Feminista Jones is kind of a big deal. So much of a big deal that, as a lead in for the @nbrbooks discussion of her new book (Push The Button) tonight at 9pm, I had to talk to her about sex, feminism, BDSM, erotica, and Black culture. Because we're all adults here.
I hate myself for asking you this, because it's so cliche, but what inspired you to write this book? How did you come up with the concept?
It began as a short story on my blog. I wanted to challenge myself to write erotica (I'd never written it before) and basically show that if you're a good writer, you can probably do a solid job in any genre. This was around the time 50 Shades of Grey began buzzing and, having read it and deemed it trash, I wanted to offer an alternative that was actually about kink/BDSM and not about an abusive asshole.
Most of my writing about sex has been in essay form, so I wanted to try my hand at erotic fiction. I was going to end with one chapter, but readers kept tweeting and emailing me for more, so I obliged. I began releasing chapters on major holidays, over a two year period. When chapter 11 has 2,800 download the first day, I realized I could make it a book and maybe make some change.
So the synopsis for Push the Button says that the book explores a side of BDSM culture that often goes ignored — "the normalcy". Why do you think the normalcy is ignored?
People don't really have any idea what this about, lol. I hate to be so dismissive, but it's true. This lifestyle is one of those things that you have to live it to even begin to get it, and even living it doesn't guarantee that you'll fully understand it. It's a culture, a large community with different factions. It has its own language, dress, rituals, activities, guidelines, celebrations, etc. I think many people are drawn to the allure and mystery of it, thinking there is always some really wild, exciting things happening - no. Most of us are just trying to live life, be happy, and remain true to our preferences and desires, pretty much like anyone else. I think focusing on how "normal" those of us in The Life really are might kill the vibe for onlookers.
Our community is somewhat sexually repressed.
Oh, I agree. We're among the most sexually conservative demographics!
I think a mix of religion and respectability politics have really impacted Black folks' relationships with their sexuality. (I know I'm going to catch hell for saying so.)
You right, #doe.
Do you feel like BDSM is a practice that goes ignored in the Black community or is portrayed in a certain (negative) way?
We tend to write BDSM off as something that "White folks do." Any time we encounter someone we've been taught doesn't align with "God's plan" or seems to deviate from the Good Book, we somehow decide it is something just for White people. Take mental health, for example, and how often we write off psychiatric disabilities and just being for crazy White people, or seeing a psychiatrist is for White people? BDSM represents a deviance from the "norm" and if there is ANYTHING Black folks strive to be, it is "normal" and accepted/respected as "normal" people, right? So when something like homosexuality, psychiatric disorders, good quality cheese, or BDSM comes along, we tend to reject or rebuke them as things that can make life even harder for us if we embrace them.
Do you think that the erotica genre has become mainstream? Obviously, Zane had a huge push, and there's the cultural phenomenon that is 50 Shades of Grey. Is this something that audiences are becoming more comfortable with?
Yes, unfortunately. I say it like that because I'll be honest: Erotica is one of my least favorite genres to read mainly because soooooo many people are soooooo bad at it because soooooo many people ignore the humanity of the characters and ignore intimacy. I'm not the best writer and I don't pretend to be some grand mistress of erotica. Push the Button is a demo book for me, my first dip into the life of a novelist. It's fun, no doubt, and I really love letting the characters guide my pen; I've just been going along with wherever they want to go, really. My preference is for non-fiction and some of my best work has been literary critique, so that's why I have these thoughts about erotica, in general. There's always been a shitload of erotica and other types of sex stories available. Always. I grew up reading romance novels as a pre-teen and can appreciate the fantasy value of a well-written love story that included intimacy and maybe had a few steamy scenes. Most of it though? Crap.
You know what might have really changed the game? E-readers. You can read whatever book you want without people seeing the cover and catching you indulging in smut. You can also download directly to your e-reader and not get caught purchasing it.
You describe yourself on your site as a post-modern, sex-positive, Black feminist woman. I love this description. What does that mean to you?
When I use "post-modern," I'm referring to the idea that it is healthy to challenge what is generally accepted as the standard and to be skeptical of what others try to suggest is valid and applicable to all people. "Feminism" is often associated with middle-upper class heterosexual, cisgender White women who have been able to write the rule books about feminism for entirely too long. I think modern feminism still centers their experiences and the post-modern approach calls them to task directly and by presenting my (our) own experiences as women who identify as feminist.
Sex-positive feminism is important to me because I believe so much of the oppression women experience is related to the regulation of sex and the removal of agency and choice. In my opinion, in order for women to be free, we must first be able to own the rights to our own bodies, complete with decision-making privileges that benefit us first an foremost. Taking the sex-positive approach means embracing sex and sexuality as positive things for women which increases enjoyment and agency, which in turn removes the power from men by denying them control of our bodies and sex.
And. I'm Black.
I want to ask this question because I think men, in particular, get tripped up in understanding this aspect of feminism: How does feminism relate to, or inform, a woman's sexuality?
Feminism allows women space to figure it all out without seeking permission from others. Feminism supports women's rights to explore and experiment, take their time, say "no", say "yes!", walk away, stay, etc. It encourages women to set their own standards based on what works best for them and to not settle for allowing others to dictate how they should feel about sex. Feminism makes us better lovers, too, because it seeks to destigmatize sexual expression and remove the shame cast upon women who like to practice, which makes perfect, yes?
My very progressive Sex & Sexuality course instructor used to pose this to question to us in high school, and I think it's fitting here: What does "good sex" mean to you? How can one achieve "good sex" with their partner?
Good sex is when you walk away from it feeling no regrets or doubts and you feel fulfilled, even if it is only for 12 minutes. I think the goodness of sex relies on how you end up feeling about the experience. For me? When my mind hasn't wandered, when my partner is thoroughly satisfied, when I'm happy that I had it, when I tingle, and when I wish my mama was still alive to tell her about it :)
***Again, for more discussion on Push The Button, follow @nbrbooks (and use #nbrb and #PTBBook) and join their chat at 9pm tonight. ***
Maya K. Francis is a culture writer and communications strategy consultant. When not holding down the Black Girl Beat for VSB, she is a weekly columnist for Philadelphia Magazine's 'The Philly Post' and contributes to other digital publications including xoJane, Esquire, and EBONY.com. Sometimes TV and radio producers are crazy enough to let her talk on-air, and she helped write a book once. She cites her mother and Whitley Gilbert as inspirations.