Monday, May 2, 2011

A Fucking Shame

*Note: There are  no links in this since I wrote it as an essay, not a blog post. If you don't know what I'm referring to in the first paragraph, go watch this news video. I'm probably going to keep writing on this, but here's where I'm starting.


Incensed about the news story "outing" an English teacher who writes erotic romance in her spare time under a pseudonym, I blogged, commented, and shared links like a madwoman. My righteous indignation nerve had been set off and I was twitchy. I couldn't quite believe my ears when I heard it suggested that this woman choose between being an English teacher or being a author. WTF???!!! Probably most English teachers either are, or harbor a desire to be, writers. Surprise! The newscasters used words like "racy" and "salacious" with a tittering glee–wink wink nudge nudge–that bothered me.

I'd never read any of this author's work, hadn't even heard of her before since I'm not much into romance, erotic or otherwise. But I was filled with a fury, ready to fight for her right to write whatever she wanted to. Proudly proclaimed "I write erotica!" Yet, while reading the overwhelmingly supportive comments on the news site and elsewhere, I felt a vague unease. Over and over again people wrote that her life was "now ruined" in some way or another because her "cover had been blown." Reading comments like "only her imagination" and "she used a pen name" and "not like it's pornography" and even "she should have been more careful" bothered me.

The implication from the outraged parents was that this woman had done something wrong by writing about sex, that somehow she was a threat, especially to the "young minds" she was entrusted with.  It seemed to me that this was akin to slut-shaming. But even the positive comments seemed ambiguous to me, and I couldn't help but sense some victim-blaming. Was I perhaps taking all these comments personally?

What bothered me the most though, was this: why could I get all fired-up for someone else, but not myself? Just a week before I'd been wailing, quite literally at times, about not being able to write anything. I'd sit down at the keyboard and

nothing.

Well, maybe not nothing, but I was most definitely stuck. I even blogged about being stuck. Yes, there is irony there. More than one person got after me to "stop writing about not writing!" But it seemed the only thing I could. The ideas and words were in my head, but I was afraid to put them down, make them solid. And I knew why, but I didn't want to admit it. What I hated seeing applied to another person was something that I had no trouble at all burying myself under.

It was shame. Or more accurately, is. An insidious, permeating sense that there is something wrong with me for wanting to write about sex. Oh, I'm continually doing battle with it. I have a custom-made necklace with the words "Fuck Shame" stamped in the metal. I'd won it in a contest, and was asked "will you really wear it?" I said sure! And sometimes I do wear it proudly. But sometimes, depending on where I am, I pull the pendant around so it's hidden by my hair. More often than not it languishes in my jewelry box for months. That pretty much sums up my internal conflict with not only writing about sex, but sex itself. I want to/I'm afraid.

Despite having what my husband calls a "one-track-mind," I was in my early thirties before I even wrote any erotica. It was a gorgeous Spring day and I'd taken a walk down by a creek that flowed near our house. I was acutely aware of the sensuousness of walking through the tall ferns and found a wonderful little spot under a myrtle tree where the sun dotted the ground. When I got home, I sat down with my journal out in the yard and wrote down a detailed fantasy/"story" involving a woman taking her husband to a spot like the one I'd found, and having incredible sex with him there. I wrote detailed and lush and found myself so turned on by the time I finished writing that I had to lock myself in the bathroom and quick masturbate. All good, right? Well, as I wrote it then, the woman snaps out of her fantasy. Also, I wasn't able to show the "story" to my husband. I can't remember why I didn't, though I know I wanted to. But I was scared, not quite sure where what I'd written had come from. And so I kept it to myself.

It would be another ten years or so before I typed it up and showed it to him. And though I wrote other erotic stories around the time I got up the nerve to share that first one, I couldn't share those. Why? Because I realized that even though the characters were fictional, the settings fictional, the dialogue fictional, the desire to experience the sex that I was writing about was real. I really wanted to do those things. Have sex outdoors, suck cock in the shower, have wonderfully uninhibited anal sex, and much more. But though I intellectually knew those things were not "wrong" or "bad," I felt shame.

Yeah, about now I'm sure you're going WTF? Nothing wrong with ANY of that! Well, yeah, I know. But if sex is something that evokes shame, maybe because a person is an incest survivor, as I am, the shame surrounding sexuality can set up a nasty feedback loop. I'm ashamed of being ashamed, which makes me more ashamed of being ashamed, so, I'm ashamed, etc. etc. ad nauseum. And it's fucking hard to break out of that loop, because once it starts, it feeds on itself. The term "meltdown" is quite an apt description of what ensues.

So why do I want to write about sex if it causes me such distress at times? Good question. Maybe through writing erotica and stuff like this, I'm trying to figure out my relationship with sex and how that fits into my relationship with the world at large. It's also my way of fighting back, hopefully shoving the shame a bit further out of the way, so it doesn't constantly trip me up. Because it sure has sent me sprawling at times, and still does. And I'm sure I'm not the only one. The pavement is littered with us. Another reason I want to write about sex is I want to figure out why I didn't end up hating it. Even though some of my sexual interactions haven't been completely healthy (excuse me while I ROFLMAO), I love sex, and intend to keep fucking till the day I die. I can say that because I'm having a good day. But when I'm in a shame spiral, I want to never be sexual again. There I am, facedown on the ground.

I consider myself to be "sex-positive" and try to be open-minded when it comes to the wide range of sexual ways of being (though because of my issues, there are some things I don't know if I'll ever be comfortable thinking about–such as sexual age-play). But despite a gut-level ick reaction, I'm intensely curious about how people's sexualities manifest themselves. And that curiosity extends to myself. Spending time getting to know other erotica authors in blogland, I found that this curiosity is shared by others. Here were people who wanted to write this stuff for the same reasons I did.

But when I was dealing with my incest issues, I tended to think of my sexuality in terms of brokenness. I couldn't see my fantasies or desires (well, the non-vanilla ones) as anything other than evidence of my damage, and even took that as far as trying to rid myself of a particularly potent three-way fantasy. Even though it was more than twenty years old at the time, having been planted by a former lover, and pretty much guaranteed to either get me turned on or bring me to orgasm, I wanted to "get rid of it." At the time, I saw everything through shame-colored glasses, and this really hot fantasy was something that looked "sick" to me. I couldn't shake it though, and it would take quite a few more years for me to accept this as one of my hot buttons.

And this is where one of the oft cited comments of "it's only imagination" got under my skin. Because, while there are situations I imagine that I'm not all that interested in having happen "in real life," there are others that I do, and I can't explain why the difference. When I'm with other sex-positive type folks, I don't feel any conflict. I can feel good about myself. The shame fades into the background. But just let the question "how could you think those thoughts?" be asked, and I'm not sure how to respond. And I get afraid. It's rather circular. Brave, afraid, brave, afraid.

As for the pseudonym thing, when I first contemplated submitting some of my stuff for publication, I had a name all picked out. But because I worried that I was thinking of using a pen name out of shame (rather than practical issues like a job that could conceivably be lost, and don't get me started on that!), I used a part of my real name. Eventually I started using my full name. Why? Because I don't want to be ashamed. I shouldn't have to be ashamed. That's my thing.  I have no problem with other writers using pen names. I know plenty of them and I know they've given a lot of thought to it and they don't use it out of shame. But it's a shame that they have to.

Is what I write considered by some to be pornography? I imagine so. And when I pull up my little dictionary widget and look up the word, here's the definition that I get for pornography: "printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings."  Well then, yeah, I write pornography, since I sure hope it stimulates erotic feelings. Why is that not as valid as writing to stimulate aesthetic feelings? Poetry anyone? Or emotional feelings? Horror, mystery, thriller, chicken soup–the list goes on. Hell, even cookbooks can evoke strong emotions!

As for being careful, you can only be just so. I don't want to live in paranoia. Our society is pretty fucked up when it comes to sex. And hiding it and not talking about it just perpetuates the worst and stifles the best. I've always admired those folks that just don't give a fuck what others think of them. Yeah, maybe they feel shame at times, but they fight it. And you know what? I want to be like that.

And what of this piece of writing? What's the purpose of it? It's just me trying to figure out why the fuck I got so aggravated over the Judy Mays "outing" incident and then went into a major shame spiral about my own desire to write sex. Standing on the outside, I can say that I have every right to write about anything I damn well please. But when I'm in the maelstrom, there is nothing but the shame. I tell myself that I should give up writing, utterly and completely. Yes, deny and give up something that makes me who I am. Again, WTF???!!! That's shame talking, and I need to learn to recognize it and learn to talk back to it.

And those people who are so quick to condemn those of us who dare to put sexual thought to paper, or on the internet, my suspicion is that they feel the pull of the erotic too, but because of shame, they can't accept that in themselves or in others. They're like kids that aren't having any fun and want to stop the fun of others. It's like they're saying I can't enjoy my sexuality, so don't you dare enjoy yours!  Well, that's just a fucking shame. So, I guess I'll keep writing. Imagine I'll outrage some, piss off others. But maybe somewhere, someone like me will read my words and think, I can do that! Wouldn't that be nice?

8 comments:

Salonnière & Muse Susana Mayer, Ph.D. said...

Seems like your writing again, YES! Keep at it woman, journal, rant, rage. I'm certain someday you will view your shame as a scar and no longer a wound.

Susana
The Erotic Literary Salon

T. Harrison said...

I've been feeling much the same way about my writing and the direction of my fantasies. I've had that circular conversation with myself. Only recently (read this year) have I started fighting through that shame to admit that,yes, I do write about sex and yes, it is often kinky and feel okay with it. This past weekend I actually 'outed' myself to a group of friends. I still felt that wave of shame but, I fought through it. Handed them all my card and waited for the shit storm. There wasn't one. Instead, there was actual awe and surprise and all the arguments I had prepared for why I write dirty didn't even need to be used. Give it time. It'll come.

Craig Sorensen said...

Such a fine essay, Robin. I don't have much to add, except to say that I understand a lot of what you feel as you struggle with the social stigma.

I keep coming back to the point that, if we wrote about violence, no one would question our works. The notions of our society are so twisted, that depictions of sexuality are viewed as anti-social, but it's okay to write about murder in very graphic terms.

It just isn't right.

I hope the essay you wrote helps you to find more freedom to express yourself.

Emerald said...

I so appreciate the juxtaposition of feeling a certain way/ways on behalf of others and simultaneously not protecting/respecting/defending oneself in the same way(s).

Also, it seems to me that at least to some degree, you are already recognizing shame—that awareness is indeed profoundly important. Congratulations.

Craig, such a relevant (and sad) point about depicting violence.

Thank you for sharing, Robin.

Jo said...

Yes! I recently read a point about a film with a graphic scene of a woman being murdered passing the 15s censor, but the film with a woman having an orgasm didn't. Mutilation and murder is fine, but female pleasure isn't. It's so twisted.

I liked this a lot, Robin. It's all a process, I suppose. Things get easier, and they will keep getting better with each generation too, I hope. America has some very twisted values though.

Erobintica said...

Finally able to come back here and reply to comments.

Thank you Susana. Hopefully it will someday be a scar that I don't have to keep picking open.

T. - I remember all the times I have 'outed' myself to friends, and each time I get so worried that we won't be friends anymore and yeah, I've waited for that "shit storm" and so far there hasn't been one. But I do find that most of my friends don't go reading anything much, and if they do, they rarely say anything. And yeah, I still take that lack of response as negative response. That is something I have to get over. Thanks for commenting. :)

Hi Craig, yeah, exactly. It all comes down to the fact that we've got such horrendous hang-ups when it comes to sex. And thanks for the encouragement.

Thanks Emerald. I've been ashamed to admit to shame, LOL, because I didn't/don't want to feel ashamed. And I'm not. Not really. So, it's convoluted and I'm trying to figure it out.

Jo, oh geez, don't get me started! LOL. Yeah. And I think the whole world is pretty fucked up, with small pockets of sanity.

Janine Ashbless said...

This is wonderful stuff Robin. All power to your writing elbows!

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