And because I’m nothing if not verbose when it comes to the written word, one blog post wasn’t enough for me. I thought perhaps we should end with a beginning. On the dedication page of Show Yourself To Me: Queer Kink Erotica, Xan says, “Thanks so much to the folks who have challenged me, particularly around the political implications of my work. I would not be the writer I am today without your efforts.”
I’m pleased to report that Xan was not simply giving lip service with these words. Below I go into detail about a refreshing interaction I had with Xan that demonstrated so clearly Xan’s willingness to be held accountable and also a commitment to transparency and awesome politics. A desire to work toward decolonizing erotica and BDSM (or decolonizing anything in this country, for that matter) will never be met without being called out and called in and its fair share of critique—sometimes harsh, other times gentle. I strive towards the latter with both of these (though, admittedly, I too fail), just as I hope for the same in others. In this case I wanted to gently call attention to one issue of race that came up for me when reading this incredibly thoughtful, inclusive, and transformative collection.
When I was reading “Falling for Essex,” I was so thoroughly entranced by the tale of luscious desire between two Black men—and then I came to a word that pulled me out of the fantasy. I wondered if it would strike a nerve for Black readers or any of my fellow erotica writer/reviewer colleagues who are Black. I was worried that this otherwise magnificently written piece of erotica would turn off anyone who was aware of the political implications of the word “dreads.”
In that moment, I was feeling gun-shy to have these types of talks after weeks of being on the receiving end of verbal abuse from folks less willing to do the work around their white privilege. I was feeling beat down around issues of race.
But because I firmly believe it’s not the responsibility of Black folks to educate white folks (Black folks don’t get to choose which days they’ll wake up and confront racism because they have to live the reality of it every single day) I had to say something. Because I woke up that morning with the substantial (and varying, depending on my location/who’s doing the looking) white privilege, because I’m committed to being actively (not passively) anti-racist, because I recently heard Patrisse Cullors (co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement) ask, “What have you done to save Black lives?” and my first thought was, “Not enough. Never enough.”…because of all of this and more, it was my responsibility to address this issue.
Let me be clear. Just because someone isn’t familiar with certain issues of race, colonialism, cultural appropriation and the like, that doesn’t make them racist. Sometimes folks are coming from a place of their own traumas around having these hard conversations and that is what they hear. In every instance I’ve been privy to, Xan has proved to be superbly accountable, open to peer feedback, and impressively anti-racist. (I endeavor to possess the same eloquence and grace that Xan demonstrated to me when confronted with a subject about which I’m perhaps not so well informed.) And us choosing to be transparent about the following interaction only serves to demonstrate this.
When I first wrote Xan, “One thing I’m curious about—have you gotten any feedback about your use of the word ‘dreads’ in the two different stories? (As opposed to ‘locs’?)” I was bracing myself for a defensive response—the kind I’ve heard all too frequently (such as folks telling me that their Black friend has no problem with them using that word.) Instead I was delighted and surprised by Xan’s very thoughtful, accountable response (which Xan happily agreed to me publishing here):
“I hadn’t gotten feedback about that, but given your question, I did some quick research and had I known what I know now about how offensive the term dreads is to some folks and how it is not a term that is currently used very often in African American communities, I would have made different language choices in those two stories.
Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I really appreciate it. It definitely will inform my future work and future editions of the book, should there be another run.”
Receiving those words felt like healing waters rushing over me and for that I was immensely appreciative so I wrote back quickly:
“Wow, Xan, I’m so impressed with your politics and commitment to learning. I’ve been having lots of challenging conversations around race lately—lots of white folks getting defensive and at times verbally violent when I’ve tried to gently call into question comments they’ve made. And you just demonstrated how seamless and beautiful it can be when someone is dedicated to growth. So thank you. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”
And then it got even better:
“Kiki, Given how many challenging conversations you’ve been having around race lately, I’m glad you felt comfortable to bring this up to me. It means a lot to me that you did. Not just because it gave me an opportunity to learn and self reflect (which I really appreciate), but because it opened the door to this conversation with you.
I am fine with you quoting my response in the review. I’m happy to have these kinds of conversations be part of the public way this book is discussed.
I welcome more feedback or questions as they come up, before or after the review. In fact, I’d be glad to have those conversations. It’s lovely to connect with another writer who cares about talking about race and decolonization and naming places where white supremacy is working in stories. Thank you again for reaching out about this.”
Several factors were at play in how Xan chose to address this issue. First, Xan made it effortless for me. (I didn’t have to do anything! I was prepared to discuss my views and what I’ve been taught by my Black communities, to research and share some articles, and plenty more…but Xan chose to make my job as easy as it could possibly be, finding articles without even my prompting.) Second, Xan acknowledged and showed genuine appreciation for my efforts (which were very little, practically inconsequential). Third, Xan chose to be accountable, to admit a lack of previous awareness of the political implications behind the term. Fourth, Xan made a commitment to do better. Fifth, Xan was super welcoming about us sharing this conversation publicly in order to foster more conversation and, hopefully, growth for us all. For us all to do better. After all, if we don’t enter into these types of conversations with each other, how are we ever expected to grow and learn?
As my brilliant friend Sufia said when I read this series of emails to her, “Yes!!! See? It can be so easy. We don’t have to react from a place of our traumas.” She went on to note that for herself and, she would imagine, many other POCs, getting access to this interaction between Xan and myself makes her all the more desirous of reading Show Yourself To Me. Since then several other members of my mixed and POC communities have echoed similar sentiments.
Xan’s response to me was exactly what I needed. I needed to see that being willing to tackle issues of race doesn’t always mean leaving a conversation feeling beat down, like all your efforts were for naught, like you’re never going to be articulate enough when navigating these choppy waters, like you’re never going to make a difference.
It was a small error. But choosing to say something hopefully made a difference. (I’m not looking for any cookies. No thank you.) What I am hoping for in choosing to post this is that it’ll inspire other folks with various privileges to step up. That it’ll encourage white folks to do their best to not get defensive (or react from a place of trauma) and instead own their lack of awareness or lack of first-hand experience on a subject, check their white guilt and privilege, and step into their responsibility to learn and grow and educate and do better. Let’s all do better, yes?
I encourage a conversation about these issues (and any other that may come up for you) in the comment section below. I also wholeheartedly welcome any feedback about how I can personally be held accountable for my words and actions, learn, grow, and do better.
If you haven’t already, please check out the other stops on Xan West’s Show Yourself To Me blog tour! There are so many fascinating perspectives in there!
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.
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.