Feel free to pose your questions or ask her in person during her Q&A workshop.
What is your aim when it comes to writing about BDSM? What do you hope people get out of reading your books?
I want to write a good story, and I hope readers get a ripping good read! I hope they enjoy the characters and the trouble they get into and the emotional and philosophical decisions they have to make. And I hope they like the fantasy world I created and enjoy imagining what it would be like to adventure in a world like that, whether they like the idea of being served or serving or just being the occasional bystander.
What are some popular misconceptions about people who participate in BDSM?
That we’re intrinsically or situationally damaged – either we’re born injured or handicapped or cursed by these desires, or that we are made kinky by bad experiences. Sadly, Fifty Shades of Grey does support the “only damaged people do SM” meme. But studies within the scene have revealed we are no more or less likely to be emotionally challenged or disabled than the rest of the human population. Which is sad because I really wanted the study to show we’re more creative, saner and smarter. Ahh, well.
What about this idea that you have to be damaged in some way to like it: do you think that’s true?
See the above question. That some kinky people have had bad sexual or emotional experiences only reflects that MANY people experience these things. Frankly, it’s very hard to admit past abuse issues when you’re into SM, because so many people leap to the conclusion, “Oh, that’s why you like to be tied up! Your father called you stupid when you were seven!” It’s nonsense. You might as well conclude that people like to play football because they drank milk as babies. Correlation does not imply causation. There are far too many variables.
But because so many people have experienced some form of abuse or neglect, they can sometimes find a sense of power and security in enacting consensual dramas as adults. They might not want to relive past pain, but instead find ways to create greater trust and intimacy by sharing what scared or hurt them and finding ways for their lovers to help them to feel safe, or powerful, cherished and respected. And there is nothing more empowering to a past abuse survivor than the feeling of negotiating exactly what they want and getting it, completely able to stop anything that isn’t working. It’s not therapy – people who need professional help should get it. But it can be very rewarding and pleasurable.
What about the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon? Is it good that more people know about BDSM through that, or does it paint a very misguided view of BDSM by perpetuating that only those who are damaged in some way will enjoy it?
The main thing people need to realize about Fifty Shades of Grey is that it’s a romance. This is not a portrayal of the modern BDSM scene any more than a romance book about a sexy doctor is about the National Health Service. In fact, the kinky scene doesn’t even exist in those books – other than the damaged romantic hero commenting that she’d be amazed at what she could find on the internet, and suggesting Wikipedia for her research purposes. And this in Seattle, one of the most influential cities for the BDSM community in the US!
Don’t get me started.
Anyway! Most people who read those books have zero interest in doing anything kinky. They are romance readers! They read for escapism, not life modeling. If romance readers read and then ran out to find what they read about, the beaches and docks would be full of women waiting to be picked up by pirates.
And the damaged hero is nothing more than part of the standard romantic trope of “virginal woman secures the love of a bad boy through her virtue.” He is only bad because he had a dark past. Poor, poor billionaire Christian, with the 6-pack abs and the concert-level piano skills, flying his personal helicopter and buying his girlfriend cars and homes! He was abused and neglected as a child, and therefore beats women who look like his mum. But in the end, true love redeems him, and the kinky sex, which he once used to distance himself from women, becomes merely another way he and his wife – and mother of his children – can enjoy their frequent and mutually satisfying sex life. And they live happily ever after, assuming no more of his former girlfriends come after them with guns.
This is not good for people like me, who aren’t much into romance novels. But it means almost nothing to people who actually have kinky sex. Sure, a few people will read the books, goggle a few terms, and unlike Anastasia, they will find us! And some of them will come out, buy a sex toy, attend a workshop or a party, maybe even buy one of my books. And of them, a few will stay for a while. But we’re talking very small numbers.
The big change – the one that will count – is how many people will begin to see just how unthreatening the BDSM scene really is. Because right now, all over the world, people are telling their friends and family, “Oh, what I do is sort of like what’s in those books you just read in your book club. But without the stalking and we don’t use zip ties for bondage because they hurt too much.” And their friends are thinking, “Well, sheesh, what’s the big deal then?”
And that is all to the better. People will feel safer “coming out” as kinky when they know their grandma has those books on a shelf. And it will be harder to paint us as rare, dangerous deviants when everyone knows mum has those books on her kindle.
How does a book like 50 Shades differ from one of your books?
I do not write romances. My books are not about one couple, fated to get together and stay together forever in domestic bliss. Mine are about a larger cast of characters, with only a few staying from book to book – it’s more in the style of an old fashioned family saga. The setting is what matters, plus a few core characters and their arcs. There are romantic aspects to my books, but no happily ever afters. Just an occasional “happy for now.”
I also write for an audience that is more aware of sexuality and BDSM. Frankly, I find many of the sexual depictions in 50 Shades to be misleading at best or dangerous at worst. Hopefully, the type of people who look to fiction to teach them how to have sex have better examples to learn from. Of course anyone who thinks fiction is any way to learn anything is already operating from a handicap. You might as well read a Star Trek novel to learn jet propulsion.
Laura Antoniou’s publishing career began when she started writing gay men’s smut to promote safer sex practices during the early 90’s. Emboldened by getting paid to do this, she then edited the groundbreaking “Leatherwomen” series, highlighting tales of kinky women. This was rapidly followed by half a dozen other anthologies and the Marketplace series of erotic BDSM novels which never reached the sales level of the 50 Shades books, but she’s not bitter. Instead, she wrote the 6th, titled The Inheritor, due to come out in 2015.
In 2013, Laura turned her mind to mysteries and came out with the Rainbow Book Award for Best LGBT Mystery, The Killer Wore Leather. Now that she has achieved almost mainstream success with it, she plans a sequel, to be released via Cleis Press. She is also the editor for Best Lesbian Erotica 2015 and is planning many other writing and editing projects in order to fulfill a lifelong dream of actually making a living on this sort of thing. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter or check her out at www.lantoniou.com