By Lisabet Sarai
This week Charlotte has challenged us to discuss our comfort zones - topics we can write and explore without getting scared or squicked or otherwise wanting to stop - and the areas outside those boundaries. When it comes to sexual topics, there's not much that bothers me. I've written orgies , exhibitionism, bondage, all sorts of corporal punishment, infantilism, incest, enemas and golden showers, even so-called blood sports (although there was nothing playful about that tale). I won't say I'm totally relaxed penning stories with extreme elements - I'm more likely to be aroused - but in most cases I'm not uncomfortable.
There is one sort of content that I find induces extreme discomfort, though - any sort of serious violence.
I'm not talking about rough sex here; I've written plenty of scenes where someone wants to be fucked within an inch of his or her life, and someone else gladly complies. No, I'm referring to cases where a character gets beaten, stabbed, burned, blinded, castrated, literally tortured by another. Even if this activity is in the context of a relationship - even if the victim apparently consents - this sort of scene really bothers me. I recognize, a bit sheepishly, that few of my dominants possess more than a subtle streak of true sadism. I've never written a pure sadist, who gets his or her thrills from causing pain as opposed to being in control. That would make me much too uncomfortable.
Back in 2010, I edited Garce's charitable short story collection, Coming Together Presents C. Sanchez-Garcia. One of the tales he included in the manuscript was "Miss Julia's Cake Club". Julia is a poverty-stricken Hispanic woman, beaten and abused by her husband, who lives in an unnamed military dictatorship. She is arrested and tortured by authorities who believe that she's somehow connected to an opposition political movement. Julia dreams of having a beautiful, well-equipped kitchen where she can cook and bake, sharing her love with others. Instead, for reasons she can't begin to fathom, she is subjected to incredible pain, terror and humiliation. One of the story's most extreme scenes offers a chilling description of water boarding, detailed enough to give anyone nightmares.
It was really difficult for me to work on "Miss Julia's Cake Club". It's a true, powerful, serious story about dignity, trust, freedom and redemption. It's not sensationalist or exploitative. Like almost everything Garce writes, it has a spiritual dimension. It is also, at times, intensely erotic, as Julia escapes into her fantasies. I could appreciate all this, but still, I had to force myself to read on.
I reviewed that story at least three or four times over the course of preparing the book for publication. It never lost its impact. It never failed to make me uncomfortable.
It occurs to me, looking back, that consciously or unconsciously, this might have been the author's intention. If one can read such a story of violence and abuse and remain comfortable, perhaps one has lost some aspect of humanity.
Of course, not all violent tales have redeeming social value. Pretty much all of them bother me, though. I especially dislike work that sexualizes cruelty (which Garce's story does not). I can't imagine writing something in that vein. Yes, I do have a scene in Necessary Madness where the villain plans to sacrifice the hero while fucking him, as part of a satanic ritual (and yes, that was pretty tough for me to write), but there's no violence for its own sake (and the hero of course manages to save himself, so there's just the threat of bloodshed, not the fact).
I know, intellectually, that some people find the idea of inflicting serious pain and causing real physical damage to be arousing. I can't understand that, from an emotional perspective - and although I try hard to be tolerant and broad minded, I can't help feeling distinctly queasy.
So despite my carefully cultivated reputation for being a sexual pioneer, open to experimentation, willing to try (or at least to write about!) any sort of perversion, I guess I'm really a wimp.
I make no apologies.