a wolf in sorcha’s clothing: overcoming predators in the erotic writer community

Apologies for the delay here, folks. I’m not as quick on the draw as many of my peers. I may be a writer, but my words move slower than molasses in the midst of a Prairie winter at the best of times. Never mind while I’m dealing with the creativity-less gloom that is Lockdown Void Brain.

But this warrants speaking up.

As many of whom will find themselves reading this will likely know by now, the Twitter-based erotica writing community had another shakeup earlier this week when one of our own “came out” in a public post as a bisexual cis man.

The issue wasn’t that in his revealing his queerness, as the title of the blog post suggested. It wasn’t even that he had been writing primarily lesbian erotica under the name and guise of a queer woman.

It was that he was deliberately using this persona to sexually harass and prey upon queer women within our community.

And this, we cannot abide.

While I was not a victim of his predation, I have not gone unscathed by this reveal.

There are a lot of reasons I am hurt and upset by this, both personally and on the behalf of this entire community that I hold so dear.

Because I took a conscious chance on Sorcha Rowan.

But first, some context.

When I first met Sorcha, it was the early days of my career as an editor, and as the curator of Bellesa’s erotic stories collection. Meanwhile, Sorcha was a new author. We connected on Twitter at some point, as we’re wont to do when we’re trying to find our place in the world.

Once Sorcha crossed your path, she was hard to miss- very active in the #writingcommunity discourse and hustle, and aggressively sexual. Or as he called it, very flirty.

Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of erotica authors perpetuating the notion that all we do is eat, sleep, breathe, and write sex. It’s a common fantasy that the Men™ love to indulge and believe to be true, which certainly does not come without its problems for erotica authors at large.

That said, no shade to the authors who choose to go that route and find empowerment in being that overtly sexual. There aren’t many spaces that we can get away with taking up space in that way. I also totally understand how this is good for business. I made a choice early on that this was not the business I wanted to be in. Cis men, while they are very welcome to enjoy what I have to offer as a writer and curator, are just not my primary/only target audience.

Anyways… About two years ago, I was making a conscious push to bring new voices into Bellesa’s catalogue. Sorcha was among the submitters at the time. The writing was certainly that of a newbie, but I was levelling up as an editor and ready for my next batch of challenges. I will note here- I did not yet know that Sorcha was not the cis woman she was on Twitter when she first approached me. Although, I don’t remember where exactly in the timeline the reveal was made. It happened in the Twitter DMs and I can’t cross-reference that now.

At any rate, as our relationship became a professional one, Sorcha shared with me that he was a man. It was somewhat inevitable since we require legal names on the contracts when we commission works, and his name strongly implied that he was not a cis woman. Although, even then my optimism got the best of me. The benefit of a doubt that I afforded him was that I thought he was still trying to figure out how his gender aligned with who he was.

It was also around this time that I had my biggest altercation with him, which was still far from the worst of his offences.

It was an incident of public flirtation that left me feeling uncomfortable. I can’t quote this either due to Sorcha’s twitter account being deactivated and I never screenshot it at the time (though there was a length group discussion with my Sisters in Smut, particularly Mischa Eliot and Dr. J., when I was trying to determine how best to handle the situation.)

It wasn’t so much that I felt personally threatened. But Sorcha and I had an active professional relationship then, which Sorcha lauded freely to his followers, many of whom were newbie writers who looked up to him. I didn’t want these baby smut writers to think this kind of overtly sexual and graphic “flirtation” was an appropriate way to establish and/or cultivate a relationship with an editor.

Of course, Twitter flirtation is fine- if the parties involved are cool with it. My subjective advice here though is that blindsiding someone with whom you have a professional bond with aggressively sexual commentary is maybe not the best move.

Within hours of the incident, I took Sorcha aside to explain all of these feelings. Sorcha was humble and understanding. We never had an issue of this nature again.

These personal experiences with Sorcha created massive dead angles in my perception of the bigger situation. I assumed that he treated everyone that he approached in private channels with the same level of honesty and decorum. I am gutted now to learn how wrong I was.

In the years that followed, I propped Sorcha’s work up where it made sense. He was a huge advocate for Bellesa and me as an editor. I was grateful for that at the time. I appreciated the way he seemed to rally new writers and be a source of encouragement for them.

None of this makes up for what he did; it’s how he was able to get away with his malevolent, surreptitious behaviour for so long. On that note, I am infinitely sorry for anyone who was hurt by seeing me engage with and support their predator.

I took to muting Sorcha’s feed more often than not because, frankly, the porniness was just too much.

Now, I spend a lot of time, sometimes several hours a day, watching porn*. So, it’s not that I take issue with porn itself. It’s just a lot when you get hit with out of context porn. (Although, if you don’t already follow Out of Context Porn on Twitter, I’d highly recommend. It’s a hilarious way to lighten your feed; you’re welcome.)

*for work, sillies- I don’t just wank away the days.

I know I wasn’t alone in this- that porn-powered public flirtation was fun for those who were into it, and a little more sex-needy that those who weren’t in the mood could handle. Even people who once considered themselves closer friends found themselves in this position. So we all managed our feeds accordingly and carried on because “That’s just Sorcha.” How very à la boys will be boys of us

Between that and generally avoiding the TL more and more these days, I completely missed how Sorcha had appropriated the #OwnVoices hashtag. Which is — and I cannot stress this enough — absolutely and undeniably fucking despicable.

And that’s still not the worst of it.

Which leads us up to this week.

On Tuesday night, Sorcha published a ‘Coming Out’ post to reveal the man behind the lesbian mask. I was quite sleepy and on my way to bed when I caught it before signing off for the night and only skimmed it quickly. Having known (at least some of) the secret for years, I obviously wasn’t shocked by the news.

My first impression was one of simple support, in that I felt it was a good thing for him to own his shit, whatever that meant for him today, and that shedding the secret skin probably felt good. I also knew there was no way it would go down without ruffling a few feathers. I reached out to him directly to acknowledge the reveal and hope that any meanness he’d be met with from some wouldn’t be too harsh to bear.

Go ahead. Ask me how fucking foolish I feel about that now.

Because by the time I woke up the next morning, an inundation of personal accounts of how this man harassed SO MANY queer women in our community, using his secret identity to weasel into their safe, private spaces, attempt to flirt with them and engage with them in overtly sexual ways, going so far as to use nudes of other women (??!?!?) to maintain the sinister veneer, often after having already been asked to tone it down…

I can’t even begin to even.

I feel so insulted by this level of deception, and so fucking angry for the deliberate mistreatment and harm that my virtual siblings here have endured at the hands of this predator.

Having a pseudonymous identity that does not align with how you present in the world is fine. As someone with multiple identities with varying degrees of secrecy, I can’t judge that. But informed consent in any engagement or relationship MUST include full disclosure. As far as I’m concerned, there is no exception to this rule.

This entire Sorcha Saga is the actual embodiment of my most feral rally cry:

Y R MEN ?!

I can’t help but wonder: why now? Unless it was going to be an apology and immediate de-platforming, why say anything at all? I imagine he preyed on the wrong person and was met with a certain amount of backlash he wasn’t used to, but I’ll probably never know for sure.

I’m not sure I have the energy to go into deeper commentary about all the people who continue to commend his “bravery” for appropriating queer language in order to manipulate the situation away from the damage he knows he has caused.

I definitely don’t have the energy right now to rant more about those who have doubled down and are siding so hard with Sorcha that they’re attacking the victims. They don’t deserve my time today. I have positivity to foster and security to build for the people who deserve to be here.

I’m really disheartened and horrified by the ripple effect this will undoubtedly have on our community at large. With everything from forming casual friendships to professional collaborations, how do we remain open and inclusive while feeling we have to double down even harder on our gatekeeping measures to maintain baseline safety?

How can I make my space welcoming to AMAB folks and keep the problematic cis men from sullying the good work we’re doing to make this community the best and safest space it can be? As an editor whose underlying goal has always been to ultimately develop the most inclusive erotic wordspace on the internet, I really don’t know what the solution is.

This is precisely why I am reticent to work with cis male authors. We know that there are exceptions to the rule (Exhibit A: Exhibit A.) Fuck, do I ever wish there were more… and I do believe that having positive examples of such men is how we’ll bring more to the forefront. But when this is what happens when we take a chance on one, IT’S REALLY NOT REASSURING, DUDEBRO.

Furthermore, this level of monstrous behaviour is exactly why bi+ men continue to be harshly judged, even vilified if they do come out, or why they simply remain in the shadows. This is also precisely why TERFs are so transphobic- it’s this style of predatory behaviour they fear and wrongly associate with trans women, or more nefariously, the potential of having a penis. When it’s never a penis that abuses and preys- it’s the dickhead who may or may not be attached to one.

When cis men ask why they can’t write for a publication geared towards supporting and empowering women + trans + non-binary folks, THIS IS FUCKING WHY.

All I’ve ever wanted since I first accepted this role as smut queen is to foster a SAFE space for all people to come and explore the more intimate and vulnerable parts of themselves. This is at the core of my ethos and what I’ve aimed to bring to all of Bellesa’s erotica endeavours.

There are two stories, which were commissioned by me, penned by the author formerly known as Sorcha Rowan, up in Bellesa’s free library. They were commissioned nearly two years ago and I have final say over what we do with them. In the time of writing this, I have decided to keep them where they are.

They have been stripped of their links (not that it really matters because all the Sorcha accounts have been disabled for now, but if they ever come back…). They do not generate any revenue either, so they are not paying anything forward to that author in any way anymore. These stories have remained in the collection until now because they have spoken to our audience in a positive way and have helped them feel empowered by their sexuality. I feel that removing them undermines the work that was done — including the work that I did.

All of the stories on Bellesa have been combed and edited with incredible amounts of love on my part. The level of care, diligence, and mindful scrutiny I have been able to apply to them has evolved and deepened over the years, but it’s always been there. And it’s by working with the challenges new authors pose that I was able to grow to this point. Sorcha’s were no exception.

I feel there is a not insignificant amount of me and Bellesa sitting around and between Sorcha’s words, enough to keep these stories in the library for now. Maybe that’s too selfish of me and insensitive to his victims. It’s something that I’m still actively contemplating.

I am going to have conversations with my editor friends who are in a similar position- having commissioned titles by this author in their catalogues. Perhaps we will come up with a better, even more appropriate means of handling this unfortunate situation. 

There is no way around it: this a shit situation. This kind of trauma runs deep and in a lot of directions. What we can’t do is let it eat away at the integrity of what we have built here, what we continue to foster.

Disease is inevitable- we won’t ever be able to eradicate it completely. But we can do all that we can to stay healthy and prevent it. Knowledge, sharing our stories, standing together, calling out the bullshit when it comes up rather than hiding for fear of being an inconvenience, or of backlash from bigots; forming alliances based on trust, openness, and full disclosure to keep us safe and inspire our courage- that’s our vaccine.

And if you dare to walk in here to infect the sanctity of our space, you better believe we’ll kick the living shit out of you with our ruthless team of antibodies.

Cover photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

What do you think of that?

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