On the Subject of Noncon Fanworks: Thoughts of a Reader, Writer, Survivor

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Title: On the Subject of Noncon Fanworks: Thoughts of a Reader, Writer, Survivor
Creator: Anarfea (formerly thegreenirene)
Date(s): September 12, 2016
Medium: Essay posted to tumblr and AO3
Fandom: BBC Sherlock, Panfandom
Topic: Rapefic, Purity Culture in Fandom, personal experiences of sexual assault, fandom bullying, and events at 221B Con in 2015
External Links: AO3, archived on WebCite, on tumblr
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

On the Subject of Noncon Fanworks: Thoughts of a Reader, Writer, Survivor is a ~9000 word meta essay on Anarfea's experiences writing and reading non-con fanfiction in the BBC Sherlock fandom. The essay examines her personal experiences with childhood sexual abuse and various forms of sexual shame. She argues passionately for the right to darkfic, exploring the uncomfortable elements of human experience, and the negative impacts of shaming away darkfic fan writers; mainly, hurting survivors and authors choosing not to warn or tag their fic correctly.

The essay received a notable amount of attention. As of July 2020, the AO3 version has over 1400 kudos and 413 comments. Her original tumblr post has over 1000 notes and a link to the essay posted by tumblr user meeedeee has over 2000 notes and several in-depth comments.[1]

Author's Summary

"This is the first of a series of essays I wish to write on the Gender Politics of Sherlock fandom. There are many things I wanted to say at the official panel but was unable to, since it was derailed by a group of individuals who showed up with the intention of intimidating and harassing the panel moderator. In future essays, I’d like to share my thoughts on femslash, Mary Sues and the fridging of female characters, on heteronormativity in slash, and on queer representation beyond slash (bisexual, pansexual, asexual and trans people in fanworks and fan spaces). I’d like to touch on race and being a queer Woman of Color in a fandom mostly interested in White male characters.

Before I get to those subjects, however, I feel a need to return to the original intended topic: the essay I began writing on my phone on the plane.

And that essay is on the subject of noncon fanworks."

Anarfea

Excerpts

"Since I’ve stated that this essay is about “noncon fanworks,” I would like to start by defining, and defending, my use of the term “noncon,” as people have asked why I don’t use the word “rape” instead... Rape is, by definition, noncon. But not all noncon is rape. You can have non-consensual groping, or non-consensual kissing, both of which fall under the umbrella I’ve defined above as sexual-assault. In a fanfic context, there are also fics depicting tropes like “fuck or die” or “sex pollen” in which the sex depicted is non-consensual, but none of the parties involved is identifiable as the perpetrator."
"My unease about my developing sexuality was further amplified by my being drawn to dark, sexual imagery at a young age. Again, whether this was a result of the abuse, or whether it is something that I might have been interested in regardless, I cannot determine; due to the extremely young age at which I was molested, my life doesn't really divide into “before” and “after” because I don't really have memories of life before abuse. But when I was six or seven, I fixated on the bondage scenarios in children’s movies (Jasmine in chains in Aladdin, Leia strangling Jabba with her chains while wearing the gold bikini in Star Wars). I acted out these kinds of scenarios in my play. Again, this disturbed my parents. My mother had a very negative reaction to finding a naked Barbie doll tied to a chair."
"My mother’s reaction added on a new layer of shame... From so early on I almost can’t remember a time before it, I decided that my fantasies were bad and were the product of bad experiences. All of this happened before I actually knew what sex was."
"I ask you to pause, and think about how severely fucked up that mindset is, how dangerous it can be when we perpetuate the idea that people who have rape fantasies need to have been raped to be “allowed” to enjoy their fantasies."
"I do not see this same lack of distinction between fantasy and reality being extended to other kinds of violence. BBC Sherlock is a TV show about murders. No one is saying that people who read and write case-fic about serial killers are serial murderers in the making. People seem to understand that watching a show about murder is only enjoyable because we know that no one actually dies, though even real-life murder stories are considered acceptable entertainment by many people; TV shows are centered around real crimes which involve interviews with the victims’ family members or police, and may even show real life crime scene photos. Still, people seem to understand that reading fic about murder or watching true crime thrillers on TV doesn’t mean we condone real-life murder or want to be murdered or murder someone. But people are fascinated by the darker side of human nature, or because they want to see the “bad guys” get caught, or they are interested in seeing the resolution to the mystery. Murder mysteries are a channeled, controlled form of fear which becomes thrilling. It’s why people enjoy horror movies and roller coasters and skydiving.

Rape fantasy serves a similar role for some people. Whether or not someone has experienced rape, rape culture is terrifying.
I will hide my work behind a trigger warning; I refuse to hide myself. I’m not ashamed of my stories, and if people ask me what I write, I usually mention that I write darkfic or noncon. It’s not the only kind of fic I write, and I don’t want to be known solely for it. But the noncon works are the ones that are closest to me, the ones where I feel like I’ve ripped open a part of myself to get the words on the page.
"If, instead of normalizing the existence of fics that portray noncon and underage, we make these themes taboo, if we pathologize them, if we require noncon works to be kept in a separate archive, if we insist that it be labeled with derogatory terms like “rapefic,” then what will happen is that writers who think that their work has “a bit of dubcon” in it will not tag it as such, in the hopes that it will fly under the radar and they won’t be banished to the leper colony with the filthy rapefic fans. This will have results that neither the responsible creators and consumers of noncon, nor the people who dislike it and categorically oppose it, want: that someone who doesn't want to see noncon will see it."
"A few months before 221b Con 2015, I read several fics by the same author which touched me in a profound way. I wish I could rec this person’s deeply moving and wonderful stories, but I do not want to draw attention to them in the current culture of doxxing, harassment and shaming directed at writers of noncon in general and underage noncon in particular. This writer has already received anon hate on their (tagged/warned) fic, and I don’t want to make things more difficult for them.

But these stories affected me so deeply because they were, essentially, my story. The first fic was underage noncon--I use the word “noncon” rather than “rape” deliberately here, because the abuse never escalates to rape but it’s still clear that it’s Not Okay. And while the details of the abuse were different, the feelings, articulated through Sherlock’s POV, were the same: the uncertainty about what might or might not have happened to him as a child, the fear/hope of recovering repressed memories that would explain his “abnormal” sexuality. In the second fic, Sherlock, who is asexual, has a room full of empty boxes in his mind palace, and he has suspicions about what should be or used to be in them but doesn’t know, and worries that he has repressed memories of sexual trauma.

When I read these stories, I realized that I myself have spent my whole life pawing through empty boxes, looking for evidence of further, repressed trauma. And it may be there; I’ve discussed this possibility with my therapist, who believes the idea that I have repressed memories is reasonable and that they may yet surface. But I’ve come to accept that it doesn’t matter whether something else happened to me which I've repressed, because what I remember was enough... Realizing I would never tell Sherlock that he wasn’t molested “enough” in that story to have experienced lasting trauma helps me tell the same thing to myself.... I say this because some people have been saying that survivors who feel compelled to create fanworks depicting noncon should keep them to themselves and never share them, that there is no possible justification for putting out more depictions of rape or abuse into a culture already saturated with them... The problem with this argument is that it assumes that the story or artwork that the survivor is capable of creating is the one they need to read or see.

Responses

On AO3

[HipHopAnonymous]

"This is wonderful! As someone who loves darker fics, but is not a survivor, I really appreciate it. We are the same age, and so even though I was never abused or assaulted in any way, I recognize the same disjointed and incomplete sexual education here and also masturbation shaming... I was lucky that we got our first computer and Internet free trials around that time and I learned a ton from sexuality.org and reading erotic stories (I wasn't involved in any fandom or fanfic stuff until way more recently.)

I also remember learning pretty early both from Internet essays and information and from some college courses that rape fantasies are really common and A LOT of women have them. So many typical straight female fantasies involve elements of dubcon, too. Since I've always accepted this as no big deal, the fandom dogma against rape kink just blows my mind. I don't think the people perpetuating the all or nothing attitudes about sex (and well, a lot of things) are doing the good they think they are. Thank goodness I wasn't a teenager in the current Internet climate - I think I would have been roped into being insufferable and intolerant while secretly self-hating over my interests.

Thanks for posting this![2]

[Anarfea (OP)]

"Thank you. And thanks also for sharing your story and perspective. I absolutely don't stand with people who have the "you must be this fucked up to ride this ride" attitude about darkfic. I think that, regardless of anyone's status as a survivor or not, we all live in a culture which is saturated with a lot of very confusing and shaming messages about sex that people respond to in different ways. I'm glad that you were able to find some educational resources that helped you.

And yeah, I worry about the teenagers growing up in fandom today who are being told that they're sick for being interested in dark fic. I think they're being shamed into self-hatred, yeah."[2]

[KRH]

"Thank you. This is well-written and well-reasoned, compassionate, direct, and logical... I've never been to a con (had been looking forward to doing so; now thinking I won't), but the experience sounds just awful.

While name-calling is sorely tempting (self-righteous and self-aggrandizing spring to mind), my better self really does hope that the bullies see how incredibly hurtful and non-constructive their actions have been.

You've articulated so many important thoughts here, ones I've grappled with myself... I've found this quite healing. Again, thank you."[3]

[Shabet]

"FWIW, cons are a lot of fun, and incidents like this are pretty rare (rare enough that this one incident is still being discussed over a year later.) On the whole, 98% of the time they are fun, joyful bonding experiences full of squee and enjoyment; it's just the other 2% that can sour it."[3]

[Kiyaar]

"Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for writing this. It's beautiful and timely and I value your thoughts tremendously. Your experiences are uncomfortably resonant with my own; I get a lot of shit for what I want to write, and I get a lot of people pressing me to defend why I write it, and you've put it all to words in this gorgeous piece.

This is really important and you hit like 18 nails on the head."[4]

On Tumblr

[meeedeee]

"For those who want context surrounding the debate whether women should be allowed to continue reading or writing non-con erotica. Additional context is also provided regarding fandom harassment of abuse survivors who write or read non-con fiction."[1]

[rhodanum]

An excellently written piece, if rather hard to swallow for the crowd which believes fannish expression that includes dark kinks / sexual fantasies should be constantly policed.

However, it should be noted that the expression ‘debate if women should be allowed to continue writing non-con erotica’ makes my hair stand on end and typifies what I can’t abide in this entire thing. I didn’t come into fandom to be allowed or disallowed to write something or other. I came into fandom do straight up do so, there was no concept in my mind of ever giving someone the power of disallowing me to write the thing. Fandom was never about control for me, it was about solace, about joy, about pleasure, about deconnecting temporarily from the drudgery of a difficult and often unpleasant life.

I already live my life, as a woman, under a constant stream of being told what I’m not ‘allowed’ to do. I’m not allowed to be too harsh, too sharp, too abrasive. I’m not allowed to say I’m childfree and mean it. I’m not allowed to get a buzzcut (I’ve straight-up had hair-dressers who refused me!) I’m not allowed to continue being interested in video-games at nearly thirty, whereas with my brother it’s ‘eh, boys mature much more slowly.’ I’m not allowed to criticize street-harassers and gropers without being insulted for it.

And now it’s ‘I’m not allowed to explore my darker fantasies in the safe, secure medium of writing, without potentially becoming a target for Purity Culture Wank.’ Fandom was my refuge from all the ‘not allowed’ nonsense and I’ll be damned if I ever let it become filled with it![1]

[arkhamarchitecture]

"That was a long essay but god what a good one. Especially the part about how demonizing darkfic ultimately ends up creating spaces where people stop tagging for it because they don’t want to be demonized for it or because they’ve convinced themselves that since all noncon is bad and they’re not a bad person, the fic they wrote that is noncon must not REALLY be noncon because that would make them bad.

And of course, once people stop tagging their darkfic then everybody loses."[1]

[vthx]

"This is exceptionally well articulated and has a lot of great points as well as resonating with my own history and experiences. Worth a read or ten!"[5]

[ladydarkphoenix-blog]

"Not a part of the Sherlock fandom but this essay brings up some very valid points about fandoms in general I feel."[6]

[sulphur-crested-cocktease]

"If you read or produce non con fanworks or fanworks that deal with otherwise taboo topics (such as “age gaps”) you need to read this essay! If you are vehemently opposed to such works and feel like they perpetuate rape culture and harm survivors you need to read this essay! If you are an “anti” of any kind YOU NEED TO READ THIS ESSAY!!"[7]

[skruffie]

"I read this earlier before I left for work and it’s mind-blowing. There’s a lot of talk in fandoms these days about non-con fic and this essay about the author’s personal experience with it is incredibly thoughtful. If anyone has the time, it’s worth a read."[8]

[andarthas-web]

"I’m nearly in tears over the above-quoted section, because I’ve never been able to put this into words. Darkfic, particularly erotic darkfic, was one of the few things that actually let me unpack my trauma after I was raped. Sometimes, the “romanticized” variations were more useful than realistic ones, because they provided both distance and positivity.

Beyond that, almost everything I write is unpacking something, even if the story itself has nothing to do with what I’m unpacking. The closest I’ve come to writing about my trauma was in a single-character story about an alcoholic veteran with PTSD. It had very little to do with my literal experience, but it shared a lot of metaphorical and symbolic elements. Writing that fic helped me process a lot of trauma, but I still can’t go back read it. It triggers flashbacks, anxiety, and depression for me, and there is not a single sexual element to it.

I’m talking about that story in particular, because, apart from showing that survivors have triggers that are hugely personal and variable and often have nothing to do with the act of rape itself, and so the “protecting survivors” argument is bullshit, it’s a great illustration of why we shouldn’t take darkfic too literally.

Myth is malleable. Characters, scenes, and story elements can have fluid significance. Stories are not always about what they look like on the surface."[9]

[mostlyhydratrash]

"Let me shed a little light on the other side.

I did not suffer actual sexual abuse as a child... But for 15 years of my life I was desperately ashamed and afraid and closeted about the fact that I am sexually submissive. I had never heard that it existed until I got my hands on a novel by Joey W. Hill (whom I ADORE, let me tell you) and suddenly everything became clear and I was not sick and there was nothing wrong with me...

Kink shaming is a form of taking control over others. It is telling people that they are wrong, wrapped in a thin veneer of righteousness. It is non-consensual power grabbing. It is bullying.

Those engaging in it may feel empowered by doing the “right thing” but what they are doing is sticking their noses in other people’s business, teaching them that there is something wrong with them...

So, keep the dark!fic coming! Because I am enjoying the hell out of it!"[9]

References

  1. ^ a b c d Tumblr post by meeedeee, with multiple reblogs, Archived version (Accessed July 15, 2020)
  2. ^ a b Comment thread on AO3, Archived version (Accessed July 18, 2020)
  3. ^ a b Comment thread on AO3, Archived version (Accessed July 18, 2020)
  4. ^ Comment thread by Kiyaar on AO3, Archived version (Accessed July 18, 2020)
  5. ^ Reblog by vthx, Archived version (Accessed July 16, 2020)
  6. ^ Reblog by ladydarkphoenix-blog, Archived version (Accessed July 16, 2020)
  7. ^ Reblog by sulphur-crested-cocktease, Archived version (Accessed July 16, 2020)
  8. ^ Reblog by skruffie, Archived version (Accessed July 16, 2020)
  9. ^ a b Reblog by kat2107, Archived version Link shows reblogs by andarthas-web and mostlyhydratrash. (Accessed July 16, 2020)