Trigger Warning: I discuss rape in the below – in case you couldn’t tell from the title.
In my post, Writing Consent, I discussed the question of consent in fiction, and whether something can be steamy and hot if the need for consent is part of it. In Jenny Trout’s (writing as Abigail Barnette) amazing, steamy, compelling, couldn’t-put-it-down-read-the-entire-series-in-three-days “Boss” series (which you should go buy and read right now because it is awesome and the first book is free) consent is ever-present. There are a few times it’s almost annoyingly present, but I get it, and I applaud it.
So, the flip side of that is writing about rape. Which is really a completely different question. Is it necessary? Does it glamorize rape?
I’ve written a date rape scene for one of my characters. It’s not that I wanted her to be raped, it’s that one in six women are, and it’s part of her story. But I’m having mixed feelings about whether or not to include it. I know that it’s important to her character, and I know that it figures in to what happens later, but I’m struggling to make sure there is nothing titillating about it. Because most of the lovemaking in my stories involves kink, I don’t want there to be any confusion about what constitutes rape. But I also want to be true to my own experience, and what, I suspect, is the experience of many, and that is the mixed feelings that my character has about the rapist and about the rape itself.
I don’t want to give to much away, so let me pull back a little and talk about rape culture. This is the part where I tend to start beating myself up a little, because I’ve always had a problem saying, “No” and I have, too often, bought in to the idea that I somehow “owe” someone something because he or she invested time or money into me, or because I showed up at their house, or because I flirted, or teased, et cetera. This has landed me in situations where I ended up having sex, even though I didn’t want to. And I closed my eyes, and gritted my teeth, and got through it.
That’s why consent is so tricky, and so important. That’s why rape culture is such a problem. Yes, I had a responsibility to myself to be vocal about what I needed and wanted and, more importantly, DIDN’T need or want. But didn’t my sex partner have an equal stake in making sure that I was fully present, and fully involved in what was going on?
This kind of consensual interaction can be something as innocuous as communicating to your partner what you want them to do, through telling them that what they are doing isn’t really turning you on, and goes all the way through to no, I really don’t want to have sex with you right now, I don’t care that you are horny and that I am wearing next to nothing because it’s 98 degrees outside, what I want to do right now is watch The Gilmore Girls and suck on ice, you know where the vibrator is.
And I need to capture that for this character. I really feel like I have an obligation to do so. This isn’t a dramatic, Hollywood, black-and-white, strangers-abducted-and-raped me situation. This is exploring the issue of consent, the idea of both partners being equally invested in each other’s pleasure, the concept that, while No absolutely means NO, sometimes no isn’t said, sometimes it’s “wait” or “Um” or “Not there” and that doesn’t absolve the other partner of their responsibility. The idea that, just because you’ve done something once doesn’t mean you get to do it again, and the agonizing betrayal of ones own body when it responds to something your mind or heart doesn’t want.
I don’t love the idea of writing anything for which I feel obligated to provide a trigger warning. I honestly hate putting my character through it. But I also need the ten people who eventually read my book (HAH! I hope ten people read it!) to be involved in that process with my character, and to understand what it means to advocate for one’s own sexuality, and to, maybe, absolve themselves of some guilt for any of their own not-completely-consensual experiences.
And maybe I just need to write it to do all of the above for myself.