I’m so excited to be part of this blog tour for Xan West’s new book:
Have a look below for a description of the book, some links to reviews and where to purchase, links to the other stops along this tour, and a really great article about how Xan approaches trigger warnings in this and other work.
Presented with a variety of options for what i’d like to explore in this stop on the tour, i found i kept coming back to the how’s and why’s of Xan’s approach to trigger warnings. Trigger warnings are to me a basic piece of access. Variously disabled folks so often have to deal with a lot of pretty triggering stuff with (and all too often) without our consent; and i wanted to hear about some specific examples of using trigger warnings in ways that feel like they come from a more complete picture, from a place of welcoming, trust, recognition, and care that isn’t paternalistic and/or infantilizing; and from a broader practice where the trigger warnings are actually followed through on, right there in print (or however else you might access the words), and it doesn’t feel like i’ve missed out on something.
After reading Xan’s article, i’m more excited than ever to get my hands on this book, and hope you will be too!
“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.”
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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
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Here is the list of stops on the blog tour. Please know that posting links here is not a RAMP endorsement of any of these blogs/ pages, and i can’t guarantee the fabulousness of any of the content you’ll find there:
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: Kal Cobalt http://kal-cobalt.squarespace.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: Xan West https://xanwest.wordpress.com/ and Annabeth Leong http://annabetherotica.com/
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Here are some spots to purchase and read reviews of this book:
For ebook or print copies at Go Deeper Press: http://godeeperpress.com/projects/show-yourself-to-me-by-xan-west/
And here’s the article about Xan’s approach to trigger warnings & erotica:
***As a heads up, this post is about trauma survivors, and references (but does not share details about) intimate partner violence, child sexual abuse, age play, incest play, consensual nonconsent/rape play, cathartic/transformative play, edge play, and getting triggered.***
Making My Kinky Erotica Accessible to Survivors
By Xan West
I remember holding the book in my hands. I remember seeing it on the page. I couldn’t even take it in at first. Then, as I did, tears were streaming down my face.
The first time I opened a book and saw a trigger warning, it hit me in the heart, and reverberated out. I was about to read The Marrow’s Telling: Words in Motion, by Eli Clare, and opened to a page titled Author’s Note, that said: “The pieces listed here are in part about child sexual abuse, ritual abuse and/or torture and include graphic, but not gratuitous, details. As such they may contain triggers. Please take as much care as you need.” I remember the shock wave through my body, as I realized, this writer cares about me, cares about my access to this book. This writer wants me to take care of myself.
I had never imagined I would see such a thing in a published book. It felt like the first time someone really cared about my consent: scary, overwhelming, full of respect that I wasn’t sure I was up for receiving, heart-wrenching in the realization that it had not happened before. I felt deeply seen in a way that made me somewhat uncomfortable. Like the reality that I needed to be careful about when I engaged with things, needed tools to manage that, was staring me in the face with this sharp recognition. I wasn’t sure I was ready to admit to myself that my PTSD was that disabling. But oh, it was.
I remember the first time I felt betrayed by the absence of a trigger warning, or any heads up about content. I was sick, dealing with a pain flare and brain fog and feeling raw and abraded and frustrated that I was alone and struggling to meet my basic needs while sick. And I picked up this book I’d been meaning to read. It was a challenge, as it was acid prose. My brain was struggling to parse it, to get what was going on, but I was compelled by the story, it resonated so much as it centered a character who was grappling with chronic illness, so I was trying, because it felt like I so needed that mirror right then.
Then, out of what seemed like nowhere, this beautiful kinky novel centering a queer character who was getting sicker and sicker turned into a very detailed lengthy visceral description of an abusive relationship. It turned on a dime, and I was inside it before I had any clue I was going there. There were no textual foreshadowings that I could catch. None of the glowing reviews that I had read hinted at this. None of the author’s discussions of the book hinted at this. The blurb was vague enough that I thought the word intense was referring to the detailed descriptions of illness and kink, and was unprepared.
It gutted me, to have the book turn that way, with no way to prepare myself for it, when I was especially vulnerable. I still would have read it, had I known. I just would not have chosen to read it then.
When I think about making my work accessible to survivors, I think about those two reading experiences of mine, and start from there.
Given that framework, the first place to start is trigger warnings. I’ve got a lengthy warning section at the front of Show Yourself To Me, that lists most of the common triggers that are included in the book, and which stories contain those triggers. I begin that section with a description of the common triggers that are in most or all of the stories. I sought and got some feedback from beta readers about the usability of the trigger warning section, and was able to improve it. I learned a lot from that process, particularly around the language to use to indicate the triggering element.
To give a specific example (which you can skip if you jump to the next paragraph): in the kink world, characterizing a story as one that contains age play, Daddy play, and play with consensual non-consent would give a particular picture. Beta readers helped me understand that I needed to use words like rape play and incest play in order to get the message across more clearly to a wider audience.
My fantasy is that enough survivors might hear about the book that readers might give critical feedback about the effectiveness of the trigger warnings. I’d love that kind of feedback. This is my first solo collection, the first chance I’ve had to really have much more control over this kind of thing, and I want to get better at it.
The thing is, trigger warnings are not enough. For one thing, lots of people skip front matter in books. Moreover, the purpose behind trigger warnings is to create more access to a text by giving content information that allows survivors to make informed decisions about when and how to engage with that text. To truly support that kind of informed choice, I need to be open about the content of the book, make it easy for survivors to gather the kind of information they might need to decide whether to open it or purchase it at all.
So, in addition to trigger warnings in the book, I have shared information about the book, so potential readers can easily find it. It’s in the blurb, of course, but it’s also in the content I share in interviews and guest blog posts about the book during the book tour. I posted the table of contents with a quote from each story that gives the feel of the story. The content warning is part of the book preview on Amazon. There are multiple excerpts posted from the book. I also write extensively about my writing and am clear about the kinds of stories I write on my website. The material shared about the book has trigger warnings, so that survivors can engage with it and find out what they need to know about the book ahead of time.
Show Yourself To Me starts with a story that helps to frame the whole book. “Missing Daddy” begins by referencing a history of trauma within kink, and the choices that the protagonist has made to take care of himself in the aftermath of that experience. It then hones in not on that history, but on a positive memory that the protagonist cherishes, one of belonging and care, a legacy that is also part of his leather history and identity. The story asks you to hold both realities. That’s what this book does: it holds the reality that abuse is part of kink life and also that doing kink (in particular edge play) can be a wondrous experience.
Consent is a central component of the BDSM represented in this book, and that’s not just because it’s a reflection of my kink ethics, but also because that’s a major access issue for me. There is not a lot of edge play erotica that makes consent this clear. That’s partly why I wrote it, because when I read quasi consensual fiction or nonconsensual fiction, I generally can’t finish it and often find it deeply triggering, which is the last thing I want from something I’m engaging with erotically. Being triggered and turned on at the same time royally sucks.
Survivors shouldn’t have to avoid erotica or avoid edge play erotica (often called “dark erotica” genre-wise, but I’m not comfortable with that description). But a lot of us do, and one of the main reasons is how little consent is often present in erotic material, especially material centering edge play. I’m an edge player. I love adrenaline-soaked kink, and have from the beginning. I know I’m not alone in being a survivor and playing on edges. In my experience, survivors are often particularly interested in that sort of play. So we should have access to that kind of erotica.
I have written quite openly about being a survivor and about how this book is written for survivors, and centers survivors. Most of the stories include central characters that are survivors of some kind of trauma or violence. It is part of their lives, and is referenced in the story. While there are a few stories that include details about the trauma histories that characters bring, most of the time, they are referenced and not discussed or shown in much detail. Just enough so that survivors can see themselves in the story, but not so much that it’s more likely to be triggering.
When stories do contain details about trauma and real world violence, I aim to be particularly careful in how I write about that. I don’t want to erase trauma, violence and abusive power from these stories, don’t want to pretend it’s not part of kink life. Hiding or obfuscating that is participating in a silence that works against the real needs of survivors in kink communities. But I don’t want to include so many details that it feels sensationalizing or overwhelms the reader.
I don’t share gratuitous details about trauma and violence in these stories. I don’t share trauma details in a way that encourages readers to eroticize those experiences. (Which they are primed to do, as it is erotica.) If I share details about trauma and violence, it is in the character’s history, not occurring in the story except in the form of memory or conversation about past experience. If characters have flashbacks (and there are only 2 that contain traumatic flashbacks), they are brief, and indicated by italics so they are easily skipped. I attempt to do enough foreshadowing that readers are able to predict them, as well.
Many of the stories include survivors pushing their edges and engaging in transformative or cathartic BDSM scenes. I work to make it clear that this play is deeply consensual and mutual, and that all the characters involved in the scene care about consent and are caring and careful. I endeavor to illuminate the ways these characters work together to create a safe-enough container so that this sort of play feels possible.
One of the things that makes it challenging for survivors to engage with difficult material is often that it goes to grim places and stays there, sometimes reveling in that. This often makes it feel like the trauma is leaking out and taking over everything, is not contained.
I work to create stories that are hopeful, feel full of possibilities. Stories that may go to difficult places but also see the reader out to the other side. I want aftercare for the characters and the reader as well, so that when you finish a story, it feels contained, and closed, at the end of it.