Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Difficulties of Consent

So today I got to thinking about non-con and dub-con, which I love to read and to write. And guess what? I'm not going to apologise for that. I like exploring the blurry lines and the grey areas and all the nasty dark little corners in the human psyche. Just because. 

But if you don't like to read non-con or dub-con, I have no desire to change your mind. Each to their own. 

The problem I'm having lately with non-con and dub-con is one that I've sort of touched on before. You write a story, and then it is edited, and changed, and sometimes it's different to what you intended. 

My first draft of Tribute was way harsher than the final draft. Some nasty shit went down. And I was advised by my editor and publisher, who obviously know more about this sort of thing, that I needed to strengthen the romance side of things. Stockholm syndrome is apparently not a happy ending. Who knew? 

Disclaimer: I am in no way complaining about my editor and publisher, because guess what? They know what sells, and I wanted to sell this book. 

But the issue I had, I think, in the end, was that you have this bastard of a character who basically imprisons the young prince, has his evil way with him in lots of varied and interesting ways, and then you have redeem him sufficiently that not only will readers buy the fact that the prince falls in love with him, but also that he's worthy of that love. I think we'll all agree that the HEA in Tribute was on shaky ground. 

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the next issue: that of non-con and dub-con and the Amazon crackdown on books featuring them. 

The recent publicity surrounding the pulling of self-published erotica with non-con and dub-con was a vast overreaction to the issue, but it's been coming for a while. Those of us who aren't self-published knew, because whenever we wrote non-con or dub-con our editors would tell us that it would be difficult to get the third party vendors (aka Amazon) to put it up for sale. 

In The Good Boy, J.A. Rock and I culled the absolute shit out of a scene between Lane and Acton, because our editor felt it would be too graphic for third party vendors. 

In Tribute, Kynon, despite being in chains, verbally consents to being made Brasius's. That was put in because my editor felt it was important. Surely the fact he's in chains and has his kingdom to save negated whatever choice he ever had in the matter? It wasn't true consent, and I think we all knew it. And I was totally okay with that. 

Because there is a place for the rape fantasy. It is a healthy and normal part of human sexuality, and, I think, allows people -- although the rape fantasy seems to be more popular in women -- to indulge in the fantasy of being "forced" to engage in sexual acts without taking responsibility for initiating them. At its most basic level, I think the rape fantasy is all about "Well, you can't do anything about it, so you might as well enjoy it." 

And I can't emphasise enough that there is a world of difference between the fantasy of rape and a real rape. 

The main issue I have with the guidelines from Amazon is that there is no acknowledgement of this difference. As though somehow the rape depicted in Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and the rape depicted in The Virginal Nun meets the Rampaging Viking (not a real title, I hope) are in any way comparable. 

Rape is rape. And rape fantasy is rape fantasy. 

So this is where writers get creative. We dilute our non-con into dub-con, and then we soften the blow of that dub-con by making it all okay in the end. Is this disingenuous? Hell, yes. But we do it because these are the rules we have to play by. In an attempt not to have their books pulled, authors are writing what any court of law would consider non-con, and twisting it ever so slightly into dub-con. Because that way your book has a better chance of escaping the cull. And to me, disguising non-con as dub-con seems a lot less honest than saying, "Yep, it's total non-con. Enjoy." 

Which is why, BTW, I never even tried to put The Last Rebellion up on Amazon. 

They don't like that sort of story over there. Meanwhile, go and order a copy of GTA V. There's this awesome part where this woman is getting raped on the side of the road and you can see the guy's dick and everything...

Nah, it's okay. It's not written in a book, so it's totally fine. 


MightyMaeve said...

Thanks for writing out your thoughts and sharing them. I am of similar mind; you've captured my feeling as well.

Lisa said...

Thanks Maeve! I think it's a tricky subject since with most people you're immediately on the defensive, having to explain why you would like such a thing. :)

I wonder if people who enjoy bloodthirsty video games are given the same strange looks!

Unknown said...

I am so glad that you shared this information about Tribute. Of all your books, I've always had trouble with it for this very reason. It felt wrong that all the non consent was glossed over and made "okay." I always thought that it just took you one book to really hit your stride as it were.

I work professionally with victims of rape and sexual abuse and I'm currently studying to get certified as a sex therapist (and just try explaining that you like to read non consent erotica in that context!) I would just like to share some observations from my work that might be relevant to what you've said here.

People seem to really like to believe that we live in a black and white world where consent is always clear, where we can recite slogans like "no means no," and be firmly on the "right" side. But after you talk to a timid college student who says, "Well, I didn't want to, but I gave him a blowjob so he wouldn't have sex with me," or you hear a rape victim say, "Well, I must have wanted it somehow because I got an erection," or "because I had an orgasm" (and yes, this does happen, even in very violent and completely nonconsensual situations), you start to get a clue that consent isn't as clear cut as you thought. It's a continuum. And consider marriages in which a woman thinks she "owes" her partner sex. Or the first fumbling intimacies of adolescents in which they think they know what they're doing, but actually haven't a clue. Or incest survivors that learned to at least take a small bit of control over the timing of their abuse by seducing the abuser. Or some BDSM practices that are consensual, but involve force and restraint and all the trappings of non consent.

I would actually say that most of the "consent" in most people's sex lives is dubious to some degree. True, full, genuine consent requires the ability to say no. You have to have the freedom and the confidence to refuse, in order for your consent to be real, and very few people actually have that, or have had it throughout history.

I know that this makes people uncomfortable, but it really is a fact of our species. (And other species, too-because both dogs and dolphins rape each other, another thing people really don't want to hear.)

Which brings me to two of things I think are wonderful and amazing in your writing (and I hope you keep on for a long, prolific and very profitable career.) The first is that you continually play with that continuum, comparing degrees of consent. I think the experience of the two main characters encountering alien rape in Dark Space is an especially good example of this. So are Lane's thoughts and questions comparing his two partners in The Good Boy.

The second thing I love is that you write about survivors. About the negotiation of the self that has to happen to survive genuine trauma. I hate this bullshit that gets written by people who have obviously never witness genuine trauma in which the victim never consents in any way and is entirely unchanged by the experience. What is fascinating (and compelling and sexy) about survivors is how they manage to adapt to the horrific things that happen to them. How they even manage to find any scrap of joy or empowerment in an intolerable situation.

And just by the way, when you look at all of the conquest and rape and slavery throughout our history, Stockholm syndrome, far from being some sort of contemporary aberration, is incredibly adaptive. It's a way for the "virginal nun" (read whatever victim was raped and carried off into some form of slavery for the rest of her/his life) to survive the "rampaging viking" (read whatever conqueror did the rape and kidnapping.)

So, I've now written an essay in response to your essay, and all I really meant to say was thanks, you write wonderful stuff. I love you dub/non consent stories. Please continue.

Lilia Ford said...

Great comment--and I am grateful that you took the time to express the issues so fully, and gave us the benefit of your experience which a lot of us can only speculate on. Those who enjoy non-con stories or fantasies often feel guilty or evil as if we somehow contribute to real-world violence, which when you think about it, is pretty absurd. We need to keep fantasy and reality more clearly separate, which is a world away from denouncing or repressing fantasy.

Lisa said...

Mary, thanks so much for your incredible response. You’ve said so many things that I agree with, and you’ve said them more eloquently than I ever could have. I absolutely agree with you that most of the consent in people’s sex lives is dubious to some degree, because every relationship is to some extent also a power struggle, and we don’t negotiate every sexual encounter like in a BDSM club. Maybe that’s where consent is clearest, even though it might appear the opposite: with carefully agreed upon roles, limits, and activities. But that’s not how most people interact on a daily basis.

I work in a police station as a dispatcher, so the contact I have with rape victims is usually right after when it’s happened. I have the greatest respect for people like yourself who help the survivors on a long term basis. But I’ve spoken to many, many DV victims over the years, who phone up for advice, and I’ve had to tell them that no, it’s not okay that he held you down and had sex with you if you didn’t want it. That’s called rape. I think a big part of the problem is most people think of rape as something that happens to a victim in a dark alley, and not something that can occur in a relationship.

Your thoughts on Stockholm Syndrome were fascinating, and I wholeheartedly agree. Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological coping mechanism. It’s necessary. And yes, given humanity’s track record with slavery and “might is right”, of course it’s older than the hills.

The concept of personal choice and freedom is really only very new, and not at all universal. What’s the difference between the ravaged nun and the arranged bride? Maybe the arranged bride is lucky enough not to be subjected to overt violence, but she’s still in the exact same position as the nun psychologically. So she adapts. And it’s that process of adaptation that fascinates me.

This is a subject I could talk about forever, but I won’t! Thanks again for your fantastic comments, and for your very kind compliments!

Lisa said...

Hi Lilia! I can't agree more about the need to distinguish between the fantasy and the reality of rape. We do it all the time with violence -- in movies and video games -- but there is a very strange double standard once it's about sex. I had someone reply to this where I cross-posted on Booklikes, who called it out as sexist: because the shoot-em-up games are generally men's fantasy, and the dub-con fantasies are generally for the women. And society still doesn't approve of women owning their sexuality.

Miriamele said...

Funny, when Kynon had to give verbal consent it actually made the scene a lot worse for me. I felt it was pure hypocrisy.
And its not strictly about the concept of consent but I felt the same way about the things these people did to the countries they conquered, so they attack fairly prosperous countries, but of course it's all their fault for not rolling over immediately and accepting terms from a foreign power. They burn the lands, men fight and many of them die, so food production becomes severely limited, then they take away the treasury (which is not for the king's personal fun, but for the country's emergencies as well), then install foreign "advisors" and dictate costly reforms without accepting "excuses", and then they feel they did something positive beside making their senators wealthier.
I mean feudalism and monarchy were not very good systems but they were working systems and anything else needs a certain level of development and doesn't just happen from one moment to the other, especially in countries beggared by war.

I think I would've like this book a lot more if it was simply brutal without these episodes like a sadistic serial rapist asking for verbal consent or conquerors picturing themselves to be reformers (well, conquerors have been believing that throughout history)

Miriamele said...

It is also interesting how everyone fixates on the non-con in fiction, a lot more than for example murders in fiction. In some books the heroes kill quite a lot and it's often dubious whether these killings are justified or not. There are all sorts of books even for young adults with a likeable assassin as a heroe or heroine.
I'm for example reading Heat by R. Lee Smith and many reviewers who comment that they are uncomfortable with the non-con, dub-con sex in the book, don't seem to bother about the (graphic) murders, (one of the victims was a kid).

Lisa said...

It was a lot more hypocritical, wasn't it? :)
I do want to write a sequel which explores the idea of the Segasans as "liberators" and calls them on their hypocrisy but with the current climate against non-con, I'm not sure that I could.

Lisa said...

Exactly! For some reason violence is more appropriate than sexual violence, when really they should be viewed equally. They're both violations, right? It's a strange double standard.

Miriamele said...

Oh, I'd so like to see such a sequel!
Too bad about the current climate:(

Lisa said...

It is too bad! I'll probably keep working on it anyway, and see how it goes. :)