No daughter ever wants to think about her mother having sex or even fantasizing about it. So what happens to the poor kid whose mother is a writer who writes racy books and films? My new book DISPATCHES FROM PARADISE is an erotic comedy about three generations of women living together in Miami – where sex IS the city. Inquiring minds have asked me if my daughter cringes when she reads the spicy parts in my books or sees the sexy scenes in my movies. I’ve never asked her, but I’m pretty sure she’s okay with it because we have always spoken frankly about everything, including sex.
There are some parts that are so steamy I’m kind of amazed that I wrote them. But I have an out. Since the book is written in the distinct voices of the three women, grandmother, mother and daughter, I tried to inhabit each character and put her innermost thoughts and feelings on the page. So you see, they weren’t really my words. They just passed through me. Liz’s sexual awakening, Claudette’s hypersexuality, and Darcy’s confusion about her sexual identity are the issues my gals are dealing with, and they don’t pull any punches.
Do I think about whether it will be embarrassing for my daughter to read when I’m writing? I try not to put those kinds of shackles on my brain. As a creator, I try to go where the story takes me without censoring it. I could never have written this book in such an unabashed manner when I was younger. I think you grow as a writer and become more uninhibited about expressing yourself as you age and become more comfortable in your own skin. And if you are comfortable with your sexuality and want to write about sex, the writing will most likely be something that people identify with. If you’re not at ease with writing about sex you probably shouldn’t do it. Women’s writing about sexuality is nothing new. Anais Nin, Erica Jong, and Candace Bushnell are a few of the better-known female authors who have tackled the subject, and given the world a perspective that was sorely missing.
Now, if you ask me if I felt awkward having my mom read my steamy scenes, that’s a different story. My mom passed away two years ago, but she did have the opportunity to read Dispatches from Paradise in its first incarnation as a screenplay. Her biggest concern was that people would think she was Claudette, the nymphomaniac mother, and she promised to picket the movie premiere with a sign proclaiming, “I am not Claudette.” She was much more conservative than I am, and knowing that she was reading all that sexy stuff was quite daunting. But my desire to create a story and characters that were true to what I wanted to express overrode my minor embarrassment.
When Susan Seidelman and I wrote the film Boynton Beach Club, we focused on people in their 60’s and 70’s who were widowed and divorced and getting back into the dating game. And of course that included them having sex. Amazingly, this was a revelation to many people who actually thought that didn’t happen. The idea of older people having sex lives seemed impossible, far-fetched or ridiculous. In the film, one of the characters begins a relationship with a woman, and his daughter is appalled. She can’t handle it on a lot of levels, but the idea of her dad having sex at all, and with a woman who’s not her mom is difficult for her to embrace.
Of course there are things that parents and children don’t need to know about each other, and parents need to use discretion and good judgment in exposing their children to sexual issues, but why are we as a society still so hung up about sexuality and so uptight about sexually explicit books, movies and television shows when sex is a natural part of life that everyone engages in and is fascinated by? Perhaps that’s because even in 2014, we find ourselves having a difficult time reconciling our sexual identities with the rest of our lives. And it still seems even more difficult for women.
Mothers raising daughters have the difficult task of trying to assimilate all the aspects of their lives: their motherhood, their careers, their community involvement, their sexuality and also acting as role models for their daughters on how to find joy and fulfillment in their many-faceted existences. Hopefully, some of the female characters that are popping up in books, films and television shows will help stimulate more frank debate about these issues and offer mothers and daughters a common ground for discussing them. Moms who write about sex are showing us the way forward.
About Shelly Gitlow
Miami-based author Shelly Gitlow is the co-writer of the feature film Boynton Beach Club. In her former life, she was a family therapist and author of several books on quality management. DISPATCHES FROM PARADISE is out now from Books and Books Press. Shelly divides her time between New York City and Miami. Connect with her on her website, Twitter, and Facebook.
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