I’m very pleased to host Xan West, whose new book SHOW YOURSELF TO ME is this season’s “must read” BDSM book. I’ve known Xan for years through leather/BDSM activism circles as well as queer writing circles. If this interview doesn’t convince you to give Xan’s work a try, you can read a story from the book over at Sinclair Sexsmith’s blog: “Tender Sweet Young Thing.”
CECILIA TAN: First off, how would you describe yourself to a new reader just discovering you? I’ve been trying to write a coherent short bio of you and utterly failing.
XAN WEST: My erotica contains a heavy concentration of sadism and a strong D/s dynamic and a bunch of dirty talk. It is deeply queer and often centers trans and genderqueer characters, with a range of pairings and a bunch of group play.
Many of my stories are about scenes that are transformative for the characters involved, and many of the characters have trauma histories, where play is partly about claiming their desires. Many are written in the first person and let the internal struggles of the characters unfold through the sex and play, so the scene starts very early in the story. Expect a lot of public sex, and a lot of BDSM, with a particularly high concentration of boot play, blade play, edge play, breath play, dacryphilia, orgasm control and rough body play.
CECILIA TAN: I think I first ran into your fiction about five (?) years ago — long enough ago that I can’t remember exactly — and I heard you read a really powerful piece at a leather conference. (Perhaps The Floating World 2010?) In fact, powerful is the word I’d use for all your writing, both your short stories AND your essays on D/s and kink. What words would you use to describe your own writing?
XAN WEST: I remember that reading! It was such a lovely mix of folks, and such an honor to share the stage with you. The piece I read that night, “Missing Daddy” is the first story in Show Yourself To Me, and powerful is definitely a good word for it.
My fiction and my essays often reflect my BDSM practice. So, my writing tends toward intensity and it pushes edges, works to create arenas where folks (readers, characters, myself as a writer) can be vulnerable and consciously take risks. I would also describe my writing as visceral and emotional, and about intimacy and creating connection.
My work insists on complex representations of power, and openly talks about abusive power, including oppression, both in the world and in kink life. It deeply values consent and I work to make consent very clear and often openly negotiated in my fiction. My writing is deeply and insistently queer. I care about writing for trans and genderqueer folks, in particular, endeavor to put us at the center, and I think all of my writing reflects that.
When I’ve described Show Yourself To Me to folks who don’t know my work I’ve said: “it’s very filthy. Take whatever you imagine erotica might be and turn the dial up several notches. That’s how filthy my book is.”
CECILIA TAN: These days it seems to me the majority of BDSM-themed fiction is written from the bottom or sub’s point of view. You often write deeply and movingly from the top or dom’s point of view, though. Do you find it different and if so how?
XAN WEST: I agree, it’s hard to find fiction from the top or dom’s point of view. I’ve written about that on my site a bit, discussing how much of the fiction that is written from a top’s point of view rarely taps the top’s emotions or vulnerabilities. I think that reflects (and helps to create) a BDSM culture that doesn’t make much room for tops to be vulnerable, have needs, or talk about how they feel. Instead tops are valued for being inscrutable and cold and always super scary and in charge of everything. Much of the rare fiction that represents the inner workings of a top’s mind during play reflects that fantasy image of tops. (Some of those stories are very hot, by the way! I’m just working toward a different representation of tops in my stories.)
I work really hard to write tops that are vulnerable. It is often my instinct, when writing a story from the top’s point of view, to start where most of the emotion and vulnerability are under the surface. So I generally have to do several drafts before I get one that comes closer to where I want to be. It’s sort of like the process of building trust with someone that has a lot of emotional armor, as I work to reveal the top or dom’s vulnerabilities, and where they might ask for or need support, strength, and care from the bottom or submissive. It takes a lot of intentional labor, and often help from beta readers, to get stories that are that open about the point of view of top characters. More time between drafts often helps me get there.
Writing from the bottom or submissive’s point of view often feels very different for me. In some ways it’s likely to be more personally challenging, because touching the experience of submissive desire is often edgy for me. That often pushes the story towards deeper more intense edgeplay, plotwise. Writing from the submissive or bottom’s point of view often comes with less armor for me to grapple with, where I have other things to work on in the story instead. The stories I write from the bottom or submissive’s point of view often include wider more expressive emotional elements, including a more intense experience of internal conflict. I often am more deeply embodied on the first draft, really working to find language to describe the bodily sensations that the bottom is processing, and the emotional intensity that come with them.
My recent work has been mostly in the third person, where I am writing from both (or everyone’s) point of view, and that comes with a whole different set of challenges! Some of those recent stories are in the book, too.
CECILIA TAN: Your stories often have a deeply personal confessional sort of tone, even if they might be completely fictional. Do you usually experience a kink first and then write about it, or do you write your fantasy idea of what a scene or experience might be like without knowing if you’re going to have firsthand knowledge of it someday? (I realize the answer to this question might be different at different stages of your life of course…)
XAN WEST: When I was a novice, I wrote my kinky fantasies, what I dreamed or hoped I might do. (I still do that occasionally, usually for a lover.) As I gained more experience with kink, I wanted to write things that felt real, that captured moments or feelings or things I’d experienced or observed. My work is not autobiographical, but it is deeply personal, speaks to emotional realities I know, desires I have, and things I’ve viscerally experienced. It tends towards representation of desires that are (or have been) deep for me: both emotional desires and kinks that are particularly hot and charged for me. That’s why there is so much boot play, knife play, breath play, and orgasm control—those are core kinks of mine. So in that way, I tend to write what I know. Because my stories are so visceral, I really try to center the kinds of desires and physical sensations I have a deep connection to.
I also tend to write about kinks that have been deep for me, but that I’ve stopped doing in life. It’s an outlet for those desires. I’ve written about my relationship to Daddy porn; that’s a great example of something I have a lot of experience with, from both sides of the kneel, and have chosen to no longer do. But I sure do write a lot of Daddies.
I don’t write kinks that I don’t feel I understand; I know I’ll get too much wrong! That’s one of the reasons that you won’t find detailed descriptions of scenes centered on rope bondage or rubber or puppy play in Show Yourself To Me. I’ve got a character in a novel I’m working on that does power-neutral SM and I’m working so hard to get that kind of play right because it’s not something I know personally. (I’m planning on getting a lot of help!)
I do write kinks that I don’t have personal experience with, but feel that I get. A good example is piss play. I can’t imagine doing that in my current body configuration, but I get the hotness of it were I to have a different body, and can write from that understanding, as long as it’s not the center of the scene, because I don’t know it deeply enough to feel like I could do that justice. (Maybe with more research…) Given that (in my experience) water sports are so central and accepted and such a big part of gay leather culture, it has felt important to write stories that include it.
CECILIA TAN: Do you have a favorite story in the book or is that like asking a parent to pick a favorite child?
XAN WEST: I wouldn’t use the word favorite, but I do have a story that touched me the most when I was doing final edits. The final re-read of “The Tender Sweet Young Thing” made me cry. I was so intensely moved by the community in the story, the ways that the story showed belonging and recognition, and all these amazing queers gathered together to create a fantasy fulfillment of a gender play scene that two characters deeply ached for. I adore this story, it speaks to my queer heart so deeply, and I’m very excited to share it. In fact, Sinclair Sexsmith has reprinted it in its entirety on their stop of the blog tour for the book, so everyone can go read it! (“Tender Sweet Young Thing.”)
CECILIA TAN: BDSM can be transformative in sometimes unexpected ways. If people are transformed by reading your stories, how do you hope they are changed?
XAN WEST: I definitely agree that BDSM can be deeply transformative; a lot of the stories in Show Yourself To Me depict those kinds of scenes. I have a deep hope that queer, trans and genderqueer readers, stone readers, disabled and chronically ill readers, and fat readers in particular find stories where they can see themselves and connect with their desires. That kind of thing is so rare, in my experience as someone who aches to see those aspects of myself in erotica. When I’ve found those stories, they have changed me in beautiful ways.
I’ve spoken earlier about my intention of creating representation of tops in their vulnerabilities, tops that have needs and who receive support from bottoms in play. It is my wish that telling these kinds of stories will help create a bit more room for tops to be vulnerable, have feelings, be open about desires, ask for their needs to be met. This is particularly important to me as a disabled top, because I feel that the image of the all-powerful top who has no needs is an intense part of ableism in kink culture.
My stories also speak frankly about experiences of abuse and oppression in the context of kink, and I hope that telling stories about the ways those things connect with desires might help to open up more conversation about these things in kink culture. I tell stories about trauma survivors claiming their desires, and endeavor to tell stories where characters deeply value consent and consent is illustrated clearly. I have found all those things to be rather rare in erotica, and I hope that my stories create an arena where trauma survivors can connect with their desires and imagine possibilities for play that feel accessible and hot.
CECILIA TAN: Anything else I should ask you or that you want to share with us?
XAN WEST: I should mention that there are a few speculative fiction stories mixed in to this collection. “Willing” is a gay vampire story, and I would characterize it as the most romantic story in the book. It also doesn’t go for the blood as metaphor for sex or food, but revels in blood from a blood sports enthusiast perspective, so that may be of interest. There is a time travel story, “My Will” where a trauma survivor falls back in love with submission after giving it up and only being a dominant for a long time, and his first scene returning to it is so powerful it sends him back in time to endure the ordeal of knighthood and grapple with what he really wants. (You can check out my guest post on Dilo Keith’s stop on the blog tour to read more about that story.) Lastly, “The Tale of Jan and Tam” is a kinky genderqueer retelling of the Tam Lin and Janet fairy tale. That story is particularly dear to me, as it took several years of work (and some really awesome feedback from beta readers) before I got it where I needed it to be. It was a labor of deep love for that fairy tale, which is one I adored from childhood.
SHOW YOURSELF TO ME is available in paperback or ebook from:
In Show Yourself to Me: Queer Kink Erotica, Xan West introduces us to pretty boys and nervous boys, vulnerable tops and dominant sadists, good girls and fierce girls and scared little girls, mean Daddies and loving Daddies and Daddies that are terrifying in delicious ways.
Submissive queers go to alleys to suck cock, get bent over the bathroom sink by a handsome stranger, choose to face their fears, have their Daddy orchestrate a gang bang in the park, and get their dream gender-play scene—tied to a sling in an accessible dungeon.
Dominants find hope and take risks, fall hard and push edges, get fucked and devour the fear and tears that their sadist hearts desire.
Within these 24 stories, you will meet queers who build community together, who are careful about how they play with power, who care deeply about consent. You will meet trans and genderqueer folks who are hot for each other, who mentor each other, who do the kind of gender play that is only possible with other trans and genderqueer folks.
This is Show Yourself to Me. Get ready for a very wild ride.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Xan West is the nom de plume of Corey Alexander, a recent transplant to Oakland from Brooklyn, who has been doing community kink education for over ten years. Xan has been published in over 35 erotica anthologies, including the Best S/M Erotica series, the Best Gay Erotica series, and the Best Lesbian Erotica series. Xan’s story “First Time Since,” won honorable mention for the 2008 National Leather Association John Preston Short Fiction Award. Xan’s work has been described by reviewers as “offering the erotica equivalent of happy ever after” and as “some of the best transgressive erotic fiction to come along in recent years.”
Xan refuses pronouns, twists barbed wire together with yearning, and tilts pain in many directions to catch the light. Xan adores vulnerable tops; strong, supportive bottoms; red meat; long winding conversations about power, privilege, and community; showtunes; and cool, dark, quiet rooms with comfortable beds. Find Xan’s thoughts about the praxis of sex, kink, queerness, power, and writing at xanwest.wordpress.com.
OTHER STOPS ON XAN’S BLOG TOUR:
October 1: Xan West https://xanwest.wordpress.com/
October 2: Book Birthday! Go Deeper Press http://godeeperpress.com/
October 3: Heather Elizabeth https://kinkopedia.wordpress.com/
October 4: Sinclair Sexsmith http://www.sugarbutch.net/
October 5: Hermia Swann http://www.cuntext.com/
October 6: Dilo Keith https://dilokeith.wordpress.com/ and Cecilia Tan http://blog.ceciliatan.com/
October 7: Kinky Brits http://thekinkybrits.com/
October 8: Stella Harris http://stellaharris.net/
October 9: F. Leonora Solomon https://fdotleonora.wordpress.com/
October 10: Tasha Harrison http://tashalharrison.com/
October 11: Benji Bright http://www.theeroticledger.com/
October 12: Tamsin Flowers http://tamsinflowers.com/ and Karida http://submissionandthecity.com/
October 13: Cassandra Perry http://cassandrajperry.com/
October 14: Peep Scoop http://www.peepscoop.com/ and Radical Access Mapping Project https://radicalaccessiblecommunities.wordpress.com/
October 15: Sugar Cunt http://www.sugarcuntwrites.com/
October 16: Emily Byrne http://writeremilylbyrne.blogspot.com/
October 17: Oleander Plume http://poisonpendirtymind.com/
October 18: K. A. Smith https://authorka.wordpress.com/
October 19: Giselle Renarde http://donutsdesires.blogspot.com/
October 20: Butchtastic Kyle http://www.butchtastic.net/
October 21: Lisabet Sarai http://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com/
October 22: Syrens https://syrens.wordpress.com/
October 23: Anna Sky http://www.iamannasky.com/
October 24: Jade A. Waters http://jadeawaters.com/
October 25: Ashley Young https://indigostheory.wordpress.com/
October 26: Rebekah Weatherspoon http://www.rebekahweatherspoon.com/
October 27: Malin James http://malinjames.com/
October 28: BD Swain http://www.bdswain.com/ and Jillian Boyd http://jillianboydauthor.wordpress.com/
October 29: Kaleigh Trace http://thefuckingfacts.com/
October 30: Kiki DeLovely https://kikidelovely.wordpress.com/
October 31: Annabeth Leong http://annabetherotica.com/