Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Collection for Sex Nerds
For the past three years, erotica writer Rachel Kramer Bussel has been at the helm of compiling and editing a thought-provoking annual collection of Best Sex Writing for Cleis Press that features essays covering a wide array of matters pertaining to sex and sexuality. Kramer Bussel has written for or edited over 100 anthologies about sex and erotica and was for many years penned the Lusty Lady column for The Village Voice. Having just come off of her nationwide promotional tour, Kramer Bussel talks about the responsibility of putting together an anthology that challenges normative notions and pushes readers beyond their comfort zone.
You're known for writing and editing erotica, so people may be surprised to learn that the Best Sex Writing series is really more about exploring sex and sexuality than getting people off. What do you want the essays in this book to provide for readers?
In some ways, these essays are a counterpart to all the erotica anthologies I’ve edited. They’re the other side, the ‘why’ behind what makes people aroused. I think of Best Sex Writing as a series for sex nerds like myself, but also those who are curious about a topic that everyone has some involvement with.
You write in the introduction that the theme of this year's collection is "being a sexual outlaw." What exactly does that entail?
I don’t think there’s any single strict definition, but what stood out to me is that each author confronts and grapples with conventional wisdom about sex, whether that means staying married and choosing to have an affair or being a proud sex worker whose desires might contradict the desires of one’s clients. To me, being a sexual outlaw means thinking and speaking for yourself and not accepting what you’re told about sex.
Some of the essays in the 2010 collection are unnerving in their honesty about unconventional sexual desires. In what way do you think this year's Best Sex Writing queers the way people think about sex?
The essays here, whether explicitly queer or not, show that sex is complicated, that it’s not as straightforward as we’d like to think. From the opening piece, which basically asks if you can tell a girl’s a slut just by looking at her, to the last one involving a different kind of voyeurism, these works force readers to consider the ways sex makes us think about ourselves. For many of the authors, their sexuality is itself unnerving. There are some pieces that specifically address LGBT sexuality, such as the chapters by Betty Dodson, Kirk Read and Seth Michael Donsky, but I think as a whole this volume is very queer in that it tackles the basic assumptions many of us have about sex.
What pieces in this collection hit you the hardest?
Mollena Williams’ essay about the idea that race can be touched on and explored in the context of BDSM play and Kerry Cohen—writing as Michelle Perrot—her assertion that an affair can be planned and even helpful to a marriage, are among the most powerful original works for this anthology. I think the personal touch in each of these chapters goes a very long way, and I admire them tremendously for these contributions. They each tackle very taboo topics. Both are very brave and extremely powerful for their bravery.
This anthology covers a whole lot of ground and brings together a number of disparate voices that don't usually meet in one forum. What are the challenges of putting together a collection of sex writing?
The biggest challenge is the pressure to be inclusive, and I don’t know that a book like this can ever be fully inclusive because you will never be able to cover every topic out there. I try to make the book timely to some degree, but also something that’ll hold up in ten years. My aim for the next volume is to try to get a more conservative take on sex because I don’t want this just to be pieces I like and agree with. I want it to be writing about sex that pushes everyone to think about sexuality differently.
You just finished the tour to promote this book. Where can people catch up with you now?
I do readings every month, covering fiction and nonfiction, at the In The Flesh Reading Series in New York City. They’re free and there’s always food—like cupcakes, a range of authors and genres, and a lot of fun.