[Editor's Note: A playful take on bedroom talk, Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex is a smart, funny encyclopedia with entries written by notable contemporary writers. This week we're pleased to feature a different post each day from one of the book's contributors.
Today's post is by Katherine Tanney, the author of Carousel of Progress. Visit her website at www.reallymotional.com
The piece I contributed to Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex is something short of the fearless, dare-to-judge-me, kink-is-good personal essay I originally intended. Though you'd perhaps never guess, my sex toys entry is a compromise about some of the playful things I have tried with some of the men I've had the erotic pleasure to know. I am pleased with it, but more importantly, I am okay with the thought of my friends and coworkers ? my favorite yoga instructor and the guy who cuts my grass ? seeing it, then seeing me.
There was another essay on a different topic, one I started and didn't complete. The only person who read it is my sister. After I chickened out, changed my term, and sent her the sex toys piece, which felt much less self-incriminating to me, she said, "If you want my opinion, the new one is even more revealing." But it's not. Or it is, but in a way that doesn't make me cringe and tense up when I imagine bumping into people I know, as one does all over central Austin.
The process of coming to be included in this collection helped redefine how I see myself as an artist. I was referred to Ellen Sussman, the book's editor, by a writer who decided to pass on contributing. She told me she didn't want to reveal details of her sex life. I, on the other hand, couldn't wait to do just that. Sex is one of my favorite things to write about. Sex and relationships (see my first novel, Carousel of Progress). I felt highly qualified. Furthermore, I saw Dirty Words as an opportunity to provide an important public service. If done well, I told myself, my essay had the potential to comfort, if not liberate, those who are needlessly ashamed and miserably repressed on account of their true desires. My efforts would be sex-positive and stunningly open, both highly educational and luridly entertaining.
But then, with a rough first draft in hand, I encountered what had to be my own boundaries. Something didn't feel right about what I intended to do and I seemed to understand, for the first time as a writer, that there is an unspoken connection between self-esteem and personal privacy when it comes to nonfiction. (I also woke up to the reality that, as a single woman on the dating scene, anything I published would no doubt come back, via the Internet, to bite me ? and not in the way I like.) That is how I came to choose "sex toys" as my topic. It was on Ellen's list and it felt inexplicably safe compared to the term I had originally chosen.
"Toy Stories," the piece I finally turned in, will seem downright filthy to many, but for me it represents a good balance between dirty and clean, private and public. Sex toys come in bright colors and animal shapes; they are designed for the sexually adventurous of all persuasions. Recently they have turned up, though not without controversy, in novelty shops geared to teens and mainstream shoppers. They are, like same-sex marriage, slowly making their way into the realm of culturally acceptable practices. The other thing, deep rooted and beyond even my comprehension, remains my undisclosed engine of arousal ? for now.