Guest Post by Remittance Girl
I'm guessing that most writers can point, at least in the abstract, to 'barren acres' that prompted them to write stories or novels that, to one extent or another, could be viewed as success. (Hey - just finishing a novel represents success for me. )
But I do have my own quite specific barren acre. I have harboured fantasies of non-consensual sex as early as I can recall. For a long time, I found this very disturbing. Not just because I consider myself a feminist and this fantasy of disempowering myself seemed at odds with that, but because I have experienced rape in reality.
First, I think there the word rape gets thrown around a lot. And there's a propensity for society to conceive of rape as a certain kind of crime – heinous, deplorable, inexcusable and unforgivable. So I want to be careful to be careful about how I use the word in the context of my experience. My experience of rape wasn't particularly violent and my age, and the youth of the person who perpetrated it, were such as to mitigate the circumstances. I was pretending to be a lot older and worldlier that I really was, and he was too young to realize that. I was not traumatized in any deep or long-lasting way. Nonetheless, the realization that things were happening outside my control and without my permission – that feeling of helplessness and anger – stayed with me.
I want to be clear here: my puzzlement and, at a baser level, my disgust with my own fantasies were far more traumatizing, in the long run, than the incident of the rape itself. My barren acre was not the rape, but of my fantasies in juxtaposition to the event.
It has puzzled me why I would have such persistent and vivid sexual fantasies about being forced. It has remained an unreconciled paradox in my understanding of self. And questions of consent and power have, I think, been a consistent theme through a lot of my erotic writing because of it.
However, when I embarked on the writing of Gaijin, I did so with the aim to consciously and unreservedly give myself permission to explore unfettered the eroticism of these fantasies. Until that time, I had been very aware of the sensitivity of writing non-consensual erotica. I had, in fact, practiced self-censorship and the guidelines of my writer's group and of the vast majority of erotica publishers made it easy to do so. But I decided that if there was ever a way to really explore the paradox between my fantasies and the person I believed myself to be, then the best and safest way to do that would be in fictional writing.
I believe this resulted in three successes. To begin with, Gaijin was the first large work I ever published. Not quite a novel, it was nonetheless accepted for publication by Republica Press in 2010. And to this day, it remains my best selling work.
The second success is that its publication allowed me to legitimately enter into the debate on the limits of what is 'acceptable' subject matter for eroticization in fiction.
But for me, by far the most significant success originating from this 'barren acre' of mine was that it did offer me some insight, if not outright reconciliation, of my personal paradox.
Strangely, it wasn't until long after I wrote the book. Through twitter, I had the great pleasure of getting to know an extraordinary woman named Jane Princep. Jane lived through an experience of rape that was orders of magnitude more harrowing than mine. She has been courageous enough to participate in a series of extremely explicit interviews on the event and the long-term effects it had on her life (http://janeprinsep.com/2010/08/14/why-not-me-a-series-of-intimate-conversations/) as part of The Dialogue Project, directed by Karl James. http://thedialogueproject.com/ )I experienced a great deal of anxiety about Jane reading any of my stories and I warned her off them.
Getting to know Jane better, we began to discuss the phenomenon of the non-consensual fantasy. It was really in the context of my concern for her reaction to my writing (and her assurance that she actively sought them out and read my non-con stories because she found them very erotic), that I began to conceive of these types of stories, not as a re-visitation of the rape or a breaking open of an old wound, but as a vehicle by which the real loss of power, of dignity, of control might be overlaid by the repeated re-writing, editing, embellishment and repurposing of the event.
This bad experience, once imposed upon me by someone else, becomes mine. And in making it mine, I can then go on to over-write the parts I find distasteful to me, and replace those with parts I like better. And the more I do it, the more this new, better, more vivid, more pleasurable telling begins to eclipse the original event. In essence, I am rewriting memory.
For a while, I thought this was just a fuzzy, crackpot explanation I'd come up with until I saw this TED Lecture: The Riddle of Experience and Memory (http://blog.ted.com/2010/03/01/the_riddle_of_e/ ) by Dr. Daniel Kahneman on the construction of experience and memory. When we remember an event, what we are really doing is constructing a narrative remediation of that event. And we are not particularly precise about the way we do it at the best of times. It is perfectly possible for someone to be recorded experiencing an event, and remember it in an entirely different light. Memory is to some extent self-storytelling.
I'm not a psychologist or a neurologist or a psychiatrist, but the conclusions that I have come to ring very true to me. My non-consensual fantasies are the way by which I have in the arena of memory and narrative transferred power from my rapist to me. And my barren acre has become my riotously fertile, always filthy and sometimes savage dark garden.