January 24, 2012
Closing off our “Six Question Sex Interview” series featuring various contributors to the anthology Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience, we decided to give the lone man in the book—foreword contributor, Steve Almond—a whirl with the questions. One question (in which female contributors had been asked whether they would ever consider having sex with “their” male character from the book) no longer seemed to make sense, and so I struck it from the list . . . although in typical Steve Almond fashion, he had found a way to answer it, actually, in quipping, “Well, I am my male character, and I have sex with myself all the time.”
A number of readers, as well as students in an academic setting, have asked us why we chose a male writer for the foreword. Did we feel the need for a male stamp of approval? Want a counterview for the sake of balance? In the end, though, the answer was less political and more easy than that: we chose Steve because he’s one of the best literary sex writers we know, and probably more articulate and lucid about the current role of sex in American lit than anyone else we could call to mind. And he did not disappoint. We hope you’ll check out his foreword—and of course the rest of the book—and thanks for following this series!
Gina Frangello, Stacy Bierlein, Cris Mazza and Kat Meads
(editors, Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience)
TNB: You wrote the Foreword to a book the entire premise of which is women writing sex from male characters’ points of view. On a scale of 1-10, exactly how nervous does it make you to think of critics pointing a finger and deriding this anthology for “getting it wrong?” In a Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (or wait, is that the reverse?) era, what would possess anyone to dare to try and . . . gasp . . . understand the other gender between the sheets?”
SA: Speaking as a guy who’s written from female points of view, I’ll just say that anything critics might hate is probably worth trying. Humans have different parts, but the same compulsions and blind spots, which is what we’re writing about in the end.
TNB: Sex is a fundamental human urge, and at its best brings human beings closer together. Is it easier or harder to write from the perspective of a someone having, chasing, or desiring sex than it is about the same character going about the other business of his daily life? Is sex the great equalizer? And if so, why do so few literary writers–male or female–seem to focus on it?
SA: I suspect the pornification of the culture — the way “sex” has become linked to a promotional pitch — scares off a lot of writers. The more you write about it, the more people put you in the “sex box” which is generally quarantined from the “literary box.” Or maybe I just like saying “box” a lot.
TNB: Many readers have come to Other Voices Books asking if we will now be publishing a follow-up anthology entitled Women Undressed, in which make writers explore female sexuality. Although male writers have actually been doing this to great acclaim and/or controversy for centuries . . . think D.H. Lawrence to Philip Roth to Milan Kundera . . . maybe there is still more to say. If such a book existed, what would you hope that your male literary comrades understood about female sexuality that their predecessors did not?
SA: I think men tend to be troubled by the holistic nature of sex for women — that is, the experience isn’t about about physical pleasure so much as emotional communion. I have trouble with that myself. But obviously, I’m just guessing.
TNB: Sexiest male character in all of literature?
SA: William Stoner from the novel “Stoner.”
TNB: Recently I was listening to a radio show on which they reported a survey they’d done on how old men and women can be and still be considered “sexy.” As you might guess, women’s ages came in younger than men’s, at 44 and 52 respectively. On the one hand, I have to admit that these figures are probably quite a bit better than they would have been twenty years ago, but on the other hand–wow, harsh that in an age when people are routinely living into their 90s, the culture basically de-sexualizes them for the entire second half of their lives! This smacks of some serious ageist bullshit to me. Tell us about the sexiest, smokingest older person you’ve ever known–male or female–and give us all some hope, will you?
SA: My 84-year-old aunt Meta was a pistol to her dying day. I find older people sexy. They’ve got more miles on the tread, but they’ve also seen more of the road.