Hint: It isn’t a debate.Trigger Warning: This post is about the narratives of dubious consent, non consent, rape, sexual assault, body autonomy (or lack thereof) in fanfiction and fandom, and what being triggered actually means.
Before I begin to dig into this issue, let me put one thing on the table; the only moral
issue about sex between two or more adults is consent. Everything else is a matter of what floats your boat. My kink is not your kink and that’s okay – in fact, it’s great, because in fandom we share and learn and discuss these things to a greater degree of openness and detail that in the “real world”.
So, I read a fic. It is a good fic. It’s not perfect, but very few stories are. Much like life, I must say1
It is a really good story, which, right off the bat, places the characters in a scenario known in fanfic as dub-con, a short hand of “dubious consent”.
Let me put something else on the table here. In real life, there is no such thing as “dubious consent”. Dub-con is a narrative device, it is a construct of point of view, we see and read the conflict of the person (say, Hermione of “Harry Potter”) whose autonomy has been breached and we know, along with Hermione, that she actually wants this happen, only she’s not sure about why, or how, or some other thing – she just knows, kind of, that she wants this other person (say Snape) to do what he is doing.
Alternately, we have Snape’s pov, he who breaches the aforementioned autonomy and magically (no pun intended) knows that this fine, that Hermione actually wants it. That this is sexy, even if Hermione says “stop” or “no” or says nothing at all.
I use this example from “Harry Potter”, because this type of narrative is so typical in this pairing it is practically a trope. But it is a narrative found in all genres and happenstances of fic, be it het or slash, hurt/comfort or fluff – it is there and frankly, I despair at having to actually talk about this.
In real life dubious consent can’t happen. It cannot. Not because we don’t often feel conflicted about doing something with another person in bed, or because there wasn’t enough communication and the sex ended up being more enjoyable for one of the partners over the other (or others).
It cannot happen in real life, because the narrative in our heads can’t be shared. We can’t know if our partner is conflicted, or not comfortable, unless they tell us. The opposite, of course, is the same.
Dubious consent alleges that Ianto (for instance) can and would fight against Jack’s advances and actions if he really wanted to
, this is the context of Ianto being subordinate to Jack in the hierarchy of the “Torchwood” team and their age (putting it lightly). With that in mind, it is likely that this scenario wouldn’t actually be construed by fic authors as an issue of consent because it is happening between two men, in the case of slash.
Consent isn’t about Steve’s (for instance) physical ability to stop Danny from performing fellatio on him. Consent is about the fact that Danny doesn’t care to ask or wait for Steve to actually say what he feels about the idea
of it happening at all. That
is the point. The disregard to one’s choice, one’s comfort and one’s own wants (and needs) when it comes to sex is endemic, because the idea that the onus is on the person whose will and autonomy is being violated is simply not true. In the fic I read, there was a clear description of someone wanting
to say “No”, but didn’t get a chance to do so, due to the narrative dictating that the “No” or the “Wait a minute” didn’t count because the sex was just that
good. Dubious consent hadn’t even been an option here, because this scenario was constructed in order for the inner conflict of “do I or don’t I want this” to be taken as a token resistance as opposed to assertion of free will.
This particular fic isn’t even the only time in “Hawaii Five-0” fandom that this sort of thing has happened. In the name of sexy, how many times have we read Steve or Danny say “wait” or “stop” and have the other guy say “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you” or “I know what you want/need” and continue to do what they were doing despite
And yes, “wait”, “stop” or even non-responsiveness when action is taking place in sex is a big “NO
You cannot know why a person says “stop” or “wait” during sex unless you actually stop
. Possibly, this person has a cramp, or you’re digging your knee or elbow somewhere uncomfortable or maybe, you are doing something that is making your partner feel distressed and things need to change.
When you assume that Steve or Hermione can physically/magically prevent Danny or Snape from violating them, you are perpetuating rape culture2
When you assume that knowing what a character is feeling or thinking when their free will is being disregarded by their sexual partner makes this disregard okay, and when you then normalize this behaviour in your fic, you are perpetuating rape culture.
And in the case in which there is clear non-consent going on when you assume that by removing the word “rape”
from the fic magically fixes the disparity in power dynamics and that the violence perpetrated now isn’t sexual or gendered, you are perpetuating rape culture.
This is doubly so, when you don’t warn that these things actually exist in the fic!
It doesn’t make a difference what your intent was, I doubt authors are actively malicious, but when you have a character (major or minor) that is assaulted, whether “live”, or in a flashback or memory, or discussed, that is still a textual description of sexual and/or gendered violence. The assault, whether explicit violence, psychological coercion or disregard to another’s free will, choice and autonomy, is still written down and as such must be warned for, because the words you use are the same.
The thing is I don’t mind that dub-con exists in fic, as it is a fantasy narrative device and everyone has fantasies they wouldn’t want to actually happen in real life. This is why we have role playing and BDSM and actually talking
to your partner(s) when it comes to making fantasies come true. In the name of full disclosure, I read fics that have dub-con, non-con and rape scenarios in them, because I like hurt/comfort and angst – I need to be warned for this, not because I have triggers, but because I need to know that these scenarios are going to be handled with the due respect and sensitivity that they deserve.
The respect and sensitivity should be awarded to the readers who do
It is no secret that transformative art fandom (fanfic, fanvid, fanart and more) is made of a majority of women and/or female identified people and a significant amount of gender variant people, LGBT men and women, non-white people, disabled people and other social minorities who are all vulnerable to sexual violence, because our humanity and body autonomy is considered inconsequential.
The notion that a not insignificant part of your readership will have been through a traumatic experience concerning sexual consent, and sexually based and gendered violence, is not out there!
It is not only a courtesy to warn for this in your header, it will save someone from stumbling into a scenario that will make him or her feel less safe in their own lives, because their hobby and their creative community triggered their trauma.
But in the end, what I find distressing is that people do not recognise what they write for what it is, and in slash fiction it is particularly endemic, due to the fact that this happening between two men. Because rape culture dictates that between men consent isn’t an issue. Because rape culture dictates that men never say “no”. Because rape culture dictates that men can stop the coercion by virtue of being “strong” and physically powerful.
Dear readers, this is bullshit.
As a community of vulnerable people who often place characters we love in painful and violent scenarios that happen in real life to real people in a society that considers our trauma to be exaggerated at best and made up at worst, we have to consider the consequences of our actions and take care of each other.
One of the ways we do this is to know
what it is we are writing and to warn
1) This post was triggered (no pun intended) by a particular fic and a discussion that followed, but it is not specifically about any one fic. This post is about a trend and a trope that is all too common in H50 fandom and in fandom as a whole, and I am using this fic as a way to exemplify and make clear my points.
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2(For a clear and concise definition of what rape culture is I would refer you to Melissa McEwan’s post at Shakesville where she writes:
[…]Rape culture is encouraging male sexual aggression. Rape culture is regarding violence as sexy and sexuality as violent. Rape culture is treating rape as a compliment, as the unbridled passion stirred in a healthy man by a beautiful woman, making irresistible the urge to rip open her bodice or slam her against a wall, or a wrought-iron fence, or a car hood, or pull her by her hair, or shove her onto a bed, or any one of a million other images of fight-fucking in movies and television shows and on the covers of romance novels that convey violent urges are inextricably linked with (straight) sexuality.[…]
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