AN ESSAY ON AUTHENTICITY
I am not a healthcare professional. This essay is based on mine and others anecdotal experiences with regard to our personal creative integrity. It's also based on the dozens and dozens of conversations I've had with my psychologist over a number of years about topics related to sexual psychology, trauma, healing, cults, etc.
I am writing specifically for those that exist in the margins within the margins. The weird fetish indie illustrators weaving improbable visuals tapping into pure, hungry carnality; the sex pervert part-time authors that whisper lurid fantasies into all too receptive ears; the queer cosmic horrors that delve deep into the eroticism of mortality, decay, and violence; everyone in between - and the people who make up our collective audiences.
If you're not of those demographics, but you still find something from this essay to covet as yours - take it. I wrote this with a specific audience in mind; that doesn't mean no one else can relate to what I have to say.
This essay is an opinion piece, and is not meant to be used as a scientific or academic article. Take what I say with a few grains of salt. Question everything. Peruse the linked articles within the essay and at the end. Please, do not listen blindly to any one source. Do your own independent research. Come to your own conclusions.
Do not let me think for you. Let me give you the opportunity to think for yourself.
DENIAL OF SELF
"The child might be idealized by individuals and groups who venerate innocence, and view worldly knowledge and experience as contaminants to what they see as a perfect, untouched state... Instead of being encouraged and celebrated, the child's development is actively sabotaged in an attempt to preserve the most vulnerable qualities of infanthood: ignorance, inexperience, incompetence, dependence."
TheraminTrees | infantilization - a regressive abuse
Denial of what I wanted to do with my fiction was going to kill me from stress. Maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not ten years from now. But.
If I'd kept trying to keep my mouth, heart, and mind shut to the possibility of my stories being the stories I wanted to tell, it was eventually going to come out one way or another. I got tired of hiding, pretending to be a Good Girl, tired of deliberately cracking myself into shapes that never felt natural in order to maintain an outward sense of respectability. Whether I knew that's what I was doing or not.
That's what propelled me into the person I am now, who is as open as I am now. You might find it preposterous. If you do, then I'm glad for that; I don't want others to experience the kind of psychological stress that comes from squashing yourself into a creative dead-end. Especially not for the sake people who'd rather belittle your pain as nonsense than sincerely hear it.
Fifteen years ago, I didn't pay the impact my fiction had any mind. There was no impact to be had - I was just a weird girl that liked to draw.
Except. I'd been told my whole life, up until that point, that I should draw Pretty things. Girl Appropriate things. Not the monsters, blood, and gore that I liked to draw. I should be drawing flowers and kittens, rainbows and puppies. Pretty things, not ugly things. I liked the monsters though, not the flowers. I liked the things that went bump in the night.
I watched and read plenty of horror, both age appropriate and not. I vented all of my anger, confusion, and isolation through art and writing, a lot of which I never shared on the wider internet. The internet wasn't what it is now, and what I wrote and drew was for my own satisfaction. It helped me feel in control of circumstances I otherwise had no control over. I was a kid with no platform to speak of when I started sharing my work on old gallery sites in 2005. Even when I had a bit of a "platform" after a few years, I was still only considering my own wants and desires for my art.
I'm not sure when it started to shift in the opposite direction, when I started to be attentive to what I thought were the desires of other people. I didn't realize until too many years too late that I'd fallen into progressively stricter social circles that condemned any kind of self-expression that was not Moral, not Proper, not Acceptable. Nevermind that the goalposts kept moving. Nevermind the jeering of my peers that led to me slowly locking up my sense of self until I was convinced I had none, though I'd had a fledgling idea of one. For a while in the beginning, it was easy to play along because I'd believed in all of it. I willingly bound up what had already been established as myself and jeered along - never realizing the incremental sense of shame and loss of self I was experiencing had been perpetuated by my own hand.
When things started to feel wrong, I shoved them down and kept pretending. I willingly let myself be thought for; I'd never been taught any differently. That made me very easy, susceptible prey to ideologies that seemed to stand for truth and justice, who promised to be on the side of righteous good... By controlling icky, wrongthink fiction made in the niches of creative niches online.
You could not be messy, brutal, or romantic in the wrong way. You could like symbols of horror. You could like gore, for example, but not rape in your fiction. You could gleefully snuff "shitty people who deserve it" in your fiction, but you could never consider exploring the nuances of that "shitty person who deserved it".
You could like the taboo - but it had to be the right kind of taboo. An acceptable amount of taboo. Step out of line, and prepare to get violently shoved back.
"People who don't want you to think are never your friend... When individuals or groups start to shut down and prohibit criticism and challenge, it's about the biggest possible warning sign - in any context. Religion. Politics. Education. It signals the onset of totalitarian systems. Stick around, and you can wave goodbye to successive freedoms.
And with each freedom you give up, you can watch yourself regress into a powerless, compliant child."
TheraminTrees | debunking prophets part one
Abuse in your fiction was fine, but only if you made clear every few minutes that it's A Very Bad Thing. You could never trust that your audience wasn't as dim-witted as a doorknob, that they couldn't read subtext or context clues. You also couldn't trust that your work wouldn't be exposed to kids who didn't know better. No matter how hard, how often you made it clear you were an adult catering only to an adult audience, you could never really be sure enough according to others in the group.
Your protagonists were victims and never perpetrators. You don't want abusers to use your fiction as an excuse, surely - so you must take every single precaution necessary to ensure that your work could not be twisted and misused by abusers. It would make you an accomplice to someone else's malicious intent if you didn't do so.
Actually. Actually - if you're going to make something controversial, just be on the safe side and keep it to yourself. Keep it private, for others' safety. Keep it quiet, for your own safety. Keep it under lock and key and feel ashamed of it.
It's amusing that these attitudes are never turned on large scale media productions featuring everything that is ugly with the same amount of fervor. It's always aimed at vulnerable people - who are eventually driven out of social spaces, called perverted pariahs for playing pretend.
"You wouldn't want to be like my abuser, would you? Of course not. You're better than this."
Eventually, your arm got twisted to a point where you couldn't explore anything the group deemed degenerate; no matter how you try, any portrayal means approval of the very real, very horrible counterpart. It means you are the real counterpart. Fiction becomes a place of repression and not a place of freedom and exploration. Any thought that does not align with the group is smothered in the cradle.
This means you're on your way to becoming a good person, of course. Your internal pain at pushing all of yourself, whatever that might mean, into a too-small box does not matter. All that matters is being good and safe for everyone within the in-group. All that matters is showing piety to those that would call you monstrous for daring to be yourself, free of totalitarian emotional bondage.
Mistakes are punished beneath the guise of protection. Protection of the group and of you, from yourself. You don't know your own mind - you can't trust your own mind. Let someone else make up your mind for you. It's easier to defer to the group than it is to fight.
"We don't talk about that, that's disgusting. You're going to hurt someone. It's going to be your fault."
Silence, shame, and ostracization were the weapons wielded against any who toed the line. If that's all you know, if these people are all supposed to be your friends, then it's terrifying to consider the alternative without them, if you find yourself thinking about breaking away. Would everyone leave you, and if they did - did that mean anyone you met after would hate you, too? Would they see the stains of shame and guilt on you, too? Would you be mocked, harassed, smeared, and silenced?
If you're an artist online, one who makes your art your living, perhaps because you have no other options - does this mean your entire career is ending? Would you be able to survive at all, if your thoughts or play-pretend exploration got out?
I call these "cult dynamics" because they are cults on a micro scale. You have to be safe for the group. You have to think with the group, assimilate into the group, you cannot ask questions of the group. You are not taught how to think - you are taught only what to think.
You should not be shamed into believeing specific ideologies. You should have the freedom to choose, to voice dissent without worry - and if you cannot conceive of doing so without risking a friend or loved one's ire, subtle or explosive, something is wrong.
"We just want to protect you -- from yourself. You're going to hurt yourself. You already hurt us."
ESCAPING THE GROUP
"Abusive environments pull our emotions out of alignment with our experience by pushing us out of spontaneity and authenticity into artificial, theatrical roles, scripted by our abusers. Reclaiming our lives means throwing the operation into reverse, dropping our performances, and moving back into spontaneity and authenticity."
TheraminTrees | commanded to love - preforming false emotions for tyrants
I feel like, despite how deep I fell into the dynamics at play, I had a tiny inoculation that would eventually lead me to the person I am now: I liked the monsters, not the flowers. I liked the dark, not the light. I liked the horror, and a small part of me already knew that the espoused safety in rigid purity was a lie.
It took me years to become inundated into the social group I'd found myself in, the group that punished thought crime at every turn, and so it's taken me years to trudge my way out of it.
The people left years ago now. Most were gone in a flashbang of disgust and betrayal, and a few straggled behind until none were left. What has remained are the psychological scars of what I and my loved ones have gone through, and those are what have propelled me so far forward into becoming the person I am now.
Spite is a good starter for a fire, but compassion is what's kept it burning for so long. Compassion is why I wrote this essay.
"You're a lost cause now. We trusted you to be one of the good ones - and you betrayed us."
I had what a lot of people don't when they get cut off from a social group; I had an intimate support network of like minded people who were going through the same struggle I was. I was lucky. We were all in it together, fumbling through dark water and untangling the messes that had been made of our individual senses of self. We'd all outlived our usefulness, so we were tossed aside like broken toys.
I'd been told, in more subtle words, that good people looked good. Good people looked like people who turned up their noses at Problematique fiction. Good people loudly decried fiction deemed morally repugnant from their fellow indie creatives. Good people started or participated in targeted harassment campaigns against those same indie creatives.
The people who scream the loudest usually have the worst skeletons to hide. I know the type, very intimately: they can only accuse others of actions they themselves have taken.
"Media won't hold itself accountable. But we can hold independent creatives to task for their fiction. We can hold you accountable for our pain."
Bad people, I was taught (in this upside down world where the morally just thing to do was to tell people to kill themselves and hurl abuse accusations over real people making fictional characters do Bad Things) were people who wanted to explore bad things in fiction in the wrong ways - sometimes at all. Abuse, rape, torture, criminal characters, violence, childhood sexuality, incest, murder, complicated or morally grey characters at all - if you had to dirty your hands with these complex subjects, you had to be as tight-laced as possible. You could find no comfort in any of it, for any reason. God forbid if any of it is a fictional fetish.
If you took something grotesque in reality, maybe a part of your reality or maybe something that fit how you felt, and tried to make it beautiful and erotic in fiction to soothe your pain - you're a pariah. If you broke apart something that broke you, and rebuilt it into something that would mend you - you're a pervert. If you defanged cruelty dealt to you, and made it tender and romantic - you're a predator.
If you took something you had no control over, abstracted it into a scenario you had all control over, and it was as deep and dark, ugly and sinister, horrific and evil, heaven forbid! If you mixed it into a cocktail of high octane pleasure and pain, a story crafted with clumsy fumblings or scalpel precision - you're a monster. If you tried to share any of this, for any reason, to find any kind of community, to feel less broken, less ashamed, less evil, less afraid of discovery - you're accused of emboldening predators to abuse vulnerable people. As if you are not so painfully raw and vulnerable.
"At least let me make myself whole in an imaginary world, if I can't have this one." - @Amberite
There are bad actors everywhere. What I've learned, now that I can critically think for myself after years of therapy and my own experiences, is: it's how people treat each other. It's about showing kindness and respect to your fellow human beings. The content of your character and the actions you take with regard to real, living humans are more of a reflection of your morals than the erotic, pornographic, romantic, horrific fiction you create or indulge in.
Attempting to link correlation to causation with regard to predatory people who are into Bad Fiction obfuscates the predators lurking behind the softest, most pastel facades within communities. If all it takes to be A Good Person is to appear moral, just, and good, to say all the right words - then the community has already become a haven for wolves hiding in sheep's clothing.
Someone likes incest, or exploring underage, or exploring the complicated and grotsque sides of the human experience in fictional contexts? In art and writing? Well, obviously, they deserve to be harassed, hunted, accused of crimes, abused. Sending someone death threats and piles of harassment is abuse. Doxxing someone is abuse. Dragging someone's character out to be executed in the Twitter town square, based on baseless accusations of harm, is abuse.
I wish I could say sorry for being blunt, but, I'm not sorry. Mob harassment of singular indie creatives is abuse no matter how justified someone thinks it is.
Someone turns the other way; sees, hears, and speaks no evil while the people around them - who are good, because they know the right words, and have the right opinions, even if they can get overzealous sometimes - viciously harass and smear other indie artists. Those artists and writers though, they're the bad people who deserve it -- right? They're the ones hurting people with their icky, complicated fiction...
"We're telling you to kill yourself for your own good, freak. You're the one hurting people and enabling abuse, not us. We're protecting people, vulnerable people.
You're not vulnerable, valuable, or wanted. You're nothing."
"When people claim you're defective, don't accept analogies. Don't accept stigma. Don't accept charges of sinfulness. All these things can be applied to absolutely any activity. Ask for evidence. If evidence isn't forthcoming, the discussion is over."
TheraminTrees | imaginary defects - when dogmas label us flawed
I will add to the above - if evidence isn't forthcoming, or the evidence is biased, bewildering, based on nothing you know to be factually sound about yourself, the discussion is over.
So, how did I beat back everything telling me I would be monstrous if I explored fiction as it was meant to be explored: brutal, messy, playful, and fantastical? If I dared go against the group and begin to think for myself, instead of letting others think for me? A lot of therapy and hard work within myself. A lot of unlearning, a lot of exploration. A lot of cutting out people I'd thought were good for me.
I let myself be monstrous. I let myself be ugly and raw and brutal in all the ways that had been denied for my entire life by various agents. I swung too far in different directions, making mistakes and taking falls. That's natural, that's normal, that's expected. Humans are meant to make mistakes, not be perfect.
Get your hands dirty with mud and blood and broken glass. Betray the people who thought you were "one of the good ones", and you will be happier for it - in spite of the terror of going against the group. There will be a lot of terror, and I'm sorry. I wish I could say that it is easy.
What is hard to understand in the thick of it, is that this too shall pass. It is a temporary state of chaos. You will lose people that you thought were your friends and loved ones; rumors, whispers, and harassment might ensue from your shift toward creativity that is wholly authentic to you. You will feel unsteady on unknown ground. Know that this ground that you have begun to cultivate for yourself, and for no other, is the most solid you've ever set foot on.
Change is inevitable. It won't take long at all for you to forge connections with people whose companionship is not conditional, and who can see all of the nuance in what is you at your most authentic, creative self.
Comfort and sex together, entwined, are not new qualities of human beings. No one is a degenerate for a piece of art or for playing adult play-pretend, no matter how crude. It is your actions towards others that matter. It will always be actions that matter, above all else.
I will leave you with this thought before I go: If someone disagrees with you, it shouldn't feel like they're judging or angry with you. If someone says they love you, they shouldn't be putting you or something you like down in the next breath. If someone says they're trying to help you, but it only ever hurts instead, something isn't right - and you have the inalienable right to question those motives and actions from those that claim to love you.