Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Using the erotica label as a form of censorship

In the past few months, I have received multiple offers to join writing groups, post guest blogs, run free advertisements, and participate in interviews with other writers, only to have those invitations withdrawn when it was discovered that I write erotica. Apparently, many in the romance writing/publishing industry disassociate romance from erotica. To wit:

“We don’t consider erotica to be included in the romance genre.”

“We cover all types of romance, except for erotica.”

“I love interviewing all writers of romance. However, I consider erotica to fall outside that genre.”

Hmmm. Relationships in the romance genre are notoriously broad and wildly diverse: Women are paired with multigender shapeshifters, men engage in threesomes with vampires, and teeny tiny fairies steal the hearts and souls of entire football teams. Yet, when explicit sex enters the picture, a story about a love relationship no longer qualifies as romance? Oh, my.

Time for a reality check. In my more than 20 years of marriage, I cannot remember a single time when a passionate, erotic encounter blunted the romance. In fact, I can honestly say sensual sexual encounters enhanced it. So the actual fact that sex actually occurred can’t be the problem. I mean, seriously, we no longer live in an age when women are advised to give up their virginity with a stiff upper lip, laying on their marriage bed solemnly accepting their wifely duty as their husband’s “love handle” was used to commit “unspeakable acts.” Do we?

Wait. It must be the words, the need to use pretty metaphors and purple prose to cloak the sexual act in respectability. But the attempt to manage words and other forms of expression by denying people access to a marketplace is, in effect, censorship. Surely an industry (publishing) dedicated to the written word supports free expression for all writers, not just for writers who use only the words they prefer? I mean, they wouldn’t use the shaming and blaming scam to punish those whose word choice fails to meet with their approval? Would they?

Yup. They would. Because by kicking erotica out of the romance genre, I would argue that the romance industry is attempting to regulate the words of those who prefer to describe romantic, albeit sensual, encounters honestly and accurately. And they can do it without shame because they pack a mighty financial punch. The romance publishing industry has the power to censor without recrimination and some players do it simply because they can. And in so doing, they are consciously shaping the minds of the public with negative results.

For example, it may be possible to link the unrealistic portrayal of romance to an increasing rate of divorce in this country. Most people do not automatically become a pantiwetting, loin heating, passion rendering partner with just a heated look or a lingering touch. They have to work at it. So when someone reads that scenario book after book, and embraces it, chances are they are going to be woefully unfulfilled and find their partner lacking. Because to many, romance novels are not truly fiction, they are based on reality. And of course, this view of life and relationships is vigorously reinforced by television and the movies.

For many years, members of the motion picture industry sought to censor films with a strict rating system. Directors would reluctantly shave bits and pieces of their films, cutting just enough to obtain a respectable rating, guaranteeing a spot in more movie theatres. Similarly, writers of erotic romance are forced to alter or edit their books to qualify for the romance label, which provides entre into the largest bookseller market in the United States and many other countries. For that reason, some consider the erotica label a kiss of death.

My conclusion? Censorship does not require written regulations or legislative/judicial acts. All that is required is the denial of access into lucrative bookseller markets. These days, that’s accomplished by segregating erotica from the romance genre. And in this country, that makes a mockery of the First Amendment.

My name is Seelie Kay and I write erotic romance. Yes, that’s romance with an erotic twist.

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