Monday, March 10, 2014

Hurt/Comfort

Sacchi Green

I thought some of you writers with more experience in this area than I might already have gone here, but I’ll just muddle along and be glad if someone else does tackle this particular niche of erotica, and do it with more authority.

I see the term hurt/comfort now and then, mostly with regard to M/M erotica written by women. When I decided to Google the term to make sure it meant what I thought it did, I was surprised at how many posts showed up, and also, foolishly, surprised that all the mentions I took the time to read were about fanfic, not mainstream erotica (if there even is such a thing as mainstream erotica.) Apparently there are large numbers of “ficcers” getting a huge and gleeful thrill from torturing their favorite male characters from TV and movies in their writing, and then making other characters comfort them in ways that frequently lead to hot sex.

I know of at least one published writer who has written stories where the hurter and the comforter are the same person, rather like a good cop/bad cop routine all rolled into one person, and I have an impression that tactics like that have often been used with military prisoners, among others. The “Stockholm Syndrome” where captives come to identify with their captors doesn’t necessarily depend on being mistreated, but it’s been described as a form of traumatic bonding where a person (or a group) is intermittently abused by another. “Intermittent” seems to be the key word here, and I’m assuming this indicates an alternation of comfort of sorts with the hurt.

What’s the appeal here, in terms of erotic fiction? Does the reader or, for that matter, the writer, who seem in these cases to be mostly women writing about men for women, get to feel powerful when a central character is tortured and then also feel powerful when another character gets all vulnerable and empathetic and comforts the hurt one? Does it express the ambivalent feelings that women in a patriarchic culture have toward men?  

I think there’s a difference between this sort of hurt/comfort and the Dominant/submissive interplay in the world of BDSM, but I may be way off base here. I belonged to a women’s BDSM organization for a while, and knew some expert tops who always followed their scenes of whipping, spanking, flogging, etc. with the after-care period, soothing hurts, bringing the bottom gradually down from the endorphin highs, and up—although “up” isn’t really the right word—from being deep in sub space. The “hurt” was consensual and desired, and the “comfort” wasn’t a reversal but an integral part of the process. Of course this was in the context of “play parties” rather than extended relationships, so one might say it’s comparing vignettes with whole novels and not relevant at all. As I said, I’m pretty clueless about this hurt/comfort thing.

I had meant to approach the comfort theme from the angle of what we need comfort from, and then I derailed myself with this hurt/comfort trope, just because it’s something I’ve wondered about from the viewpoint of a writer. I’m not particularly interested in writing in that vein myself, but I’m still curious about its appeal. Is it only something that interests fanficcers? I think Diana Gabaldon’s books are very much along these lines, but I haven’t read them.

I had also meant to try to work in a personal source of comfort very subtly, but it’s not going to work that way. It’s really not fair to say that finding out good news (on really a very minor matter) is a comfort when one has been in some trepidation about it. More of a relief than comfort. So I won’t say anything about finding out this past Thursday that my most recent anthology, Wild Girls, Wild Nights: True Lesbian Sex Stories, is a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. My writers should get all the credit (and Giselle Renarde, whose story was just praised in a review on Amazon, should get double credit,) but I get to crow about it just the same. Even if I have no excuse to do it here.    



7 comments:

  1. First of all, congrats on the nomination. Yes, the writers wrote fab stories, but you picked 'em and put the compilation together. Artists paint paintings, and another artist, the gallery owner, presents them to their best advantage.

    I don't always 'get' the D/s thing in real life, but allow for different strokes. And it sure is hot to read about.

    In regard to hurt/comfort, I think all writers want to deliver a full spectrum of emotions as well as reality in any serious work.

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  2. Hi, Sacchi,

    Congratulations on the Lammy finalist status! (And you too, Giselle!)

    I recently had a M/M romance author talk about this on my blog (though not in the analytical way you have addressed the topic). She was talking about how she loved to throw things at her heroes - to torture them - in order to make the final resolution all the more satisfying. It's actually quite weird that while romance frowns on dark themes and inconclusive resolutions, it seems to sanction this sort of intermediate torture on the way to the HEA.

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  3. Yay, congratulations on Wild Girls, Wild Nights. Well-deserved!

    This is a helpful analysis of the hurt-comfort trope for me. Now that I've read your post, I must confess that I previously misunderstood what this dynamic is about.

    And Lisabet's point about dark themes v intermediate torture is quite interesting as well.

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  4. Hi Sacchi!


    What's a Lambda literary award?

    I admit BDSM has always been a puzzle to me, although Lisabet has written and explained to me a little about sub-space which is clearly an altered state of consciousness. I think you have to be wired to it. Strange.

    garce

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  5. Hi Garce,

    The Lambda Literary Foundation is relatively big deal in a rather small pond. Their goal is to recognize and promote LGBTQI (etc.) literature. They've been around for quite a while now, with workshops and mentoring programs and, of course, the awards. The award ceremony has become a big event, held in NYC, with such luminaries invited as Guests of Honor as Armistead Maupin and Edward Albee. Publishers or authors enter their work--I think there were something like 700 nominees this year--and judges choose a few finalists in each category. The winners are announced at the ceremony, this year on June 2. I've got in the habit of going, since NYC is just a three-hour train ride away. (I've won once, and had seven finalists so far.)

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  6. Garce, I should also tell you that my CFS for The Princess's Bride has just been posted on the ERA site.

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