“I write erotica to envision the kind of recognition, risk, intimacy, and vulnerability I desire.” —Xan West
The day has come! Show Yourself to Me: Queer Kink Erotica by Xan West has now hit the stores! You can snap it up at Go Deeper Press (where every cent you spend is split equally with the author), Amazon, Kobo, Inktera and Scribd. Barnes & Noble and other stores will be catching up soon!
And what better way to celebrate than by interviewing this amazing author. Below, Xan West talks about Xan’s new short story collection Show Yourself to Me, as well as Xan’s politics, identities, and life experiences:
Lana: We’re very proud to be publishing Show Yourself to Me, your queer kink erotica collection. Can you tell us a little about the book and why it is important for you?
Xan: I’ve been writing erotica for about 15 years, and I’ve been publishing it in anthologies and magazines. This book is the culmination of all that work, a selection of my best previously published stories, alongside newer work that has not been published before. It’s my first book, and that alone makes it incredibly special to me. I’m still so awed to have my work collected together, and to be getting such a positive response from the erotica and sexuality communities.
One of the beautiful things about this book is the way it is such a mix of queer erotica. Most anthologies have specific audiences and themes; I’ve been published mostly in gay erotica, lesbian erotica, and BDSM erotica anthologies. This book mixes all that up, something that’s rarely done in the erotica world, even for single author collections. As a transgender writer whose queer kink erotica stories frequently center on trans and genderqueer characters, a queer collection (without the label “gay” or “lesbian” attached) makes more room for these characters and the kinds of mischief they get up to, especially in groups. It particularly makes space for open desire between queers that is so rarely included in erotica (like desire between dykes and fags). It feels like such a glorious thing to be able to offer those stories to readers because they are stories I’ve longed to read myself.
Lana: Why is the collection called Show Yourself to Me?
Xan: One of the gorgeous things about queer kink is how it can provide an arena to be recognized, to revel in being known and celebrated…in your desire, in your queerness, in your gender(s). These stories are about the intimacy that can come with being seen by a lover, being brave enough to show yourself to someone. That sort of courage and vulnerability and deep connection are a central part of the experience of risking yourself in BDSM. These characters put themselves on the line that way, and are continually discovering how tremendous, radical, hot, and intimate it can be to take those risks, and be witnessed in who you are, to allow yourself to be known.
[bctt tweet=”‘One of the gorgeous things about queer kink is how it can provide an arena to be recognized.’ -Xan West”]
The title fits in other ways, as well. It picks up the strands of exhibitionism that run throughout the book. It pays homage to the way bottoms encourage tops to show them the depths of their sadism. It honors the ways that gaze is one of the tools dominants use in the book. And, although it could be interpreted as a top giving an order to a bottom, the “showing” is definitely not one-sided in this book. Tops may rarely take their clothes off, but they often choose to be witnessed and celebrated in their vulnerabilities alongside their bottoms.
Lana: Why did you start writing and reading erotica? How has it affected your life?
Xan: I started writing erotica when I had a long erotic dream about doing kink, at a moment in my life when I wanted to do kink instead of just fantasize about it. I began to write out the details of that dream, and I read it aloud to a group of my friends. That story (which I have not finished) is where it started for me. A piece of that story became “Baxter’s Boy,” which is included in Show Yourself to Me.
It was reading erotica that made me realize I could write it, could take myself seriously in writing it. I devoured erotica alongside a bunch of non-fiction BDSM books at that time in my life, and reading queer kink erotica made so much seem possible. The fiction of Carol Queen, M. Christian, Simon Sheppard, Patrick Califia, Hanne Blank, and Kate Bornstein cracked things open inside me and showed me that the kind of queer desire that I wanted to write about could be written, and even published.
[bctt tweet=”‘I write #erotica so I can see folks like me having the kind of sex I have.’ -Xan West”]
A central foundation of both my queerness and my kink ethics is honoring desire. My erotica writing is one of my main arenas of praxis: it is about honoring my own desire, and it has been hugely transformative in my life because of that. From the start, I wrote things that I ached to do, things I wished were possible, as a way of centering and exploring my own desire. I still write erotica as a way to explore my own desire. I also write erotica as a contained way to experience desires I have chosen not to act on. I write erotica to get off. I write erotica as a way to give myself the kind of erotica I ache to read. I write erotica as a way to dream the kinky queer communities that I want. I write erotica so I can see folks like me having the kind of sex I have. I write erotica to envision the kind of recognition, risk, intimacy, and vulnerability I desire.
Lana: You have been writing and publishing the stories in Show Yourself to Me over several years. Did you learn anything new about your work by putting the collection together?
Xan: The roots of some of these stories date back 15 years! I wrote “Alley Obsession” and “The Test” in 2001, when I was a novice exploring BDSM. These stories span my kink life and experience, and when I put them next to each other, I can see the ways I’ve changed, and some of the constants in my own desire. I can also see where I’ve grown as a writer.
When writing each piece, I was holding it up next to the call I was writing it for and the other potential interpretations of that call. I was deep in the circumstances of my life and the struggles I was having at the time. The choices I was making in the work were about my own desires and feelings, the constraints of genre and my sense of what the editor wanted, and my own best thinking about the praxis of kink at the time.
Reading the stories alongside each other was mind-blowing because I could understand the ways themes wrapped together, could notice where I had been stuck in my kink life and thinking, and where I’d broken through and had not fully known it yet. I learned how very intense my work is, especially when the stories are collected together.
Putting the collection together was stark evidence of who had been left out of my stories, which stories were not present. This collection is made up of the queer stories I could write, when I was able to write, the stories I needed to write. They are not the full range of queer erotic life or representation I want in my communities. Putting the collection together helped me understand who I was leaving out, to know it deep to my bones.
[bctt tweet=”‘I learned how very intense my work is….’ -Xan West on #queer #erotica”]
Putting the collection together helped me recognize where I want to push myself to grow in my own work. Also, I could better perceive the areas where my craft really works well, and notice the moments where the writing gets at something important that needs saying. I am very proud of this collection and what it can do out in the world, more than I was of the body of my work before putting it together.
Lana: Tell us about your activism. How did it start?
Xan: I was raised by activists to be an activist. I am a red diaper baby (on my father’s side, it traces back two generations). My mother has been a feminist for my entire life, and was deeply involved in reproductive rights, anti-censorship, and anti-war activism throughout my childhood. I was raised to have a critical analysis of power and institutions. So that’s one strand, one part of my activist roots.
The other piece is less about how I was raised and more about what I am passionate about. I’ve had a lifelong interest in power, particularly in the ways power works in relationships.
When I was 18 and in my first year of college, I took my first women’s studies class (that’s what they called it back in 1992), thinking it would be easy. I was already a feminist, wasn’t I? That class was a revelation. It helped me realize my mother’s feminism wasn’t the only feminism out there. There were feminisms that cared about the ways power worked between people. That cared about the ways we played out oppression in our friendships and activist projects. That cared about the violence in sexual relationships and families. That cared about ways we could be responsible about power and how it was working. That dreamed up ways we could do relationships differently.
For me, the strands of caring about oppression and privilege, about desire and BDSM, and caring about violence in relationships have been intertwined for a long time, and the heart of that is being conscious and careful about power and how it works in relationships.
[bctt tweet=”‘I’ve had a lifelong interest in power, particularly in the ways power works in relationships.’ -Xan West”]
When I was 19 and first starting to do activism around intimate partner violence, I was invited by a friend to participate in an event the lesbian domestic violence network was holding at a local feminist bookstore. Folks were invited to read pieces about BDSM and pieces about interpersonal violence. I read a piece about intimate partner violence. She read BDSM erotica. The event was focused on helping people discern the differences between abusive use of power and consensual erotic use of power, and it is something I will never forget. It helped me understand that BDSM was another lens to think through on how to engage with power in relationships.
I knew then, and am only more certain of it now, that we cannot create relationships that are free of power, however much we may wish that were possible. That we play out power and privilege in our relationships all the time. What BDSM did, along with anti-racist feminism, was give me tools for thinking about ways to engage with power responsibly and consensually.
I have spent over a decade doing BDSM community education. At the same time, I had a day job working in the trauma field to support survivors of intimate violence. These things are not in contradiction (though folks at my day job may think otherwise). They are in tandem, and both feed each other because, at their heart, they are about taking a critical approach to power in relationships, and supporting people to create relationships they can trust to not abuse power. I did both of these things because I care deeply about this issue, as a survivor, as a sadomasochist, as a feminist.
My activism, at its heart, is about thinking critically about power and how it is working, being open about the realities of power and oppression, how we reproduce them, and how they impact us, about seeking and sharing tools for engaging with power responsibly and consensually.
Lana: Tell us about kink education. Why is it important to you?
Xan: When I was a novice, I didn’t have access to much kink education. That’s one of the things that made me vulnerable and contributed to my staying in an abusive D/s relationship. Because I did not have the tools and knowledge that would help me discern abusive behavior in the context of a D/s dynamic. When I left that abusive relationship and moved to NYC, I immediately sought out education. I went to kink education classes about 2-3 times a week for a couple years so that I would have the tools and knowledge I needed to help me discern abusive behavior on the part of others, and to prevent myself from enacting abuse in the context of BDSM.
I care about kink education because I firmly believe that it can help folks recognize abusive behavior in the context of BDSM, as well as support them to ask for what they need, articulate their desires, negotiate BDSM more effectively, and take care of themselves in the context of kinky relationships. It won’t eradicate abuse, but it can help folks who are experiencing abuse to make informed choices about their lives, and can help folks have the tools to be more careful with each other if they choose.
[bctt tweet=”#Kink ed. can ‘help folks who are experiencing abuse to make informed choices about their lives…’ @TGStoneButch”]
Most of what I teach focuses on a few things that I really care about: offering building blocks for knowing what you desire and negotiating consent, offering tools for taking care with your partners and yourself around areas of vulnerability and risk, and centering the praxis of people who are marginalized in kink communities.
I love teaching and learning. I have a lot of training and experience doing education, which is why I spent so long focused on doing kink education and organizing kink education. Recently, I’ve been focusing more on doing the kind of education I care about through non-fiction writing, which is more accessible for me as I become increasingly more disabled, and is also more accessible for a wider range of people, as I publish that writing on my website. It may become a book or three someday, but right now, I care more about making it widely accessible.
Lana: You not only write as Xan West, but also as Corey Alexander, and you’re open about those two identities. Is there a difference between Corey’s work and Xan’s?
Xan: It’s true. I am one of those folks who writes under more than one name! For a long time, I kept those names separate. Corey Alexander was the name I did kink education under, and Xan West the name I wrote erotic fiction under. But, after a certain point, it made less sense to keep them separate. They were both openly kinky queers and had a similar ethic about it, and I wanted to talk more openly about the ways kink education and erotica writing overlapped. I’ve been open about both names being connected to each other for many years now.
As Xan West, I write erotic fiction stories and am currently writing an erotic romance novel, Shocking Violet. I also write about the practice of writing erotica and erotic romance.
As Corey Alexander, I teach and I write about the praxis of kink, where theory intertwines with practice, where critical thinking meets transformation, where reflection and action are in a continued loop together. I translate my kink and sexuality education curriculum into essays, and I write new posts focused on things I am passionate about.
[bctt tweet=”‘I decided many years ago…that Xan West would refuse pronouns.’ @TGStoneButch”]
I decided many years ago, when I first started publishing, that Xan West would refuse pronouns. I wanted to publish gay erotica and lesbian erotica and wanted readers to have to hold the not-knowing. That’s a core difference between Xan West and Corey Alexander, aside from the sort of writing I do under each. Corey claims pronouns. Xan does not.
Both my writing about writing (as Xan) and my writing about doing kink (as Corey) are published mainly on my website, Kink Praxis.
Lana: As a reader, whose work has really blown you away this year and why?
Xan: I had the pleasure of beta-reading a manuscript for Shweta Narayan this year. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. So complex and intricate and amazing politics and gorgeous genderqueer representation and the most sublime prose, and such layered characterization! So, there was that, but of course it’s not yet published, so I should probably tell you about something you can actually read. If you want to read some of Narayan’s work now, I recommend this story and also this one. I have also been blown away by the work of Morgan M. Page, especially her recent piece, Rental, which totally kicked my ass in the most awesome way.
In erotica and erotic romance, I fell hard for Alisha Rai’s work this year; I think I’ve read her entire backlist! I found Miel Rose’s collection Overflow this year, and it was a tremendous and beautiful thing to read all that hot butch/femme erotica collected in one volume. I also read The Companion Contract by Solace Ames this year and was blown away by the complexity of characterization and the hotness of the slow burn.
Lana: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Xan: It’s been a joy working with Go Deeper Press, and I’m so glad you asked me to send you a manuscript. I am incredibly excited that Show Yourself to Me is now out in the world!
We love working with you too, Xan. You are an amazing talent, and we’re both passionate about and moved by your writing, your activism, your voice. Thank you!
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.