A Q&A with Catherine Tung
Our catalog is expanding and heating up this summer, and not just because of the sun and the humidity. Editor Catherine Tung launches our new sexuality list with two exciting books: Desire: An Inclusive Guide to Navigating Libido Differences in Relationships and Superfreaks: Kink, Pleasure, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Beacon Broadside editor Christian Coleman caught up with her to chat about it.
Christian Coleman: In my years at Beacon, I haven’t seen books like this in the catalog. This is such a cool (or hawt) new venture for the press. How did you get the idea to start a sexuality list?
Catherine Tung: This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time! Editors all have bucket lists of books they want to publish, and near the top of my list has been a book that introduces the rich world of kink to a general audience without sensationalizing, othering, or distorting the material. When I arrived at Beacon three years ago, my senior colleagues encouraged me to brainstorm ideas for new lists that I could develop. I started with the idea of a kink book, and the idea of a sexuality list flowed naturally from there, especially since Beacon had at the time just published a groundbreaking new book on asexuality, Angela Chen’s Ace.
CC: What sort of credentials do you have in mind when scouting out authors for the list?
CT: Desired credentials vary, depending on the topic! If an author is writing on a medical topic, they’ll usually have educational and professional degrees and certifications. If they’re writing about a community that has historically been underserved or overlooked by the market, they’ll be part of that community themselves. If they’re writing a history of an aspect of sexuality, they’ll have training and experience in history. Regardless of topic, I tend to pursue authors whose work can help readers in a new way. Such authors tend to be carving out a whole new space with their work, and they invariably have a strong vision for what they want their work to accomplish, be it celebrating a particular kind of sexual diversity or expanding access to sex education.
CC: How did you find the authors of Desire and Superfreaks?
CT: Superfreaks was the first sexuality book I signed, and I found Arielle Greenberg through her work with The Rumpus: she had edited a column there called (K)Ink: Writing While Deviant, in which writers would talk about their writing practice, their kink practice, and how the two intertwine. I reached out to her to see if she wanted to write a book about kink and was very lucky that she said yes.
Desire was my second sexuality acquisition. This project came to me from an agent, the wonderful Claire Harris. I’ve never asked her how I ended up on her submission list, but I’m guessing she saw my staff bio on the Beacon website, which lists the topics in which I acquire, including sexuality.
CC: When you began acquiring for the sexuality list, what were you looking for subject-wise, aside from the kink idea that started it all?
CT: I was pretty open minded! The main parameters I had in mind were, firstly, that the sexuality list should be distinct from our LGBTQ+ list. A book about queer activism or a memoir of growing up trans, for instance, is ultimately more about personal identity than about the sexual side of people’s lives. I knew that the books in the sexuality list needed to be about sex itself.
The second parameter was that the sexuality list needed to reflect Beacon’s values—the titles needed to talk about sex in an inclusive, positive, intellectually rigorous way.
The third parameter was that the books say something new and necessary about sex, something that could empower readers in some way.
CT: Arielle is a poet and has a wonderful sense of humor and an insatiable curiosity. All these qualities light up her prose, making it feel intimate, energetic, approachable, and artful. Her writing style serves the topic of kink very well—she takes what can be an intimidating topic and shows readers its fun, accessible side.
Lauren and Jenn also write in a very accessible, friendly way. Their book is based on their work as sex therapists, and they did a wonderful job of packing their book with as much expert information as possible: the basics of gender and sexual identities; the role that structural oppression can play in impacting libido; the different structures that relationships can take; the biological workings of libido; the world of sex toys; libido and the ageing process; sex and disability; sex and illness. It’s an incredible wealth of knowledge. They also carefully organized all this info within the book to help readers find what they need as easily as possible.
CC: In your “Beacon Behind the Books” profile, you said you’re working toward a world free from sexual shame with this list. Tell us more about that. How do you see this in line with Beacon’s mission?
CT: That statement was inspired by Lauren Fogel Mersy, who dedicates Desire “to a future that’s free from sexual shame, one where everyone has access to good sex education.” In a way, I think the sexual shame in our culture helps me identify topics for the list. If there’s a sexual topic that people feel ashamed to discuss, there should probably be a book on it.
Sexuality is a powerful force. Arielle has an Audre Lorde quote in her book that expresses this beautifully: “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.”
Our society has long channeled this powerful force for destructive purposes—exclusion, subjugation, control—and has used sexual shame to silence those demanding something better. To free ourselves from sexual shame is to tap into the power of our sexuality, and that’s what I hope these books will help us all do. I see this as very much in line with Beacon’s stated mission, which is to uplift such values as “freedom of speech and thought; diversity, religious pluralism, and anti-racism; and respect for diversity in all areas of life.”
More about Catherine Tung
Catherine Tung joined Beacon Press in late 2019 after seven years at Vintage Books, where she acquired in memoir, fiction, and nonfiction titles on politics, disability, cultural studies, and mental health. At Beacon, she is actively developing a list focused on oral history, urban planning, sexuality, and Asian American writing. Outside the office, she enjoys musicmaking, community building, knitting, gardening, and friendly debates over bourbon.