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‘Kink’ Lifts the Veil on Taboos with Steamy Short Stories

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Edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell, the stories in 'Kink' explore a spectrum of desire with vivid, sensory prose.  (Kamaji Ogino/Pexels)

No, there’s no shirtless Fabio on the cover, and the women in it aren’t doe-eyed, naive Anastasia Steeles. The new anthology Kink, edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell, is a short fiction collection of steamy stories where queer sex is celebrated, taboos are explored and all levels of experience—whether novice or sex worker—are welcome.

Kwon, whose 2018 debut novel told the story of a young woman radicalized into Christian extremism, writes about an ex-Christian couple grappling with internalized repression and their own limits as they try BDSM for the first time. Best-selling author Roxane Gay dives into the cat-and-mouse game of a couple whose sexual dynamic is predicated on torture. Greenwell, a poet and novelist, explores a dom-sub encounter (with a language barrier) that spins out of control. Meanwhile, erotica author and culture writer Vanessa Clark brings tenderness and a flirtatious spark to a date between a trans sex worker and her seemingly straight-laced client.

Kwon says that she and Greenwell were careful not to define kink for the 11 other authors when commissioning the short stories. “It was really important to us that we not try to play any kind of gatekeeper or draw any lines—that’s the opposite of we wanted to do,” she says. Even when defining it for herself, “I keep trying to stay away from the word ‘untraditional.’ Why do we care about any kind of traditions in sex?”

Full of sensory, psychologically potent prose, some of the stories in Kink deal with flogging and handcuffs, while others take on less common topics. All in all, they challenge the reader to see gratification as far more than penetrative sex. Here, mental and emotional stimulation matters as much as the physical.

‘Kink’ edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell. (Simon & Schuster)

In Clark’s story, for instance, the main character, a Black, trans sex worker, is fetishized for her body, but takes her power back by running the show during an encounter. “This character is very empowered by, ‘Hey, this is the way it is, but I’m not going to let any guy or any client be in control of that narrative for me,’” Clark says. “I think that’s very important for readers, whether [they’re] trans or not.”

Like desire itself, the stories in the anthology are complicated, and not all end on an overtly positive note. Some, like Greenwell’s, leave the reader disoriented and reeling, while others, like Kwon’s or Gay’s, revel in a sense of suspense, creating thrilling power plays with mysterious rules and logic.

Far from stereotypical, the stories celebrate a wide spectrum of human desire, and show that a key aspect of knowing ourselves is exploring our sexualities with consent and without shame.

“It’s so heartbreaking to me that so many people grow up feeling that their bodies are wrong—that our bodies are wrong,” says Kwon. “And I don’t think we should have to.”

‘Kink’ is out on Feb. 9 through Simon & Schuster. R.O. Kwon, Garth Greenwell and Vanessa Clark read from their stories on Feb. 17 for an online event presented by Green Apple Books, with NSFW demonstrations by KINK.com performers. Details here

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