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Beautifully Butch, Uncomprimisingly Kinky

Updated: Apr 8



Recently, I attended a writers conference online, and participated in a virtual seminar featuring three "gatekeepers" within the traditional publishing world . Part of the talk by these editors and literary agents was to outline the various subgenres within the current market, as well as some sub-subgenres I had never heard of. They concluded that fiction and literature seemed to be in a moment of hybridization, and that the familiar tropes that make up all of the earlier genres were being interrogated and challenged. In this constant shifting of context, what do the labels even mean, when it comes to categorizing our stories? Who is doing it, and for what purpose?


When it was time for Q & A, I entered mine into the pop-up window. I wanted to know about erotica, specifically what that means in their eyes (as editors or literary agents) when we also now have spicy romance and erotic romances as their own genres. How do they or other members of the publishing industry make these distinctions? Is it all subjective, or do they have some kind of metric as to when a story is more "erotic" versus when a narrative is more of a "romance."


Their answers were surprising (though nothing should surprise me these days, in 2024), and boiled down to two points. First, they said that "erotica lacks in much emotion"--it´s "just about the sex," and the descriptions of it. Secondly, erotica that is "hard and aggressive" means that it is being written primarily for a male audience, while women readers want writing that is more "softcore", with an emphasis on sensuality and feelings.


Damn I wish author, editor, and educator Sinclair Sexsmith was there, and could raise their hand to respond to such sweeping (and old-fashioned) judgments of erotic literature. Or I wish I had enough money to mail all of the speakers at that seminar their short story collection Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica. Short of that, this review will have to suffice.


First, let´s talk about emotions in erotica. While some others may depict characters lacking in much inner life--writing in the "style of no style", with as little detail as possible, out of concern that the reader will be unable to put themselves into the fantasy--Sexsmith chooses to go into the complete opposite direction with this collection of short stories. Some of the characters here encounter one another by chance on a train, or at a bar, or in a library; other times, Sexsmith features intimate sexual encounters between people who clearly have a history together (though not necessarily monogamous). These characters reveal desire, lust, and longing for one another, of course, but also awkwardness, uncertainty, and embarrassment. Regardless of the duration that they have known one another before they have sex, Sexsmith takes the time to provide an exceptional amount of emotional as well as physical detail. This intelligent attention to detail only makes the depictions of sex within these pages that much more hot.


Sweet & Rough is also delightfully kinky, and Sexsmith masterfully challenges fixed notions of gender and sexuality through their erotica. Throughout these stories, the sexual experiences of trans people are centered, as well as roles of Dominant/submissive and the fluidity of what it means to be butch and/or femme. While educational, Sexsmith never comes off as being didactic or alienating to their readers; instead, these stories immerse us into a world which may or may not be familiar, and we are left to listen, explore, and sense. Furthermore, the stories that comprise this collection include a wide range of consensual BDSM practice--from flogging and spanking to bondage and role-play.


Even if one didn´t know Sexsmith personally, reading Sweet & Rough would leave the reader in concluding that this author is not only highly sexual and imaginative, but also intelligent, kind, and fun. There is a strong dose of playfulness here, as well as scenes which range from hardcore to delicate. Sexsmith knows how to take their time building up to a climax, as well as how to provide a fresh twist at the end, and to get you wanting at least a couple pages more after the story has ended.


Refreshingly, Sexsmith´s erotic writing defies easy categorizations, and Sweet & Rough is recommended for anyone who seeks sexy short stories that will challenge, provoke, and arouse. Rush out and pick up a copy. This book is a cut above.



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