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Forced Pleasure: Non-Con in Fiction

Posted on 2015.06.14 at 11:58
Tags: , , , , ,
This is an old artlicle, but still relevant to cencorship and healing with the written word. I caution sensitive readers to think twice before reading beyond thest first two paragraphs. It's a look at why some writers have to go where others fear to tread. For me, it became a way to deal with the trauma of being held back in the fifth grade. Fictional rape encompasses the shame and humiliation that I felt as a 'failure', that I could not process unless I gave it to fictional characters. Through them, I loved and healed, and found tremendous therapy. Rape in fiction is how I’ve learned to take the hurt out of my own humiliation and put it somewhere else. This confines it to a reality where I control all the pain. It doesn’t control me...

It’s like facing a bully. What once terrified me, has become mine to command, to make dance like a puppet on strings for my entertainment. Little did I know that such content would become the scarlet letter of fiction. Any writer worth their salt has to write about what bothers them, what hurts them, what scares the hell out of them, as well as what makes them happy. You can’t dissect this from the writing experience and still have something worth reading about.

This piece is published elsewhere and was originally titled, Rape Fiction VS Rape Reality.

Let’s get one thing straight so that there is no misunderstanding. I don’t believe it is ever appropriate to harm another individual. I don’t condone actual, physical violence or subjugating another person’s will and rights in any way. A true rape victim deserves all the respect, compassion, and understanding they need. Their reality is to be respected, but not confused with the fictional simulation of rape that someone chooses to create in a fictional body of work. This may be obvious to all intelligent people, but this article is in response to real actions against writers of fictional rape content whose works are judged without discernment between a sincere attempt at quality, and violence for violence’s sake.

The subject matter alone, not the quality of work, has been boycotted by other writers, turned away by artists who refuse to illustrate for "that kind of material," and otherwise prejudged based upon what happens in real life. In some circles, fiction writers are being held accountable for the atrocities of reality. This is simply hatred and fear of rape unchecked and allowed to overthrow common sense.

I’m the author of Sonny Preyer, a fictional novel in which the core is constructed from the trauma of rape, and my inability to "let it go" and write about something more pleasant. I have some thoughts on the boycotting of rape in fiction that I hope will foster a better understanding for those who somehow think that writing a rape scene is as bad as committing the crime itself and feel the need to ostracize and exclude those who do.

Now it’s up to you, the reader, to be honest with yourself and decide if you should continue reading this. Take responsibility for your opinions and feelings and realize you might be offended. You don’t have to continue reading, you already know where I stand. I say this, because no matter what I write or whom I address, someone I wasn’t addressing acts as if I’m using them as a poster child for what I’m trying to say. No, I’m just sharing some ideas and my point of view. I’m not singling you out, Chris or Stacey. I’m not talking about your personal experience so there’s no point in being upset when I don’t get your ideas right. And if you are a survivor of sexual abuse of any kind, please realize this article is intended for writers of fiction, a creative tool, and in no way supports the reality of the crime committed against you.

Getting to it. Why should I limit my life’s work, my mind, my passion, just because horrible things have happened in reality, that I never had a hand in? I write certain rape content because something in me uses the resulting psychological conflict to drive my emotional investment. To understand that, you have to understand me. I suffered a great deal of sexual shame growing up. I don’t know how I got it because I was never abused that way. In fact, no one in my family ever talked about sex directly. So hindsight tells me that silence left my developing intellect to fend for itself. As I looked around me and saw how I didn’t fit in or feel comfortable in my skin the way my friends appeared to, my private pain grew intertwined with my imagination. I failed the fifth grade and was held back. The resulting humiliation worked for my teachers but changed me forever. I became a better student and a more obedient daughter. But I was consumed by shame that never went away and ruled my life.

I hid on the playground, behind a bush, that whole next year because my friends from the first fifth grade were out at the same time as my new fifth grade class, and I didn’t want them to see me. My entire life developed around this trauma in a twelve-year old’s mind. I developed a social phobia. I just wasn’t good enough, wasn’t acceptable, so I didn’t want people looking at me or talking to me. I’ve never talked to anyone about how much being held back hurt me, until the writing of this article. I’m forty-three now. How did I manage to go on to college and forge an adult life? I gave all my pain and dehumanizing shame to the part of me that loves a good drama. The part of me that got through class by daydreaming, that wanted to be a writer, that knew no matter what happens in the imagination, even if it makes me cry, I could always press the reset button. It wasn’t real and that was the great thing about it. All the adventure, none of the repercussions.

But this part of me knew that I didn’t want to face the pain of being left behind, or being seen as less intelligent as the other kids, even though this pain had become a part of my identity and was very much present. This imaginative part of me appreciated and saw the genius in my pain that I couldn’t even begin to look at. So it tricked me with what I love. Boys. Men. But not the confident hot-blooded kind, the odd ones. The ones that were special, intellectual and sexually reserved. The ones that don’t really exist. My imagination made them beautiful beyond belief, to the point that they were so desirable that other straight men wanted them badly. Never heterosex. That reflected a reality in which I was not acceptable. And tragically, these young men could never reciprocate. If they did, I would lose interest. So my imaginary males always had to be resisting. Rape was born out of my need to have them resist as much as possible. Resistance became a barometer of how strongly he was desired, which indicated how desirable he was. I found myself travelling deep into mental realms where humiliation and pain were not only tolerable, but inspired soothing emotions, for he would require great comfort in equal measure to his emotional pain. Never physical pain, because that disappears quickly and is boring. But deep emotional trauma, the kind that I knew well. The more he hurt, the more I could feel love for him because I understood his pain.

As long as he was wearing the mask, I could release tears of sadness, tears of anger at all those authority figures who deemed me unfit for the fifth grade, at my total humiliation and the death of my twelve-year old’s outgoing and lively spirit. A spirit replaced by fear of disapproval and paralyzing shyness. As long as he didn’t bear any resemblance to me, I could face what I feared the most: Shame. Humiliation. Rape encompasses unspeakable exposure and vulnerability at a soul level. It makes perfect sense to me now that I merely replaced the label of Failure with the label of Rape. Both can be such a blunt force to the psyche as to render a person insecure and unable to accept themselves.

He, Sonny, urged me to write "his" story. As I did, I felt my power as a person again. I felt amazing energy that I couldn’t explain rise up through me and onto the page. For once, I was excited about a novel that I knew I would finish. All the characters I wrote before Sonny, were unrealized versions of him. All were my fears of what would happen if I really showed him to people. If I really showed what was in my mind to people. I mean, he has a vagina for god’s sake, yet he is a male. He can’t see himself in any other way. I needed him to be male or I couldn’t write his story. But even I had no idea how far ahead of me my subconscious mind was, and how his anatomy became so important to the story. I just thought he was fascinating and I felt incredible love for him. Someone on the outside might see the obvious, but I didn’t until well into the novel.

Writing him as honestly as I knew how, rape and all, freed my creative drive. Little did I know that the rape theme, which was such a therapeutic instrument for my imagination to use, would become the scarlet letter in many forums, communities, and social groups. I can see why, I’m just saying don’t denounce the subject. Judge the writing to your tastes, but don’t condemn the writer based solely on his or her topic and themes.

I don’t ever want anyone, male or female, to be a victim of rape. But rape in fiction is not real life rape, yet there appears to be a movement against writers and artists whose work contain such content. Anyone who is shunning a writer or denying services to artists based purely on their dislike of the subject, is simply persecuting an innocent person for using their imagination and their freedom to create. You don’t have to agree with what a person is doing, but if you’re so high and mighty, extend that person the courtesy of not lumping them into a group of evil people who’ve written so-called glorified rape scenes, and don’t then proceed to ridicule and shun them. This kind of behavior is hypocritical to the very fairness and compassion those against rape fiction is asking of writers who author such fiction. This type of eye-for-an-eye mentality is only pouring gas on a fire.

Unlike real rape, with fiction rape, you close the book and go on to another one. No one really dies in fiction and no one really gets raped in fiction. Hell, in fiction characters come back to life. There is no crime being committed. Such an imagined act can be a safe way for people to brush up against intense emotion without ever putting themselves, or another person, in danger. Feeling intense emotion is healthy and normal, especially when we fabricate them from our imaginations. Even children make play out of serious issues (cops and robbers), and they have shoot-outs and compete for who croaks the best. And we understand that they need room to do that, most of us. Well, so do adults. So do everyone in between. Just because gun control is a hot topic right now and debates and fears rage, doesn’t mean that kids should stop role-playing. It does mean that parents have to be ready to give guidance more than ever. But no one sees the need to ban children from pretending to be heroes and villains (I hope).

Writers need heroes and villains too, but often disguise them as "themes" and "concepts" etc. We’re far too sophisticated to admit that we’re just playing with our own version of cops and robbers. After all, we want to be respected by our peers (*bullshit*) and wouldn’t be caught dead going against the grain of what is considered acceptable. Puh-lease.

The extreme and real behavior of shunning someone because you heard they write rape-fiction, says to me that such a person can’t tell the difference between reality and fiction. By all means, avoid topics that you know you detest. But avoiding the person behind it based on that alone? Really? No mere written word is responsible for the cruelty that goes on in this world. But if writers feel ostracized for their subject matter, I’m sure this would add to the suffering of all. We’re all connected, whether we like it or not. If someone is banning what I write today, it’s just a matter of time before they’ll be banning what you write and hating you and judging the morality of your work tomorrow.

No one can dictate what form healing will take, or what creativity will be missed when it comes to the private act of reading, and what that person gets out of it. So a campaign against writers who explore rape isn’t much better than real rape because it can cause pain and shame for people who don’t understand why they need to exercise that particular pain, they just know they do. For a writer, pain is coming from a real place and is better left to run free in an imaginary world where it can work itself out. And readers who do not possess the inclination to write, but share the emotional connection, can also benefit. This was the case with me, as both a reader and a writer. My character, Sonny, deals with issues that could not be resolved for me in a real life setting. But as a fictional, male character, he could at least provide me with the psychological armor to face them. I could have fun with this adventure and heal real conflicts at the same time. Don’t be fooled by play. Try living completely without it and you’ll see how seriously important it is. How respectable it is. Play and imagination only seem insubstantial.

Creative types claim to know how important imagination is, but anyone who truly understands what play is about, and the subconscious vitality behind it, would never deny another person his or her own imaginary universe. Moral values keep people from hurting other people, not a campaign against rape-fic writers. I personally don’t want to be shunned, persecuted, or left out in the cold by my fellow writers just because I have an issue they can’t relate to.

I’ve put a lot of thought into this because I’m tired of being ashamed of myself, my pain, and how I choose to bring all that together in my writing. Ashamed, just because a number of stories have caused offense, mine included. I realize this is letting people into my head far more than is cautionary, but I’m doing it to support sincere and valid writers who’ve gone through the same struggle to express their creativity in a way that is prejudged. Also, I’m writing this to try to bridge real peace between the two perspectives for and against rape fiction. If someone believes that what I write could possible cause a person to hurt another, that someone and myself will never agree. Stupidity is a huge factor in deliberately causing harm to others, not to mention mental disorders, and erroneous value systems that are already ingrained. And so much else. We could rid the world of vile topics and themes and these hated crimes will still continue. In fact many of us write about dark happenings to expose our fears to the light of day and drive them away.

My novel and my stance has brought up some questions. I’ve already said that I’ve never been sexually abused. I’m adding that I’m not gay and I’m not considered a transgendered person (I’ve been told). But I do feel like my identity embodies both genders, regardless of my body. The mind is so much bigger, so much more powerful than any idea, belief system, or label anyone can come up with. And just because I am none of those things doesn’t mean that I don’t have the right to write about them, about what they make me feel, what they inspire. I’m not saying that any of the above is morally or immorally comparable to rape, I’m just saying that fiction-rape is just another costume for the mind to dress up in, like an actor taking role-identity as far as he or she safely can. It shouldn’t, by itself, be considered a threat to a moral world. If a reprehensible act engages my creativity and my feelings, this doesn’t mean that I’m a criminal. So don’t treat me like I am. And my fellow writers shouldn’t deny me the same acceptance that they themselves expect amongst each other. After all, to dictate what is and isn’t acceptable for a writer to write about, is an insult to the profession itself. To dictate what a person should and shouldn’t feel is to grossly underestimate human capacity and the engine behind all creative advancement and problem-solving. The subset of people who call themselves writers and artists, you of all people should know better than to persecute other writers for their subjects and themes. You don’t have to like or agree. Just don’t hate and act out against them in any way.

If you want to take away rape in fiction, then take away guns in fiction, murder, kidnapping, poverty, all crime, injustice, and vampires. Especially those vampires. Then, you yourself won’t be a hypocrite because your own writing won’t contain anything perceived as horrible for someone to experience, and therefore evil. Say good-bye to drama. And after all this "cleansing," only the pleasantries of life will be written about, which means there will be very little content because life, as we all know, is more than sunshine and flowers and all that is good. Any writer worth their salt has to write about what bothers them, what hurts them, what scares the hell out of them, as well as what makes them happy. You can’t dissect this from the writing experience and still have something worth reading about.

Now, I’m not defending an excuse to write violence for violence’s sake, without convincing motivation or plot. Not judging it, it’s just not my thing. Neither am I dumping on amateur fiction that doesn’t quite know how to build structure for all of that lovely angst. I’m only talking about people who hear that writing contains rape and immediately conclude that that fact alone is as vile as real rape, and should be avoided at all costs. Yes, I’ve heard people talk like this, with such an air of pride and righteousness.

The great woman who wrote the novel which made my choice to write very clear to me, once said, "Go where the pain is." That’s where your story is hiding (paraphrased). She wrote about the greatest pain in her life, losing her daughter. Who knew it would take the form of homoerotic vampires, setting the standard for generations to copy from then on? That woman is Anne Rice. The book was, Interview with a Vampire, a very intense and fun read in spite of the pain that gave birth to it. It’s interesting to note that her child, Michelle, died of leukemia, a blood disease, and Mrs. Rice, unconsciously I suspect, dealt with this by disguising the affliction behind a beautiful vampiric mask. Pain that we fear in real life has its place within fantasy play. Mental intensity can be experienced without all the fear and real trauma. Coping mechanisms can be triggered until the inner conflict is resolved.

So before you tell someone you will not illustrate for them, support them, or let them into your club because of the filth on their feet, be sure to wipe your own. As writers, we’re all groping in the dark for something we must have full range to explore. We’re trying to find what we need, to pull it out of ourselves, if we must. We can’t do that if we’re discouraged by criticism and exclusion from those who don’t understand and flinch from raw, honest emotion. Discovering what’s inside you, what works for you, isn’t always a pretty process to see. It’s full of immaturity and pitfalls, but writers must all walk down that path and it’d be a lot easier if we supported each other in the act of expressing our screaming souls, rather trying to shut up that unpleasant noise. Especially when those screams take the form of words, worlds, and creative ideas.

Rape in my fiction is how I’ve learned to take the hurt out of my own humiliation and put it somewhere else. This confines it to a reality where I control all the pain. It doesn’t control me. I need to be the master of that pain, manipulate it, dissect it, and put it back together any way that I want. This way, it doesn’t make me feel helpless and powerless ever again. It’s like facing a bully. What once terrified me, has become mine to command, to make dance like a puppet on strings for my entertainment.

Rape content in my work is well-matched against the trauma of failing so publicly and having to make sense of all that pain while taming it. I can’t speak for all writers, but the act of writing is much more than making up words to stimulate people and make them happy. Critics of rape content, or any other content one might not agree with, don’t seem to realize that it is not a writer’s duty to make sure their work pleases everyone. That’s ridiculous. And no writer should do anything that a reader is demanding. No writer ever made that promise to them, yet some readers feel entitled to dictate how writers must use their creativity. Writing comes from such a personal place, demands so much focus and mental endurance, that every writer has to write for themselves first and foremost. Pleasing one’s self is often the only thing that makes a project worth it, and the only thing that gets that project completed. If people don't have sense enough to stop watching or reading what upsets them, that doesn't mean a writer has to change who he or she is and write something nicer to make them feel better. It doesn’t work that way and it never will.


moth2fic at 2015-06-14 18:21 (UTC) (Link/)
You already know I like your story.

I found your post interesting. In working for AO3 I have started coming across more and more 'trolls' and self-righteous critics, who seem to have no concept of the sources of inspiration. literature, art, etc. You are quite right to castigate them. Writers need to explore (in their heads) the whole gamut of human experience and decide what matters most to them and what they want to share with the world. They can clothe it in metaphor (like your rape/failure) or simply write about it directly in a non-fantasy setting. Either way, they are giving readers the possibility of getting to grips with fears, joys, worries, etc. etc. through reading - which is an incredibly important activity.

I don't think the same critics write to the writers of straightforward crime stories criticising their choice of genre. I have no idea why rape is treated any differently from any other crime! Or why it should be acceptable in a novel where a police department tracks down a serial rapist but not in a fantasy that looks at the effects of the rape. My own fantasy writing deals with murder - I don't condone murder, but I do want to explore what makes people commit it. I don't expect to be taken to task for writing about it!!

I think you have come up against a group of people who don't understand writing, the aim of books, the use of books, the world of literature. And they don't understand the use of choice - they can choose not to read your book! I choose not to read about vampires to some extent - personal preference. But I wouldn't dream of criticising Ann Rice for her choice of subject matter!

There is a sense in which the internet gives a platform to these critics which they have never had before because newspapers would have ignored them and publishers would have fielded their criticisms before they ever reached authors. You need to ignore them too - because even if they read your article it will only add to their sense of importance and their horror at your subject matter will be raised all over again.

However, it is good that you can dissect your writing and know where your feelings and ideas are coming from and share that with others. Too many young/inexperienced writers are being intimidated by these self-appointed critics and that should not happen - it's a form of censorship that we should all fight. Hopefully, your article will address that.
(Anonymous) at 2015-06-14 19:52 (UTC) (Link/)
Wow, I didn't know you worked for AO3. That's awesome! I posted this there after removing it from Amazon. Thank you for supporting this kind of free expression. I wrote this after repeated crticism, then reading an author that I enjoyed, then finding her blasting non-con writers (This is another writer, how could she not understand?), then finding an illustrator bragging about turning down writers of that "type". (We are not criminals just because we use tools that frighten you. We leave that to criminals. Learn to separate reality from your fears!. Thank you, Moth!

On a side note, I can no longer tollerate books/movies about vampires. I hate them (unless curiosity gets the best of me, like it did with the Twilight sereis). Anne Rice tricked me. She had me thinking I loved vampires, but it took me years to realize that no, what I loved, was her character, Louis. I've never found a vampire like him and have never been inspired by one since. My compliments to Mrs. Rice for that illusion.
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