“We must resist the…

"We must resist the temptation of silence" - Edward Said

I can't swear that that's an exact quote; it's something close to what Gayatri Spivak, in a talk I heard her give yesterday, mentioned him saying. But it's close to the right wording, and it's the sentiment that matters.

I'm terrible at coping with conflict. I hate it when people get mad at me -- and not just do I hate it, but I don't handle it well at all. I've burst into tears when bosses got annoyed at me coming in late and chastised me (in entirely work-appropriate language, which my response certainly wasn't). With my friends, I tend to keep silent when annoyed or frustrated, and even more so with lovers, though Kevin has been slowly training me out of that -- and after twelve years, he's still working on it, poor guy. I tend to just bottle things up, until they either dissipate (ideally), or send me into tears, or send me running away. It's not a good way to go through life, being afraid of fights. I'm working on it. I'm getting better.

Given all that, it's perhaps a little strange that I spent many years writing about sex, in an open, somewhat confrontational way, a choice that certainly got my parents mad at me, not to mention quite a few other random people. (The responses from Indian men, over at Sulekha, to my story "Season of Marriage" are particularly strong.) I certainly didn't enjoy that controversy -- it made me sick to my stomach sometimes, knowing people were mad at me. But at the same time, I could handle it. I did handle it -- I kept writing about sex and publishing the stuff, and I didn't really hesitate. It wasn't so much that I decided to be brave and cope with the awful conflict; it didn't feel like a choice at the time. I couldn't live the way my parents wanted me to -- that wasn't an option. I was going to date white boys, for example, and if it meant they never spoke to me again -- well, that was the way it is. It hurt, but at least at the time, I didn't feel like I had a choice. So it wasn't a choice. Similarly, the writing was clearly important, especially given that so many people didn't want me to do it, so I felt like I had to do it anyway. How scared I was was pretty much irrelevant.

That all sounds well and fine, even nice and brave and all, if you want to give me credit for it, which some people do. But what's not so good is that I feel like for the last, oh, four years or so, I've gotten less and less brave. It started around the time I handed off Clean Sheets (which is about a year after I moved from the Bay Area to Utah, I think). I gave Susannah CS because I wasn't sure how to make it economically viable, and she had a vision for that -- but I can't deny that running Strange Horizons was far less controversial. And around the same time, I was moving towards writing much more literary stuff -- when I did still occasionally write erotica, even when I did the two choose-your-own-adventures last year, it was clearly as a sideline, as not-my-primary-activity. I was able to identify myself as an academic, or a literary author, not as a sex writer/worker. That's a much more comfortable place to be.

And it's tempting to think that it's just a coincidental movement -- after all, I still write about sex sometimes in the Sri Lankan stories (though generally in far less detail than I used to). Perhaps my interests have simply shifted -- maybe I just said everything I wanted to about sex, and I've moved on to other projects. It's true that my interests have been greatly expanding; I've become fascinated by Sri Lankan history for one, and national identity-formation for another, and family secrets for a third. But there are three problems with such a blameless explanation:

a) I haven't said everything I want to about sex, not even close

b) I'm scared to say any of it; I'm scared to even think too much about it, and

c) I'm even more scared of being unconventional in the rest of my sexual life -- scared of having female lovers, of having multiple partners, of not getting married, of not having children.

I don't know when this happened exactly, but I became aware of it while living in Utah, and it's just gotten worse since then (though moving to Chicago did remove some of the pressure). I can't even tell what *I* want now; it's become so hard to disentangle actual desire (for what appears on the surface conventional) from fear (of the consequences of flouting convention).

There is a terrible temptation in silence. It's so appealing, the conformist route. I've only recently started healing the rift with my family, and I know that at least some of what's made that possible is that, on the surface at least, I'm more respectable than I used to be. I like being respectable -- I like being liked, and there's a power to others' good opinion -- even when it's the general good opinion of society (or my internalized perception of the same). I want to be a pillar of society. I don't want to risk losing any social prestige I may have gained in the last few years.

But it's clear that I'm starting to compromise myself, my ability to live and write with integrity, by choosing the safer paths. And I'm disgusted with myself, to read this over, to see how I've slipped. When did I turn into such a scaredy-cat? :-(

4 thoughts on ““We must resist the…”

  1. The fact that you are having this conversation shows that you have not lost contact with the core issues and values that give you your creative urge. The passage of years gives new perspectives. Don’t be afraid of this.

  2. If you haven’t said everything you want to about sex…please say more! Some of us enjoy hearing what you have to say about it.

  3. Is it possible that you felt, back then, that you were becoming “Someone-Who-Writes-About-Sex,” as if that’s the only facet of your self that existed? And that you wanted to at least see what else there was to you? Having read the journal for a few years now, I’d suggest that that, rather than (only) fear was one of the motivators.

  4. Actually, that’s a good point, Lila — I do think that was some of what happened. There are probably lots of reasonable factors in the shift — and maybe even the shift is the right thing to do. I’m not sure.

    But at the same time, I *know* that a lot of my motivation is purely fear. That’s the part that I’m starting to feel like I have to deal with. So that I can then be free to write whatever feels necessary/appropriate. (And live that way, too.)

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