Halifax-based sex educator and queer, disabled femme Kaleigh Trace had been blogging about the pleasures (and politics) of sex for two years when her writing caught the eye of one of the founders of Invisible Publishing. The result of his commission hits the bookstores this month. Hot, Wet and Shaking: How I Learned to Talk About Sex is a collection of essays by Trace ranging from first sexual mishaps growing up in rural Ontario (“Sex was a total mystery to me, something that adults did in big cities like New York or Toronto”), managing a moody bladder in sexual encounters, getting an abortion in Nova Scotia, working in a popular queer sex-toy store and her first lesbian heartbreak. Xtra had the opportunity to ask Trace more about her book.
Xtra: I like that you write about how untruthful the sex in pop culture and mainstream porn often is. How do we stay immune to these expectations and keep sane?
Kaleigh Trace: I think it is impossible to be immune to pop-cultural expectations of sex and sexuality. Those images and heteronormative narratives of sex are truly ubiquitous, and I think no matter how thoroughly we avoid them and deconstruct them, they can slip through our filters. What helps for me personally are two things: one is not reading crappy magazines and generally paying little attention to weird celebrity gossip; the second is surrounding myself with awesome, radical people who, like myself, strive to ignore those societal expectations pressed on our bodies. I love my sweet, little friend-bubble here in Halifax. We keep each other solid by totally loving one another. Oh, and maybe the third is hanging out naked. It may not be for everyone, but I love lounging naked. It’s a surefire way to make me feel good about my body.
Regarding porn, I will be honest: I don’t watch a lot of it. Sometimes I watch Crash Pad (which I strongly recommend because it’s the best), but the truth is I have a pretty short attention span for all things on TV, be that Orange Is the New Black or porn. I will say that when I do watch porn, my favourite piece is called Krutch, by Mia Gimp. It’s hot and queer and kinky, and Mia Gimp and I share the same swaggering strut. I do prefer seeing reflections of myself in the porn that I watch, that’s for sure.
You remind us in your book that there is no right way to have sex. Do we often settle down into certain procedures? We’re all after the orgasm — should we be?
I can’t speak for everyone, but from my relatively limited sexual experience, I would say that yes, we do tend to fall into patterns, and yes we do often aim for the orgasm. I really love challenging myself to defy following a linear progression when it comes to sex. Orgasms are great, but I also do genuinely love all the parts of sexual experiences, and I love that I can feel intimate and hot and dirty and sexy with someone, whether or not I have orgasmed. I do think that the sex most of us have would be better if we could all consciously strip it of orgasm-as-the-end-goal and think of it as a fun, consensual game with limitless possibilities. I think doing that takes a lot of practice, because the same-old story line is so engrained — but it is pretty fun practice.
How do you recommend we educate ourselves about sex and disability, and the pleasures of the non-normative body?
There are so many radical, important people doing work around disability. If anyone is interested in sex and disability, or just disability generally, I would recommend checking out the work of Mia Gimp, Mia Mingus, Jes Sachse, Eli Clare and Loree Erickson. Oh, and I think the Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability, by Miriam Kaufman, Cory Silverberg and Fran Odette is a pretty crucial read. I also love the website Where’s Lulu?
Somewhat related to that: I suspect we all have the beautifying, normalizing procedures by which we “prepare” our bodies for sex, which for women often include shaving, waxing, body lotions, et cetera. Why do we still do that?
I do think we all have procedures we perform to “prepare” ourselves for sex. And as a pretty femmey femme, I love doing that shit. Trimming my armpit hair, shaving my legs, moisturizing my feet, plucking my brows — while all of that is normalizing in a way, I also loooove doing that stuff. I feel that for myself, I have thoroughly reclaimed those acts, and I do them because they make me feel so damn good and not because someone else expects me to do them. Maybe that’s part of why we all still do it? And of course, too, societal expectations are still present. But I think that if there are acts that make us feel confident and sexy and we do them for ourselves, then that is a perfect reason to do them.
What are your top five works — either films, TV shows, books or pieces of visual art — that are most truthful about sex and desire?
Krutch, by Mia Gimp. All things by Crash Pad. Best Slumber Party Ever, another rad porn by Samuel Shanahoy. Written on the Body, by Jeanette Winterson. All of Michael Ondaatje’s poems, especially the one from Coming Through Slaughter in which Billy the Kid’s hand is cracked with love juice after having had sex. I love it.