It’s Saturday evening; I’m sitting at the end of a pile of boulders, right on the edge of Lake Ontario. It’s a small, rocky beach just a few blocks away from the Credit River, so there’s nothing natural or soulful here, but it’s the first evening in a week that hasn’t felt like a sauna. The swans are still moving so slowly that they could be mistaken for floating statues, and some kids are lazily tossing rocks in the lake–trying for splashes rather than skips. The only active things are the hungry swallows that have just arrived for dinner. They’re gonna be real fat by the end of the season.
I hate summer.
Anyway, you’re probably wondering what the festy shores of Lake Ontario have to do with the title of this blog. Nothing. Gotcha.
Before I go on, I want you to ask yourself two questions, and be honest with yourself:
1. What was it about the title that got your attention? Was it a negative or positive reaction to the word?
2. What are you thinking/hoping this post will be about?
Alrighty. Let’s get on with this… no, wait. One more thing. I’d like to give kudos to Joss Whedon for inspiring this blog. As the story goes, reporters repeatedly ask him why he writes such strong female characters; one of his responses was “Because you’re still asking me that question.”
Asking questions is always good, but questions demand answers.
A couple of weeks ago, I submitted a story to my writing group. It was a new Psychopathia Sexualis story—based on the case studies—about incest. Now, there’s no nice way to approach a story about incest, but I thought I’d done a fair job of treading that line between too much detail and not enough. Of course, the goal was to have the reader thoroughly disgusted (I’m not writing for the sort of reader who would not be disgusted by incest). Most of the other writers were properly nauseated, or were at least able to point out where I was going too far to one side of the line or the other. In the end, though, one of the writers commented that he found it hard to read, and he wondered why anyone would want to read about this sort of thing anyway.
A hundred years ago, people were still asking why anyone would want to read books with strong female characters anyway.
The first edition of Psychopathia Sexualis was published in 1886. If you compare the early editions to the later ones, very few of the cases have been removed. The “illnesses” of 130 years ago are still the same illnesses. Hysteria has been chopped, but that’s about it.
The book was written by a physician: physicians still believe that such sexually deviant behaviours must have a large organic component (as opposed to being entirely behavioural). Organic components are within the realm of human understanding. We use our knowledge of chemistry, biology and anatomy to cure disorders that negatively affect us. We’re trying to cure cancer… but we’ve done nothing about incest. When incest pops up in our culture, we hide it. People who write about it are considered sensationalists or child pornographers.
Sweeping things under the rug solves nothing: it creates a lump under the rug that gets stepped on and mashed up and then permanently adheres to the floor. The statistics for sexual assault make cancer look like nothing. (I’ve linked to the stats for children’s cancer because the story is about a child: look at the sex assault stats for children under 16. It works out to about 153 cases per million for cancer, and 170 000 cases per million for sexual assault.) Sexual assault is the elephant under the rug, people. We can avoid reading the “porn” and the “sensationalism” in the newspapers so that we aren’t distressed by others’ misfortunes; we can let the rich people go on because we don’t want to ruin their important lives; we can let the poor people go on because we don’t want to get involved in their unimportant lives; we can ignore the signs because they’re so frightening that we don’t know how to deal with them—but none of this makes it go away. Grandparents are still raping their grandchildren; parents are still raping their children; aunts and uncles are still raping their nieces and nephews; older siblings are still raping their younger siblings. If the problem hasn’t diffused and disappeared in the 200 000 years since the last human swung down from the trees, then it clearly isn’t going to do it now.
I’m writing the Psychopathia Sexualis stories because people are still reacting to the word “sex”. I’m hoping that most of you had a positive reaction to it (“Ooooh, let’s see what this is!) rather than negative (“Well, she’s an even blacker sheep than I thought!”). I’m hoping that these few stories will help haul that huge elephant out from under the rug so that we can at least stare at the elephant rather than trip over it. I’m hoping that we’ll get to a point where no one has to ask why we’d read about psychopathic sex. I’m hoping that in 200 years, someone will be able to say, “Our classmate was raped yesterday. She’s physically okay, but please offer her a lot of emotional support. Her neighbour is now in the hospital, getting the help he needs.”
Yeah, I know. I think big.