The two things I love most in the world are sex and writing. So, obviously, Best Sex Writing is the kind of book title that gets my attention.
This year’s edition is edited by Jon Pressick, self-described sexuality media mogul (who has actually interviewed me before, you might recall!), and it’s fabulous. The essays range from academic analyses of racial politics in porn, to journalistic examinations of sex education, to deeply personal stories about sexual adventures. It’s a total treat to read, entertaining and compelling all the way through, and I’m confident that anyone who digs my blog would also dig this book!
You might remember Tina Horn as one of my favorite porn performers, or as a presenter at the first Feminist Porn Conference. Or you might know her from her podcast, writing, or teaching. In addition to Best Sex Writing, Tina’s also got a new book out called Love Not Given Lightly, which features profiles of various people working in sexuality.
Her piece in Best Sex Writing is called “The Gates” and it’s about her time working at a women-owned BDSM house in the Bay Area. It’s simultaneously a journalistic profile of the women there and the place itself, and a personal look into Tina’s own time as a switch there. I loved reading it and was excited to chat with her about it!
Girly Juice: What was your goal when researching and writing this piece?
Tina Horn: I wanted to write about the period of my life when I was working at The Gates as a professional switch. But I didn’t think the world needed another memoir of a middle class white girl with some literature degrees finding empowerment through professional BDSM. I made it my project to look outward. What was the story of the woman who started her own underground business? What were the social dynamics between the women who worked there? What objects were in the rooms, and how were they designed? How were things organized and regulated? I wanted my consciousness, my experience, to come through the concrete details, and I wanted to get some closure since moving on from that work by honoring it in journalism form.
GJ: As both a journalist and a sex worker, you have plenty of experience with interviewing as well as being interviewed. Do you have any tips or strategies for making a source feel comfortable and able to open up when interviewing them about a sensitive topic like sex?
TH: There is always an ethical question for a journalist or nonfiction writer: at what point are you exploiting your subject? Exploitation comes from false pretense.You work to make someone comfortable and trust you so you can get your story out of them: that’s the job, the craft of reporting. I do my best to negotiate with my subjects when I’m reporting on them just as I would for a kink scene. I ask them what’s off-limits, what THEY want to talk about, how much time they have to talk.
For example, I interviewed Sage Travigne, the owner of The Gates, for my piece. I told her the interview was for my thesis, which it was. Before the final version was published for my Masters I sent it to her for review: not only fact-checking but to give her the chance to take out anything that made her uncomfortable. Before it was going to be in Best Sex Writing, I sent it to her again to get her permission. So, transparency in process is key, especially when you’re dealing with a part of someone’s life that is highly misunderstood and stigmatized such as sex work and kink.
As for getting people comfortable talking about sex: frankly, I’ve made it my work to interview people who are already comfortable and have trustworthy boundaries with subjects of sex, kink, gender, and relationships. Because then we can skip the awkwardness and go deep.
GJ: One thing that struck me about your story on the Gates is the camaraderie and companionship between the employees there. Is that a common experience when doing sex work in shared spaces, or is the Gates exceptional in that way?
TH: Well, I can only speak from my experience, or anecdotally from the many sex workers I know. If you read an article by a service industry person who worked at an amazing woman-run restaurant that transformed her life, you would never assume that all restaurants were like that.
I do think the Gates was an exceptional place for community, humor, creativity, ethics, and female camaraderie. But it’s important to point out that not everyone who has worked there over the course of twenty years has found it to their liking. I happened to find that place when it fit really well into my life. That’s what I love about nonfiction writing: the specificity of a story helps people to realize NOT that all places are like that, but that places like that are POSSIBLE.
GJ: A lot of your work (including your podcast, which I love!) focuses on unusual kinks. Do you have any advice for someone who is uncomfortable or apprehensive about their kink(s)? How about for someone who thinks they don’t have any kinks but wants to explore and find out?
TH: Thanks, I’m glad you love “Why Are People Into That?!” If you have a desire and you’ve internalized some shame about it, remember not to police your own imagination. What goes on between your ears when you’re masturbating is your business. And if you want to live out your fantasy, you just need to focus on communication, compatibility, negotiation, and consent.
Research online, read books, watch porn, find media about your kink. There’s no one way to do any kink: figure out your style. Ask yourself the central question of my podcast: why am I into this? And finally, to quote the great Funkadelic: Free your mind and your ass will follow.
GJ: Lastly, since sex toys are an area of personal interest for me, I have to ask: what are your favorite toys and other sex products to use, either with clients or in your personal life?
TH: NJoy toys are simply the best. Greg, the owner and designer, is so supportive of sex positive community that I feel great about endorsing his products all the damn time. The weight of stainless steel toys creates the most delicious pressure in my cunt and my butt, one of my favorite sexual feelings. They’re non-porous and easy to disinfect and sturdy which is great for brutes like me.
The Aslan Jaguar is like a second skin to me. I have a brown one and a black one with brass hardware.
I love Hathor Lube, which is fancy organic water-based lube with the supposed aphrodisiac “horny goat weed” in it. Funny story. I once sold this lube, among other things, to Beyoncé and Jay-Z. First of all – they said they didn’t have lube at home. Can you imagine how good Bey’s next record is gonna be now that she has lube?! Anyway when I told Jay-Z that this lube contained horny goat weed, he asked me if he could smoke it. I told him if he did, he should definitely write an online review.