On Writing About Sex In America

A story about a short story with at least three lives

Alexander Chee
8 min readFeb 17, 2021

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I have a story in Kink, a new anthology that came out last week edited by R. O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell, two writers I love and admire enormously. Kwon’s moving story of the genesis of the anthology is worth your time. My story’s title, “Best Friendster Date Ever,” one of my favorite titles, suggests what is easy to confirm: the story is not new, and in fact, this is the third anthology this story has been in. And in that is a story.

The first anthology was Best Gay Erotica 2006, edited by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore and Richard Labonte, and was published by Cleis Press, at the time a radical feminist press. The contributor’s list included Dennis Cooper, Patrick Califia, Kevin Killian and the late Sam D’Allesandro, our queer Breece D’J Pancake. The second was Susie Bright’s Best American Erotica 2007, published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster — Kink’s publisher. That contributor’s list impressed me at the time and even more so now: Dennis Cooper, Octavia Butler, Kathryn Harrison. Both of the previous anthologies are similar to Kink, in that both had literary writers the way Kink does, queer writers in at least some of the way Kink does, though it is true that the diversity of the contributor’s list is extraordinary, if I can say that as someone in it. Yes, in 2021, Kink has been reviewed by mainstream outlets like The New Republic, The New Yorker and The New York Times, where it has been welcomed as an anthology where literary writing and sex writing meet. It is now in a second printing. Part of that is the brilliant editorial vision of Kwon and Greenwell. Part of that is the hard work of the writers in the anthology, and the writers who came before us. And so this is something of a backward glance, then, to praise those previous editorial visions. Richard Labonte was my visionary boss at A Different Light Books in San Francisco, and he cultivated many writers through these anthologies, which he edited for years. And Sycamore’s vision for diversity as an anthologist and a writer is a part of their long-standing commitment to a more radical world. And we surely would not have queer literary sex writing in the mainstream without the efforts of Susie Bright.

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Alexander Chee

Author of the novels THE QUEEN OF THE NIGHT and EDINBURGH, and the essay collection HOW TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL.