“Somebody just f-ck me already!” demands Chris Kammler.
Behind sassy black-rimmed glasses, she stares out into the crowd at the Octopus Literary Salon in Downtown Oakland, her pixie-cut silver hair glistening in the light. Kammler could easily pass as the mother of any audience member here in their twenties, but there’s no awkward giggling or uncomfortable shifting in the crowd. Rather, the room stays attentive as the open mic reader continues to detail a very explicit scene.
It’s the fourth Tuesday of the month, which means the bookstore's stage is devoted to Dirty Old Women.
After Kammler, host Susan Kuchinskas takes to the mic in a maroon dress, yellow tights and red cowboy boots to introduce the next reader. The evening's stories ultimately includes everything from an American sex worker’s search for her own woman-for-hire in Bangkok to a steamy account of an otherwise shy woman’s first time being tied up — a la Fifty Shades of Grey. The crowd of nearly 50 people packed into the venue is stimulated the entire time.
Kuchinskas, 67, who writes erotica under the pseudonym Lynx Canon, started the monthly reading series nearly two years ago as a place for “women of experience” to read original erotica. At the time, Kuchinskas was just starting a memoir recounting her own wildly diverse sex life: she grew up in a family with little sense of intimacy, enjoyed free love as a hippie in college, spent 10 years as a lesbian feminist and experienced stints in sex work and go-go dancing. (The memoir will be published this spring.) Then, she met a woman in her seventies who had also written an autobiographical account of her sexcapades, and realized that there were probably more women their age writing unabashedly about sex.
Turns out, she was right. The Dirty Old Women reading series has grown into a robust group of authors mostly in their fifties and sixties — some seasoned erotica writers and some newly inspired — who get behind the mic every month and excite an audience of all genders and ages. In a culture that fetishizes youth and avoids honest conversations about sex, it’s refreshing for both readers and attendees.
“It is incredibly exciting and empowering to just stand up there and be heard and be listened to,” says Kuchinskas. “Some women are a little nervous, or they’re scared, and then after they’ve done it, they’re like, ‘Wow, that felt so good!’
“Our culture is so sexualized, but it’s very performative, it’s not really genuine,” she continues, “so it’s really, really exciting to stand up and speak to a group of people who you don’t know and share material that is erotic and designed to arouse.”
The series has been so generative that Kuchinskas (or, rather, Canon) is about to release the first Dirty Old Women anthology, which includes 23 poems and short stories from series regulars that detail sexy fantasies and libidinal desires with addictive playfulness and authenticity. Strap ons, threesomes, first-time lesbian experiences, sex work, special massages, even vampires — the collection covers all the bases. But it also feels real: The characters are honest about their bodies — sometimes expressing insecurities through internal dialogue, then overcoming them for an extra pleasurable climax erupting with self-love.
“There’s a point where you’re trying to look younger and fit in and there’s a point where you’re like, ‘You know what? This is me now,’” says Kuchinskas. “My impression of the women who read is that they have totally come to terms with where they are in their life, where their bodies are — that’s part of what makes the work so good.”
And that honesty is ultimately in service of the audience. In fact, Kuchinskas guesses it may even be the draw for many younger attendees. Because it’s so rare for “old” people to talk about their sex lives or be sexually portrayed in pop culture, young people often don’t know what to expect from the later stages of life.
As Lynx Canon writes in the intro to the anthology: “I also hope that when we stand up there, with our wrinkles, gray hair and unabashed desire, we reassure young women that it’s not over at 30, or 50, or even 90.”
A free book launch party for the Dirty Old Women anthology takes place Wednesday, Feb. 8, at the Make-Out Room (3225 22nd St., San Francisco). 7:30–9:30pm. In the East Bay, a second launch takes place Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the Octopus Literary Salon (2101 Webster St, Oakland). 7:00-9:00pm.