne Renault and Lauren Emily, who both were talking about processing their bisexuality through the writing of erotica and giving themselves permission, and then how that gives readers permission to explore similar things. I feel like it’s a theme, but I’m curious specifically about you. I think it’s really hard for dominant folks and tops to just figure out how to acquire those skills and the confidence and the negotiation needed. And could you just talk a little bit more about how writing made you a better dominant or top?
Sinclair: Yeah, I mean, I think describing everything, from meeting to negotiating to doing the scene to the aftercare and actually going through and typing those out, writing those out, just made me have to think through them really elaborately. Getting to do that over and over meant that I was thinking through different scenarios and different things that different people had told me, you know, fictionalizing things that people had told me. Or not. Sometimes it was actually writing about what we had done. And it helped me sort through them and notice patterns and remember what I’d done that had happened well, and write notes to myself almost about, ‘This is how you should be doing it,’ you know? And I think it was also really helpful to write the more journal entry stuff that was about, how do I be a feminist and want to hit somebody “for pleasure” at the same time? And having the kind of feminist crisis of dominance and submission and having some masculinity wrapped up in that too.
Do I think I have to be a top because I’m a masculine person, or do you think I have to be masculine because I’m the top? How are these playing with each other? Cause it’s so compulsory that those are linked in this culture. So, you know, it helped me to write through it, but then also the writing was fueled by just dozens of conversations with people. ‘How did you learn about that? How did you reconcile feminism with your dominance? How did you learn how to be a top or learn how to be a bottom? I mean, really, I learned how to be a top from bottoms. More than anything else, I think it was bottoms saying to me, ‘You know, as much as you want to do that thing, I want to receive that thing. And I want you to say those horrible things to me, and I want you to degrade me and spit on me and, you know whatever, do these things that are “horrible.”‘ And so hearing them confess these desires and needs made me feel like there’s someone meeting me, like there’s another half of what I want.
And it isn’t just that topping happens in a vacuum or by itself, you know. It needs someone consenting and full of agency to come along and say, ‘I want you to do these things to me.’ Otherwise I’m actually not interested. I don’t want to just hit somebody. That’s not fun. That’s not fun at all. It makes such a big difference to have that other part. So it really was finding that other part, and then I just kind of kept trying to make it come alive on the page. What do I imagine bottoms, or you know, my dream girl or whoever, would be saying? How do I imagine they deal with it? And how do I think that they offer themselves up or ask for what they want? Or why do they like this? You know, trying to get into the head of that character was helpful. And the head of my character, too, to further articulate what I wanted.
Jera: So quick, shout out. It’s wildandsublime.com. A good friend wrote a guide to responsible bottoming for Wild and Sublime Show and Podcast, et cetera. So I switch, and I feel like it was a long time before I realized that I didn’t know how to say no. And that I got out of this mindset that subbing meant just accepting what happened to me. And so, yeah, that. I don’t know. I just wanted to throw that out there for people listening that have only maybe read the stuff I have not participated in it that, by all means you should be an active, engaged partner, no matter what role you’re playing. I just feel like it’s so important to say, but I also think that this is a good segue. I have this one more question, then I’m going to turn it over to Karen and Princess. In your introduction to Sweet and Rough, you talked also about your consent journey as both a writer and a kinkster, I guess. So can you basically say similar things about your journey? Like, enjoying rough sex and consensual non-consent and all these things, how did writing about it also transform your thoughts about consent?
Sinclair: Hmm, that’s funny. I haven’t read that introduction in probably three or four years, so I’d have to look exactly at what it says now. But I’m thinking about it from right now, like what does that mean for me now? And so, regardless of what I did write then. I mean, I think what you were getting at with the active agency and active participants in kink scenes is a lot related to how I think about consent. That it’s this very active thing, that it’s not just acquiescence or allowing someone to do something, but it’s actually actively asking for it to happen. And desiring it to happen. And participating in that creation of the wanting, in addition to the allowing or just letting it happen. And maybe there’s times, especially in long relationships or something where you’re like, ‘Maybe I’m not in the mood exactly, but I’m just going to show up and I’m going to bring this and you want it, so let’s do it, you know?’ And I think that might be more of the kind of allowing that I’m referring to. And we can all do that sometimes and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but especially with new things or edgy things or things that are really pushing our boundaries or pushing our limits or really intense for us, to be this active participant in consent is really key for me.
And I think that for me, understanding the ways that someone said yes, and ‘Yes, I actively want to do this’ really helped me understand the agency of someone bottoming, but then also gave me more permission to be in the topping. You know, someone would say, ‘I want you to hit my face. I want you to smack me hard. I want to feel it.’ And I had a hard time doing that. It was challenging, And tops can have limits. That’s completely legit. If I was just like, ‘I’m not comfortable, I don’t want to,’ that’d be one thing, but I really wanted to, I was just scared. And so I had to learn to trust that when she said, I want you to do that, that that was true. That she meant that. And that I could trust her ‘yes’ as much as I could trust in her saying ‘no.’ And I had a lover specifically say, ‘You believe me when I say no, right? If I say, no, you stop.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, of course.’ ‘But okay, so when I say I want you to do this thing and you want to do it too, what’s the problem?’ ‘Oh. But what if you don’t actually want to do it?’ You know, like, ‘Well, I’m literally telling you, I want to do it. You have to believe what I’m telling you. Otherwise this doesn’t work.’ Right?
Jera: It’s a part of the trust game.
Sinclair: Yeah, absolutely.
Sinclair: You know, mainstream culture really values this intuition around sex. ‘You know, we can’t talk about it, it would ruin it.’ Or ‘you shouldn’t ask me before you kiss me because I just want it to just magically happen.’ Right? And I get the sexiness of that. And I think it doesn’t serve us very well. And it took me some unlearning of that to figure out that actually asking for it and being actively articulate about it was not ruining the mood and it wasn’t unsexy. And it was the better way to go.
[dramatic music fades in]
Princess: Hey, hey, this is Princess McDowell, co-host of the Feminist Erotica Podcast, inviting you to join our book club, the Lit Lap. Every other month, we hop on a Zoom call and discuss an erotica book with you in the community. And then afterward we interview the author with your questions and a few of our own. This January we’re diving into Best Lesbian Erotica Vol. 5, edited by Sinclair Sexsmith. For more information, head over to feministerotica.com and look for our About Us page or find us on Twitter @FeministErotic for the link in our bio.
[dramatic music fades out]
Princess: So you write a lot of different things, a lot of different genres. And because I am a poet, I was really interested in the poetry that you had on your site. And it’s such a different space to create and write in. So I was wondering about your process in writing poetry, because I feel like there’s almost an overlap between what I’ve read of your work having still those same kind of poetic elements to it. So can you talk a little bit about what writing poetry has been like for you?
Sinclair: Sure. Poetry kind of feels like my first language and definitely my first writing love. I fell in love with writing poetry as an angsty teen, and read just as much as I could get my hands on. Collect books of poems and later, it was probably 20-ish, started getting involved with spoken word and performance poetry, and listening to, and going to the slams and going to readings and doing more of that. I was in Seattle at the time and there was a big scene. And Tara Hardy also ran the Bent Writing Institute for Queers, who I adore. And I was part of Bent for many years and read with them. There was a whole queer spoken word world in Seattle while I lived there in the early 2000s. So it was really meaningful to me. So a lot of my philosophies about writing come from that time, from learning through her and through that school how to write about your life and that writing about your life matters. That writing, even if it’s the mundanity, writing our stories down is revolutionary and transformative. And we deserve to tell our stories. We deserve to be heard, we deserve to be witnessed. And that it’s not just even about deserving. It’s a gift to other people to do that because they get to feel less alone at times. Sometimes there’s just no other way to express something, for me anyway, than in poetry, because the emotional truth of poetry can be bigger and deeper than the literal truth of writing something in a prose scene. And that means a lot to me to, you know, to try to get at the emotional truth of a situation.
So I love poetry. I have always kept writing it quietly, although I don’t always publish it. And I’ve been in a variety of poetry classes this year, online actually. It’s been great. It was one of those unfortunate blessings that has been exciting, that some of the writing teachers that I love have started doing things online and I’m grateful to get to study with them more. Even though, you know, there’s negatives in other ways. But I think right now, what I’m most interested in in my erotic world actually – in my erotic writing world, I guess I should say, maybe not the erotic world completely – but in the writing is the kind of more hybrid of poetry and prose kind of like the piece I was reading. There’s no character names in that story. And at times it’s more about the rhythm or the mouth feel of the words then about the story that’s happening. There is a story, but there’s also that other element. And that’s much more interesting to me as a writer right now than the kind of traditional prose.
Princess: Yeah. The piece that you read was one of the ones that I read, so I was excited to hear it. But I was also struck by the cadence and the rhythm that you’re reading it from. I was like, ‘Holy shit. That’s not, there’s the difference between the reader reading it and the pace, and then hearing the author, which is something that we try to incorporate when we have authors who are comfortable reading. That makes that piece feel completely different to me now. Because it’s almost like there were lines that were chunked together differently. And then when – I’m trying to think of the part of it, where you say ‘rip, tear, rip apart’? That’s, I’m sorry, I get. As a poet, I’m like, absolutely that is such a beautiful device to use to bring the reader and then the characters along. I also really liked the phrase, the slick of her. Gonna write that down. I’m going to tattoo that on my back.
Sinclair: That would be hot, if you do that. If you do, send me a photo, cause that would be very hot.
Princess: Done. What? Ok. One of the reader questions that we have that I want to throw right in, because I’m also curious is, who are your favorite poets or favorite poetry books?
Sinclair: I read a lot of Mary Oliver because there’s just kind of nobody more profound for me. And gosh, who else? I read a fair amount of spoken word folks in general from Write Bloody. So I read Andrea Gibson and Tara Hardy and Megan Falley, Mindy Nettifee, some of those folks in that genre and those come to mind immediately. One of my favorite poetry books to give as a gift is the anthology called ‘Staying Alive.’ I think the subtitle is ‘Real Poems for Unreal Times.’ And they’re all very transformative. Some of my most favorite poems are in there by many different authors. And I really love that anthology. I also love Roger Housdon. He’s got a bunch of books, like six or eight books, that are this little series of ’10 poems to change your life,’ ’10 poems to open your heart,’ ’10 poems to bless a marriage,’ [Editor’s Note: It’s 20 Poems to Bless a Marriage.] And there are just 10 poems in the book, but then they have little essays that he wrote dissecting the poem. And they’re so lovely to help with deeper readings of what these poems are. And he chooses some of the most beautiful poems that I know. So he also has an anthology called ‘Risking Everything‘ of other people’s poems that is really good. So, those come to mind immediately. That’s off the top of my head.
Princess: That’s perfect. So, last question that we have for you, that we’ve been asking everyone because a big part of what we want to do for the podcast is connect the community with each other and really be a resource for folks as they’ve been a resource to us. So who should we talk to? Who do you think, after talking with us and kind of getting the vibe, who do you think we should reach out to, to get their take on what we’re doing over here?
Sinclair: Well, June Amelia Rose comes to mind immediately, who has been in the last two Best Lesbian Erotica anthologies, and she’s writing some really interesting stuff about identity and mental health, specifically around bipolar and other forms of mental health and mood. And the other one I’d probably say is Tobi Hill-Meyer if you haven’t talked to Tobi yet. Toby edited the anthology Nerve Endings, which is trans erotica. And I think there’s a new edition of Nerve Endings coming out soon. And Tobi writes herself, many amazing pieces. She also has pieces in this one and in last year’s. I know I flipped to the table of contents to be like, who should you talk to? But those two immediately come to mind. I’m so looking forward to binge listening on a bunch of your work from last season’s podcast. And gosh, thank you again for making this happen. I’m so excited to talk more about the book in January and hear what you think about the stories. It’s like throwing a party. Who’s going to like it? Is anybody going to come? Or come? I hope so. I know.
Jera: So dirty.
Sinclair: When I get on the kick of those jokes, they just start coming. You know what I mean? Oh, please.
Karen: I know.
Sinclair: I can’t stop.
Karen: Karen has left the chat. Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how delightful this has been. How excited I am you’re coming back.
Sinclair: Yeah, me too. It’s such a pleasure to speak with you all and connect names and voices and faces.
Voiceover Goddess: Feminist Erotica is a podcast from Rebellious Magazine for Women, hosted by Jera Brown, Princess McDowell, and Karen Hawkins. If you have an idea for a future episode or want to share your thoughts, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Instagram at Feminist Erotica Podcast, on Facebook at Feminist Erotica, and on Twitter at Feminist Erotic, and make sure you subscribe to us wherever you devour podcasts.
Transcript has been edited for clarity. Post may include Amazon-affiliate links.