Purity: or Will No One Think of the Children

So, this has been going on a while in various places, but it’s recently raised its head on Twitter. Sadly, more than once in the last few days, but for Reasons I’m even more pissed off than usual this time.

So, antis. I am not here for antis. Not because I’m blase about the sexual abuse of children, but precisely the contrary.

And in particular I am not here for antis harassing folks, or trying to round up people to help them harass. Which is what folks have been doing for several years now.

So, not infrequently antis will claim that they’re just against the kind of fic that is meant to normalize pedophilia, and/or groom victims. Or the sort that’s just meant to provide gratification for pedophiles or make them feel better about themselves. And I mean, sure, that sounds reasonable until you actually think about it for five minutes.

Tell me, friends, how do you know the difference between horrible pedophile-encouraging work, and the work of survivors working through their trauma? How do you know the bad kind of fic from stories meant to help other survivors deal with their histories?

Yeah, I know, you know it when you see it. It’s just obvious, right?

Hah. No. Let me tell you, you don’t. I mean, just on the most basic level, we all tend to read or view things from within our own context. Your context may very well not be the same as the context of any given writer, and your assumptions about why they did a thing or what they were thinking? Probably wrong. I mean, seriously–I’ve seen some amazingly assured assertions about what I meant or intended with various things in the Ancillary books, for instance, and 99% of them are so off base it’s difficult for me not to laugh when I see them. Most people just aren’t as good at divining the intent of a writer through their fiction as they think they are.

Now, this is not to say that there are no artists (or people influencing the production of art) who are pedophiles, or that no art at all bears the traces of such influence. I’m just saying–how do you know which is which? You’re digging through AO3, or you’ve picked up some other work, you know nothing about the artist except that they’ve included a ship you think is immoral, or if you squint hard enough someone in a scene is maybe underage (according to whose laws? But that’s a whole other can of worms isn’t it). Tell me, how can you be so sure that harassing the author–or going around telling everyone you know the author is a pedophile–is warranted?

Well, you just know. It’s obvious. So you harass the author–you splat triggering, out of context shit up on Twitter, or you go into DMs with horrible, triggering stuff on purpose, to get some outrage going, and you’re so proud of yourself, you’re working against those horrible child rapists! But it’s funny, isn’t it, how great it feels to be that avenging arm of righteousness, swinging that sword, hurting the bad guys. What’s less great is the fact that you’re hurting the very people you claim to be fighting for–survivors of sexual abuse.

You claim you only want to erase the bad stuff, only go after the bad people, but in the end you go after anyone who even mentions the bad stuff, and guess what, a lot of survivors write about the bad stuff, and antis have definitely gone after survivors talking about their trauma. So now survivors can’t even talk about their experiences.

It’s almost like that’s exactly what you want. It’s almost like you’d prefer the abused stop talking about their experiences. Surely it’s entirely, sadly coincidental that when the abused can’t talk about their abuse, abusers can keep on abusing with impunity.

I’ve lived through too many purity crusades to have any patience with this one: crusades against “bad” language, mentions of sex, mentions of same-sex desire– every single one of them did more harm than good, and every single one of them wasn’t actually about the thing they were supposedly about. They were all, in the end, the short edge of a wedge going after way more social control–control of women, control of children, control of families the crusaders didn’t like. This one is no different, for all it wraps itself up in the flag of Saving The Children.

You want to criticize a text? Go ahead. You disapprove of an author’s work? Sure, say so. Is there a problem with the sexualization of children in our culture? Sure is. Is swarming someone on Twitter or Tumblr going to help? Not one fucking bit. In fact, it’s entirely possible you’re hurting actual victims of pedophilia. But, you know, go off, I guess.

Just don’t expect any sympathy from me. Cause you’re having way too much fun trying to hurt people, and maybe you should step back and think about that.

11 thoughts on “Purity: or Will No One Think of the Children

  1. H
    Hillary Nelson says:

    Thanks, Ann. Domestic abuse and murder is way up in the US. So we shouldn’t write about it? That can only help the abusers and murderers. If people want to fight pedophilia and sexual violence, they might want to figure out how social media allows children and ex-partners to be exploited, rather than attacking writers who work to reveal these horrors.

  2. P
    Problematic Poison Ivy Stan says:

    I think of this often because I live in fear of someone connecting one of my internet handles to the “problematic” fic I used to write as a teenager & have since lost the account passwords to and can’t delete. I’m not actually ashamed of it though. I grew up in a fundamental Christian household that made me absolutely terrified of losing my virginity on threat of demonic possession and Hell, and as a teen on the occasions that I had unrestricted internet access I read and wrote a lot of fic using tropes like sex pollen & fuck or die; stuff where characters could explore sexual situations I was interested in without committing the sin of choosing to have sex of their own volition. And stuff like that helped me work through my issues until I became confident in owning a sexuality, but nowadays I’m sure someone could easily twist that into me supporting drugging or otherwise coercing others into sex (absolutely not! That horrifies me!!), or of fantasizing about and role-playing traumatic events that have happened to other people, and my answer to that is just, there are organizations you can volunteer with if it’s genuinely your interest to help people who have suffered. I don’t think yelling at people who write Poison Ivy sex pollen fic is the best usage of your time if you’re truly trying to fight the good fight.

  3. C
    Christopher Buser says:

    Tumblr is why the Internet can’t have nice things.

    Thank you for writing this.

    1. Barbara Becc says:

      I know I know and you’re right.
      But! Just this once, it was twitter. And let me tell you, I couldn’t have rolled my eyes harder to see that shit spill over to twitter, after having been through the discourse so many times on tumblr.

  4. N
    Nenya says:

    Amen to this post, and agreeing thoroughly with Problematic Poison Ivy up there too.

    There is also the fact that wanting to explore dark themes through the safely Not Real avenue of fiction bears no relationship one way or another to whether someone wants to do those things in real life. This is true whether you’re writing or reading it, and whether or not you have personal experience with the dark thing IRL yourself. Enjoying murder mysteries or horror movies, even if the deaths and injuries are gruesomely fascinating (and whether or not you’ve faced violence yourself) doesn’t mean you’re a a serial killer. Liking superhero stories doesn’t mean you think world peace could be achieved if we just had someone who could punch the baddies hard enough. Reading or writing about cults, or eroticizing religious guilt, doesn’t mean you’re going to start headfucking someone in the name of a deity. It is important to have the arena of fiction to explore all those hinky, twisty, scary, dangerous, and even downright disturbing aspects of human existence that we would NOT want to replicate in a nonfiction context. It’s important to face our shadow. And that doesn’t somehow stop being true when there’s a sexual component to either the topics or to the reader/writer’s response to them.

    I’m much more concerned about people who isolate young or vulnerable people by saying “Everyone else out there is out to get you, or is going to accidentally hurt you with their writing. But I, I care about you. I’ll keep you safe if you just listen to me” than I am about people writing even the most twisted darkfic. I’m much more concerned about people banding together to enact mob justice on someone deemed insufficiently pure than I am about someone writing down a kinky fantasy and sharing it. And I am way more concerned about a view of the world that says that if we could just figure out what a the Bad Topics were, or only write about them in the Right Way, we’d be safe from hurting each other with words than I am about the wild, wild world of fiction turning up something that squicks me out or sparks disturbing thoughts that a reader may need discuss with someone they trust.

    Thanks for this, Ann. We have an imagination for a reason, and I’ve never, ever seen anything good come from this kind of moral panic.

  5. Al says:

    There’s a lot of things that aren’t wrong in this post, however it doesn’t feel like it’s actually answering to what happened a few days ago. When Shri (a queer woman of color) posted her concern on twitter after she had heard about those fics (that the author of Gideon posted herself recently on her tumblr) she only raised her concerns. She never sent anyone to harass, never said “omg cancel this author” or “don’t buy this book” she literally said “It has come to my attention that (…)” and shared the fic and the infos she had, that was it.
    Of course, we cannot know what fic comes from survivors and what fic is masturbatory pedophilia content… However, the second option does happen too and there’s a few hints that can help us see which one it can be. For instance, someone calling their own fic “hot” and answering to “a kink” is… Not okay. Pedophilia isn’t and will never be “a kink”. And many people would like to know that an author wrote that kind of fic and is still proud of it…
    If a cishetman had written this same fic the reaction would have been widely different and you know it.

    Please do not say that Shri went on an harassment campaign because it’s simply not true. She has received however A LOT of hateful messages since it all blew up with your thread and Alexandra’s and more. People are insulting her on all her platforms and trying to hack her twitter account. She had to disable it completely. And you’re saying she is having fun ? Seems like all the twitter white fem are having much more fun harassing a woman of color with their thread than the opposite from where I’m sitting.
    She had barely 100 rt, barely anyone in the book world would have known if it wasn’t for you guys.

    I’ll leave you with Kacen Callender’s thread which I think is very important as they have a survivor point of view and you are referring them a lot :
    https://twitter.com/kacencallender/status/1198751639039102976

    1. Ann says:

      So, you’re aware, I hope, that I never mentioned that specific case? That would be because I’m talking about more than one incident, and I’m talking about incidents that do indeed include harassment campaigns. I never linked to her or mentioned her name. And I’m referring to survivors a lot because I know survivors who are targets in these harassment campaigns. So, thanks for trying.

      1. Al says:

        Is this really how you are trying to spin this ? You posted about it on twitter (your threads and your RTs) and on your blog exactly when everyone on book-twitter was only talking about this one case…
        You say things in this blog post like ” You’re digging through AO3″ “they’ve included a ship you think is immoral” “maybe underage” … you’re very clearly talking about this case. No, you never mentioned her name but anyone asking what this is about would be directed to her twitter profile/thread (not necessarily by you, but everyone knew what this was all about at the time).
        And if by some strange strike of (bad)luck you decided to post those *very specific* things without wanting to point someone out then you might want to apologize anyway for the harassment you contributed to unwillingly. At the end of the day I’m far from the only one who thought this was the precise subject discussed and who thought you were attacking this person in particular…

  6. Thank you so much for saying this more eloquently than I ever could. I just have been a ball of impotent rage all day and this let me know that I’m not alone in my frustrations with this whole twitter scandal. I will be diffidently sharing this post to all of my social media accounts.

  7. LeeshaJoy says:

    I’ve said this on Tumblr and I’ll say it again here. Fiction about “bad” things is not necessarily harmless, but attempts to get rid of that “bad” fiction do a thousand times more real, demonstrable harm than the fiction itself could ever do.

  8. I mostly agree with your eloquent argument but I’d like to partially disagree with you too. When I was 5 I told my mother that my step-father was sexually abusing me. She was furious, with me. When I was 15, Mum told me I had to invite a man to stay the day in our house with me alone. He was not appropriate. It was almost rape but he wasn’t the kind to press his intentions on a very upset and angry teenager. It seems they’d had an arrangement and forgotten to tell me.
    THEN I read Mists of Avalon. I internalised the passive watching and permitting of rape. So Mum “couldn’t help” not protecting me. It’s the way of the world.
    (HELL NO.)

    Contrast this with A Lifetime of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird, which includes a child being raped (“off-screen”) and domestic violence. The complete absence of sexualising the rape, the complete absence of any scene that could have been interpreted as titillating, strengthened that novel. The story crosses fantasy and “Literature” genres and is a gift to survivors. I am in awe. A Lifetime of Impossible Days is my favorite book of 2019.

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