Sex, Gender & Intimacy: People Collide with Isle McElroy

Isle McElroy joins Jess and Brandon to talk about intimacy, vulnerability and sex — on paper and in the flesh. An award-winning non-binary author based in New York, McElroy’s latest novel People Collide is a gender-bending, body-switching story exploring marriage, identity, and sex, which delves into questions about the nature of true partnership. Isle shares personal insights on what makes for a good sex scene, how inadequacy plays out in relationships and what they’ve learned from rethinking sex and pleasure.

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Rough Transcript:

This is a computer-generated rough transcript, so please excuse any typos. This podcast is an informational conversation and is not a substitute for medical, health, or other professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the services of an appropriate professional should you have individual questions or concerns.

Episode 343

Sex, Gender & Intimacy: People Collide with Isle McElroy

[00:00:00] You’re listening to the sex with Dr. Jess podcast, sex and relationship advice you can use tonight.

[00:00:15] Brandon Ware: Hey, hey, today we’re talking about sex, gender, and intimacy with Isle McElroy, an award winning non binary author based in New York, whose latest novel, People Collide, is a gender bending, body switching story about marriage, identity, and sex, which delves into questions about the nature of true partnership.

[00:00:31] Jess O’Reilly: Yeah, and this story isn’t your traditional kind of body swap, you know, thinking Freaky Fridays. So the story is… Eli, when Eli, the main character, leaves the cramped Bulgarian apartment, he shares with his wife, Elizabeth, who’s more organized, more successful than he is. He discovers that he now inhabits her body.

[00:00:48] Jess O’Reilly: So not only have he and his wife traded bodies, but Elizabeth living as Eli, has disappeared without a trace, and what follows is Eli’s search across Europe, to America, to find his missing wife, and an exploration of gender and embodied experience. As Eli comes closer to finding Elizabeth while learning to exist in her body, he begins to wonder what effect this metamorphosis will have on their relationship, and how long he can maintain the illusion of of living as someone he isn’t.

[00:01:17] Jess O’Reilly: And the questions, you know, are will their new marriage wither completely in each other’s bodies, or is this transformation the very thing Eli and Elizabeth need for their marriage? to thrive. So I’m really looking forward to this conversation. I’ve been reading the book. I’m almost done. I thought I’d be done by today, but I have a lot of questions about some of the messaging and themes, and I think it’s going to be a great conversation.

[00:01:37] Jess O’Reilly: Now, before we welcome our guest, I’ll want to announce a partnership with fellow podcasters Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women. The podcast, season two, is out now and it’s hosted by Nana Darkwa Sakiyama and Malaika Grant. The podcast explores African women’s experiences of sex, sexuality, [00:02:00] and pleasure and they have a host of fabulous guests in their bedroom this season.

[00:02:05] Jess O’Reilly: They have top sexpert Ohlone from the UK, fabulous comedienne Yvonne Orji. Feminist powerhouse, Mona Altahawe, and many, many more. And they’re asking all their guests, what’s your sexy secret? What’s your secret, babe?

[00:02:19] Brandon Ware: I can’t tell you. It’s a secret. That’s why it’s a secret.

[00:02:21] Jess O’Reilly: So predictable. Okay. That and so much more in the new season of the Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women podcast out now.

[00:02:30] Jess O’Reilly: Listen, wherever you get your podcasts.

[00:02:33] Jess O’Reilly: Joining us now is Al McElroy. Thank you so much for being here.

[00:02:37] Isle McElroy: Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

[00:02:39] Jess O’Reilly: So we’re enjoying reading through your work. Not only People Collide, but some of your previous work, Short Stories. I understand this is your second book.

[00:02:47] Jess O’Reilly: I was thinking about the pressure of an author in terms of your second book because everybody’s comparing it to your first, expecting more of the same. Is that something that, you know, you kind of face as an author or do you have to just leave it behind and do what works for you?

[00:03:01] Isle McElroy: Yeah, I think I have not, there’s definitely been a lot of comparison to the first book.

[00:03:07] Isle McElroy: I feel in a very strange place because my first book was published under my dead name. So it both feels as if this is my second book and my first book that is really mine. I think what’s been really exciting about the two books is that they do feel like they’re in conversation with each other. The first book, The Atmospherians, was about two best friends who start a cult to reform problematic men, uh, like a satire about gender.

[00:03:30] Isle McElroy: And this book is a more intimate about a married couple who swap bodies. And I do feel like it seems like a really amazing evolution. for me in how I’ve been thinking about gender, how I’ve been thinking about relationship. First book is a lot about friendship. This second book is a lot about marriage.

[00:03:46] Isle McElroy: So for me, I’ve been really always interested in tight knit, intimate relationship. And this book was an opportunity to be more romantic about it. So I haven’t felt most of the comparison has been with myself. Um, less so with [00:04:00] other people putting that on me, thankfully.

[00:04:01] Jess O’Reilly: Good for you. You know, um, you talk about intimacy and I definitely want to speak about that as well as sexuality and gender and fluidity.

[00:04:08] Jess O’Reilly: But People Collided explores all these relationship themes, right, and, and to me beautiful and vulnerable and sometimes kind of uncomfortable. Framing for the reader and from the onset, we see a character who seemingly kind of is accepting of feeling inadequate. And that theme jumps out to me. So the character Eli seems kind of resigned to be unworthy of Elizabeth and she’s more successful and motivated and responsible and brave.

[00:04:33] Jess O’Reilly: And he describes her kind of as this full human, whereas he’s just an appendage, you know, her name literally encompasses his. So this hierarchical dynamic shows up in other relationships in the story as well. And. In the context of a body swap story and one that crosses gender and explore sexuality, because anything I’ve consumed prior to People Collide did not explore these themes.

[00:04:56] Jess O’Reilly: I’m curious what you think we, what you want us to learn or consider or feel. About the experience of feeling inadequate in relationships with yourself or with others.

[00:05:05] Isle McElroy: Oh, that’s such a good question. Um, I think it’s so. What’s interesting about Eli for me is that inadequacy is a form of safety for him, that it is a way that he doesn’t need to actually engage with the things that he is talented at.

[00:05:23] Isle McElroy: He doesn’t need to engage with what he actually does well. In this marriage, the fact that he is there, the fact that he has sort of put his life on hold and that he is there as a support system is going into that school to do some things. He is showing up and he is very dismissive of his actions, which I think is a way for him to feel comfortable in control.

[00:05:45] Isle McElroy: I think we are even being inadequate is a really. fascinating control strategy in so far as it allows you to kind of seed responsibility. And that can be a really interesting way for, for this character, I think [00:06:00] has to, I mean, his opening sentences, I’m not a responsible man. So he has to find responsibility over the course of this novel, responsibility for his own life, responsibility for his actions, and that he is so willing to claim inadequacy is kind of a bluff.

[00:06:16] Isle McElroy: It’s something that is keeping him, he doesn’t want to claim that responsibility because he’s scared of it. He’s scared of what it would mean to actually run and like dive into his life in the way that probably Elizabeth and other people think that he can but he doesn’t really want to confront. So I do think it’s a way for him to Avoid responsibility in a really interesting way

[00:06:36] Brandon Ware: is a common theme.

[00:06:37] Brandon Ware: Do you feel like you see this a lot

[00:06:40] Brandon Ware: in your life? And like, I mean, I’m just thinking about this, how it pertains to me and I’m like, yeah, you’re right. Absolving yourself of responsibility, shirking responsibility, even when it comes to simple things in a relationship where it’s like, what do you want to have for dinner today?

[00:06:52] Brandon Ware: I’m like, yeah, I’m easy. Like, I don’t.

[00:06:54] Brandon Ware: And it’s like, am I really easy? Or is it that I just don’t want to take responsibility for making that decision?

[00:06:58] Isle McElroy: I mean, decisions are hard, like, it’s, you know, there’s so many decisions throughout a life. Yeah, go ahead.

[00:07:05] Brandon Ware: No, and I was just thinking, like, you’re already

[00:07:07] Brandon Ware: cutting me slack.

[00:07:08] Brandon Ware: Don’t.

[00:07:09] Isle McElroy: Okay, we’re deciding right now what you’re eating for dinner.

[00:07:14] Jess O’Reilly: Dumplings. It’s white rice and dumplings.

[00:07:19] Isle McElroy: No, but I, I get in those moments all the time, right? Where I’m like, I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. And then I realized. Oh, wait, I did care. I just, and then suddenly I become a little like needs monster where, um, and people are like, I thought you didn’t care about anything.

[00:07:32] Isle McElroy: And it’s like, no, I cared about everything. I was just trying to be chill and cool and to like, not have any responsibility because I think it can feel. Easy and is a nice way to not like take control of your own life,

[00:07:44] Brandon Ware: but also kudos to you for being able to take responsibility. I’m saying, you know what, I do have needs because I think a lot of times for me, it might manifest itself in something later on where I’ll say, yeah, no, I’m easy, no problem.

[00:07:55] Brandon Ware: And then I’m eating whatever I’m eating and I don’t think about it. I’m irritated. I mean, I don’t really think I am, but let’s [00:08:00] just say I am irritated. Then I get into an argument later on because I didn’t express my needs. And that’s all I had to do was just tell you what I wanted.

[00:08:08] Jess O’Reilly: Yeah, it’s such a common dynamic that we see and I feel like you’ve already kind of shared one strategy or solution, which is to recognize when you are feeling inadequate, what do I bring to the right to refocus?

[00:08:18] Jess O’Reilly: Because, and that’s what you allow with this character for him to also explore, okay, there are to show that there are these things that. you contribute to the relationship. I mean, the fact that he moved across the world to Bulgaria for this person is a huge source of love and support and, and showing up in the relationship.

[00:08:36] Jess O’Reilly: So I think that, you know, when I think about breaking dynamics of hierarchy or overcoming feelings of inadequacy, Eli’s story does offer some imperfect illustration of first steps. So, you know, here, we’re always trying to think about, so how do people take these lessons and maybe Apply it in their own lives and, um, yeah, the piece around inadequacy and hierarchy.

[00:08:55] Jess O’Reilly: And of course we can pull out the kind of parent child dynamics there and that shirking of responsibility. And it’s easy to say somebody’s better at it than me to avoid having to engage. And we see that across gender lines all the time, like especially, Oh, but she’s so good at that. So she might as well do it.

[00:09:13] Isle McElroy: No, I think about that too. Like. In that sometimes we just need to trust that someone can do it and someone needs to, like, tell us that, like, they believe that we can do it as well. Right? Like, that is something, like, in, I think I’m in a partnership right now where, like, that has been something that we returned to a lot.

[00:09:30] Isle McElroy: Right? Like, actually being like, okay, Okay. I trust that you can do this. And if you don’t do it, then like, it’s sort of on you. It’s not like that the other person should take over. And I think there can be often this real impulse to be like, I’m just going to do it for this person and do it for this person, which can like slowly make someone feel both inadequate and like, they are just kind of coasting, right.

[00:09:53] Isle McElroy: And it becomes this sort of feedback loop. But I think just having so much trust that a person can do something is like one of the [00:10:00] greatest forms of like, Confidence and love that someone can show right or like I’m going to show you how to do this thing and I hope that you will be able to retain this information and do it because you care about me right which requires so much.

[00:10:11] Isle McElroy: I don’t know vulnerability and trust.

[00:10:13] Jess O’Reilly: Yeah, and I want to talk about vulnerability and you know the theme of intimacy in this novel and it you know if we think about intimacy as Something that comes from knowing one another, right? We think of ourselves as intimate and sexual and romantic partners. We use intimacy as a very inaccurate euphemism for sex even, but people collide to me frames intimacy from other angles, like the body swap.

[00:10:37] Jess O’Reilly: Right, which it means more familiarity, more understanding, new perspectives, you know, physical, social, practical, relational, right? The other way, the way people relate to you in a different body. And I’m curious about this desire or curiosity to know someone fully and how you see the limits of intimacy in terms of embodiment of another, right?

[00:10:59] Jess O’Reilly: Are we getting closer when we are embodied in that space or does that? Really knowing, does it leave nothing left? I don’t know if I’m framing the question in a clear way, but really what is intimacy and knowing and knowing another and knowing your body and embodiment, how do those things tie together?

[00:11:16] Isle McElroy: Yeah. Like I was trying to formulate an answer, like as you were asking the question and I feel like my mind is sort of like, I’m imagining like trying to walk on lily pads, right? Like as soon as I think I’m in one direction, I fall in another one, but I, so intimacy, like there are a lot of things there, so.

[00:11:33] Isle McElroy: The desire to fully know another person, I think, is real. Especially when we like, love someone, we’re like, Oh, like, I truly want to know all of them. I want to know everything about them. But I’m also sort of like, No, you don’t. Or like, if you do, then that wouldn’t be fair to them. I think that, like, one of the best things about another person is discovering more and more of the parts of them that you don’t know.

[00:11:54] Isle McElroy: And I think What this book does and what I was trying to explore is the kind of paradox of [00:12:00] infancy. As close as you get to another person, there should still be a lot of space for them to come to you. And that is one of the things that I think was really powerful about this book. The moment when Eli is reflecting, he’s in Elizabeth’s body and he’s like, I miss Elizabeth’s touch, but he literally has her hands.

[00:12:15] Isle McElroy: Right there and can control them. And for me, what I was thinking about is like, how is intimacy always a choice? There have been times when I want to be like, with like other partners, right? Like just say a thing to me, right? Like talk to me. But unless that person wants to actually make that choice, then it’s not actually intimacy.

[00:12:31] Isle McElroy: Like you can’t bully someone into intimacy as much as. It might seem like enough conversation would be able to get there. Someone eventually has to decide they’re ready to open up to you and say those things to you. And that is something that was really important in this book between Eli and Elizabeth.

[00:12:45] Isle McElroy: And what Eli has to reckon with is that embodiment doesn’t actually mean intimacy, right? Like that kind of like full closeness doesn’t mean intimacy because intimacy for me is about a constant choice to continue to share yourself with another person. It’s not about like cuddling with a person or being next to a person, it’s about what you say while you’re doing it.

[00:13:05] Isle McElroy: Um, like if you’re willing to bring up the thing that’s been on your mind rather than simply having like physical touch. And that I think was one of the most exciting things to explore for me in this book is just how, when do we decide to allow ourselves to become closer to another person and how is that decision so special and how that is like where intimacy really begins for me.

[00:13:26] Jess O’Reilly: Yeah, that’s beautiful. And it can’t really be manufactured. We see a lot of that now in, in self help and in like kind of the pop. Psychology of organizational psych, you know, how do you manufacture closeness in the workplace? How do you quickly in 3 questions or on TikTok see if you actually have intimacy in your relationship?

[00:13:45] Jess O’Reilly: Whereas You’ve created a scenario, a story where people are literally in one another’s bodies, and it doesn’t necessarily amount to intimacy. So I think that’s really, really interesting. And I also, I also think it speaks to the fact that you don’t need to know everything about your partner. And [00:14:00] I know there are people who disagree with me, other therapists who disagree with me, but I mean, we know that there’s excitement.

[00:14:06] Jess O’Reilly: In the end, no, but I don’t know if we realize how much value there is, how much intimacy there is in giving people space as well. I’ll hear from couples who say things like, Oh, there shouldn’t be any secrets in a relationship. I would hate to have to tell Brandon everything. I mean, we know each other very well.

[00:14:22] Jess O’Reilly: We’ve been together 20 something years. We talk a lot, maybe too much sometimes. But. I don’t want to know everything. I want to know that in 10 years, there’s some story he hasn’t told me when I think about that baseball story from Elizabeth and how he remarks on the fact that he, she never brought this up.

[00:14:40] Jess O’Reilly: Right. And that when they were earlier in the relationship, she would lie there and want to tell him everything about her past, but that one didn’t come up. And I liked the idea of saving some things either just for yourself or for other people in your life. or for later on in the relationship when it feels genuine to you.

[00:14:59] Isle McElroy: Absolutely. And I think so much of sharing is about like reaction. Like you’re in a moment where I feel like my, the way my memory works is I can’t bring things up like all the time. Someone will say something that reminds me of say like the baseball story or whatever. And then I go into that and I’m reminded of something that happened in childhood, but it’s hard for if someone.

[00:15:20] Isle McElroy: It feels a little too icebreaker sometimes if someone is like, tell me about like a childhood moment and I was like, I don’t know, but if we’re like walking and I see a tree that reminds me of like a tree that I like ran my bike into when I was eight, then I’ll be able to tell that story. But I didn’t even know that story existed until I was in that moment with that other person.

[00:15:39] Isle McElroy: And that To me is I think being also in a space where you’re safe enough to allow those memories to come back up and when they do come up, it can feel like you’re ready to share that with a person, right? And that you feel safe enough to allow these things to bubble up around a person, I think is again, part of intimacy where I don’t want to feel like someone is grilling me or asking me [00:16:00] questions or looking to get to like the center of me.

[00:16:02] Isle McElroy: I wanted to be like, I want to sort of share on my own time and feel safe to share. And I think that’s sort of what we all want. And I think for this book, especially I’ve been thinking like, I think it is It would be terrifying if someone knew everything about me, because I don’t know everything about me.

[00:16:19] Isle McElroy: So, that belief, and I think that there is a kind of, like, that to me seems like a real kind of insidious control, right? Like, oh, I can know everything about you. It’s like, no, get in line. Like, I’m first. I want to know this first. And if you think that, you know, there could be gentle, like, oh, you’re not treating yourself kindly, stuff like that.

[00:16:38] Isle McElroy: But I do think that… What I’ve heard, I think a lot of relationship stuff, like the, you know, podcasts and, um, Instagram therapists I’ve seen about like knowing a partner so well, like sometimes that can be so scary because I don’t want to be fully known by people. I like to remain a mystery to myself so that I can feel interesting to myself as well.

[00:16:58] Jess O’Reilly: Yeah, it’s such a challenge, I think, to strike that balance between yes, you want to formally invest in the relationship so that there’s space for intimacy and vulnerability and honest sharing, but also you don’t want it to be forced. So you’re making me think about my work. And when I go and work with couples and I’m giving them these exercises to do, and it’s a reminder that not everybody’s ready for them.

[00:17:18] Jess O’Reilly: And I don’t mean that in a hierarchical way, just maybe it’s not the right time, but these exercises or these approaches or these conversations are there when it’s time to access them. Right. So you can have those conversations. Now, when I, I think about a body swap. So you say your inspiration for this book was thinking about your own gender more than it was thinking about the tradition of like movies and, you know, Freaky Friday.

[00:17:40] Jess O’Reilly: And you say it’s something you’ve been thinking about your entire life and the weight of needing to consider changing bodies in a culture that really does everything in its power to disallow it is obviously heavy and a burden. You shouldn’t have to carry. So I am curious, you’re writing about, you’re writing from this non binary perspective, what is it you’d like cis people to know, um, what to take away [00:18:00] so that we can better support non binary people as well?

[00:18:03] Isle McElroy: Yeah. Thank you for that question. I think. Really, the biggest thing is just to trust other people’s experience. Like that is always one of the more surprising things is if I say something about myself and people are like, that’s not true. It’s like, this comes back, I think, to the question of intimacy and self knowledge versus how other people know it.

[00:18:23] Isle McElroy: And I think just allowing people the dignity to understand. Themselves, what they’ve been thinking about, how they want to identify, and just trusting that people know themselves better than you might know them. So, my relationship to cis people, like, you know, when someone wants to change their name. Trust that they know what they’re doing, right?

[00:18:44] Isle McElroy: When someone wants an appropriate pronoun, just use it. Like, I’m sorry if it’s a little hard, adjust and just try your best. There’s also like, try your best and show care. I do think that’s something that I’ve gotten good at is just understanding when people are trying. And I think when people put in a genuine effort, that’s really wonderful, but really, it’s just.

[00:19:06] Isle McElroy: Be patient and open and just listen to how non binary people, how trans people, how we talk about ourselves and just sort of follow that lead instead of trying to take the reins over yourselves.

[00:19:21] Jess O’Reilly: You’re making me think about… Who should be telling these stories and writing these stories and how people are represented in stories.

[00:19:29] Jess O’Reilly: I think about like the fetishization by race. And when I read things that fetishize my race, I, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the book was, how the story is woven, how talented the author is. The moment I see something that fetishizing based on race. And for me, like for Asian women immediately, I just, it hits hard.

[00:19:48] Jess O’Reilly: And so I’m curious, there aren’t as many stories. about trans people, about non binary people. But now we’re seeing more. And so I’m curious about the importance of non binary and trans [00:20:00] writers being centered in telling these stories. And if you maybe feel the same way around fetishization.

[00:20:05] Isle McElroy: Yeah, absolutely.

[00:20:06] Isle McElroy: I mean, it’s, I just did an interview with the activist Raquel Willis for New York Magazine for the Cut and her memoir, I would highly recommend it, The Risk It Takes to Bloom. And I think what’s so important about that book is how she really dives into the questions of safety as like a younger trans person, as how whether you’re going to come out at work, whether or not you’re going to identify as openly trans in public, and the sort of safety that that involves like around co workers or what type of relationship you want to be perceived in.

[00:20:39] Isle McElroy: And I think what was so great about that book is that She did such an incredible job of being a human, which is one of the things that often in the, like, a literature, like, I think trans literature explodes onto the scene and it’s easy to be like, trans people are great, they’re amazing, we only need, like, positive stories, but now…

[00:20:59] Isle McElroy: It’s, like, books like Detransition Baby by Tori Peters, Girlfriends by Emily Zhu, Nevada by Imogen Binney. Like, all these books are showing, like, what it actually feels like to be trans, the complications of it. How it’s not just all pain or all perfect people who are, you know, just shaped by a bad society.

[00:21:20] Isle McElroy: It’s just humans being humans. And that, I think, is the most important thing about trans and non binary people being able to tell our stories, is that we want to… talk about our lives as full people, not simply as background characters or as, you know, like, you know, being fetishized or just being, you know, perfect people, right?

[00:21:44] Isle McElroy: The opportunity to be human, I think is so important. And that I think is what you get when people are telling their own stories.

[00:21:49] Jess O’Reilly: That makes sense to me. Um, I want to talk about sex as well. So sexuality in people, Clyde, is it’s really framed as fluid. When I first read about the body swap, when I honestly, when I got the [00:22:00] email, I was like, Oh, this is going to be a story rooted in a binary of a man learning about women.

[00:22:03] Jess O’Reilly: They wear heels and see how hard it is to wear heels. Of course it’s far more fluid. And it’s far more beautiful and nuanced and complex with explorations of bisexuality and questions of asexuality. And I take away some messaging around, you know, fluidity, making more space for ease, which when it comes to sex, ease makes more space for pleasure.

[00:22:21] Jess O’Reilly: And you’ve spoken about how learning to be okay with your body during sex as a non binary person has involved having to reimagine and rethink how you find pleasure in sex. And I’m curious if you’d be willing to share a little bit more about your experience. And perhaps how it relates to Eli, the characters in the book.

[00:22:38] Isle McElroy: Yeah. So in my own personal experience, I think I needed to just really be a lot more in touch with my body, like as like sexually and just understanding, like, what do I actually like versus what do I think I should like? And that has been a huge challenge over the last couple of years since I came out just because I’m allowing myself to slow down.

[00:23:01] Isle McElroy: I’m allowing myself to feel pleasure that I want to feel versus Like, accepting a preconceived notion of that, of what I think pleasure should be, what I think sex should be, and that I think is especially important, um, having mostly been assumed male for most of my life, and now that I do identify as non binary, I feel like I’ve been able to just rethink what pleasure means, rethink what pleasure means with other partners, rethink like what it means to actually ask for what I want and to like slow down and to have conversations while having sex, and to really rethink what parts of my body I want to use versus what I previously thought that I wanted to use.

[00:23:40] Isle McElroy: And that I think has been one of the biggest changes and most exciting things for me. For Eli, In the book, I think what he begins to discover is how fluid his own sexuality is and that it’s not something that he was willing to embrace previously. It’s something, I’ve been thinking a lot about how so much of shame [00:24:00] is just tied to our own physical selves.

[00:24:01] Isle McElroy: And when Eli is not attached to his own body any longer, a body that he very diligently works out and like, shapes, he no longer has a Like physical shame, and that gives him a great deal of freedom in the sex scene that happens in the book, both of these characters I think are able to actually engage with their desires because they don’t feel shame in the same way.

[00:24:24] Isle McElroy: I think sexual shame, like the fear of being rejected is so much about someone doesn’t like my body. But if you’re not. Even in your own body, these characters are just so attached to their desire, as Eli puts it one way, like, desire cleansed of inhibitions. Because he doesn’t feel attached to the fear of rejection in the same way that he previously was.

[00:24:46] Isle McElroy: And getting to that space, for me, has been really difficult, but it is, like, something that I’ve been working towards in my relationships, in my, like, how I have sex with people now. Because it’s just really important to… Not think about, like, different desires as rejection, or not think about my body as something that is rejected, especially in sex, but as a sort of conversation between two people who are interested in each other, or however many people are interested in each other.

[00:25:15] Jess O’Reilly: How many you can fit in that room?

[00:25:16] Isle McElroy: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly.

[00:25:18] Jess O’Reilly: Yeah. Physically and emotionally, how many people can we handle right now? Yeah, that’s really interesting. I’m curious if you can share an experience or an insight for people who do want to take that approach, who want to not step out of their bodies, but detach from expectations around body, whether it’s related to gender, whether it’s related to age, body type, uh, you know, and, and our expectations, how do we disconnect from that so that we can actually.

[00:25:42] Jess O’Reilly: Connect in our bodies, and I’m sure you can’t distill it in a sentence, but is there something that you read or something that you thought or something that you did or an experience that took you there? Because I’m thinking about what what’s the 1st step people can take?

[00:25:56] Isle McElroy: Oh, that’s such a good question.

[00:25:58] Isle McElroy: I think [00:26:00] really, for me, it’s about, a lot of it has been about action over, like, verbs over nouns, is what I will say, and I’ve really had to rethink, like, how I talk about my body parts, right? Like, and, and how I talk about I like how I want to be touched, how I want to like touch other people. And that to me is about action versus, versus about what I want to touch.

[00:26:24] Isle McElroy: Right. Like, and, and that is, and, or like where and things like that. So I’m not sure I’m making sense, but I, I do think really slowing down and thinking about what is the action versus what are the, for me, at least I felt that thinking about. Yeah, just the activities that I want to be having with other people, the connections that I want to be having with other people versus, say, the, just the naming of acts or the naming of body parts.

[00:26:57] Isle McElroy: For me, it’s always, I’ve found so much comfort and so much freedom in just sort of meandering around naming things and just like asking permission over and over again about touch, right? And, and really knowing. Really slowing down into permission has been really helpful as well.

[00:27:16] Jess O’Reilly: And I asked her, and you don’t have to answer.

[00:27:18] Jess O’Reilly: We can, you know, if it’s not a fit, I’m curious if it’s about how you feel in your body versus how the body’s responding. I’m just trying to get a little bit more clarification. Like what might it look like to tune into action versus. It’s just a body part.

[00:27:30] Isle McElroy: I think a lot of it is trust that I know what feels good.

[00:27:34] Isle McElroy: And I say this knowing that it’s taken me like four years of working really hard to get to this point where I can even begin to trust that a certain action feels good. And so it is really, I think it goes back to expectations versus the reality of the moment. I feel like I’m being very new age y right now.

[00:27:58] Isle McElroy: Like, [00:28:00] when I allow myself to really trust someone and to just feel in my body that something feels okay to me. And that means, often, like, patience, right? Like, someone asking, can they do something? And I can sit for a second and be like, yes, right? Like, that, to me, is a constant reminder. Like, I’m okay with this.

[00:28:20] Isle McElroy: I am alright with this. And that really slow, like, Entering toward everything being okay feels really, really wonderful. Because I know that I am part of this, I am engaged in this, I am deciding in all of this, and I’m like, and all of this feels pleasurable and good. And that, I think, can ignite something in my body.

[00:28:41] Isle McElroy: Or, I know that if I say yes and feel in my body? Actually, no, maybe that was a no. Then I can hopefully have enough trust with that person to be like, actually, no, let’s not do that. Right. And getting, allowing myself to, like, this has been my, like, truly, like, all of my therapy work over, like, the last four years is like, what does my body actually feel when I respond to something?

[00:29:00] Isle McElroy: And what do I actually feel like? in my chest if I say I would love to do that and then I feel like a lurch in my stomach I’m like oh no like actually I don’t want to do that and hopefully I can say to someone let’s let’s step back and let’s not do that so a lot of it is about trust in myself and trust that I know what feels good and again this feels very new agey but I think a lot of it comes just becoming really really in tune with your body and that’s taken a lot of work and a lot of like real effort feel my own feelings which I feel like I didn’t do for the first, like, 30 years of my life.

[00:29:32] Isle McElroy: So now I’m really trying to catch up.

[00:29:35] Jess O’Reilly: So there’s a lot there, but I’m taking a lot out of it, because I think so many of us go through sex, go through our entire sex lives, doing what we’re supposed to do. Maybe we know we like to get off. But you asked two questions about, you know, how does this feel in my body?

[00:29:49] Jess O’Reilly: How will I respond if I say yes? How will a partner respond if I say no? I don’t think most people slow down because everything’s rushed and everything’s a bit shorthanded, shorthand, not [00:30:00] shorthanded. Everything we’re doing as quickly as we can and there’s kind of like these checklists and bucket lists, but I think there’s a lot more value in slowing down and saying, what does this feel like in my body?

[00:30:08] Jess O’Reilly: And we do this all the time in In all types of therapy, not related to sex. If something is stressing you out, you know, a question we ask is, you know, how does that show up in your body? And I don’t think that our culture, our world is designed for us to take that time. And when we take that time outside of the bedroom to tune into our body, we’re more likely to do the same inside of the bedroom.

[00:30:28] Jess O’Reilly: And of course, not all of us, everybody has a different amount of time or I think privilege access. To stop and say, how do I feel in my body? Because if we go back to some of the themes that have come up in this conversation and come up in the novel around fear and around safety, that hierarchy of needs, obviously you have to take care of being safe.

[00:30:44] Jess O’Reilly: Whether it be any sort of self actualization at the top or sexual self actualization. So I’m hearing what you’re saying. And I appreciate it. I appreciate those questions also for people to just stop and think, how does this feel in my body? Whether you’re at. Like early stages of dating, I often tell people like, stop thinking about, you know, are they the right fit?

[00:31:03] Jess O’Reilly: Do they, you know, do we align, do our values align? Just think about how you feel in your body in that moment. That’s a good place to start all the way through to the bedroom and long term relationship. If we can slow down and tune into sensations. Instead of thinking about like, can the kids hear me? Do I have to be up in the morning?

[00:31:18] Jess O’Reilly: Do they like this? What do I look like? Am I taking too long? I’m coming too fast. All the questions that we ask ourselves, you’re bringing it back to the body, which brings us back really to the theme of this novel as well. So I’m, I’m seeing it all come full circle. I’m really thankful for that insight.

[00:31:32] Jess O’Reilly: Cause I think there’s a valuable takeaway for all of us there. Before I let you go, I do want to ask about, so you mentioned the sex scene, which of course I recall intensely from the book. You’ve also written about the art of the sex scene, and I’m curious, as a writer, what makes a good sex scene on paper, and is it different than what makes a good sex scene, for example, on stage or in real life?

[00:31:55] Isle McElroy: So, I do think what makes a good sex scene on paper [00:32:00] is First off, attention to detail. That is, and really just knowing where things go, I think is really important. And like, just allowing the reader to see. I think a lot of people move too quickly, or they use euphemisms, and that to me seems like a really bad sex scene.

[00:32:15] Isle McElroy: Also, I think that Especially in writing, sex is an opportunity to reveal character. So when sex is a moment to show the souls of two characters or to show how they interact, how they talk to each other, that is really important. And that’s what I, some books that I, I think Garth Greenwell writes about sex really well.

[00:32:33] Isle McElroy: Raven Leilani is an excellent sex writer and in their work, Brian Washington does great sex in his books and all of their work. You can tell that these people have a connection with each other that goes beyond sex. And in sex writing, that, I think, is what’s really important, is seeing that it’s not just this.

[00:32:50] Isle McElroy: Even if it is just like a one night stand fling, I want to know how these two, like, souls are connecting on this, in this moment. If it’s a long term relationship, I want to know how this event is part of a longer, or is a moment in their longer journey with each other. And I think it’s about, like, The best sex scenes are ones that bring in all of the curiosity and excitement and conflict from outside of the sex scene.

[00:33:16] Isle McElroy: Uh, ones that build entire worlds.

[00:33:18] Jess O’Reilly: Beautiful. I’m curious too if writing about sex changes the way you see sex in real life. Because I’m not a sex writer. I write about sex from a very boring perspective, but to weave a story is a different talent altogether.

[00:33:32] Isle McElroy: I… I think what it has taught me is just really, again, it’s, it takes a lot longer to write a sex scene than it does to have sex.

[00:33:43] Isle McElroy: So, I will say that When it comes to slowing down, and when it comes to asking questions, that is what writing a scene has helped me do because I need to think about, like, what does desire look like, what, what do people say to each other, what actually [00:34:00] is hot, what are the things that I’m fantasizing about, and writing a sex scene, or what are other people fantasizing about, and creating those scenes on the page, I think Allows me to fantasize when I’m with someone as well, right, like to allow myself to, like, if I’m with someone physically and I’m fantasizing about something that I want to continue doing with them, I might be able to, like, bring it up because I’m both really in the moment and being in that moment might allow me to sort of think of something else that I want to do, and that Kind of that to me seems like writing spontaneity and writing is so important to me So you you react to what is happening, right?

[00:34:39] Isle McElroy: So in writing a sex scene I am reacting to what the characters are doing when I’m with another person I’m reacting to what feels good in that moment and sex with someone might be completely different with the same person over a couple times doing it because we are reacting differently because we are different people on a different day and being really attuned to Reacting to your needs in the moment, I think, is important both for writing and for, like, sex in real life.

[00:35:08] Brandon Ware: I’m picturing, in the midst of having sex, being like, as a writer, Oh, my gosh, I got to stop. That was such a good line. I just thought of or something like that, you know, like that’s my next scene

[00:35:18] Isle McElroy: for above above the bed so I can always get things down right away.

[00:35:23] Jess O’Reilly: Listen, I think most people who work in this field.

[00:35:25] Jess O’Reilly: In the beginning when we were studying. It would happen because it was so new to us now. Like, you know, I’ve been working in this field for so long. I can definitely separate the two, but I do remember that when I first started studying, something would happen during sex. And I would think about how it related to what I was studying.

[00:35:40] Jess O’Reilly: That’s right. I wasn’t really taking notes on what you were doing, but I, I, what I’m hearing too, is there must be real value for lovers, for learning about yourself, um, seeing sex from different perspectives and writing like as a, not a therapeutic tool, but just as a personal tool. And I, it’s something I would have.

[00:35:57] Jess O’Reilly: For me, I don’t have that side of the brain. Oh, it doesn’t come [00:36:00] naturally to me. We all have that side and we can tap into it, but not something I would have considered, but something I’m definitely thinking about now. And I’m sure other folks can consider reading your work on the art of a sex scene. And I’ll put that in the, in the show notes as well.

[00:36:12] Jess O’Reilly: And highly encourage everyone to check out People Collide as well. Really a great read. And I’m holding on for the end because of course, I already have an idea that there’s a bit of an ending because I’ve read reviews of the work, but you are receiving great accolades. And I can see why absolutely so congrats and thank you so much for sharing, sharing your time and your insights and your personal insights with us today.

[00:36:35] Jess O’Reilly: Much appreciated.

[00:36:36] Isle McElroy: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. It was a real pleasure to be here.

[00:36:39] Jess O’Reilly: You know, it’s not often we do interviews with fiction authors, but I was really interesting because I was really enthralled with this novel. I am really enthralled with it. And I took a lot away from this conversation, you know, messaging around intimacy and that there’s as much intimacy and not knowing as knowing.

[00:36:57] Jess O’Reilly: In some cases, and I think there’s something to sit there with, something to sit with there for me and even for some of the programming that I do, it definitely made me question some of the ways I approach intimacy and intimacy building and how there can be multiple approaches. I also think about, you know, embodiment and how it is rooted in trust and slowing down and reconditioning ourselves to move away from expectations.

[00:37:20] Jess O’Reilly: That’s a big one.

[00:37:21] Brandon Ware: Yeah, I mean, for me, that, that was, that really resonated, the idea of, forget what society tells you you should and shouldn’t like. What do you like? And listen to yourself. Or listen to myself.

[00:37:31] Jess O’Reilly: Yeah, and tuning into your body. I feel like I’ve been tuned out lately. Not specifically around sex, but it’s absolutely seeping into sex.

[00:37:39] Jess O’Reilly: And I’ll leave it at that. And also, I was thinking about shedding expectations. Mm hmm. About our bodies. Like, we have so many expectations about what it’s supposed to be, how it’s supposed to react, how it’s supposed to look, what we’re supposed to feel, what we’re supposed to enjoy. And when we think about expectations, so many of them are the ones that uphold shame.

[00:37:57] Jess O’Reilly: So I, I really am sitting with that as [00:38:00] well. And then of course, the really important messaging around trusting others when it comes to their experience.

[00:38:04] Brandon Ware: Yeah, I mean, I agree with all points.

[00:38:07] Jess O’Reilly: All right, we’re gonna leave it at that. Thanks so much for listening, folks. And of course, you can check out People Collide wherever books are sold.

You’re listening to the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast. Improve your sex life. Improve your life.


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