Thursday, 29 September 2011

A Snapshot of Modern Britain...

...as viewed by the Daily Mail.

I know, I know. I really need to stop reading this paper! I can't help myself, my parents buy it!

The first results of a national survey are out. 420,000 people were randomly questioned about all manner of intrusive things so that the government can better understand the population. This year, I was one of those people. The write-up can be found here.

The Mail focuses on two areas: religion and sexuality. It's headline proclaims that 70% of British people are Christian, and "only" 1.5% are gay (although actually on closer inspection that's including 0.5% who said that they were bisexual). The Mail is, of course, taking it as read that this is a representative survey of the UK population as a whole, and uses these figures to have a dig at the BBC (it is currently trying to stir up some kind of moral panic over the BBC allegedly abolishing the use of BC/AD in favour of CE/BCE), and at the government, for allowing us gays to have any of the basic rights that straight people take for granted.

They quote Simon Calvert, of the Christian Institute think tank (whatever that is), who says:

"Ministers are still barrelling along with enforcing civil partnerships in churches and redefining marriage. We can only hope that the reality will catch up with them and give them pause for thought."

The 'reality' he is talking about is that - according to this survey - only 1-1.5% of the population is gay. So apparently your rights shrink as your numbers do, is that what they're saying? If there was only 1 black person in the UK, would it still be ok to treat him however we wanted, and discriminate against him whenever we felt like, because he's only one person? That logic is not only deeply flawed, it is terrifying.

I would like to state for the record that I am a proud member of that 1%. That doesn't mean that other gay / lesbian / bi people didn't decline to answer. The question wasn't actually asked, it was written down on a teeny weeny computer, along with a number of other "shameful" questions such as 'have you ever been raped by a family member' and 'have you ever taken a Class A drug.' Seems an odd category to place love in, but hey, I didn't write the survey. Interestingly, 4.3% declined to answer. That's four times the amount that said that they were gay; which means that the Mail's statistics are - potentially - 400% inaccurate. When you're using those statistics to argue that there's less of us, so we don't matter, that 4% counts for an awful lot.

The Mail's commentary states:

Gay lobbyists and politicians have long claimed that 10 per cent of the population is homosexual. But the figures from the Office for National Statistics’ Integrated Household Survey show this is a wild exaggeration.

"Wild exaggeration"? I'm not convinced. Say the majority of that 4.3% are gay; that means that the survey and the oft-cited claims of 1 in 10 meet in the middle at around 5%.

It is sad, of course, that there were as many as 4.3% of people that declined to answer that question in the first place. Let me stress, this is a completely anonymous survey. The respondent's name and address are never linked to their answer; everything is coded and encrypted, and certainly my interviewer showed me just how secure the whole system was. I was selected randomly by postcode, and then alphabetically by residents in my house. I was assigned a number, which was then assigned another number, which was then entered into the survey data. It's a pretty secure system. It's not like the god squad were ever likely to turn up on my door and brand me a sinner. (I am also a proud member of the 23% of godless heathens in our great nation).

So why decline to answer? What's to lose? Is it that - in some sectors of society - homophobia is so ingrained that people will not admit, under any circumstances, to being gay? Try as I might, I can't imagine any reason why a straight person would refuse to answer that question. I can think of many, many reasons why some gay people would be afraid to answer.

But let us break down these numbers for a moment. The Mail is setting a lot of store on a survey of 420,000 people (and that sounds like a pretty impressive number to me). However, the 2011 census placed the UK population at just over 61 million. That means that the Home Office has actually interviewed just over 0.68% of the UK population as a whole. Suddenly; 420,000 people doesn't seem that many. I wouldn't like to draw any conclusions from a sample of that size, let alone make and break laws based on the results.

In late 2010 another survey by the Office of National Statistics also claimed that "only" 1% of the UK population was gay. Gaydar, (the world's leading gay dating website for the 2 of you reading this who don't know) refuted that claim at the time. They pointed out that if the 1% figure was right that meant that there were 480,000 gay men and 240,000 lesbians living in the UK today (although that places the population figure as a whole at 72 million, so even these figures should be considered inflated). On 24 Sept 2010, Gaydar had 2,185,072 UK members, which roughly equated to about 6.7% of the population. And, as popular as Gaydar is, I doubt very much that every single gay in the UK is on there. Not even Gaydar claimed that!

Gaydar radio also pointed out that its monthly listeners regularly topped 750,000; meaning that every gay in the UK was regularly tuning in. Also highly unlikely. These figures can be found here, and have been independently verified.

All of this suggests that (a) these surveys are always too small to be truly representative; (b) it is impossible to draw conclusions about the numbers of a specific minority when people still decline to be identified as such; and (c) the idea still abounds that if a minority is small enough, it can still be legitimitately discriminated against. It is point (c) which scares me most; and which most often seems to go unnoticed. Unfortunately, there are no larger surveys on the topic of sexuality, as the current government bottled it and didn't ask the question on the 2011 census. It seems a wasted opportunity to me. Of course, you would still have the problem of people declining to answer, or not answering honestly, but at least it would give us a bigger sample size. The question of religion - the other statistic from this survey that the Mail was crowing about - was asked, and the results are fascinating. In the census of the entire population 40% of adults professed no religion. In this survey, that figure was only 23%. Proof indeed that this survey is not representative of the population at large.

Personally, I think it's irrelevant if there are a billion gay people in the world, or only one (although that would be very lonely. There should be a minimum of two!) What matters is if we think it's ok to discriminate against anyone, for the creed, colour, sexuality, gender, sex, or any one of a million other reasons. No reason is ever good enough. Live and let live. It irritates me when people try and reduce our numbers artificially, but I don't think a "head count" will ever actually achieve anything - and I don't think that even now, in the 21st century, there will ever be a completely open and honest head count, even if such a thing were attempted. Discrimination against any minority is never justified - no matter how small that minority may be.

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Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now http://www.amazon.com/Kate-Aaron/e/B0058DL8A0/

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Prescriptivism vs Descriptivism

I am talking grammar. Goodbye, thanks for stopping in anyway!

I know, I know. Grammar is boring. It is the stuff that was drilled into you at school, that every pupil resents. Who cares if a dot is used in the wrong place? Whether I write "my daughters boyfriend" or "my daughter's boyfriend" it still makes sense, doesn't it? It's all still legible.

It doesn't help that most grammatical rules are antiquated, and based on dead languages. It is considered poor grammar, for example, to split an infinitive. The best example of that is Star Trek's "to boldly go". The reason for this rule is that in Latin, an infinitive cannot be split. This still exists in the Romance languages, e.g. in the French aller "to go" is one word. Purists would argue that the line should read "to go boldly" - however, this changes the entire emphasis of the words.

There is no method to grammar. As we have just seen, we shouldn't split our infinitives because in Latin that's impossible. Yet we are also taught that double-negatives are bad, but in Latin and the Romance languages they make sense. In English, if you have never done nothing, then you have done something; if you don't want nothing, you do want something, etc. We know, when people use double-negatives, that they are saying 'no' emphatically. This is how the Romance languages work. Double, and even triple-negatives are perfectly acceptable, and indicate a strong rejection of something. In English, if we deconstruct the sentence logically, they don't make sense. They mean the opposite of what they are written to mean.

I could wax lyrical about ending sentences with prepositions and the correct place to put a semicolon, but does any of this really help us to communicate better? Language, after all, is a tool. As long as it's working, why fix it?

This is where the prescriptivists and descriptivists differ. Those in the former camp insist that the rules exist and should be followed, however arcane and obsolete they are. They want to control language, to fix it in an ideal that never really existed. They treat English like it's a dead language, unchanging and unevolving. They are the first to start shrieking when 'text speak' and slang start creeping in. Most of them write for the Daily Mail. They bemoan falling standards and sloppy, lazy English as if our language had a 'perfect point' from which it is devolving.

Descriptivists, by contrast, are students of language. They chart its changes without comment. They recognise that language is a tool of communication, nothing more, and that as long as it is enabling us to communicate effectively, there's nothing wrong with it. The fact that new words emerge and old words die, and rules are bent and broken shows that our language is alive, and healthy. If we compare English with Welsh, for example, we can see what I mean. English as a language is fundamentally different than it was 50, or 100, or 500 years ago. Welsh hasn't really changed, it has just got an awful lot of loan words. I quite enjoy flicking through radio stations and listening to the Welsh ones, which to me sound like a stream of nonsense, with the occasional, inexplicable English word inserted - "lllancolly hollanclayl tractor" - that kind of thing. (I would here like to apologise to any and all Welsh speakers who I have just mortally offended by bastardising their language). Despite all the attempts by the Welsh government to save their language, I fear they are fighting a losing battle. Welsh just isn't evolving anymore, it's borrowing English words instead. The same could be said for Gallic, Cornish, or any of a thousand languages worldwide which were once widely-spoken.

English, of course, has more than its fair share of loan words, but they have become English. Pick up the Oxford English Dictionary some day and have a look at all the languages of origin in there. I could tell you all about the formation of the English language, its evolution from runes and Latin, the influence of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic languages on it, the Great Vowel Shift and the emergence of silent letters, the effect that the Renaissance had, but all that two millennia of change has resulted in is the language that I am writing and you are reading now.

And really, in the grand course of things, it hasn't actually changed that much. Students of literature the world over huff and puff over Shakespeare, but they can understand it, no matter what they say. Baz Lurman's version of Romeo and Juliet proved that. That's because Shakespeare wrote in Early Modern English, which is - linguistically - almost identical to Modern English (the language of this blog). But if we go back further, to Middle English, it is still legible:

After that I had accomplyssed and fynysshed dyvers hystoryes as wel of contemplacyon as of other hystoryal and worldly actes of grete conquerours and prynces, and also certeyn bookes of ensaumples and doctrynes, many noble and dyvers gentylmen of thys royames of Englond camen and damaunded me many and oftymes wherefore that I have not do made and enprynte the noble hystorye of the Saynt Greal and of the moost renomed Crysten kyng, fyrst and chyef of the thre best Crysten, and worthy, Kyng Arthur, whyche ought moost to be remembred emonge us Englysshemen tofore al other Crysten kynges.

Think that's impossible to read? Well read it out loud. It sounds the same, the spellings are just different, that's all. It's not the English that you hear spoken today, but it's not that far off, and that was published in the 15th century, two hundred years before Shakespeare. It's the first paragraph of William Caxton's introduction to Malory's Morte Darthur, by the way.

So why do we stress about the odd misplaced apostrophe, when we can still read something that was written 500 years ago? There's a great chain email that has done the rounds several times on this subject:

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too. Cna yuo raed tihs? i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghi t pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

This email makes a great point. Spelling is largely irrelevant. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, prescriptivists!

I raise these points because it seems that everyone has something to say about grammatical and spelling errors in ebooks - especially self-published ones. Now, I admit, I am a grammar nazi. Whenever I find an error I pause and growl a little before moving on. I think having too many errors destroys the flow of even the best story, and mars the reading experience. That being said, I can't remember the last time I read a (new) dead tree book by a big 6 publisher that didn't have at least half a dozen stupid errors in it. I have antiquated books that are flawless and error-free. Publishing, as an industry, is getting lazy. Editing is being sacrificed.

However, the student of language in me rejects the nazi in me. I want to be a descriptivist. I reject a lot of the nonsense rules - split infinitives; ending a sentence on a preposition, etc. - but I can't abide a misplaced apostrophe; or reading where for were, or they're for their. It makes my hackles rise. I can't get over it.

I know that if everyone followed the rules that I set myself, our language would probably suffer as a result. When some of my friends text me I accuse them of writing in Klingon, but I (grudgingly) recognise that I can understand them. In that sense, they are using language correctly, no matter what I might think about their strange garble of letters and numbers. I am trying to force myself to be more of a descriptivist, but it's hard. When I review a book, I always take into account how much any errors in it affected my reading experience. If there were dozens of them, and I had to re-read everything twice to make it make sense, then I will mark it down. If it's an excellent book but the author doesn't understand the difference between past and passed, I'll forgive it.

There might be a billion speakers of English in this world, but each one uses the language in a different way. This is our idiolect, and it is a natural thing. It stops everyone from speaking, and writing, in the same way. This means, of course, that what some people do routinely, others will think is "wrong." But there is no right or wrong, just meaning and nonsense.

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Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now http://www.amazon.com/Kate-Aaron/e/B0058DL8A0/

Sunday, 18 September 2011

New Gay Flash Fiction Published

Check out my flash story Lord Shrivam at Gay Flash Fiction ~ story went live today and will remain the new story for the next 5 days or so. After that you'll have to go trawling through the website searching for me!

It's a piece that I wrote about 5 years ago, and I have always been fond of it. This is the first time that it's ever seen the light of day so be kind to it, I have always thought that it deserved a better mother than me.

And while I'm at it with my shameless plugs, please like my facebook page!

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Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now http://www.amazon.com/Kate-Aaron/e/B0058DL8A0/

Saturday, 17 September 2011

What Makes a Man?

Seems a simple question, doesn't it? But just pause and really think about it for a minute. Here are the main things that people will say define being a man:

  1. Short hair; a deep voice; penchant for trousers; obsession with football; emotional impotence etc etc. None of these things, of course, make someone male. They are stereotypical characteristics, but they are untimately shared by both sexes.
  2. His testicles. Tell that to the many, many men who've had theirs removed when they turned cancerous.
  3. His penis. Tell that to the poor soul who lost his in a terrible car accident; or military conflict; or - in one memorable case I remember from the papers - a domestic dispute gone waaaaaaay out of control. Does the absence of that one organ really mean he's not a man anymore? Would you still think that if that man was your son?
  4. Testosterone. That strange little chemical that makes men angry and hairy. The problem is that we all have testosterone in our systems, the only difference is how much. And there is no line dividing the extent of T. that makes one a man or a woman. Some men have less than some women.
Perhaps what makes a man isn't what he is, but what he is not. A man does not have a uterus (but then again, neither do some women). Millions of women are born without - or undergo surgery to remove - their ovaries and fallopian tubes and breasts (although men have these too!) that does not mean that they are not women, and men are not defined as being without these organs. Even if they were, that would leave us with the other side of this conundrum: what makes a woman?

Now we find ourselves in strange territory. Do manners make the man, or the way he wears his hat? It is not the biological ability to have children, nor the box that is ticked on his birth certificate (as many intersexed people have discovered for themselves). A man does not necessarily desire women, or enjoy violence; he is not necessarily able to grow a beard.That leaves us only with the subjective: I think I am a man, therefore I am. While I believe this is true, and our transgendered and transsexual cousins will agree with me, that doesn't mean that we can't recognise a man when we see one. We don't have to know him, or know how he feels, to know that he's a man.

There is no answer to the question I'm posing in this thread. I just think it's an interesting point. My sister studied biology at university, and even she eventually told me to stop asking her to answer it, as even at cellular level there is no hard-and-fast answer. Not that we are considering the cellular or microscopic when we pass someone in the street. Maleness - as opposed to masculinity - is more essential than most people consider. It is at once everything and nothing; it is the sum of all the parts, but cannot be traced down to one single identifier. Pick a man apart, and you are left with a collection of meaningless symbols and organs. Add them all together, and you still might not have a man.

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Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now http://www.amazon.com/Kate-Aaron/e/B0058DL8A0/

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Asexuality - The Final Taboo?

We live in a world obsessed with love and loneliness. Every song on the radio is about falling for someone, or losing someone. Every film and book seems to be about the beginning or end of a relationship. Romance (in the modern sense, not the Don Quixote sense) as a genre is huge, and has been for the last three hundred years.

Yet all the statistics say that we're becoming an increasingly isolated species. Most new households contain singletons. People aren't marrying until their late twenties or early thirties, and more and more marriages are ending in divorce. The wealth of internet dating websites suggests that it is harder than ever to find love. The self-help shelves groan with books on preparing yourself for love, finding the perfect partner, making it work, and getting over it when it doesn't. We are a world obsessed.

What happens, then, if you don't want to find love? If you don't feel that drive towards coupledom, if you can't understand what makes everyone else lose their heads if they're single for more than five minutes? Asexuality is a topic rarely mentioned in this day and age. People don't understand it. We are conditioned by fiction and the media to feel incomplete without an "other half", to feel worthless, as if we need to be in a relationship to be a valid person.

Any singleton will know the endless round of being set up time and again by smug marrieds (think Bridget Jones). It's nauseating at the best of times, and that's for people who want to find someone special. It must be soul destroying for those that don't want to be set up. Their friends, of course, mean well, and just want them to have the same things that they have themselves, or that they too are looking for. Civilisation is all about conformity: we all want to be the same.

Asexuality can take many forms. There are people in this world who love fiercely, but have no interest in sex. There are people who have no interest in love at all. There are people all along the spectrum of these extremes.  Without the widespread obsession with all things romantic that has gripped us, perhaps there would be more people prepared to admit this. Asexuality underlines this obsession, it marks it for what it is. After all, why should we have to be in a relationship at any given point; why does it matter if we are single or not? What does it say about us as individuals if we can't face life on our own?

I was privy to a conversation -- totally serious -- discussing changing the name of a certain LGBT group to LGBTTQQO. (That's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Other, of course). Thankfully, common sense prevailed and the original name stood. But 'A' was never considered as a category of its own, it was to be grouped under 'O'. From that pretty extensive list of other sexual identities, O represented only the truly marginal (straights didn't get a look in, of course. We are inclusive to all but them!) A was the only 'mainstream' (i.e. clearly named and identified) sexual identity excluded from discussion. The A's stand alone, as in life. This suggests that A is not considered a sexual identity at all, but rather a lack of identity. To be asexual is to be without, to be incomplete.

It is staggering when we consider how much of our sense of self-worth is based on who we share our beds with; how much of our lives are defined by the frequency with which we get laid. If you're not in a relationship throughout your teens and twenties; if you're not married / co-habiting by thirty; if you've not got children - or at least a dog - there's something wrong with you. Family nag, friends look at you with pitying eyes, work colleagues whisper behind your back.

That someone might not want these things is unimaginable. It calls into question everything that defines us as valid in society's eyes. If someone can live life on their own - happily, not wanting more - then why can't everyone else? We reject these people, there are numerous names that we call them, loner, recluse. We pity them. Perhaps because we are afraid, deep down, that they pity us more.

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Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now http://www.amazon.com/Kate-Aaron/e/B0058DL8A0/

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Bisexuality and Monogamy ~ A Modern Conundrum

"I don't believe in bisexuals." How often have you heard - or said - that? I admit, I'm one of the crowd, I have uttered those words. Yet, even as I do, a part of me revolts against it. What is it we mean when we say that we don't 'believe' in bisexuals? Why shouldn't someone be attracted to people, indiscriminate of gender?

The queer theorist in me embraces the idea. It's the ultimate F-You to the heteronormative masses. It messes with the system, it defies How Things Are Done. The problem, I think, with accepting bisexuality, is that we in the west are a monogamous lot. Gay, straight or whatever, we are all looking for someone special - emphasis on the one. A genuine, honest-to-god bisexual doesn't stand a chance once they find themself in a monogamous relationship. Eyebrows will be raised, and people will whisper "oh, so they're really..." Until we embrace polyamory, the idea of bisexuality will always be alien.

The problem with this, of course, is that, whether we have 1 partner or 20, we should still be free to embrace any possibility. Defining one's sexuality, by default, defines the scope of potential when looking for new partners. It limits our choice. We recognise this when we call bisexuals 'greedy' - a term I personally find distasteful. By tying ourselves in binaries - gay/straight - we are negating the existence of any third possibility.

When citing historical precedence for bisexuality, most people quote the ancient Greeks, noting that the men often had relationships with each other, as well as with their wives. However, the Greek socio-sexual system of pederasty was governed by far more than sexual desire. It was strictly regulated, and cannot be considered 'homosexual' (even if the term were not anachronistic in this context). Plato, in the Symposium, tells a tale about the origin of sexual desire. According to the legend, men and women were once twice the creatures they are now, looking like two people back to back. There were three sexes: male, female and hermaphrodite. They grew vain and revolted against the gods, who cut them in half so they would never be strong enough to challenge them again. But the halves were miserable in their separation, and neglected the gods. The gods gave them sex in order that they might bond with their lost halves again, and cease to mourn their separation. True men were drawn to each other, forming 'gay' male couples; ditto with true women; and the hermaphrodites formed 'heterosexual' pairs. According to this model, bisexuals could not possibly exist, despite the frequency with which men had relationships with both sexes. They could only be "truly" attracted to one sex.

In modern, western society, bisexuality has other hurdles to get over. Most of the gay people I know started by admitting to being bisexual. Most out celebrities initially claimed to be bisexual, not full-on gay. Bisexuality is seen as a useful stepping stone to admitting one's homosexuality, whether that be to your mother, or the media. In addition, I know a number of straight people who have, at one point or another, claimed to be bisexual because it's "daring" and they want to stand out. Universities are full of these people, who have never done anything more daring than share a drunken kiss with someone of the same sex. We all know that they will soon want you to forget their claims to bisexuality and not snigger at their wedding. This gives the masses the impression that bisexuality is, at best, transient. It is not a permanent state of being.

There are also people in this world who happily identify as gay / straight, but have had relationships with both sexes. I met a man a couple of weeks ago whose girlfriend had told him she was really a lesbian and left him for another woman. His reaction to that was to sleep with another man - just to see what it was like. He's still straight, but admitted that his girlfriend coming out was the push he needed to admit that he'd always been curious what sex with another man would be like. Straight people have gay sex - and even full-on relationships - all the time. I personally have had relationships with honest-to-god-straight women. Gay people do have hetero relationships, although less often. In my experience, gay people would rather deny themselves someone that they were totally in love with than "go back into the closet" for anyone.

All of this suggests that sexuality is far more fluid than we recognise it to be. Perhaps there is a lot of truth in the old adage that everyone is "really" bisexual. The problem is applying that label to it. People would rather say they were straight, in a gay relationship, or vice versa, than say they're bisexual. Bisexuality has the stigma of indecision about it. Yet if we embraced it, we would probably be a happier, better-adjusted lot as a result. As I have said, people will deny themselves the chance of love and happiness because a label means more to them than a potential lover. Bisexuality is the ultimate "label-free" label. Bisexuals have an infinity of potential before them when looking for a new relationship. The problem is that we love our labels. We want people to confirm to our binairies, and we want them to end up in monogamous relationships. Until we can let our labels go, I fear bisexuality will never be widely embraced. The sad thing is, we are only hurting ourselves by denying it.

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Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now http://www.amazon.com/Kate-Aaron/e/B0058DL8A0/

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Problem with Pronouns...

...in the context of writing a same-sex love scene.

WARNING! I've tried to keep this PG13, but extra-sensitive readers (those who don't like men kissing) look away now!

When writing a hetero love scene, it's very easy to determine who is doing what to whom. "He did this / she did that". How do you make the action clear when you're writing "he did this / he did that" ?

The simplest solution is to over-use names, for example in my story Danny's Boy I could easily write "Danny did this / Ste did that" all the way through. It's repetitive, dull, and seems unnecessary, even if it isn't.

The other way to do it is to have a first person narrator - "I did this / he did that". Doesn't help if your narrator is omniscient.

This is something I am very conscious of, as I've narrated more than my fair share of same-sex love scenes in the past (and intend to do so in the future too!) The method I've tried to employ is to narrate each paragraph from the perspective of one character, who is proactive for the duration. That way, you only have to repeat a name every couple of sentences, instead of constantly. For example:

Danny was startled by the sound of the shower door opening: he whirled round to see Ste stood there naked ...He moved over to let him in, their bodies pressed together in the small cubicle. He wrapped his arms around Ste's neck and kissed him lingeringly.

However, I know I have a tendency to switch focus mid-paragraph, in which case I start with the name of the person to whom the focus is changing, as in:

Danny lifted himself, reaching between their bodies to unfasten Ste's belt, unzip his jeans. He bit his lip and smiled, looking into his eyes as his hand slid into the heat of his boxers. Ste arched forward as Danny touched him, his eyes fierce slits as he fought to keep from closing them against the rush of desire he felt as Danny's fingers tightened around his...erm, you get the picture!

Therefore in the above example, he is Danny in the first two lines, and then he changes to Ste for the last. Did you follow it?

The trouble is finding a solution that doesn't (A) leave your reader thinking that you think they're a moron, or (B) losing your reader totally. One way of solving this is to make the action very, very clear. For example, if Person A is tied up, it's unlikely to be Person B whose wrists are chafing against the straps. Not that I write BDSM...but it would certainly make life easier!

In the name of research - honest! - I have recently read a lot of m/m and f/f erotic shorts. I find most authors tend to stick to the name-repetition solution, and it clearly works for them. I am striving for something subtler, but then I have recently had my wrist slapped for not being clear enough. Maybe the 'say my name' brigade have the right idea after all...

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Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now http://www.amazon.com/Kate-Aaron/e/B0058DL8A0/