November 21, 2011
Kristin Thiel has been one of the great surprises of publishing Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience. An avid writer, reader and editor working out of the Pacific Northwest, she has emerged as a dream to work with, and one of the most enthusiastic champions of the book, pitching in to help book our national tour and mentioning the book in her freelance journalism. Kristin’s beautifully elliptical piece is about a man whose wife suffers from what seems to be vaginismus, and her patient protagonist admittedly stands in some stark contrast to many of the more impulsive or selfish characters likely to populate any anthology “about sex,” reminding readers of the great variance of sexual experience, and among men themselves, fictional or otherwise. Here, Kristin reveals several more surprises, including her ability to insert Anne of Green Gables into a sex interview!
TNB: You’re one of the contributors to a book the entire premise of which is women writing sex from male characters’ points of view. On a scale of 1-10, exactly how nervous does this make you, in terms of every male critic on the planet potentially pointing a finger at you and your co-writers and deriding you for “getting it wrong?” In a Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (or wait, is that the reverse?) era, what would possess you to dare to try and . . . gasp . . . understand the other gender between the sheets instead of just throwing up your hands in helpless disgust like a good sitcom wife and saying, “Men! Who knows what they’re thinking?”
KT: I’m not nervous. In part because I stand within a group of writers, and there is safety and strength in numbers, they say; in part because I can “hide” behind fiction—this is just one guy! one made-up guy telling one made-up story!—and in part because I haven’t received any criticisms (yet), so it’s easier to be brave when no one’s shaking a finger in my face. For me, it’s more nerve-wracking to think about having written about sex—and reading aloud and maybe talking about the sex written and read—than it is to think about the reaction of someone who shares a gender with my narrator.
That said, it is a divided society, and it can be hard to try to understand “the other side.” For me, wanting so desperately to not fit the good-sitcom-wife mold encourages me to accept these challenges.
(UPDATE: I read publicly from the story for the first time last night, and got a great response from men and women alike!)
TNB: Sex is a fundamental human urge, and at its best brings human beings closer together. Is it easier or harder to write from the perspective of a man having, chasing, or desiring sex than it is from the perspective of a man, say, going about the other business of his daily life? Is sex the great equalizer? And if so, why do so few literary writers–male or female–seem to focus on it?
KT: I don’t think it’s easier; I think it’s easier to write about one of the other great equalizers, and there are a few: employment, food, shelter, relationships (sexual or not but without focus on sex).
TNB: Tell us about “your” man in Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience. What drew you to him, and why did his story lead to the figurative or actual bedroom? If you had the opportunity to have sex with this guy (presuming he is straight and you are straight), would you?
KT: I think the challenge he faces is more common than is generally acknowledged—his is a taboo topic within the still-taboo subject of sex in general—and I wanted to submit to the collection’s editors a unique but perhaps quite relatable angle, such as this one. I don’t picture “my man” as my type, no. But he’s hardly a bad guy—I’d introduce him to a friend.
TNB: Many readers have come to Other Voices Books asking if we will now be publishing a follow-up anthology entitled Women Undressed, in which make writers explore female sexuality. Although male writers have actually been doing this to great acclaim and/or controversy for centuries . . . think D.H. Lawrence to Philip Roth to Milan Kundera . . . maybe there is still more to say. If such a book existed, what would you hope that your male literary comrades understood about female sexuality that their predecessors did not?
KT: I think there’s always more to say! Not talking more about sex, sexuality, and gender differences and similarities is how we got in some of the messes—depression, insecurity, self-loathing; gender-based violence—that we’re in right now. We should also think about how we can move beyond only men and women undressed.
TNB: Sexiest male character in all of literature?
KT: Gilbert Blythe.
TNB: Recently I was listening to a radio show on which they reported a survey they’d done on how old men and women can be and still be considered “sexy.” As you might guess, women’s ages came in younger than men’s, at 44 and 52 respectively. On the one hand, I have to admit that these figures are probably quite a bit better than they would have been twenty years ago, but on the other hand–wow, harsh that in an age when people are routinely living into their 90s, the culture basically de-sexualizes them for the entire second half of their lives! This smacks of some serious ageist bullshit to me. Tell us about the sexiest, smokingest older person you’ve ever known–male or female–and give us all some hope, will you?
KT: I’m pretty cynical about human beliefs—I’m not surprised the ages reported in the survey are relatively young, and I do find de-sexualization disheartening. But I also have hope that, with thought, more of us would suggest higher ages.
Surveys—and certainly radio-show dissection of surveys!—often encourage people to give a gut reaction to a limited topic. It’s the equivalent of labeling someone across the bar as sexy or not—you consciously or subconsciously decide if you’d want that person to touch you right then as well as what your audience wants you to say, and certainly all you have to go on is physical looks. If asked to be more thoughtful, more people would take into account such things as wisdom, humor, confidence, and success.
And though science and technology will make ever more accessible physical-youth “serums,” I think that, even without that, the current younger generations won’t stand for being de-sexualized as we age. We’re too used to having the world worship and revolve around us