Trying to write about sex
For some now – years, if I am honest – I have wanted to write a play about sex. More specifically a play about sexual fantasy. Obviously my own personal history – moving from a straight marriage into the gay world in middle age – has informed the late budding of this fascination. But it has only made explicit the question all of us who proactively explore our sexual selves inevitably ask ourselves – is acting out a sexual fantasy always a good idea? The consensus is, by and large, yes, to quote William Blake – ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom’. And in a world where the potential for personal exploration and adventure often seems constrained, hasn’t the rise and rise and rise of the internet created a series of endless possibilities? Whatever you are into – or think you are into (the word ‘curious’ crops up a lot on sex sites) – there is a community out there for you. In fact there is increasingly less and less excuse for not digging deep into the dark and twisty parts of one’s sexual being and excavate that fantasy that has for too long existed in a virtual reality.
Equally, although I wanted to write a play about sex, I didn’t want to really include the sex itself. I find sex on stage – like madness – almost impossible to portray with anything other than a kind of awkward clumsiness – for me this is where the glorious vulgarity of the stage with its crude devices – normally so effective – fail. Sex on stage is a distraction in the worst sense – it invites comparison, even judgement and muddles intensity and empathy (something that pornography doesn’t have to worry about, since it is presenting an endless fantasy for arousal). Also I can’t help thinking about Oscar Wilde’s wonderful quote ‘Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power’ (strange how his prodigious talent for insight can sometimes actually appear superficial, even when bang on the money – it’s almost as if he understands too well and too easily!) – because of course, that’s what we are really exploring when we write about sex. We are exploring the way it reflects the bigger picture, what is current in social morality, in gender politics, in fashion even (note the way Fetish has become more mainstream). There is – curiously – always going to be an intelligent interpretation of what can arguable be the most purely animal, idiotic, intense and pure emotion we ever experience – utter, absolute desire. The rocket in our pocket.
And there are many good plays around sex as the exercise of power – LIAISON DANGEREUSE immediately springs to mind, or as the means to humiliate and exploit – SHOPPING AND FUCKING, anyone? But in both there is an implicit judgement on those who use sex to manipulate, deceive and ultimately destroy. Sex is seen – whether in pre-revolutionary libertine France or the acid house generation of young urban gay men – as negative, as reflective of the darker and more hateful aspects of human nature. Where are the sex positive plays that seek to present something more nuanced, more happy, more hopeful? I recently saw THE CHEMSEX MONOLOGUES, and that accurately caught the grief and glory of temptation, in a gay community rushing towards marriage equality but still needing the thrill of transgression? A play that is sex positive – that sees the pursuit of sexual fantasy as a means of acquiring ‘wisdom’ albeit acknowledging the negative, is still rare. Fantasy – the world we all visit in our heads – is still a forbidden place, by and large. Caveat Emptor.
And as I write this, late on a Friday, I know the London grid is ablaze with the flickers of desire illuminated in the screens of Tindr and Grindr and Scruff, as thousands, no millions, of people use this extraordinary city as a backdrop to living out some intensely felt fantasy. I know personally of at least five dungeons in the West End, some privately owned, others rented out by the hour, which will be preparing for an onslaught of flesh, of leather and rubber and extraordinary toys, of those wanting to play out roles society disapproves over, who wish to deliberate flaunt what I still see as a default puritanism that sees desire as something chaotic and anarchic, and therefore needs to be restrained and repressed.
Whilst at the Actors Centre five years ago I worked with a wonderful director – Lisa Spirling – and a great Dramaturg – Sarah Dickenson – on an opening scene for a play I was ambitious to write, and yet fearful too. It seemed too personal then – perhaps I was living out some of its themes and felt too close to the material, perhaps I just feel too vulnerable at the thought of creating something that would inevitably invite that judgement, even if the judgement was largely my own.
But because I need to break through this block, and to put some writing out there in the hope it might elicit some – any kind of response – I will now go back to edit it before posting it at the beginning of next week.
This city – London – has so many stories about sexual fantasies to tell.
The working title of the play is VERSATILE.