I don’t write about sex much. I don’t know if those of you who have read much of my work have noticed that, but I tend not to deal with it very often. To be frank, I think there’s something approaching a prudishness in a lot of my writing— not a lot of exploration of sexuality, not much drug use, few truly crude behaviors. I don’t even like my characters too swear too much. A lot of it’s just taste. I think dialogue’s more interesting when people don’t swear all the time, I’m a bit put off by human grossness. Those are just things I am not all that interested in exploring in my writing.
But I get a bit funny when it comes to writing about sex and sexuality. I have no DISTASTE for it the way I do with that other stuff. I feel like it’s an interesting and important part of most characters, something that could really add drama and dimension and intensity to stories. I can talk about sex with friends in person. But for some reason– maybe it’s an immaturity, a silly hangup –I get nervous, even embarrassed, when I trying to write about it.
I have a weird impulse to worry, “What would my parents think if they saw this?” Which is stupid, for several reasons— not least of which because I only have one parent anymore —a silly thing for an adult to be concerned over. I also worry that the way I try to depict it won’t work the way I intend it to. Like somebody will read it and think I’m a freak for thinking that’s how you depict sexuality and eroticism. “What the hell was that?” “It was supposed to be sexy.” “That’s not sexy. That’s weird. And you’re weird.”
I ran into that challenge with Bernie and my Adonis screenplay. I don’t think sexuality ever played a bigger part in my work than in this story. A major theme is flipping the typical hetero power dynamic, and a big goal for that was to write a romantic relationship with a slowly growing sexual dimension to it that people would actually find hot. And with my nervousness that was challenging. It was made worse for the fact that I was using a lot of things I personally find hot to accomplish it. My muse for much of the project was Chris Evans, given my extreme attraction to him with the Captain America presentation— blond, smooth, and huge with muscle. So writing my lead character Aidan, the titular Adonis, to be played by him was a starting point. And naturally when I was looking for ways to express my characters’ attraction to him, I referenced how I experienced my own.
Sex is personal and idiosyncratic. Even when there’s nothing really wrong with how you relate to or experience sex, it’s not always something you want everybody to know about. People might not get it if it’s too different from their own way. This made me feel particularly vulnerable— like, what if you thought I was a weirdo for things that were actually representative of me? Or what if I just didn’t get the job done as an artist depicting sexiness and it came off as clunky and awkward and now you knew way more about me than you wanted to for your trouble? A lot of the time I would feel shy as I was writing and then sort of pull back from the depiction for fear that if I got too specific, or too detailed, or too whatever, it would just be uncomfortable rather than sexy or furthering to the story. Or what if you read too much into a lot of the ways in which sexuality plays out in the story, particularly the problematic ones, and got uncomfortable because you suspected those things were representative of me? That one was particularly worrisome to me. You might find something a little disturbing in the fact that the man I modeled to be my physical ideal I wrote to be a multiple sexual trauma victim, which in certain instances plays out onscreen. I want that to be a circumstance driving the emotional arc of my story, not to come off like the author’s weird rape kink.
The truth is, if you care, what I mostly drew from myself for the various depictions of sexuality in Adonis is how I experience intense physical attraction. In this story I wanted to both celebrate and elevate the female gaze, as well as highlight the dangers of investing too much power into the mere concept of gaze. When it came to the former, I tried to depict the way I feel awe of extreme beauty, the somewhat fallacious but poetic attribution of some great deeper meaning to that beauty, the indulgent, rhapsodic cherishing of each quality in turn. When it came to the latter, I worked in the threat of that attraction to push out rational thought, the tipping over from appreciation into objectification, and the encroachment of a possessiveness that comes from the impulse to self-aggrandizement. Female gaze is my pet feminist issue, so I’ve given a lot of thought to deconstructing it, particularly how it expresses in myself. I joked a lot about how awesome it was to be able to claim looking at hot photos of Chris Evans as research. But I am being a hundred percent serious when I say that when I felt blocked, experiencing what my attraction to him felt like would help me figure out the right words to embody such a reaction for the story. I flatter myself that I think it gave the exploration of female gaze some real power.
It can be scary to put too much of yourself into your art. When people criticize it or don’t like it, it feels like a personal attack. But oftentimes that personal element can make something more complete, genuine, or powerful. So you have to be willing to open yourself up to that vulnerability. I hope it improved my work here, though it was definitely not an easy thing to do.