How Do You Continue Enjoying a Book That Offends You?

TW: Mentions of homophobia, transphobia, rape, and victim blaming

Say that you’re reading a book and generally enjoying it – right until it hits you with some pretty offensive opinions. They aren’t the main message of the book and they don’t come up often, and there are definitely other messages in it that you love, but you still can’t get those offensive lines out of your mind.

So what do you do? Stop reading? Keep reading? Does it depend on how far into the book you are? Does it depend on how strongly offended you are?

Let me tell you about my situation and maybe you can tell me what you’d do – because I honestly haven’t figured out a good solution. Before I start, I want to say that I don’t expect to agree with every author that I read. I don’t expect them to be perfect and without their biases and bigotries. Everyone has them. However, that’s not going to stop the offense from bothering me and leading me to question what I should do.

stranger in a strange landThe book that inspired this post is Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. It’s classic scifi but just in case that’s not your deal and/or you don’t know what it’s about, here’s a quick Amazon summary:

…the story of Valentine Michael Smith, born during, and the only survivor of, the first manned mission to Mars. Michael is raised by Martians, and he arrives on Earth as a true innocent: he has never seen a woman and has no knowledge of Earth’s cultures or religions. But he brings turmoil with him, as he is the legal heir to an enormous financial empire, not to mention de facto owner of the planet Mars. With the irascible popular author Jubal Harshaw to protect him, Michael explores human morality and the meanings of love.

My parents have been trying to get me to read it for years, and my boyfriend included it in a stack of scifi books that he thought I should read. Finally, I gave in. For the most part, I enjoyed it. It has some amazing messages about sex positivity and body positivity. I wasn’t super crazy about the obsession with female youth and traditional gender roles, and towards the end the characters all sort of meld into this same personality, but I was mostly digging it.

And then, with only about a hundred pages to go, Heinlein hits me with this:

…[Jill] had explained homosexuality…and had given him rules for avoiding passes; she knew that Mike, pretty as he was, would attract such…fortunately Mike’s male water brothers were decidedly masculine, just as his others were very female women. Jill suspected that Mike would grok a “wrongness” in the poor in-betweeners anyhow – they would never be offered water.

Ouch. I was really growing to love Jill, and then she says that? First, we have an idolization of masculinity and feminism when assigned to the “proper” or traditional genders, which would imply that feminine men or masculine women would be wrong. We don’t need to figure that out for ourselves though, because Jill goes ahead and tells us they’re wrong and calls them “poor in-betweeners”. What?

(For reference to those who haven’t read the book: “water brothers” are people that Mike has shared water with and essentially formed an intense, unbreakable bond with; “grok” is a Martian word that means many things, but in this context we can basically say that he’d sense it.)

I was just shaking that off when, less than a page later, Jill tells Mike this about saving her – or other women – from men making unwanted sexual passes.

“Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it’s partly her fault. So don’t be hasty.”

Oh, god. Homophobia (and I would say transphobia) and victim blaming right after the other. Not only that but, “It’s partly her fault, so don’t save her.” Mike takes most things very literally and trusts Jill implicitly, and she knows it – so she knows very well that if he senses a girl being raped, he might not stop it because of what she’s told him.

It was difficult to keep reading the book. On the one side, I had really enjoyed it up to that point and was very near the end. These weren’t messages that had come up before and didn’t come up again (though admittedly I could have missed it; I was a little out of it when I finished the last 100~ pages). I also keep thinking – well, this was written in a time when these ideas were pervasive, and even then, they only come up this once.

But wow, they hurt. You probably already know that rape culture is a pretty big deal to me, and LGBT issues are right up there with it. I also find it much harder to handle women who spread rape culture. If we don’t support other women, who will?

I ended up having some other problems with the ending and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet – but this whole thing is what I can’t stop thinking about. That little bit of internal narration, that little bit of dialogue, completely overtaking my ability to really think about the book.

What would you do? Have you faced a problem like this before? Hit up the comments.

The End of the Black Parade

TW: MENTIONS OF SELF-HARM AND SUICIDE

mcrOn Friday, My Chemical Romance released this simple statement on their blog:

Being in this band for the past 12 years has been a true blessing. We’ve gotten to go places we never knew we would. We’ve been able to see and experience things we never imagined possible. We’ve shared the stage with people we admire, people we look up to, and best of all, our friends. And now, like all great things, it has come time for it to end. Thanks for all of your support, and for being part of the adventure.

I can only speak to the reaction on Tumblr, which is where I learned about the news and then proceeded to post and reblog 16 posts in quick succession, from varying levels of grief and humor. The post that struck me the most, though, was this one that had gained over 3000 notes at the time I reblogged it two hours after its original posting:

Hey guys! I know that MCR broke up and everything, and I know that most people are upset about that, considering the band’s music helps you a lot. But, please, please, PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELF! I REPEAT, DO NOT HURT YOURSELF! The music they had published is still out there, and remember, if Fall Out Boy can get back together, can’t MCR do the same thing in the future? Either way, please don’t hurt yourself! And if you need to talk to anyone, I’m here for any of you!

MCR is generally seen as an “emo” band for whiny, dramatic middle and high schoolers. That was definitely the opinion that I had before I started listening to them in my junior year of high school. It’s so prevalent an opinion that I hesitated to post on Facebook and Twitter about the break-up. I didn’t want to be judged for blasting “Welcome to the Black Parade” and crying over the fact that MCR just broke up. I posted anyway, but with apprehension and a decent amount of defensiveness.

But here’s the thing: That post up there? That plea made to the MCR fandom? That’s important. Not everyone who listens to MCR is at risk of suicide or self-harm. They don’t all suffer from depression. But plenty of them do, and for many of the fans, MCR was the difference between taking a blade to their arm or working through it.

I speak from personal experience on that. Whenever I’m so sad or angry or feeling anything so strongly that I can’t function, that I don’t want to exist and I’m tempted to hurt myself, I listen to My Chemical Romance. I use their music to drown out the voices in my head. They distract me until I can breathe again. No other band does that for me.

I know I’m not alone in that. There are a lot of people who gain strength from their music, and who are feeling hurt and betrayed and are in mourning. Maybe that seems silly to you, and maybe in a few years some of them will laugh at how they feel now, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that what they’re feeling right now is very, very real. I’m upset and I cried, but for some others, this is a tragedy.

So, here’s my request to you, readers. If you see someone mourning the loss of their favorite band and it’s a band that you think is dumb or worthless, don’t mock them. Don’t make fun of those fans. Respect their feelings. If you can’t say something supportive or sympathetic, then just walk away.

I truly believe the world would be a better place if we took that attitude in most situations, not just the end of a band.

Now, for my farewell to My Chemical Romance, here’s the song that has been my biggest comfort for many years, simply for the lines: “I am not afraid to keep on living/I am not afraid to walk this world alone”. It seems especially appropriate now. Goodbye, My Chemical Romance. Thank you for everything.

7 Things Not to Say to a Rape Victim

TW: RAPE

I came out of the oceanIt’s hard to know what to do when someone close to you is a victim of sexual assault. Sexuality is such a taboo topic on its own, and mixed in with a healthy dose of the rape culture that we’re inundated with every day, knowing the right thing to say is hard.

Here are seven things that you should definitely NOT say to a rape victim, taken from my own experiences and what I’ve heard from others who have been assaulted.

“Are you sure it was rape?”

I will slap you across the face if you say this. A lot of victims of sexual assault doubt themselves enough as it is, especially if they were raped by someone that they knew (which most are). We do NOT need you to add to it.

“Were you drinking?”

This is probably the number one question I’ve been asked. It’s like people want to be able to nod sagely and say, “Ah, yes, well that’s why you were raped. You were drinking.” No, I was raped because someone raped me. That’s it. Whether a person was drunk or sober or high, it doesn’t matter. It’s not their fault. Also, pro tip: One of the characteristics of consensual sex is that both partners be sober.

“Were you leading them on?”

Wow, no. Don’t say this. What a person was wearing or who s/he was flirting with doesn’t give anyone a right to that person’s body. Nothing gives someone a right to another person’s body. End of story.

“Why didn’t you scream/fight back?”

Fun fact: It’s not that easy. Shock can set it and you won’t know what to do. You won’t believe this is happening. Or maybe you’ll just be scared of what else they could do to you, and you’ll think, “If I let them do this, they’ll let me go.” I know rape victims who have fought back, and I know victims who haven’t. You don’t get to shame them just because of what you think you’d do in that situation.

“Don’t tell anyone/tell this person/tell the police.”

You don’t get to tell someone what they should do. You don’t get to tell them to silence themselves or to speak out. They get to decide when they’re ready to talk, if at all. Do you know how incredibly terrifying it is to go to the police about this? Have you heard the stories about rape victims who aren’t believed and who get dragged through the mud in court, assuming their case gets that far? If someone wants to go to the police, that’s great, that’s brave, and you should encourage them and be by their side. But if they don’t? Don’t pressure them. It’s not your place to decide for them.

“It was [x amount of time] ago. Why aren’t you over it?”

Remember how you don’t get to tell someone whether or not they should talk about their assault? Yeah, you also don’t get to tell them how long it should take them to heal. That varies wildly and it never really goes away.

“You’re just doing this for attention.”

One of the most upsetting parts of hearing the stories of rape victims is how often they’re not believed by their friends and family. I don’t know anyone who would want this kind of attention. Please refer to this handy-dandy chart:

rapists

What about what you should say to a rape victim? I can’t speak for every person out there who’s been assaulted, but I can tell you based on the many victims that I’ve talked to that this is one of the hardest facts for us to get our heads around. Most of us will battle it for a long time. If there’s one thing that you should say, it’s this:

“It’s not your fault.”

Beautiful Creatures and Sex

You will get chlamydia AND DIE.

You will get chlamydia AND DIE.

Beautiful Creatures came out in theaters recently, and I decided I should read the book. It was a fun read – definitely not a bad use of a Sunday. However, it fell into a really unpleasant trap of punishing sexuality.

The appeal of paranormal romance is supposed to be the forbidden – sex with a vampire, a werewolf, an angel, demon, etc. Sex with something that is other and often somehow bestial, a return to animal instincts. Books like Beautiful Creatures and Twilight (yeah, I’m gonna use that example) put that temptation out there but punish their characters for succumbing.

In Beautiful Creatures, only the mean girls dress provocatively. The girls at the dance who wear “slutty” dresses are the ones with babies at graduation. The only female with an active sexuality is evil and manipulative. Lena, largely virginal and modest throughout, is told that if she has sex with her boyfriend, he’ll die.

Edward and Bella (other than having a highly abusive relationship) don’t sex it up until after they get married, and after the first time Bella ends up pregnant with a vampire baby that kills her in birth. Yeah, she’s happy in the end, but first she’s literally killed by her decision to have sex and then she becomes an eternal teenage mother.

Do you see the problem here?

Punishing women for their sexuality as a warning to the other lady folk is practically tradition. Think of urban legends. Girl making out with her boyfriend? Here comes a crazed drifter with a hook hand. Woman driving alone? Oops killer with an axe in her backseat. Girl living with her roommate in that liberal college atmosphere? Bloody roommate death.

I’m in college and I still hear my female peers rise into a chorus of “eww, gross! Weird!” combined with nervous laughter whenever masturbation or porn is brought up. I still hear girls calling other girls sluts and whores and judging them for wearing low-cut tops or short skirts. There’s still that oh-so-fun double standard that guys who sleep with a lot of girls are studs and girls who sleep with a lot of guys are sluts who are decreasing their worth as a human being. And, oh yeah, if any of those “slutty” girls get raped, they probably deserved it. They were teases, they were asking for it, they wanted it.

I’m not saying that Twilight and Beautiful Creatures are to blame for this attitude. It’s been around way longer than the authors have even been alive. This is a continuing problem in our society. But it doesn’t help to put forth this message that sexuality is wrong and punishable, especially in books read by teenage girls who get told all the time that they should be ashamed of their bodies and sexuality.

Maybe it’s subtle, maybe people don’t even fully realize it when they read it, but it’s there. The good girls don’t have sex and they get the really awesome, hot, loyal guy. The bad girls that have sex? Well, they’re evil, bitchy, and shallow. Right?

Yeah. Right.

I’m also not saying you shouldn’t read these books. Beautiful Creatures really was pretty fun to read. Twilight has a lot of issues, but if you leave your thinking cap behind, it’s also a really fun read. What I am saying is that you can read books like this, enjoy them, and still confront the problems in them. You can and should talk about the messages in books that bother you.

Do you think I’m full of shit? Have other examples? Hit up the comments. Whether you agree with me or not, this is a conversation that should be happening.

TW: Trigger Warnings

Sloths also appreciate trigger warnings.

Sloths also appreciate trigger warnings.

I’m going to have posts in the future that get into some pretty heavy stuff – stuff you may not want to read about. There’s a solution, though, and that’s the trigger warning. If a post contains a commonly triggering topic, or one that I think could be triggering, I’ll warn you in big bold letters and you can choose to walk away.

Because that’s what trigger warnings are about. They get made fun of sometimes, particularly in regards to people who warn against every possible trigger. Triggered by cats? Okay, here’s a warning. Marshmallows? Warning there, too. Sometimes people want trigger warnings for things that just make them sort of uncomfortable. When the warnings get overloaded like that and people start asking for more and more, it starts to seem like censoring.

Trigger warnings are not about censoring, at least, not to me. They are not about telling bloggers what they can and can’t post about just because some things might bother certain parts of their audience. Trigger warnings are just that – warnings.

I am going to talk about rape and self-harm and suicide and body shaming. These are things that can really screw with someone who isn’t prepared to read about them. Even mentions of cutting can make my desire to self-harm flare up. I know it’s not good for me to read posts about self-harm, because of the reactions I have to that topic. This makes me really appreciative of trigger warnings. Get it?

I can’t make you put trigger warnings on your posts. I know that it seems like a slippery slope to start on and oh god where do the warnings stop? What do you warn against, what do you ignore? People have triggers that you can’t predict. It would be easy to get paranoid and warn for absolutely everything. That’s up to you.

As a blogger, I can promise you that I will be posting trigger warnings for the difficult topics I’ll be discussing, especially if it’s not obvious in the post title. After that, it’s up to you to make the choice.