The air was saturated with thoughts of lust. A current of sexuality swirled around the woman sitting at the head of a polished wooden table in William L. Harkness Hall on Friday.
That woman was Gina de Vries, who led an erotica writing workshop as part of Pride Month at Yale, a series of LGBT panels and activities throughout April. De Vries, a well-known writer and activist for the LGBT community, spent two hours Friday afternoon teaching a dozen Yale undergraduates how to get in touch with their inner pornographic writers.
De Vries, who came out as a lesbian at the age of 11 and describes herself on her Web site as a “queer femme writer, rabble-rouser, sex worker, pervert, and Paisan,” has been teaching writing workshops since she was a teenager in San Francisco.
“As an artist, I really believe that the most important and interesting and necessary art is the art that is the hardest to do,” de Vries said. “And sex has been so denigrated and made taboo in society, for both queer and straight people.”
As a student in college, de Vries was told by a creative writing teacher that her work was pornographic exhibitionism (“as if that was a bad thing,” de Vries said), when she wrote a scene in which gay characters talked about sex.
“The funny thing,” de Vries laughed, “was that that writing wasn’t pornographic at all.”
Since then, the activist has made it her goal to ensure that porn and erotica writing are taught well, saying she believes the denigration of these sexual genres has resulted in an atmosphere in which they are poorly taught, if they are taught at all. And so, she said, she decided to offer erotica writing workshops.
On Friday, the workshop participants were encouraged to think seriously about their sexual writing preferences by coming up with “yes-no-maybe” lists of sexual words or phrases that they would or would not use in their writing. Sample “yes’s” included complicated feelings and the word “spasm,” while “no’s” included the phrase “quivering member” and any sort of floral euphemism for the vagina.
Participants were then given 15 minutes to write a sexual scene involving two characters. For those having trouble writing their own erotica, de Vries suggested starting with the line, “I want you to touch me.”
At the end of the session, eight students volunteered to read their stories out loud to the group.
“I’m glad that she pushed us to think about things that are normally taboo,” Ariana Berkowitz ’12 said. “She did a good job making a safe place where we all felt comfortable.”
De Vries’ erotica writing workshop was presented as part of Pride Month at Yale, which consists of a series of events designed to celebrate and support the LGBT population at Yale and in the community at large. But funding for this year’s events was hard to come by because of University-wide budget cuts, Rachel Schiff ’10, co-coordinator of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative at Yale, said.
“I do think that Pride Month is so important,” said Schiff. “Because while I do think that there should be LGBT-only safe spaces, this month is meant for both the LGBT communities and allies, friends and like-minded individuals. The only way we are going to change the world is if everyone cares about everyone else.”
The event has been evolving since the advent of gay and lesbian pride days at Yale in 1982.