Beta Reader, male: I hope you and yours are well. I just was curious, how is your book coming? I really enjoyed reading the chapters you sent. Have a wonderful day.
Me: My rough draft is done! I am in revisions now. Hoping to be ready for a publisher by the end of the year. Are you interested in reading more? I always need input! Thanks for checking in.
Beta Reader, male: Yes, I would love to read more!
(Sound of chapters zooming through space)
Beta Reader, male:
Me: Did you get the chapters I sent? Just checking, no hurry!
Beta Reader, male: Hi! I did and read it with great pleasure. I can tell you’ve spent some time tightening up the characters and developing them in more detail. I found the detail of your relationship with (redacted) interesting. May I ask about the choice to include such erotic detail? Not judging, just curious. I certainly think those details are fascinating and stimulating, just sincerely curious about sharing the details. I don’t think it is necessarily a bad choice, but it will be interesting when your grandchildren read it. Who else besides the grandchildren of celebrities and rock stars know the sex life details of their grandparents? Because of my sexual repression earlier in life I probably now tend to have an unhealthy obsession with all things sexual. To most reading your story it’s probably not a big deal.
I want to commend you on your bravery in writing. I grew up in the same religious context as you, although I didn’t nearly suffer as much. I’m sorry you had to endure that. I suspect because I am male and my dad did not attend church I escaped a lot of what many of my peers have endured at the hands of Pentecostals. But in some ways I envy you. I’ve always been a rule keeper of sorts and you knew a certain freedom of rebellion at an early age. I did all the typical teenager things but never had any of the adventures you describe in tantalizing detail. And now I’m at an age where the “What if’s” start to flood the mind. I wish I would have made some different choices earlier in life. But you did and now you are writing about them. Kudos. I want to read more!! Keep me posted.
(Me, looking in mirror: GRANDCHILDREN? Shit, I do look old.)
Me: I appreciate your kind words. You bring up some interesting points that have me thinking and refining my themes,. Please allow me to think out loud here…
Regarding explicit detail and why I write it:
Sex and eroticism is and has always been a focus of mine, so I love writing about sex. Also, everybody knows sex sells and I want to sell some books. To that end, I also want to pull in male readers because I have something to say to them. Men rarely read memoirs by women.
This brings me to what I want to say to men. I am interested in their experience of sex and sexual interaction. I also deeply believe that rape culture and the end of female oppression comes not only from women rising up but from “good men” listening and giving a shit about the effects of their disinterest. People in power aren’t going to give it up voluntarily, but all men have a mother and most have sisters, female friends, daughters, etc. It is important to understand our experience.
Which leads me to our experience. Most women know what it feels like to be a sex recipient if you know what I mean. A faceless receptacle. I am fascinated that you find my experiences erotic as opposed to simply explicit. They are descriptions of trauma. Not rape. Not non-consensual, but a search for belonging and love. The narrator was not a free spirit out having a good time, but a damaged, sad, lonely girl. Female readers get this. I want male readers to get it, too, and I think they will when I’m done with the story, but I have to get them to pick it up first.
Also, no one gets out of fundamentalism without sexual damage, male or female. You mentioned your own repression and the what-ifs that are coming around now. I can’t help but notice that there is an assumption of shame associated with sexual experience in your response. Sex is the best part of life. People literally die of loneliness. Lots of people are trapped in sexless marriages. Many of the mass murderers we see in the news have a history of sexual rejection. I think it is a worthy talking point. Who decided sex should be associated with shame and guilt? There is probably a provable answer to that question. I am betting it is rooted in controlling women’s sexual behavior, which became a popular thing to do when humans started owning property:
Do you mind if I use your response as part of a blog post? Anonymously, of course.
Beta Reader, male: Thank you for the thoughtful response. I suppose I did reveal my ignorance. I agree there shouldn’t be any shame associated with sex, I apologize for missing the point in your expressions of your experience. I was wrong to interpret them so. I confess that I’m still learning and not being a woman or someone who has suffered as you have I’m limited in my ability to fully understand. I’m sincerely sorry if my observations came across insensitively. Not if, they did. Thank you for confronting me on that point. If my ignorance will help inform others feel free to publish it.
ME: Oh geez. There’s really no need to apologize. I appreciate your forthrightness. You’re helping me form my thoughts on this subject in a very real way.
We are all dealing with this subject from different angles. Thanks for letting me use your thoughts to further the conversation. I really do have a point to make with the explicitness of my writing and I want to make it thoughtfully and well.
And you know, if readers get turned on, so much the better!
Fiance: If you want male readers to understand why the sex is traumatic you will have to beat them over the head with the point.
Writing Coach: I agree. Do it.