by Jennifer Hanks
Just let me take care of you,” the hero whispers, choking back a growl as he pushes the heroine down face first on the bed.
“You are what we call a natural sub,” he says, tracing the paddle across her ass. “Are you ready to submit for my pleasure?”
The heroine nods her head shyly, her cheeks apple-bright. “Yes,” she says, “I want to belong only to you.”
When 50 Shades of Grey exploded in 2012, I was editing erotic romance novels five days a week in a cramped pink building in South Austin. 50 Shades made “BDSM” the most marketable term in the romance/erotica industry, and it made my already uncomfortable job a living hell.
I began working for Harpy Publishing1 out of desperation; I had just left New York for Austin and needed steady paycheck while I applied for graduate programs. You have a sense of humor, I reminded myself when I received my first assignment: to calculate the number of explicit words in a novella where a virginal witch experienced her first orgasm at the stroke of midnight.
Yes, I was put off when I found out all books featuring F/F romance were automatically assigned to the lowest (least bought) imprint and specifically tagged so that our readers could avoid them. And yes, it was immediately clear that casual misogyny abounded in these books: supporting female characters only appeared so the heroine could defeat them, and the hero would always choose the “good girl” over “the slut.” But I need a paycheck, I reasoned. I am not their audience.
We are not their audience, my friend Shannon and I would repeat over our third (or fourth) glasses of wine at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday.
It’s easy to convince yourself you are “taking something too seriously” when what’s offending you doesn’t hit close to home. The books that poured into our office post-Christian Grey were another matter entirely. Suddenly, the paranormal shape-shifters searching for their forever mate were doing so with handcuffs in hand.
Reading them was like spending eight hours with a muddy, inexpertly placed boot on my chest. It was hard to breathe; it was hard to go home and ever, ever feel clean.
When I came out at 24, sometimes it was also necessary to come out as kinky, although I didn’t have exactly the right vocabulary for it then. Feminine-appearing and soft-spoken, I am not most people’s idea of a Domme. When I started at Harpy, I was a total novice, still trying to reconcile my desires with how I saw myself in the world. At the beginning of my job, when I was reading only one BDSM-themed manuscript every few weeks — books written by women familiar with kink — I felt as if we were sharing a secret. This, I thought, this might be me. ...