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UCI Center for Storytelling Hosts ‘Writing Sex: A Conversation About Writing’

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The UCI Center for Storytelling held its first event of the academic year, “Writing Sex: A Conversation About Writing,” over Zoom on Oct. 26. Authors Alex Espinoza, Andrea Lawlor and Michael Lowenthal were featured as guest panelists. 

UCI Chancellor’s English professor and author Jonathan Alexander moderated the event and led the conversation on the complexities of writing on sex, sexuality and gender. Alexander is the creator and host of the Los Angeles Review of Books series “WRITING SEX,” where he interviews contemporary writers blazing a trail in representing sex in literature. 

The web series started as a pandemic project for Alexander as a way to talk to writers he is “really excited by.” Espinoza and Lawlor were previous guests on “WRITING SEX” and returned for this Center for Storytelling event. 

Alexander began the conversation by asking about some of the challenges that come with writing about a topic as nuanced as sex. 

Lowenthal, who has published four novels and teaches creative writing at Lesley University, brought up the issue of finding where one fits in the increasingly vast literary realm of sex. 

“Back when I was first developing my writing and personhood … there was that thrill of uncovering, saying the unspeakable, shocking people, and exploring things that hadn’t been explored very much. Now, anything you could possibly imagine is right there on Twitter in full-color … When that’s all there for everybody to see, what’s left for me, for us, or for anybody to write about? What can writing about it do that the videos we can all see don’t do?” Lowenthal said. 

Espinoza, author of three novels and UCI MFA creative writing graduate, spoke of his own past difficulties with being honest and vulnerable in his work. 

“I spent a good part of my experience writing avoiding a lot of the sexual tensions and experiences I had as a young man. It was very easy for me to hide behind my fiction, but it wasn’t until … I got into the nonfiction realm that I really had to bare my soul in a lot of ways and be very honest about my own experiences,” Espinoza said. 

The conversation shifted to cover where writing about sex intersects with other issues such as race and class, and a question was asked of if there’s a duty to consider intersectionality in reflecting real people’s lived experiences. 

Lawlor, author of “Paul Takes The Form of a Mortal Girl and writing teacher at Mount Holyoke College, drew from their own personal life. 

“For the last number of decades I’ve been in queer life, it’s been a place where there actually is a lot more mixing than in other kinds of communities. There’s a lot more cross-class, cross-race and gender-complex relationships,” Lawlor said. 

Lowenthal additionally touched on the interesting relationship between sex and power when it comes to intersectionality.

“As a well-off cis white dude who’s ocassionally been in relationships with people of other races … and people that are of different social classes, how do I have to interrogate my own implicity in some of those dynamics because sex is just that crucible for all that stuff,” Lowenthal said. 

When asked about the responsibility queer writers might feel when writing about sex to represent their communities accurately, the panelists agreed the most important thing is to chronicle queer history for future generations and relieve themselves of that responsibility.

“It’s telling your truth … that’s what I feel my responsibility is: to just tell my truth in hopes that it’s going to reach someone,” Espinoza said. 

In the last 15 minutes of the webinar, Alexander opened up the discussion to the audience for a Q&A section. One audience member asked the panelists how they were able to unlearn the stigma often associated with sex.  

In response to the question, Lawlor mentioned an anecdote about a past relationship.  

“She said this thing that really changed my life in a lot of ways. She said ‘don’t pathologize your desires’… It’s always something I come back to. Being in queer community is the thing that has helped me unlearn stigmas around bodies, sex and sexuality,” Lawlor said. 

UCI’s Literary Journalism Program and the Center for Storytelling Associate Director Dr. Patricia Pierson invited audience members to another upcoming Zoom webinar featuring Alexander hosted by UCI’s Illuminations Program. In this future event, Alexander will discuss his two new books “STROKE BOOK: Diary of a Blindspot” and “BULLIED: Story of an Abuse” on Nov. 9 at 5 p.m.


Yuika Yoshida is a Campus News Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at yuikay@uci.edu.