Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Liberation from Shame

Rebecca Lyndon is a special friend to the PensFatales. She wrote an amazing piece on this interesting week in publishing, and I begged her to let me post it here. (On a personal note, I love her work, and I think it's seriously awesomely hot.) Please welcome her. - Rachael

It’s been an interesting week. Last Saturday, an email from Amazon popped up in my inbox, telling me that they were taking down one of my books for violating their content guidelines.

This book, a collection of erotic stories told from the point of view of a young woman who has decided to break away from her family’s history rushing into bad relationships by exploring her sexual fantasies before she settles down, is probably the most vanilla of my books. That’s not to say it isn’t hot. It is. At least, I like to think it is, but the floggers and the whips are kept to a minimum.

At first, I laughed at the takedown notice. Humor is my primary defense. I wrote some emails to a few close friends and joked about how I was able to violate content guidelines that were ridiculously vague.

“What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect.”

Well, no. I guess it’s not what I would expect.

But after a little while, my humor began to fade, and something else took its place. It started out as a vague dissatisfaction that took root in my belly and slowly grew outward. After a few days, I realized that I was well and truly pissed, and that I had every right to be.

This book was special to me. It was a departure from my usual stuff. I’m an erotic romance writer, you see. Kinky stuff. People discovering their love of BDSM as they fall in love with each other. The book that Amazon took down was my first foray into pure erotica. Sex for the pure joy of it without the promise of a happily ever after.

Writing it was liberating. For just a little while, to break from the conventions of my chosen genre, to not have to worry about deep internal conflicts, or who was saving who, to focus on the needs, desires and sensations of one character--it was fun. Really fun.

Writing from Amber’s point of view taught me important lessons about writing all characters. When you write romance it’s easy to think of your heroine and hero as one unit, always moving together throughout the story, and not as complex separate beings who have no idea that their happily ever after endings are assured. Desires, not just sexual ones,--though I think those pack an emotional punch that is both powerful and universally relatable--and how we act on them are the ultimate show of character.

But it’s what I learned after Amazon took the story down that has left the most lasting impact.

I never received, nor have I seen any statement from Amazon that explains why they went on a banning spree, but it isn’t hard to come up with a solid guess. With the shocking news breaking last week that erotica exists and that different people have different kinks, the actual disturbing fact surfaced that erotica was coming up in searches for children’s books.

Let me be clear that I don’t think this is acceptable. Not even a little bit. But let me be equally clear that I believe to my core that the onus is on retailers to restrict access to adult material and not on the artist to restrict content.

So why don’t booksellers just refuse to sell all erotica, and skip the controversy altogether? They can. It’s their right. Just like it’s mine to write whatever I like, at least here in America. Check your local listings in other countries.

But here’s the thing. If that’s your gut reaction, and you’re in the business of selling books, then allow me to humbly suggest that you look into another profession. Because historically, being in the book business is subversive as shit. It’s for the tough and courageous. Those willing to stand up to the book burners, not jump on their bandwagon first chance they get. Those who refuse to be shamed into submission.

Which is another important thing I learned this week. I am not ashamed to say that I am a fan of erotica, no matter how many times I read that I should be. I am not ashamed that I read it, and I’m sure as hell not ashamed that I write it.

Why? Because, deep down, I believe that erotica is the liberation from shame. It’s pointing a spot light straight on those dark desires that the rest of the world says you must keep hidden. It allows you to realize that those terrible fancies that occasionally play at the back of your mind don’t make you a monster. Other people have them too. Regular people. People who have families, and houses and pay their taxes. They’ve all got a kink of their very own.

And that’s why I think people go after erotica. It’s not about the sex. It’s a fear of a group of people who reject the notion that shame, not innate human decency, is the glue that holds society together.

I understand this fear. I believed it for a long time. Maybe that’s why I have no animosity for those who still do. Fear of your own insides is a terrible thing.

But I did say that this has been an interesting week, not a bad one. In the end, cooler heads prevailed. A couple of days ago, I received an email from Amazon saying that upon further review my book did not violate their content guidelines, and I could republish it.

I can only hope that everyone else who was affected by the mass takedown received the same email. Because if not, then that would be the real shame.


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