Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Garth Greenwell. His new book Cleanness is available from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

Greenwell is the author of What Belongs to You, which won the British Book Award for Debut of the Year, was longlisted for the National Book Award, and was a finalist for six other awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, it was named a Best Book of 2016 by over fifty publications in nine countries, and is being translated into a dozen languages. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris ReviewA Public Space, and VICE, and he has written criticism for The New Yorker, the London Review of Books, and the New York Times Book Review, among others. He lives in Iowa City.

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As the Bachmanns continue to “correct” gay sexuality, I keep teaching erotic writing classes.  These multi-week courses are always a joy.  Writers with a rich range of sexual identities come into a safe classroom where they are actively encouraged to express desire and discuss its importance.  As artists, we ask questions about sexual expression:  Why do so many people think “cunt” is an objectifying word to use in a sex scene when “arm” and “hair” are perfectly fine?  Why is the vulnerability and power of desire, along with all its peacemaking qualities, seen as more denigrating than gunfire?  Why is erotica that is written to bring sexual pleasure, viewed, by many, as immoral or cheap?

There are countless answers.  Here’s an important one:  Many people are ashamed (beyond measure) of their own sexuality, so they project that shame onto those who aren’t.  The sexually attuned human beings of this world are attacked as if we are dirty.  Why?  Because if you make everyone ashamed of their erotic freedom, expression and pleasure, you control a heck of a lot.  And you get to feel superior while you’re doing so.

One of the biggest hurdles for the beginning sex writer is the rejection they often feel in their writing communities.  Suddenly, those who have always been supportive are asking, “But why is this piece of writing just about sex?  Can’t you write about something pure?  This is shallow, this is meaningless, this is frivolous, this isn’t your business.  This is sinful.  This needs correcting.”

Does that string of statements remind you of Michele Bachmann?

We’re in a dangerous time, right now.  We’re fighting anti-queer violence, both physical and psychological.  Religious rhetoric is often frightening to those who are already afraid.  And the message is that all of us, regardless of our sexuality, should be ashamed of human desire, intimacy and sensual connection.  The Bachmanns put sex in a box and say “This is separate to everything else,” which of course makes it easier to control.  But sexual identity and expression are about so much more than the body.  They’re about acceptance, openness and truth.

When debating the power sexual attunement, consider this:  In a multi-week erotica class that I taught in the UK, one of my students came up to me at the end of the course.  She told me how life-affirming it had been for her to write about sex in a supportive community, and how self-embraced and aglow she now felt.  “When I started this class,” she said, “I hadn’t had a period for ten months.  Two weeks ago, I had one.”  She put this down to the fact that she was feeling alive in her body.  Proud and unashamed.

Here’s my take:  When we feel good in our bodies, we’re also likely to feel good in the rest of our selves.  And if we all felt good, there’d be less war.

And where would the politicians be then?