I want to welcome Augusta Li to the blog today! In promotion of The Brush Whistler’s Song, her latest book released last Friday from Storm Moon Press, she has prepared a guest post for us today talking about consent. I’ll offer you a few of my own thoughts later, but first I’ll turn the floor over to her:
Growing up reading fan fiction and yaoi manga, I realized early on that a well-written dub-con scene could be very hot. The idea of one character so attracted to another that he can’t hold back can be enticing. But as a writer, there’s a very fine line between two men giving into something they both want, even if one of them doesn’t acknowledge his desire at first, and the uncomfortable territory where one of the partners suffers actual abuse. There’s nothing sexy about that.
In the last few years, I have read some of the popular male/male “romances” that include actual rape. I won’t mention any titles specifically, but there are a few well-known books where the relationship develops out of abuse, that is to say, the character eventually falls in love with his rapist. When I considered attempting a dub-con themed book, I knew I didn’t want to go that route. Before I began my story, I took a lot of time to carefully consider where that elusive line between dubious consent and hurtful exploitation fell, at least for me.
I came up with a few guidelines that worked for me.
- If it wouldn’t be okay in a het romance, it’s probably not okay in a gay romance. I’ve read some m/m books where one of the characters captures the other, holds him against his will, beats, and rapes him. The abused character takes no pleasure in his situation and would gladly escape it if possible. I cannot help thinking how outraged readers would be if one of the characters was female, being held prisoner and raped repeatedly. Would it be sexy? For me, the answer is a resounding no, and making another man the one to suffer doesn’t improve the situation. All people, regardless of gender, deserve a measure of respect and a feeling of safety. Even in situations of restricted freedom, such as slavery, the writer must be careful. My solution to this was to have my character Naja give Arjin, an assassin posing as a pleasure slave, the opportunity to leave. Of course Arjin has to stay to fulfill his mission to kill Naja, which means being convincing in his ruse.
- Actual injury isn’t hot. Don’t get me wrong, a little manhandling and rough play can be very appealing when it reflects need and passion and not the desire to do harm. Injury, whether physical or emotional, shouldn’t be part of a sexual relationship. This is a gray area, of course, since some characters crave and enjoy a little pain along with their pleasure. I guess the line should be drawn when characters who don’t enjoy the rough stuff are subjected to it anyway. If it’s meant to cause distress and not some level of gratification, then it probably isn’t sexy.
- Dubious consent is still consent… At least on some level. I want to read and write sex scenes in which both characters get what they need. Even though a character might protest, in the case of my book—for religious and societal reasons—he still enjoys himself. It has to be made clear that he doesn’t want to stop, even if he has been raised to believe he should. Again, the writer must walk a razor’s edge here. The last thing I wanted was that tired, offensive old trope from het “bodice rippers” where the heroine knows she has no choice, so she might as well enjoy it. I wanted to make it clear my character enjoyed it well before he even considered whether he had a choice or not. Arjin only protests at all because he’s been taught it’s a sin for two men to make love, and he doesn’t protest much past the kissing.
- A rapist doesn’t deserve to be the hero. My creative writing professor once told me, “Don’t celebrate an asshole.” A man who would cause misery to another solely for his own satisfaction is the absolute antithesis of a hero. In The Brush Whistler’s Song, I made sure Naja’s goal was to help Arjin explore his burgeoning sexual appetites, to free Arjin from the inhibitions society had imposed upon him. He has nothing but affection and respect for Arjin. Arjin is not just a means to his sexual satisfaction, but someone he wants to see happy and fulfilled.
- A fantasy element helps. Dubious consent is much easier to pull off in a society where power exchange is common and accepted. A story set in a medieval world between a lord and his servant is, for me, easier to accept than a contemporary tale. I suppose it just adds a little distance between the reader and a situation that might be uncomfortable closer to home. I have seen other authors pull of dub-con in a contemporary setting brilliantly, but for me, setting the story in a society where it’s more readily accepted works better. In Arjin and Naja’s world, young humans have been given in tribute for centuries, and everyone more or less accepts it.
These guidelines have worked well for me. Other writers and readers may disagree. The great thing about fiction is that no matter what topics it touches on, it isn’t real and no real people are harmed. My boundaries are my own and reflect what I’m comfortable writing about, but I am absolutely opposed to censorship in any form, so if you like it, read it or write it!
The Brush Whistler’s Song — Now Available from Storm Moon Press for just $2.99 (ebook)!
I’ve gone through a somewhat strange trajectory in my reading in this genre related to consent in books. First, I had a very hard time reconciling some books I read. I think I allowed that to scare me off of any book that had a dub-con or rape label. I assumed that if this scene with dubious consent that didn’t seem to bother anyone else really bothered me, then anything that other readers put tons of warnings on would traumatize me.
It took me a while of wishing I was a more adventurous reader to just give it a try again. I think I went for one of the most notoriously difficult book for some readers to read, Bloodraven by PL Nunn. And… I LOVED it. I started experimenting reading other books, like Derekica Snake books and lots of other slave/capture stories as well as some very intense BDSM books which I’d also been shying away from. Why wasn’t it as difficult for me to read outright rape than to read some dubious consent scenes that seem to trigger my panic button? I realized that it is all in how the author handles the issue. For the most part, rape is rape — and at least whether you hate it or find it a kink then the reaction stays the same. With dubious consent the lines are blurred and there are a myriad of ways an author can handle that. When I felt like an author wasn’t considering the weight of a situation, that bothered me.
Thanks to Augusta Li for being here today, as well as the insight she put into this post. I appreciate an author who is really considering the situation she’s putting her characters in, and the ground rules she’s created for herself show respect to the reader, no matter how they feel about the issue.
What do you think? Do you like to read books that blur the line of consent? Or do you stay strictly away? Is there a specific situation that triggers your own panic button?