[Image description: Black gate with the text “The Gate Keepers” included in the bars]
[TW: Rape and abuse]
In my younger days I participated in fandom. Nowadays it’s an inevitability of new writers. Fandom is so easy to access, and many times it goes hand in hand with the social justice movement. If your audience is under thirty you probably want to give some heed to fandom-dominant sits like tumblr.
Nevertheless I am dismayed at some aspects of tumblr-culture. In this article the policing of who gets to participate in “dark” fandom (using themes of sexual and other kinds of abuse in works). Some blogs go so far as to demand a person lay their personal history of abuse bare to them so they may then decide if they can participate in such creation. Please read that again. Some people believe they are gate-keepers of other people’s personal histories of abuse.
This has got to stop.
My friend wrote this piece recently which mirror my own feelings on “problematic” fiction. (The title of this piece is from her essay, so I recommend you read it.) Nevertheless I do want to even further on the idea of “dark” fiction being a place to confront fears. Of being a safe-place to confront harmful realities of society.
I have a confession to make; I didn’t wake-up one day able to write a fully formed villain who gaslights and abuses his sister, stepmother, stepsister, and everyone else around him. He rapes his mother’s former lover for decades because she cannot ever say “no” to him due to a magical caveat. I didn’t haphazardly come upon the ability to portray not only the abuser but the ruined lives of those he has come into contact with.
I practiced, for years. And where did I practice? In fandom. Yep, I was one of those who would ship “bad” ships. I was always against romanticizing abuse however; I just always wanted one to kill the other. For me it was the ruination, the slow but steady decline into despair and death. How many people however do you think ever asked me why I shipped what I did and instead made assumptions?
And no I would have never, and still never would, tell a stranger about all the fucked-up shit that has happened to me. It is my right to hold within myself things I never want to speak about ever again. It is a basic right. I don’t exist to justify myself to gate-keepers.
In this excerpt below Regan is the villain. He is accosting Eddie into enslaving a sentient being for “her own good”. Note the complex inter-play of body language between them.
Regan took Jai’s place on the sofa. Eddie turned slightly away from him but kept her eyes locked on his. Regan put a hand between them, begging for her to open up to him.
“But this is your own family matter, isn’t it? I understand Naoise was trying to kill your brother when you broke the seal. It was that love that escaped his jaws.”
“Please, when you said the plan wouldn’t work, what did you mean exactly?” she whispered, the expected answer was an abstract horror in her head, all it needed was confirmation to take full terrifying shape.
“A hundred things could go wrong based on the whims of that waterhorse. If I were to rescue you from Faerie, what’s to stop him from trying to kill you when we return? Never mind with the warping between the worlds everyone we both know may be dead at that time as time flows differently in Faerie.” He paused and leaned further in. “And there is nothing to stop him from killing your brother at any time, or anyone else you may love.”
As Eddie drew in her breath Regan laid a hand on hers. “I know he threatened to kill Mr. Darzi too in front of you, and trust me, he would do it without a second thought.”
He squeezed her hand and distracted her before the true meaning of the statement hit her. All that played in her mind was her fear of that night when the kelpie had confronted the prince about their inevitable conflict.
“But I’m going to give you something that will prevent all of that.” Regan sat back, releasing her hand. Eddie leaned forward, chasing after him in desperation.
Regan uses inviting, comforting body language to get Eddie to open up to him. He knows she is most afraid of losing her brother, and he exploits her fear. By the end Eddie is desperately pleading with him in her body language to give her the solution she wants.
Regan is the sort of villain that takes years to perfect. He has his own motivations and knows how to get what he wants. He has justified reasons for his abuse, even if they’re hollow when fully examined. You don’t wake up one morning just able to write a character like this. I studied body language, abusive tactics and common traits of abusive men.
And I practiced all this with “bad” fandom characters.
Many people complain about hollow villains. Villains that are evil just to be evil. I don’t believe this kind of villain does anyone any good. With those sorts of villains we can believe no one like that really exists. We however have all met someone like Regan, even if we don’t realize it. Because this sort of villain wears a human face and until you’ve crossed him you would have no idea about his viciousness. In fact when you are in his good graces he can seem very kind and helpful.
Again, I practiced this sort of deceit with fandom characters. And, someone had to be the victim in order for me to practice this.
Here’s another things about using fandom as a springboard; I got to invert all the tropes usually attached to these sorts of situations in meta in my work. The passive victim has a guilt complex. The villain is eventually exposed for who he really is. Because I had come to understand the tropes so well, again through fandom, I was able to subvert and twist them. This isn’t possible unless you know these tropes inside-out.
Again, because of the “dark” side of fandom.
I don’t believe in the romanticizing of abuse; but I also don’t believe in censorship. It can be hard to balance this, but it can be done. It certainly doesn’t involve self-crowned gatekeepers however.
Consider where new writers are coming from, and what must be encountered to fully hone their craft.