I am very glad there are so many helpful articles about avoiding sexism and racism in our writing, but why do so many of them make my blood boil?
These articles are a mix of sensible thoughts, badly chosen examples, condescending attitude, and weirdly unhelpful tips for improving your work. I’ve decided to no longer post those types of articles on Facebook or Twitter, even for the lively debates. The most recent of these, an article about the harmful effects of sexist tropes applied to male characters, left me with a bad taste and these helpful impressions:
- We can only write about well-balanced characters. No Fatally Flawed People!
- All characters must have a wholesome and fulfilling home life, with perfect parents.
- Everyone must be a winner, and nobody can be unattractive AND a bad person.
- No seducing anybody, male or female, ever. No changing your mind.
- Don’t match negative qualities with stereotypes, or… something… What?
I get it, writers are trying to help other writers. I’m trying to pass along helpful tips, too. But the sheer audacity to feel you can write down a set of rules to control what can or cannot be written about stuns and infuriates me. I will use anything and everything I need to tell the story. If I get it wrong and readers don’t like it, fine. I will dig my hole with my own damn shovel, not a borrowed one.
It is the suggestions about sexual assault and rape that really ball up my fists. There are some very uncomfortable truths about these topics. Yes, male rape exists. No, you shouldn’t include rape in the story to make a character more interesting. Seduction exists. Changing your mind isn’t rape. Men and women have the right to change their mind about a situation. Someone can go from dislike or nervous trepidation to accepting sexual advances without losing consent, and can also reverse that decision. Consent isn’t a fixed point.
But to suggest that no one should ever write about sexual situations that aren’t 100% consensual to all parties is ridiculous and unrealistic. Yes, consent and rape are controversial subjects, but to silence writers and other storytellers is sweeping the subject under the rug. As a writer and a survivor of rape, I Will Not Be Silenced! I will use the emotions, unflinchingly, to tell a story. You live through it, or you die inside. You can get professional or spiritual help, but it is the internal self that makes that decision. Being told I can’t write about all of my experiences, whether in fiction or blogging, is my trigger.
Heart pounding, muscles tensed, skin tingling as my senses expand. Weight shifting to my toes, ready to fight or take flight. Hands clenched next to a keyboard as I read a damn article. On a computer. In my home. That is what a f**king trigger is like. It’s a visceral reaction I found–oddly enough–reading words meant to silence me, not words in some novel (with or without a trigger warning).
Trigger warnings are a nice idea, but unrealistic. You can’t bubble wrap the world. You learn to survive, just like with any other type of abuse. You learn to cope. To thrive. In my case, to write.
I guess it’s not too surprising that my plots tend towards Romance (and because I don’t look away from the relationship once it ends up in a bedroom, shifts over to Erotica). The edges of consent and seduction fascinate me. The negotiation of ego verses vulnerability, and who you choose, and why. Who pulls at you, opening your soul, giving you a safe place to simply exist? Who becomes your bedrock, a stable place to stand and face the world?
Do I think surprise kisses are bad? NO! Look, if you misread a situation and go all “50 Shades” in an elevator, you deserve the sexual assault charges. Attraction doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Consent can be implied through action and reaction. We are past the formal courtship rituals of bygone eras, and you don’t have to ask for permission and have a clearly stated “Yes” for every level of contact. Body language exists, learn it.
All first contact, like a touch on the hand, is a risk. Both the chance for outright rejection, and the chance for pushing a line too far because you misread the situation. If no one ever took that risk, there will be a lot less love, happiness, and children in the world. You might as well supply your genetic sample to a computer and let it make the next generation in sterile laboratories. Personally, I don’t want to live in a world without good surprise kisses, even at the risk of bad surprise kisses.
Life isn’t sanitized for your protection. Live, laugh, and get messy. I hope you receive at least one steamy, decadent, toe-curling surprise kiss in your lifetime. It is well worth the risks.