It's tempting to think about a collection of lesbian erotica as inconsequential. The word erotica signals that it's just about sex -- right? The definition of erotica is that it is literature or art dealing with sexual love. And the word erotica is based on the Greek word Eros.
Eros was something that the Greek lyric and lesbian poet Sappho wrote about in 600 B.C.E. So lesbians writing about desire is as old as the hills. I kept this in mind when reading The Harder She Comes, an anthology of Butch/Femme Erotica, edited by DL King and published by Cleis Press.
In the book, there are few new twists on the age old story of desire. There are bois now -- spelled b-o-i-s -- and in this anthology there is a fair amount of polyurethane appendages and the use of male anatomical terms. In addition to bois, there are butches, femmes, Charles Bukowski impersonators, artists turned massage therapists, Harley motorcycle riding fantasy butches - and written between the lines or at times more explicitly there are moments of intimacy between women and an analysis of what it all means.
While Sappho wasn't writing about strap-ons, the topic of desire -- Come then now, dear goddess, and release me/ From my anguish -- to quote a line from Sappho's "Hymn To Aphrodite" -- is forever fraught.
Readers should be forewarned (although it probably comes as no surprise), that some of the stories in this anthology are not for the faint hearted. And some of the stories are downright --there's really no other way to say it -- heart-warming. One such story was entitled The Bucket List and it was written by Charlotte Dare. In this story, a woman falls in love with her neighbor who is in a long-term relationship with another woman which hasn't worked for years, if ever. The woman is 38 and it has long been her fantasy to be lovers with an older woman. The object of her desire is 58. There is a kiss, an affair, a break, and then a new relationship. Sound familiar?
In another story, Rachel Kramer Bussel writing from the point of view of a lesbian artist turned massage therapist, brings us a piece of dialogue and insight:
"One of the other reasons my friends wanted me to come here is for the sheer pleasure of being touched. My girlfriend of twelve years left me last year and I kept the apartment, the bed, the art. It looks just like when she left except that she's moved on, and I haven't. It's hard for me to let people touch me," she said, and Marisa knew that it wasn't just a butch thing, though she's been with her share of stone butches and had gotten used to that separation of body and desire, of control and want; they gave to her in other ways, many other ways.
In another story, Shanna Germain brings us a tale of a woman who works at an animal shelter who watches the women who come to the shelter to adopt pets and says there is a connection between their sexual habits and the strays they take home.
Now, girls who pick Labs, those are good. German shepherds. Huskies. The mixes. Smart, calm dogs with a fine spirit in their eyes. Intelligent enough to disarm you. The ones who will know their own pleasure and want to discover yours... sometimes working here kills me. I want to take every one of these dogs home and show them that they're loved. But of course, you can only do so much....
Girls are different. I don't want to take any of them home... I trot off in the morning hours like a stray who's slipped off her collar and needs to remember the way freedom feels as it rushes past her ears."
In the end of the story, she meets a woman at the shelter who she wants to take home.
At the end of so many of these stories, but not all, girl gets girl. After all isn't that what lesbian desire is all about?
You can learn more about Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters here.