The Wrong Message

To nobody’s surprise, Mutual Benefits won the poll again. I imagine it’s going to keep doing that, but it’s polite to keep asking.

Last week I wrote a charged post about Dan Avidan and the accusations levied at him. I also mentioned a tweet I made, and a reader replied back, pointing out that my stories can have characters coded as ‘the good guy’ making some morally grey choices too. Whether this person was trying to imply I underplayed the moment or not, I can’t say, but that’s as good a topic as any to talk about.

The moment in question the person was talking about was in Being More Social, when Adam first sleeps with May. During their first time, she’s very clearly drunk, and Adam is sober, and then they have sex, and she’s very clearly made out to be the bad guy. There’s so much to unpack here, and even more knowing the context of the whole story, and there are so many points regarding the grey-ness of this scene that I don’t know where to start.

Let’s start with the basics – I don’t care if you wanted someone for 10 years and this was your first opportunity, don’t sleep with someone if they’re drunk and clearly can’t consent. There are clearly exceptions to this case – for example, you’re in a relationship with them and they, while sober, consented to having sex with you if they were drunk in the future because they presumably love you and trust you and have had sober sex with you before – but ultimately, drunk people can’t consent. Their ability to think coherently and assess consequences and even fully comprehend what’s going on is clouded.

If I had written Being More Social from a third-person perspective, I would have pointed this out and made Adam to be the bad guy until May’s threat, at which point both of them will have acted immaturely. I don’t often like revealing my thought process behind this, but that moment in particular was supposed to drive home the fact that both of them were in the ninth grade, making stupid decisions involving sex, and were clearly in way over their heads. If there was one point of the scene, it was that. Even May threatening to tell people Adam “raped her” isn’t even 100% false. She was drunk and her ability to consent was clouded. But Adam wasn’t seeing it that way, and I needed to convey that. If he understood immediately the gravity of his actions, it wouldn’t have really made them seem like grade nine students. They would have just been conveniently clumsy adults.

A lot of erotic writers out there love writing characters under the age of eighteen for their coming-of-age stories and yet seem to have zero clue how teenagers even think. (It’s probably not a coincidence that most online erotica authors seem to be retired old men.) Kids don’t have the self-awareness we do. I’m lucky enough to have been raised in the era where all of my old Facebook messages still exist and I can look at them to better understand just how immature teenagers are – even when looking at the stuff I said when I was a year older than Adam, I cringe. It’s embarrassing and lacks all self-awareness and it’s 99.999% likely you were no better at my age. Heck, some people seem to never move on from this immature acting-like-children stage. Adam and May were stuck in a moment. The boy acted on his urges, taking something for himself without considering how drunk the girl was (even though she was hitting on him), and took what she said afterwards to shift all of the blame on her. The girl got drunk, hit on someone while in a relationship, and threatened to spread damning rumors about the boy when he felt he needed to fess up. Neither party was in the right, but the story was told by one of those parties. Of course he’s going to paint himself as the good guy. Do me a favor and reread Being More Social if you think Adam was this good guy – how many times is he the clear-cut hero, and someone else is the clear-cut bad guy? And would the other person involved think he’s the hero too?

The twitter comment has made me worry that the way I’ve written Being More Social may accidentally excuse some scummy behavior. Of course people can’t see my moralistic goal in writing a guy that’s sure of himself – there’s a ton of subtext there, and readers would have to do way too much guesswork to figure out the exact message I’m trying to portray. That will be true of all stories that have subtext. But if readers walk away going “Adam was such a good guy” missing the fact Adam lacked self-awareness by having sex with a drunk girl and pinning it on her, that’s bad. If that same reader has sex with someone who can’t consent and could have been stopped if my story was more moralistic and less subtle and spelled out for him that such an action is wrong… I almost feel like I’m to blame for not stopping it.

It’s difficult. I want to have these little subtle nods towards my protagonist’s perspective and the real world, but I need to be aware that it’s possible that I’ll have written it too subtly or even fully incorrectly and people interpret the wrong thing from it. Is it worth it to have a ‘good story’ that teaches or perpetuates bad values? I don’t know. I suppose the good news is that Mutual Benefits is less moralistic… for now, at least. I’ll talk to you all next week.

3 thoughts on “The Wrong Message

  1. It’s hard now to remember exactly what I thought when reading that scene, though I definitely had sympathy with Adam.

    But it underlines a point made before: if there’s one theme to your stories so far it’s consent, and what that means. Sometimes tt’s simple: No means NO! But often it’s much more complicated, when alcohol (and enhanced hormones) are involved, when commnication is unclear and either party is unsure what he/she is trying to communicate anyway.

    Currently, in Mutual Benefits, it’s being worked out in a slightly different way but it’s still about what each party expects from the other – and what they don’t really want. It reminds me of a rather trashy book I read many, many years ago (long before the internet) where a new invention allowed/encouraged young people to implant an indicator in their foreheads which would glow if they were sexually aroused. I can’t remember a thing more than that now, but even within the limits of that story it was obvious that it didn’t work as well as a horny young guy might have hoped.

    Liked by 1 person

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