Editor’s note: We’re excited that every second week in Dublin Inquirer, Roe McDermott will be answering your questions on sex and gender. Here’s her manifesto. 

“Your lovers will try to make you feel good, your friends will just lie, and your critics can only be trusted so far as they have in mind the same standards and goals that you do.”

Forever tender and formidable, queer feminist author Dorothy Allison may here have been talking about standards of writing – but, as always, ideas about art and ideas about sex are often interchangeable.

Having written, studied, and answered questions about sex for years now, the main question I’m confronted with, both formally and informally, is “Is this normal?” – a question that always brings Allison’s quote to mind. “Normal” is a subjective, and therefore intangible beast, and the definition you get will always depend on who you ask.

I’m not very interested in normal. What I am interested in is why we care about what’s normal, who tells us what it is, who tells us to care, and how things evolve from taboo to mainstream. I’m interested in people, writing, and sex. And in this column, dear reader, they’re going to be linked.

This column, in which I hope to answer your questions and queries and ponderings about sex and sexuality, is going to be an exchange, where you will hopefully trust me with details about your lives, desires, worries and concerns – and through my writing I’ll try offer you some insight.

I’m not going to pretend that I’ll always have an easy answer, or that my word is gospel – in fact, let’s try something novel for this country and keep any biblical references out of conversations about sex, shall we? – but I do promise that I’ll treat your questions like I treat questions from my dearest friends: I’ll try my damndest to be tender, and protective, and supportive, steering you away from anything that could hurt your body or heart, and nudging you to embrace all that’s exciting and pleasurable and empowering – while also giving you objectivity, context, and a loving kick up the ass should you need it.

Any and all questions are welcome, from How To’s to Should I’s to What’s That’s, and I’m always interested in examining the Why’s – why certain sex acts, sexualities or sexually representations are emphasised, stigmatised, or merely why they capture our imagination.

I want to hear about and explore how the representation of sex effects our view of it – but I also take seriously the responsibility this column has in its representation of sexuality. Many columns about sex become segregated by sexuality or sexual interest – straight white girls write to women’s magazines, medical questions go to grey-haired doctors in broadsheet supplements, the queer community write to specifically LGBT columnists, and kinksters write to alternative outlets.

This divide is understandable; it makes sense to write to columnists with a vested interest and education in your orientation, ability and/or interest, and there’s strength and safety in building and becoming part of a community.

However, there are also limitations to this approach, in that keeping sexualities and sexual interests separate creates a one-sided representation of sexuality, one that’s largely skewed in favour of straight, white heteronormativity.

This not only keeps up the perception of certain sexualities and interests being “normal” and “taboo”, but also limits our ability to learn and understand sexuality as the gloriously varied, complicated and ultimately wonderful beast that it is – and hey, we might also pick up some helpful tips and tricks along the way . . . So this column is committed to answering questions by, about and from straight readers, LGBT readers, readers with disabilities, vanilla readers, kinky readers, and all the intersections and unique label-resistant identities in between.

This intersectionality isn’t going to be limited to the questions answered, but will extend to the answers to the questions. As we all sadly know, the personal is often political, whether we want it to be or not.

So as we explore the private realities of sex and sexuality together, I will also aim to explore how the intersections of sexuality, gender, race, class and ability combine to affect not only perceptions of sex and sexuality, but how we experience them, and the challenges and rewards that arise there.

But make no mistake: this may be a sex column, but it’s not a problem page – sex doesn’t need another person problematising it. I’m going to be unabashedly and unashamedly celebrating the sheer joy and pleasure of sex, and how it enriches our lives.

It’s a column about the ride, lads. It’s going to be fun.

Roe McDermott’s column will appear every second week in Dublin Inquirer. Please submit your questions via dublininquirer.com/ask-roe. All personal information will be kept strictly confidential, and identifying details will be edited for published questions.

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.

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