Interview with Shawna Elizabeth, of Say Please & fuckyeahfemmes

Everyone! I reviewed Say Please: Lesbian BDSM Erotica! As part of that process, I interviewed Shawna Elizabeth, who wrote “Spoiled,” which was one of the stories I really enjoyed. She also happens to be the lady in charge of fuckyeahfemmes on Tumblr. I ended up having SO MANY FEELINGS about Say Please that I couldn’t use as much of the interview as I wanted in my review, but I wanted to share it anyways! I was particularly into her comments on bottoming, femmeness, and stereotypes of weakness, and her recommendations near the end of the interview.

Q: Why write erotica that narrates from a femme’s perspective? From a bottom’s perspective?

A: Well in one sense this was the obvious choice for me because it’s what I know, it felt natural to write from the first person perspective in this way. But there are still a lot of people who think that being a bottom is not empowering or feminist, and that being submissive and surrendering control is weak or degrading. Just like femmes fuck with gender and reclaim femininity in a subversive way (even though they ascribe to some normative ideals of female dress or behaviour), there is an intense eroticism to power exchange and playing with power dynamics. Just because you take the “feminine” or “submissive” role doesn’t mean you are being passive about your desire. If you are compelled by domination and forcefulness sexually, it doesn’t mean you don’t want an otherwise egalitarian relationship, or that you don’t respect yourself. Sometimes it is the strongest most assertive women who feel like they must be overcome and taken by force. It takes a lot of strength to be vulnerable. I would definitely be happy if the story illuminates the “femme” or “bottom” perspective in a more general way.

Q: In “Spoiled,” I particularly liked some of the femme-life details you included—thrusting a thigh out to show off stockings worn specifically for someone, or being the only femme in a club full of andro quipsters. Do these simply work their way into your writing, as a femme, or is it an intentional part of your writing practice to capture them?

A: I definitely love the sense of ritual about femme seduction, putting on “the moves.” It was fun to capture those seductive details so that other femme readers could feel that spark of recognition, and others could appreciate the fact that there is a deliberate aspect to femme swagger. For me that is what a lot of femme identity is about, making aspects of femininity that might otherwise be considered “natural” or ”expected,” conscious and overt.

As for the bar scene, many people have talked about femme invisibility, at this point, and I think right now there is kind of a butch/femme resurgence so it is somewhat easier to get recognition in the queer scenes I am a part of now- but feeling like the odd person out was a major part of my coming out process. People would come up to me and ask why I was wearing a skirt at a gay bar, or just ignore me altogether. Some of the story addresses real feelings that I have felt, but then the fictional element allowed me to reimagine familiar scenarios in a more positive and empowering light.

Q: Your Say Please bio mentions a PhD, and your Twitter bio helpfully elaborates that’s it’s “literature + modernism + queer theory + aesthetics”. Do your academic interests and/or your academic work affect the way you write porn? If so, how?

A: My academic work is on literature, modernism, and queer theory (aesthetics are a personal obsession). My queer politics inform my work in queer theory and my prurient nature definitely compels me to look at literature that is erotic or has some odd or intriguing sexual dynamics. I always try to keep one foot in queer social life, art practices, and culture, and the other in the academy so that I can stay balanced. Right now I mostly do academic writing, but my dream is to write a smutty historical romance novel based on the same time period that I research. So in that case, my research would really come into play, just a bookish girl’s fantasy of what modernist writing could have been if skewed through a contemporary queer lens.

Q: Home…how would you define it? Can you say a little about “home” in this particular piece? What about “family”?

A: Obviously many queers have to move away to find their sense of home and belonging (usually to a major city). Like many people, I am from a small suburban town that I never felt at ease in, and being an academic has also ushered me into a fairly itinerant lifestyle, moving every few years. In my early 20’s I moved to Portland Oregon and discovered a whole queer community that was very open and accepting of me. At the time I felt like everyone was unique, creative, and supportive of one another. I still feel nostalgic for the first few years I spent in Portland volunteering at the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls and going to basement shows and backyard parties all the time. It was like a family full of lesbian aunts obsessed with their cats (and chickens and tiny dogs), and everyone just loved each other for being nerdy weirdos.

Regarding “family”, I was just reading this piece by Eve Sedgwick (preeminent queer theorist and literary critic) where she theorizes the idea of queer family. She defines family as whoever she spends Thanksgiving with, and for most of us that’s probably like some rag tag band of queers and ex-lovers and randoms you feel a deep affinity with and can bond over gluten free vegan potluck with- rather than a narrowly conceived “biological” family who might be unsupportive, alienating, or far away. But of course Sedgwick also problematizes the concept of family as inherently heteronormative- so really that whole concept of a “queer family” is only useful if it works for you.

Personally, my friends and loved ones are all spread out across two countries and I always feel a little adrift because of it. I do wish I could have more of a sense of both home and family and that’s why I get those pesky bouts of nostalgia for times I felt supported and inspired by the people around me.

Q: Do you have any book or story recommendations for people who enjoyed “Spoiled,” or who enjoyed Say Please more generally?

Well I have a blog called Fuck Yeah Femmes where I post a lot of random images and things that represent radical queer femininity to me. I also have links to other Butch/Femme related websites on there. I really don’t understand why there isn’t more hot Butch/Femme porn with a BDSM bent to it. I think Courtney Trouble and The Crash Pad could play up this dynamic way more and please a lot of people.

I’m also really excited about the forthcoming Valencia the Movie/s, which is a film adaptation of the memoir by Michelle Tea set in San Francisco in the 1990’s. There is going to be lots of crazy queer sex and lust going on, especially since every chapter of the book was filmed by a different director with a different cast. So in some chapters Michelle is a woman, and in some she might be really femme, or really punk, or played by a transwoman, or a drag queen. I have only seen the chapter that I was involved with (Chapter 3) but I know the whole thing is going to be amazing.

Other femmes of note: Judy Minx (kinky queer porn star from Paris), Emma Mckenna (singer/songwriter from Toronto), and Zoe Whittall (Canadian queer author).