The saucy bestseller that's wormed its way into dinner-table banter goes much deeper than being fodder for horny housewives. Fifty Shades of Gray, the mass-distributed romance novel with a sadomasochistic edge, has stimulated sales on a new school of thought: that it's OK to talk about sex. The fact that Target is selling the book as a promoted title on central displays in its stores demonstrates a shift in the cognitive thinking of heteronormativity. Straight people are finally saying, "Let's talk about sex, baby." Going one step further, some connections are even being made that sex is good.
"Yawn," say the gays who whipped their S&M practice into shape 37 years ago and exercise their God-given right to sexual freedom every Friday night (and Saturday and Tuesday and Wednesday and every other day in between). "We got the memo a long time ago," say the lesbians who rent communal houses (and one another's girlfriends) every summer in Cherry Grove, P-Town, and Rehomo Beach.
Sure, the LGBT community has to contend with lesbian "bed death" and other sexless times that don't go bump in the night, but even the most sexually hibernating among us are more familiar with this stuff than most of the folks who are now ooh-ing and ah-ing over a book that's been written 10,000 times before on our bookshelves, in our heads, and in our beds. Whether or not we've engaged in such creative coital acts, most of us who fall under the rainbow umbrella have witnessed -- at pride parades, at bars and clubs, in shadowy corners on gay beaches at night, and in academic texts and lectures -- the freedom of sexual expression, and with it the ability to whisper, shout, laugh, and gossip freely about our desires and experiences.
The phenomenon of housewives everywhere awakening sexually is a sad feature rather than a witty sidebar in the magazine that is American life. Some are saying Fifty Shades of Grey might even spawn a miniature baby boom. Did it really take a mediocre novel to teach straight people how to have fun with sex?
Trashy romance novels, previously snatched off the back shelves of the drug store by moms who wore dark sunglasses and handkerchiefs pulled tightly around their faces, were once read in secret, short stints, hidden in book sleeves borrowed from such exciting reads as The Joy of Cooking with Chinese Cabbage and Secrets from Martha Stewart's Vegetable Garden. That a book like Fifty Shades of Gray, a book of that same genre, can only now be mainstream, even potential book club material, says volumes about just how sexually repressed our culture still is and sheds light on why so many have given us gays such a hard time for so long. More optimistically, the mainstreaming of literary porn may be a light in the tunnel, a turning of the page toward a greater openness and acceptance of sexual expression.
For me, the mainstream excitement over this book was surprising. I thought our hetero friends were already beyond the point of giggling and blushing when the topic of sex was fleshed out in long-form writing. I realize now that we have miles to go.