Non-Consent, Shame and Female Sexuality

(Trigger warning for discussion of rape and dysphoria in this post.)

I’m completely ridiculous and can’t figure out how to embed a storify on here, so I’m just going to link to it. Go ahead and read: https://storify.com/7sigma/noelle-on-50-shades-of-grey

I wanted to talk about this. The truth is, while we all seem to get a kick out of bashing Fifty Shades of Grey for its abuse and lack of consent, we never seem to want to talk about the fact that it is far from the only romance novel to contain these themes. The romance genre has a long history of “bodice rippers” (I know, I said it.) Stories about women being manipulated or forced into marrying and/or having sex with a man they harbour secret desires for but don’t initially consent to. It’s problematic as fuck. But far more useful than bashing women for what they like, I think, would be to examine why exactly they do like it. In this case, I think Noelle and Christina hit the nail on the head. Fantasies about being forced into sex are common in large part because they allow women to fantasize about sex without having the feel guilty about their sexuality.

And I want to state here that I’m coming at this from a partial outsiders perspective, because I’m not a woman. I’m a genderqueer individual, so I’m not a man or a woman. But I was raised and socialized female, and so I grew up experiencing the shame and demonization of my anatomy and sexuality in ways that almost all women do. Did you know that it’s incredibly common for women to experience intense feelings of shame and guilt after masturbating? It’s embedded in our culture for women to feel bad for everything, for speaking up, for taking up space, for having sex, and yes, for enjoying it. “Sorry” is one of the words I say most often while having sex, and I know I’m not alone in that.

“By fantasizing about non-consent women can relinquish responsibility, and guilt, for their sexual desires.”

Women are taught to feel bad for wanting sex. It’s hard to enjoy yourself when you’re feeling guilty. In reality, being raped is a horrible experience, but in a fantasy where you secretly want it, but don’t have to deal with the guilt of admitting that you do, it can be an escape.

That makes me uncomfortable. I think it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I’s easier to bash the surface aspects of 50SOG like the bad writing, the cases of the author behaving badly, and the way it’s been lauded as a how-to manual for sex, rather than talk about the fact that it, and a lot of other erotica out there are catering to a demand. A demand that our society has created by telling women that they are not allowed to initiate or want sex without feeling guilty about it.

And this actually crosses directly into the M/M romance genre as well. M/M romance and fan-fiction are much more popular than their F/F counterparts, and a lot of their appeal is, again, an escape for women. Reading about sex without having to associate with the body parts that we’ve been socialized to be terrified of and disgusted with is a huge relief. That’s why I’m also kind of wary when people bash women and call them misogynistic for not wanting to read stories with female sexuality in them.

Yes, it’s a problem when women are so disgusted by their own anatomy that they can’t even get off reading about it. It’s a problem when women can only get off to stories about them being forced into sex. It’s misogyny plain and simple. But it’s not women’s fault that they’ve been socialized like this. And I don’t want to stand around and bash women for wanting to use fiction to escape their oppression for a short while. That’s one of the reasons we have fiction. To escape reality.

But fiction also helps us view our reality more critically when we look back at it. It’s a long road, unlearning that disgust for female sexuality that we’ve grown up with. I’m not there yet. And it certainly doesn’t help that I feel guilty for preferring to read and write stories about men. But I do want to change it. I don’t like that I’m a bisexual person who can’t properly appreciate female sexuality. I want to push myself to appreciate women. I want to learn to stop saying sorry.

I’m also angry that society has done this to me. I’m angry that I can’t even tell how bad my dysphoria is, because I don’t know how much of the disconnect I feel to my body is intrinsic to me, and how much of it I’ve been taught. I’m angry that I feel guilty. And that I feel guilty for being guilty. It’s a never ending cycle.

So what do we do? I’m making an effort to read and write more F/F, even if it makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m forcing myself to give female characters a chance, to give them the same attention and love that I do male characters. But I’m also going to keep letting myself escape into male sexuality, and I’m not going to judge women who escape into non-consent fantasies. I just think it’s important to be critical, and understand why we’re feeling this way. Because that’s the first step to changing it.

In closing, here’s a fantastic, older post by E.E. Ottoman that delves into the topic of female sexuality and lesbian romance in more depth. Required reading IMO, as it put me on the path to being critical of the internalized shame I feel about female sexuality.

As always, thanks for reading! I’d love to hear opinions in the comments.

Imposter Syndrome, Being Femme and Non-binary

Have you heard of imposter syndrome? If you’re an author, you probably have. Wikipedia defines it as “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” Authors often believe that they’re not actually a good enough writer to be published, someone obviously made a mistake somewhere along the line, and any minute now they’re going to be exposed as a fraud and kicked out of the author club for good.

What you might not know, is that something very similar often affects transgender people. Not exactly the same, obviously, since being transgender isn’t really an accomplishment, but it’s the idea that while other people with the same experiences or symptoms as you are obviously transgender, and who they say they are, you are obviously faking it. Why? Well, who knows really, but you obviously are.

For instance, for about five minutes yesterday, I became convinced that I’m not actually non-binary because I didn’t identify that way as a child. Never mind that I did actually, I just didn’t have the words for it, my brain will skew my memories in order to try to convince me that I’m not really trans, that I’m just faking it for attention. And I know, anyway, that plenty of trans people didn’t identify as trans as a child. But for those few moments, my brain was desperate to come up with something, anything, to convince me that what I feel isn’t really valid, and that I’m just a fake. This happens to binary and non-binary trans folk alike, but it’s particularly prevalent among NB folks who don’t fit the standard narrative of what a trans person is supposed to be.

The technical definition of a transgender person is “a person who identifies as a gender other than what they were assigned at birth.” That paints a nice, broad stroke of trans people, including non-binary folk, agender, genderfluid etc etc. But the mainstream idea of a trans person is still “a person who rejects the body they were born with/feels trapped in their body, and takes medical steps to transition including hormones and surgery.” This person will also always present in a way which ensures that they pass as the gender they identify as, wearing traditionally masculine/feminine clothing, cutting their hair in an appropriate style, binding breasts or wearing a padded bra, tucking etc.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with people who do identify and present this way. I’m not saying that. But people who don’t follow all those steps, or who don’t feel like they fit into one binary gender or the other, are often thrown under the bus, labelled “transtenders” and told that they’re just faking it for attention. Even on areas of the internet commonly thought of as a safe space for people like me, like tumblr, these attitudes still crop up.

And let’s get this straight. Being part of the trans community is great. You get support, other people who understand you, a community that you can be a part of. But the downside is that you do have to be trans (which for plenty of people, comes with acute dysphoria) in a world where people are constantly laughing you off, calling you a liar, a fake and an abomination. I’m not saying that no one would ever choose to be trans. But it’s not all fun and games. It’s definitely not something that a person would choose just because it sounds like fun.

I should add though, that even if a person does initially start out identifying as trans just because they feel it will help them fit in, or they want to explore their gender identity, that has to be fine as well. The only way to ever come to the realisation that one is trans is to try it on and see if it fits. So everyone should have the opportunity to do so.

So, what with being called out for being fake and a pretender by both myself and others, I sometimes get the desire to prove myself as non-binary. Especially since I am someone who was both assigned female and birth, and presents as largely female.

I did go through a phase where I tried to present as androgynous. I failed hopelessly at it. Why? Two reasons.

1. I’m a 34DD. Let that sink in. Try to hide that under a binder. It doesn’t work. A sports bra flattens them down a bit, but they’re there, and they’re always going to show.

2. I’m a feminine person. I just am. I like pretty earrings and make-up, which is something about me that has nothing to do with my gender identity, but when paired with an afab (assigned female at birth) body, distinctly marks me as female. I didn’t like having to give up being pretty, wearing make-up, wearing clothes and accessories that weren’t all bland muted colours. Because here’s the thing: You don’t realise how incredibly fragile masculinity is until you’ve attempted to fit into it. Especially for someone who is already in danger of being read as female, any hint of femininity destroys the illusion. I had to change the colour of my ipod case because it was too bright of a blue. And at that point I decided fuck it. Why should I force myself to be completely masculine, just so I can be read as androgynous? Why does our androgyny skew so far towards masculine anyway? Why are pants and a watch androgynous, while a skirt and earrings aren’t?

The truth is, you can’t win at being androgynous. Not unless you’re willing to give up your own personal style to fit into society’s incredibly narrow and limited idea of what androgyny is. So fuck it.

Yeah, I wear make-up, and earrings and pretty clothes. You know who else does? Drag queens and lots of gay men who still identify as male. And that’s the real point here: gender identity and gender presentation are two completely different things. I am a non-binary person who presents as female because it fits with my style, and because it’s convenient for me, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am non-binary. Trans people don’t have to dress in a requisite masculine or feminine style in order to be valid in their gender identity.

I go to work every day as a female. I’m read as female, and I introduce myself as a female, and it’s fine. Then I come home and I take off my costume. I go back to being myself. But the breasts won’t come off. I go online and present myself as non-binary, and someone writes that they think non-binary people are just confused and don’t exist. I look at myself in the mirror naked, and see not a man or a woman, but a person who’s body parts just don’t quite fit. And that’s when the dysphoria starts.


As well as being about evil organisations and demons and such, my upcoming book To Summon Nightares also explores transgender themes like dysphoria, and how it relates to relationships and sex. It’s out November 5th, from Less Than Three Press. See blurb and buy links below. Thanks for reading!

To Summon Nightmares

Three years ago, Cohen Brandwein was “Ireland’s Favorite Daughter”, a popular teenage author and internet celebrity. But ever since he came out publicly as trans, the media’s treatment of him has been less than golden, and these days, Cohen is desperate for escape.

When he inherits an old house in the country, Cohen sees it as a perfect opportunity to escape the press and work on his new book. What he doesn’t count on is becoming embroiled in a small town murder mystery and falling for the primary suspect, a man whose reality makes Cohen’s fantasy books seem like child’s play…

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And of course, where would this blog be without pictures of my cat? I did another photoshoot and told her to pose but … well, you know how it is.

IMG_2943Cheers!