Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Real Wall

by Jean Roberta

So much has been said (even here in Canada) about the election of Donald Trump as President of the U.S. that I can’t think of anything new to add on a political level.

However, let’s consider how government by the “alt.-right” (loosely defined as a broad coalition of white male supremacists, proud gun owners, climate-change-deniers, Christian fundamentalists, and fans of robber-baron capitalism, unrestrained by unions or governments) might affect writers. The first thought that occurred to me was that new laws might criminalize erotic writing, as distinct from crude boasts about “grabbing pussy.”

My second thought was that legal censorship would not be the most serious threat to writers. The English writer Virginia Woolf came closer to the truth in 1928 when she gave a series of lectures which were later published as an essay, A Room of One’s Own, about how women writers are affected by a shortage of actual space and time in which to write. This argument could be extended to everyone who is socially and economically marginalized.

Thinking about my own past, I can honestly say there has never been a time in my adult life when I didn’t write anything. However, as a single mother in the 1980s, I always felt guilty about spending my scarce “free” time on any activity that didn’t involve tending my child or earning a living. I was also trying to finish a Master’s thesis in English, and this project – which is supposed to take a year or two at the most -- took me most of a decade, partly due to delays on the part of a supervisor who had other priorities, and partly due to lack of time, energy and self-confidence on my part.

The real wall that tends to keep marginalized or oppressed people out of “mainstream” culture consists of obstacles to self-expression. If you’ve been taught that your real purpose is to serve someone else’s needs (or that you have no purpose and might as well be dead), and if apparently random circumstances reinforce those messages, writing anything feels like an act of rebellion. Everyone has stories to tell, but the obstacles to telling them are likely to be internal as well as external.

As an instructor of low-cost, non-credit creative writing classes in the local university in the 1990s, I met students who wanted to express themselves in written language, but they were afraid of possible consequences. Several of them insisted that they would never write for publication because their relatives and especially their spouses would never forgive them. My students wanted to tell the truth about their lives, but they were afraid that their truth would offend everyone they knew.

My advice might have seemed contradictory on the surface. I encouraged them to write down their most shocking (to themselves) feelings, suspicions and experiences in very private journals that they never had to show anyone, including me. This was Step One. After letting this raw material cool for awhile, students could continue to Step Two: rereading the secret diary, and pulling out sections that could be reshaped to form poetry, fiction, drama, or creative non-fiction.

Turning a spontaneous rant, a rambling journal entry or a masturbation fantasy into a coherent piece of writing makes it more comprehensible to others. It’s the beginning of a conversation. And a conversation that includes enough participants can change a culture.

In the November newsletter of Circlet Press, writer and publisher Cecilia Tan defended what she does so brilliantly (IMO) that I can’t resist quoting part of her editorial:

“It was a tough night here at Circlet HQ as the election results rolled in and I probably don't have to tell you why--but I will. This wasn't about Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump for us. This was about the fact that the Trump campaign and the Republican platform are serious threats to our existence as marginalized people. Gay, lesbian, trans, bi, gender non-conforming, minorities in sexual identity of every kind, including survivors of sexual assault (and not to mention women and people of color in general) are all seen as less than human by the Trump camp. Literally.

So I thought it might be a good time to remind you all what Circlet Press stands for, and why even in the face of a difficult uphill battle, we're not giving up, and why even in the face of massive global upheaval, erotic fiction still matters.

1. Writing matters. All writing is a declaration of humanity.

The act of writing is self-expression in a declarative form. Whenever we make words, even if they are tweets, at the most basic level we are saying "I am here!" Unlike vocal speech, writing is a deliberate act, one that combines cognition with communication--with intent to communicate to an imagined other who is not present. It's a powerful act whether one is writing a personal blog, an article, a story, a letter, or even a diary entry. It might feel right now like putting down words doesn't matter. But it does. It does because you matter, your voice matters, your personhood matters.

2. Erotica is a claiming of sexual identity.

The extension of the fact that writing matters is that writing about sex matters in particular. Not only do we write "I am here!" but "I am queer!" (or whatever flavor of non-standardized sexuality or sexual identity you declare) No matter what your sexuality is--even if it's vanilla heterosexual--society has judged you for it and wants to tell you how you can or should do it. If you cannot be yourself in your private thoughts, you cannot be yourself anywhere. In our sexual fantasies is where some of us first discover our true selves, and then through that act of putting down words, of putting that fantasy to paper as if communicating with another sentience, we express that truth. There are those out there who literally wish death on us for being queer or sinners or 'liberated women.' Declaring our existence as sexual minorities and celebrating our sexuality with joy through erotica is an act of courage and an act of self-preservation, too. The more we are seen, the better we are known, the more space on the stage we take up, the more difficult it is to marginalize us.
"

There you have it. The whole editorial is much longer than this, and it was intended for wide circulation. You can read it here:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/some-post-7202497

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for this, Jean.

    I still feel a bit guilty taking time for my writing when I have so many other "serious" responsibilities.

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  2. Whether progressive or reactionary, the high point of any president's term is the victory speech. After that, everyone, no matter how dismissive of facts and truth, has to deal with the hard realities of politics and power. One of those realities is that "marginalized" Americans (who actually make up the majority of us) are not going back to the days when our country was "great." Writing will be a powerful tool in this effort. It will be a test of character for all of us--not just in a book, but in real life.

    Jean, I have to say I am so inspired by your work with your students. You showed them the way to listen to and value their own experience. Writing in a journal in an exploratory, uncensored way is very powerful. Mainstream publishing, even if it isn't officially censored, skews our stories into what will "sell" according to the current understanding of that magical quality. That's another kind of censorship and another way of ranking human expression on a scale of "importance." I'm sure you helped many people lead richer lives and helped them realize they didn't just exist to please others. Thanks for this post!

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  3. Thanks for your comments, both! Donna, I'm sure it's true that people who already write, and who defend democracy in various ways, won't suddenly turn silent. And yes, the publishing biz is based on vicious cycles & assumptions that what sold before will sell again (not necessarily -- and no one really knows the next big thing). Teaching creative writing in various contexts (I now teach credit classes) usually means disappointing students who hope a well-paid literary career is within reach. I hope I bring something good into their lives. Lisabet, did you work some magic on my link at the end?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jean,

      Yeah, that was me. ;^) But it wasn't magic.

      To make a URL in your post be clickable, you just highlight it in the text (in the blogger editor) then click the "Link" button above. It will only work, though, if you highlight the full URL but no extra spaces at the start or end.

      Delete

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