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Cecilia Tan

Erotica Readers & Writers Association
Guest Author

 

Cecilia Tan

I began writing erotica at a very young age, in my early teens, in my diary. Actually, I think it was earlier than my teens, but it's hard to be sure. I wrote something about sex in my diary--stories, fantasies, whatever it was--when I was quite young, and then when I got into my early teens and thought I understood more about it, I tore the pages out, and burned them. What I thought I understood at the time was that sex, fantasies, and masturbation were supposed to be bad. I think that idea lasted in my head for a very short time. I had too much ample evidence of the pleasure I had discovered in my own fantasies for me to buy into the notion that it was in any way evil.

So by the time I was thirteen or so, I was writing down my fantasies about cute celebrities and my twisted visions of plant pods from outer space that unwittingly penetrated innocent young human women with their extending protuberances.

Yes, that's right, when I was only thirteen I wrote tentacle porn.

I had no idea anyone else in the world had even had such an idea. I've of course since seen not just the manga but the historical Japanese woodblock prints that prove the idea predates the existence of movies or animation. But when I was thirteen I just figured I had a private fantasy world and private it would have to stay.

That didn't last long either, though, as I moved from writing fantasies about myself with cute celebrities, to writing stories for my friends that starred them with their favorites (i.e. Sean Cassidy, who was starring in a Hardy Boys TV series at the time, Menudo, Ralph Macchio...). It was something fun to do while I waited to grow up and become a "real" writer.

After I graduated college, moved to Boston, and decided it was time to launch my writing career, though, I found the only thing that really compelled me to write was erotic science fiction. At the time, 1991, there was nearly nowhere I could send explicitly sexual science fiction stories. I was told by the science fiction editors that they couldn't take it, because "sci-fi" was for kids. I was told by the erotica and pornography editors that they wouldn't accept science fiction, just because. On top of all that, I was mixing in BDSM, too, and the BDSM editors told me I wasn't allowed to have bisexuality. If you wrote about BDSM you had to have it be strictly gay or lesbian or heterosexual, and by the way they didn't want science fiction either! They were saying, essentially, that chocolate and peanut butter did not go together and it was impossible to even contemplate mixing them.

I looked at the story I was trying to place, "Telepaths Don't Need Safewords," and I thought: these people are all crazy. (A few editors read it and praised it, but said they couldn't publish it.) This is a perfectly good story. In fact, what makes the story work is that it is erotic, AND science fiction, AND bdsm, AND alternative sexuality. And also a romance, and an adventure, and a revenge story. Yes, a lot goes on in that very dense 5000 words, but it was the story I'd been waiting my whole life to write. (I was 23 at the time.) Since I couldn't find a publisher, I self-published it in 1992, back in the days when self-publishing was supposedly going to stigmatize me.

Self-publishing that story was how Circlet Press got started, of course, and I discovered I wasn't the only writer who was writing erotic sf/f. Manuscripts started pouring in from writers, many much better known than I was, imploring me to publish them, too. Reader reaction was much the same: "Where have you been all my life?" The writers were there, the readers were there, all that was missing was a publisher in the middle. So I jumped into not only writing erotic sf/f, but editing and publishing it, too.

Here we are, 20 years later, and I'm still mixing the chocolate and the peanut butter. Nowadays, people are used to it. Once I did it, people's reactions were fairly universal. "Oh, of COURSE chocolate and peanut butter go together. Why didn't anyone think of this before?" Well, the truth of the matter was that one or two houses had tried it, like Essex House and a few zines, but none of them had quite been able to make it work, or the moment in history hadn't quite arrived, or they'd been too male-gaze-porn focused and not properly concerned enough with story and character and the things that make science fiction GOOD rather than bad. The whole purpose for me was to combine what was BEST about the genres, not to take the worst common denominators and mush them together. Back then vampires in books didn't have sex (Anne Rice) and if a human had sex with an alien it an anal probe during an abduction. My basic take was: "you're doing it wrong."

Within a few years of my arrival on the scene, "paranormal romance" was coined, several other small houses doing erotic sf/fantasy sprang up, and the alternative sexuality presses were dabbling in science fiction and erotica. Some say I was the one who finally poked the hole in the dam. In truth, though, the dam was quite fit to burst. Mixing erotic fantasy and sf/fantasy was a no-brainer--it was only the strange evolution of the genre marketplace that had kept them artificially separated. I came along at a moment in time when the groundswell of women writing erotica for women was rising, and also when the whole idea that one could write erotica for activist purposes was on the upswing.

I have never been shy about the fact that I ultimately write erotica to change the world. I want a world where the fluidity and tolerance for difference and diversity that is inherent in science fiction is organically applied to sexuality, gender, and erotic expression. If the typical reader of science fiction and fantasy can accept that aliens and hobbits and supernatural creatures "do it" differently, why can't the average human accept that their next door neighbor may be gay, or genderqueer, or like being tied up and penetrated with a phallus made of ice? Empathy was the whole key to why "coming out" was so important for gays and lesbians (and bisexuals, and kinky folk, and polyamorous folk), because friends and family were much more likely to be accepting of alternative sexuality in the world at large if they knew (and empathized with) someone personally. Turns out fiction is the other really effective way of creating empathy in a human being.

So I seduce the reader into loving my bisexual, kinky, polyamorous, genderqueer characters, as well as my heterosexual characters, my masochists and sadists, my many and varied cast of thousands. Here we are, twenty years and many books, novels, short stories, and web serials later, and I'm still doing it. I'll never get back those lost pages from my elementary school diary, but I've never censored myself since. Hopefully the world is a better place for it.

Cecilia Tan
Boston, MA
blog.ceciliatan.com
ctan.circletpress@gmail.com

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