Want Meby Tracy-Clark Floryis an authentic, hilarious, heartbreaking, and raw account of navigating sexuality as a heterosexual young woman in the 21st century. Upon finishing the book myself, I felt compelled to slide into Tracy’s DMs to let her know the impact that the book left on me.
I had the wonderful opportunity of asking Tracy some questions to learn a little bit more about her inspiration for writing Want Me, how she became a celebrated sex writer, and what she hopes readers take away from her memoir.
GEN-ZiNE:Tell us a little bit about yourself! Who are you? How did you get into journalism and writing about sex, in particular?
Tracy Clark-Flory:Some of my earliest inclinations were to get on the internet and communicate with other people about my obsessions. When I was 13, I started a fan site for Leonardo DiCaprio and a daily newsletter, where I collected “tips” about him from all over the world. That led to other fan sites — most notably for AJ McLean, the stage-humping Backstreet Boy with a handlebar mustache. In highschool, I zeroed in on journalism as a path I wanted to pursue, but it was less a career decision than a fact of who I already was. Writing online was how I accessed connection and self-expression. It was also how I made sense of myself and the world.
As for writing about sex, I’ve always been drawn to the things we’re not supposed to talk about. I was drawn to the taboo and hypocrisy surrounding it. I wanted to say the unsayable. It felt essential and unescapable. That’s been my most enduring obsession.
GZ:What inspired you to writeWant Me?
TCF:I’ve wanted to write some version of this book for maybe 15 years. Mostly, the inspiration was wanting to write the book I wish I’d had as a 20-something. At that time in my life, I didn’t feel like I had any supportive guides — it was mostly judgmental hand-wringing about “girls these days.” I wanted a book that empathized with what it actually felt like to be a “girl these days.”
GZ:Want Metakes the reader on a journey from you discovering porn as a teen, into your adulthood where you’ve made a career out of writing about it. You describe your journey of figuring out what pleasure means to you not just physically or romantically, but how it manifests in your identity. Can you speak to some of the cultural expectations that shaped your younger self’s perception ofpleasure and desire?
TCF:My sense of pleasure and desire was really outwardly focused. As a teenager, I consumed pop culture — whether it was MTV reality shows or early internet porn — with this question of, “What do men want?” Because most of what the culture served up as “sexy” was centered on straight men’s ostensible desires.
So, for me, coming of age in the 90s and 00s, it was wet t-shirt contests and mainstream porn focused on cis, hetero men’s pleasure.
So much of my own sense of desire and pleasure came from being desired. That’s typical. Girls are taught to be wanted, not to want; to be seduced, not to seduce; to be pleasing, not to seek pleasure. But in pursuit of this idea of “what men wanted,” I stumbled across my own desires. I watched porn to “figure out what men want,” but in the process I actually learned things about my own wants and my own pleasure.
GZ: InWant Me, you talk about how 21st century ideals offemale empowerment and sexual liberation(pertaining to a cis, hetero experience) may not be as liberating as we think. What are some stigmas and nuances that are often overlooked?
TCF:Well, there’s a lie I bought into as a teenager and 20-something, which was that the sexual revolution had already been fought and won. That sexual empowerment was now mine for the taking. That’s just not true. The revolution was not won; it’s not over. We still live in a deeply misogynistic — and racist and homophobic and transphobic — society. Whatever choices we make about our individual sexual lives are necessarily made within those contraints — and that isn’t freedom.
The kind ofsexual empowermentI believe in, now, isn’t individualistic. It isn’t something you can obtain on your own. Instead, it’s about collective struggle for collective gain. It isn’t about finding the savviest way to navigate your way around systemic hurdles; it’s about working together to knock down those systemic hurdles, so no one has to face them.
GZ:Let's talk about kinks: fetishes and BDSM are often depicted in the mainstream media as perverse. Tell us about your thoughts on this narrative — are there benefits of expressing sexual desire in these less ‘traditional’ ways?
TCF:Yes! Sex can be theater. It can be dreamlike. It’s a rare space where we get to play pretend. How great is that? BDSM is really built around that understanding of sex as play. You negotiate roles and boundaries and safewords. You articulate your fantasies and expectations. It can be a mode for exploring your relationship to power. It can be a safe way to engage with your deepest fears and traumas. It can be healing. It can be cathartic. But most of all, BDSM is often practiced with a degree of consent and communication that is tragically foreign to vanilla sex. So, the idea of BDSM as backwards is… backwards.
GZ:In a (supposedly) more sexualy liberated day in age, porn and sex work are still heavily controvertial topics in feminist circles. On the one hand, you have people who see sex work as exploitative and porn as warping young peoples’perceptions of pleasure. On the other hand, people advocate to decriminalize sex work as means of libreating sex workers from patriarchal morality, and argue that strippers and porn stars are empowered by their choice to use their bodies for economic gain. How do you navigate/understand these juxtaposing narratives about porn and sex work?
TCF:I think we should navigate any debate around sex work by centering sex workers. If we’re interested in the issue ofexploitation, we should listen to workers themselves about where they feel exploited and what rights they want and need. Again and again, sex workers are silenced by feminist debates around empowerment and exploitation. I can’t recommend enoughLorelei Lee’s essay on this topic.
GZ: A focal point ofWant Meis about your consumption of porn throughout your life and how your facination with the porn industry helped shape your sexual identity as a young woman. How has your relationship to porn changed over time from your adolescence to now?
TCF:I started out watching it as a means of trying to understand what straight men wanted from me. Then I came to use it as a way of exploring my own fantasies and pleasure. As a young person, because of how I interpreted it, porn introduced a lot of pressures and expectations. As I got older, though, it unlocked a world of possibility and exploration. It sent me down a path of self-discovery I’m not sure I would have found otherwise.
Now, I can tell you I haven’t watched porn in a while. That’s partly because it’s been so thoroughly demystified through my years of reporting on the industry as a journalist. It’s not as exciting to me anymore. It’s also because porn kind of gave me the keys to the car, if you will. It introduced me to the world of fantasy, and I don’t necessarily need it anymore to access that same level of excitement and titillation.
GZ:Our culture perpetuates a one-size-fits-all definition of femininity.One main motif inWant Methat explores this definition is the phrase “girls these days.” What does this phrase mean to you today? How has your interpretation of it changed over time?
TCF:My experience of that phrase as a 20-something was one of feeling judged and shamed and misunderstood. It was often used — either explicitly or implicitly — by older women writers who were engaging in cultural critique around my generation of girls. The ostensible focus of their critique was hookup culture or the influence of porn or some such, but too often they emphasizedyoung women’s choicesinstead of the oppressive patriarchal culture in which young women made those choices.
I experienced it as finger-wagging that was unfairly directed at me, rather than at the difficult reality I was trying to understand and navigate as a young person. Now I recognize that “girls these days” finger-wagging as a neoliberal impulse to blame women for their individual circumstances. This puts the onus of empowerment on individuals. It makes girls and women feel like their sexual struggles and dissatisfactions are uniquely their own — that it’s their fault, even. This undermines the original feminist understanding of sexual empowerment as something pursued and fought for collectively, not individually.
I’m in my late 30s now, so I’m at that age and generational remove where many people start to talk about “girls these days.” I’m definitely no longer a “girl these days.” But I have no interest in critiquing girls themselves. I’m only interested in the “these days” piece of it. What is the current political and cultural reality facing girls — and all young people — today? How are their choices constrained? How can we remove those constraints?
GZ:If you could give any advice to your younger self, what would it be?
TCF:It would be to understand the sexual revolution was not fought and won, that it was incomplete, and that sexual liberation is an illusion. Maybe then I would have sooner recognized the unequal playing field. I might not have tried so hard to prove just how liberated I was. Then again, we all have to learn these things for ourselves — and I wouldn’t want to deny my younger self that journey.
GZ:What do you hope readers get out ofWant Me?
TCF:There’s a part in the book where I tearfully email my mom about my fear I’m a “weirdo” when it comes to sex, because of my big, unwieldy desires. She wrote back, in part, “I just want to say that you are not a weirdo.” I hope that’s what this book communicates to everyone who reads it. You are not a weirdo. You are not alone.