Loving Without Restraint

Today I want to talk to you about something that I love, very very much, and very rarely talk about completely candidly. Oh, I talk about it – I have talked a lot about fandom and how the foundation of my writing comes from fanfiction. I am not ashamed of this. It’s hugely important to me for a number of reasons. Neil Gaiman once said of fanfiction that:

I think that all writing is useful for honing writing skills. I think you get better as a writer by writing, and whether that means that you’re writing a singularly deep and moving novel about the pain or pleasure of modern existence or you’re writing Smeagol-Gollum slash you’re still putting one damn word after another and learning as a writer.

And I did. I learned whilst writing drama and romance and all manner of things, from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings to House. I learned in the Livejournal-based roleplaying games I joined, where I created character after character and learned not only from practice but from seeing the writing styles of others. I’m proud that this is the place that I and my writing come from.

But I’m still embarrassed about the sort of fanfiction I often read, and I don’t really talk about it very much – you see, I mostly read really intense (and often adult) romance fanfiction. Not always, but it definitely encompasses the vast majority of the stories that I read.

Granted, I get irritated if it’s entirely erotica and doesn’t actually have any plot (except that Illidan Stormrage fanfiction I read a couple of weeks ago but we won’t talk about that) – but I also get upset if at some point the characters don’t stop dancing around one another and get down to business. So there. Now you know.

Here’s the thing: I would like to say I unashamedly love romance, but I can’t. If I’m reading it and someone else comes in the room, I quickly alt-tab. I don’t really talk to anyone about the fanfiction I’m reading. And why? Because fanfiction is my guilty pleasure.

This sucks. Why? Well, a friend of mine already put it perfectly:

This tweet is part of a thread and I 100% recommend you click through and read the whole of it, because frankly it’s probably the reason I have even spent some time thinking about this in the first place.

But what is a guilty pleasure?

Whilst thinking of this I asked all of you, my lovely readers, what your own guilty pleasures were. The answers were many of the things you might expect – cringe music, awful films, really niche hobbies, things generally regarded as terrible.

And amidst all of those answers was a repetitive refrain: “things I am not meant to like”.

I am British, and as such I am not meant to like heavily sexualised things. It’s not the British way. We don’t do that sort of thing openly; it’s meant to occur behind closed doors, denied, kept where it is unacknowledged.

I am also female, and as such I am in fact not meant to have a sexuality at all. I exist to breed, and my breeding does not require my willing participation in something that ultimately is not for me.

These may seem like extreme ways of putting it, but if you think about it – really think about it – they’re also not far from the truth. Society raises us to aspire to be that which it expects, and it builds art and hobbies into those social constructs. That society is patriarchal and all other kinds of awful, and so the things we are ‘expected to do’ are informed by those assumptions. Those -isms.

In short, I feel guilty about liking erotica because not only is sexuality taboo, society depicts female sexuality as something that exists only for the benefit of men.

Well screw that.

But it’s not that easy, is it? It’s hard to just say “oh screw it” and stop caring. It’s a catch 22: society will not stop caring until you do, but you cannot stop caring until society does. Those who rebel and refuse to conform are demonised, othered, confined by the very walls that they are trying to pull down.

It might, on the other hand, seem an insignificant thing. So people will make fun of you if you admit you really like that one Rebecca Black song. Who cares? Do it anyway, it’s not like it will have a profound impact on your life. But actually…well, that’s wrong. Completely wrong. Because having something that has value to you devalued by the world around you is never insignificant. It’s a form of invisible emotional labour which can and will have a massive impact on your mental wellbeing.

It’s a cascade effect. In the moment that you talk about really liking Britney Spears, your coworkers might laugh a bit, make jokes at your expense. But the more you do it, the more your preferences change their perception of you. And we’re contradictory: we want to build an image of ourselves that works in society so we can succeed in it. But we also want to be ourselves. Those two things, often, don’t fit together.

Seems pretty bleak, doesn’t it? But here’s what gives me hope: those of us who do not conform have been quietly building our own cultures in the background.

Geek. Queer. These subcultures have been growing within our societies for years now, and something is starting to happen – they’re becoming more mainstream. A lot of people are terrified by this, and I can’t blame them. We joined these subcultures (consciously or not) to be free of judgement, and now we’re becoming open to a world that can judge us again.

But I think what’s happening is magic.

Take Dungeons and Dragons. A few decades ago it was either a weird thing no one had ever heard of, or a Satanic cult, or that thing only four people in your entire school did that you didn’t dare show an interest in because they were the people everyone bullied.

Today? It’s rising and rising in popularity, understanding and effect. It’s genuinely changing the way people interact with one another for the better. And it’s not alone. The more prominent queer culture becomes, the more it is less secluded, the more it is understood.

No, things are definitely not perfect. They are so, so far from perfect. It’s a war that is ongoing, one that will be fought beyond our lifetimes, into the lives of generations to come. But we are fighting it and we are winning.

We can’t fight it everyday; sometimes the risks are too much. That doesn’t make you a bad person – it just makes you a person who is trapped. Someone who can’t escape the system enough to fight it. So don’t feel bad for a moment if you still don’t feel you can bridge that gap in one way. Find another way. Support people who are standing up for the things they love.

And when you find a point where you can, go for it. We’ve all got your back.

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