Friday, October 3, 2014

Taboo or Not Taboo? That is the question.

This is quite a long post, I will say now. However it is something rather important that needs to be said.

Regardless of what people think of it, “Fifty Shades of Grey” (FSOG) has done a wonderful thing for bringing erotica, erotic romance and BDSM out into the open and the mainstream. The erotic “Twilight” fan-fiction exploded in popularity, and got everyone talking; not all of it good. Most of the controversy was about how it seemed to worship an abusive male partner, and the severe misrepresentation the BDSM lifestyle. I still see memes and articles from friends who actually know what BDSM entails, and they remain outraged. With the movie soon to be released, that outrage isn’t likely to fade.

However it has seen society begin to accept erotica and an openness about sex. Women brag about reading it; people openly buy it from large displays in shopping centres, and gift it to their loved ones; I’m fairly certain it has come up in numerous book clubs, and there is an endless stream of FSOG fan pages, forums, groups and fan fiction. It has made erotica an exciting new trend. According to an article from “The Guardian” in May last year, FSOG boosted book sales overall, and actually got people reading anything and everything, erotica included. It seems the books awoke an insatiable hunger previously left severely unattended, thanks to society’s view that, according to an article in The New York Times, women shouldn’t enjoy porn. FSOG allowed women to openly read and discuss sex.

I know of many authors who write erotica whose sales benefited greatly from the booming popularity that is “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Whether they like it or not, the book was a heaven send. But most of them have been writing erotica and erotic romance for years. Not me.

I never intended to write erotica or erotic romance. Although I’ve always loved being a reader, and I didn’t mind writing, the erotic genre wasn’t really one I’d ever considered. It wasn’t a topic anyone encouraged, and in fact was one that, as a teen, I was made to feel ashamed to be curious about. There was no way I was willing to broach the subject with my parents out of sheer embarrassment; and with school friends who were sexually active, I didn’t want to call attention to the fact that I wasn’t active yet. So, instead, I would avoid the genre altogether until I was eighteen. Yet even then, I kept the fact that I was reading it to myself, as though it was still something to be ashamed of.

Almost ten years later, I not only have a new circle of friends with whom I proudly discuss elements of erotic writing, but I’ve published two erotic titles with numerous others to follow, all ranging in focus on erotic elements. And yet it still feels stigmatized. I write under a pen name and I avoid talking with the other parents at my daughter’s school in case the topic of what I write comes up. Why? Why should I care if they know what I write?

Because writing about sex still has a stigma. It is still considered taboo, and those who write about it are still looked upon as perverted deviants. Fellow authors of erotica have met negative reactions, often to the extreme, from friends and family upon revealing what they write. From husbands and children reacting with disgusted shock, downright wondering what happened to the person they thought they knew, to in-laws attempting to turn other family members against the author, it is understandable when some authors keep their writing lives a complete secret, let alone the subject they
write about.

My own mother supports my writing, but will skip over those scenes altogether. My sisters and aunts are completely supportive, even encouraging, as they know that, despite the stigma, erotic reading is currently very popular, and although I found that an awkward conversation to start off with, I love the support I have from my middle-aged aunts. I’m unsure about what the rest of my family, however. It’s still not a topic I’ll broach with my father, and my grandmother was telling people I write children stories. Ummmm, Nanna? No, please don’t tell people that! That had my cousin just about wetting himself with laughter, at least.
So while I’m lucky, for the most part, in having a supportive, or blissfully oblivious family, I still have to fight back a cringe when I talk to people about what I write. I know that there are people who will judge. Those with whom I’ve discussed my “writing for adults”, as I so diplomatically refer to it, have reacted with interest; sometimes forced out of politeness, sometimes genuine intrigue. Yet I wait for the other shoe to drop; surely not everyone I mention it to will be so positive, right? It sounds silly, but I am waiting for the day my confession is met with outright disgust. It’s bound to happen.

That thought fills me with a mix of fear and nonchalance. The dominant feeling changes
from moment to moment, and depends on how confident I’m feeling at the time. I know I’m a writer, though, and my characters tell me how much detail they want splashed on the pages. It isn’t my fault that sometimes they’re bold and comfortable with their sexuality; that’s not a quality I possess. I personally think that sexual relations belong between a couple, but I also believe that the story isn’t mine to tell, it isn’t mine to censor. So I’ll happily write the words, whether they’re words of horror, terror, erotic or humorous. I’m certainly not going to judge what my characters want to tell me. But I’m left wondering, why is it that, even with the obsession that is FSOG, authors who write about sex are still often reluctant to admit what they write? Those who write horror or about torture, rape, or serial murder in graphic details are bold. Stephen King has made his living off the macabre. The Saw movie franchise, with its grotesque torture
techniques that showed, on-screen, a man cutting his own foot off, were met by an almost audibly salivating audience. Zombies are all the rage at the moment as well. Society is obsessed with macabre gore, blood and guts, people being ripped to pieces in front of them on screen and in print. We have no concern whatsoever about characters dying often slow, painful deaths. But two people being intimate? Forget it, the kids can’t see that, people can’t talk about it. No no no. Unless it’s FSOG, that’s ok. That’s not sex, that’s art.

It makes me wonder if it is maybe the relationship between the characters; Anastasia isn’t the strong, willful character myself and other erotica authors write about. Could that be why FSOG is so popular, while the rest of us authors are made to feel ashamed of what we write? Could it really be as simple as society still not being ready for strong, intelligent women to boldly lay claim to their own lives and their sexuality? Will this ever change? I know that there are many of us who are trying, and we’ll keep trying until that day comes. Until then, do we remain quiet about what we write? No, I say we shout it to the world, and break this taboo surrounding erotica.