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Author: Charlotte Knoors

Photo: Erik Mclean

“Perhaps you shouldn’t write erotic stories under your own name.”

There it was. I’d been waiting to hear or read this sentence all year. I was surprised it took this long for a student to bring it up, but finally at the end of the school year someone had written those words, and on an anonymous note no less. Scandalous.

My immediate response: Which of my students wrote it? Then: what was the intention behind this note? Am I supposed to be embarrassed? And: Oh god, what if parents start to complain and I lose my job?

Some context: I’m an English teacher at a public secondary school in the Netherlands. I teach children between the ages of 12 and 18, though most of my students are between 15 and 18 years old. I never intended to become a teacher. If anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would list careers like dentist, singer, or doctor. Secretly though, in the quiet comfort of my own head I would whisper ‘writer.’

I had learned not to wish it out loud, because at home it was implied that writing wouldn’t pay the bills. My mom and one of my close friends always said that teaching was for me — and, ultimately, I gave it a shot. Turns out, I love it. I’m good at it too. There’s nothing compared to the feeling of seeing someone grow into themselves and to play a small part in their development.

For me, reading erotica was the only way to be in the know, to feel like I wasn’t left behind, left out.

It was my mom who accidentally introduced me to erotica. For as long as I could remember, I would see her read these small pocketbooks that all looked alike. The covers would have a dramatic picture of a good-looking white couple nearly kissing. I was not allowed to read them. It was clear to me that they were romance novels, but I could not imagine what secrets they held. 

The summer I was fourteen, I found out. We were on vacation in France, and there was nothing to do at the campsite except read. I’d read my own books within a few days. That’s when I picked up one of my mom’s books and hid them in one of mine. It was a defining moment. There were secrets in there: detailed descriptions of power dynamics, sex, love, adultery. I devoured them, desperately clung onto those books because at that point, I had never even kissed someone. I was mortified by this fact since many of my friends had had their first kiss already. For me, reading erotica was the only way to be in the know, to feel like I wasn’t left behind, left out.

Queer erotica didn’t come to me until I started writing it myself. And I didn’t start writing it until I was in my late twenties. I joined a writing group and my mentor had given us a prompt. For some reason, I wrote a sex scene, which I enjoyed writing a lot. I wrote more. I wrote until I got published. At this point I was both a teacher and a writer.

I keep thinking that if the question was, “Can you be a teacher and a writer?,” the answer would be “Duh, of course!”

“Perhaps you shouldn’t write erotic stories under your own name.”

It begs the question: can I be a teacher and be a writer of queer erotica? 

I keep thinking that if the question was, “Can you be a teacher and a writer?,” the answer would be “Duh, of course!” 

Somehow the answer changes when sex is added to the equation. From a teenager’s perspective, I get it. They’re in a time where they’re learning about sex, about their changing bodies. It’s awkward. Sex is mysterious, it’s gross, it’s interesting; they’re considering doing it, or maybe not. It’s exciting and scary, all at once. Perhaps finding out your teacher writes erotica is a little bit like realizing your parents have sex — just not something you want to know. 

But I am not my students’ parent. And I did not tell them about my stories. They Googled me and found out. I’m aware that it’s supposedly completely normal to Google and surveil what other people do, but for some reason it feels like an invasion of my privacy, especially if my writing, my queer erotica, is used as a means to shame me. 

And that’s what gets me most about the note: the idea that sex and desire, especially queer desire, are still things to be ashamed of or to hide. Why else would someone suggest I not publish erotica under my own name? This type of shame doesn’t come from teens themselves; it comes from parents and society at large. Terror and paranoia around teachers being potential predators still exists. Moreover, queerness is often conflated with pedophilia. To be an openly queer teacher is to be vulnerable. In the US, queer teachers have already been fired for discussing queerness. 

 Had I lived in the States — say, Florida — I would surely have been fired.

I told my managers about my queer erotica immediately after I received the note because I was afraid parents might complain. It’s already happened. Previously, a parent called the school screaming because she thought it was ridiculous that I asked her child — and the rest of my students — to call me “teacher” instead of “miss.” In the minds of parents, to be an openly queer teacher is to potentially prey on their children or to force queerness upon them. They believe that sexuality is all we are, that it spills out of our pores onto their innocent offspring. 

I am fortunate enough that my managers support me. They believe I can be two things, that I have the right to be more than just a teacher. It’s bizarre to think that this situation is relative to location. Had I lived in the States — say, Florida — I would surely have been fired. 

My deepest fear is that these ultraconservative practices propagated and enforced by the likes of DeSantis will take root here as well. However, in reality, the sentiments upon which they are built are already here. 

We, too, have political parties who believe that queerness is forced upon students. In fact, the political parties that won our most recent elections are now in the process of forming our next government, and they are already after trans healthcare. The safety of the queer community is no guarantee. I worry for queer teachers and queer students alike.

But my worries and fears don’t deter me. I know how important my job is. As teachers, we not only have the responsibility to teach children a subject, but we also have the responsibility to teach them how to be in this world. And I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. To be. To show them what is possible beyond what they know. My students have often told me they feel safe in my classes. It’s because I create that environment together with them; I show them the world as I want to be in it, with them, as a living, embodied vision. 

This practice is directly informed by my queerness. Queerness means endless possibility. It is plurality. We need queer teachers, who teach students the kaleidoscope of possibilities they contain, the multitudes everyone in the world has. I am a queer teacher. And I write queer erotica.

About the Author:

Charlotte Knoors is based in Utrecht, the Netherlands. When she’s not teaching her students about feminism, she writes fiction and essays. Their work has appeared on various Dutch platforms, such as OneWorld, Rouze and De Reactor.