Hi dear friends,
I am back this week with another discussion topic inspired by one of your reactions on last week’s discussion: Authors, the good, the bad and the ugly.
I really liked what Tanaz Masaba wrote last week:
“I am probably going to disagree on the “if you do not like, do not read it” statement. With all due respect, when you are a content creator, it is your responsibility that you are not encouraging misogyny, racism, prejudice in your content. It goes beyond that actually. As a content creator, it is your responsibility to acknowledge, and discuss taboo/controversial/difficult topics with respect to the groups it concerns (example glorifying rape is not only disrespectful to rape victims but also encourages the romanticizing of sexual abuse–something that should NEVER happen).
It does not matter if it is fiction.”
And she was right!
So this week’s topic is about taboo/controversial topics.
Should authors write about them? Do you read them? And how should they write about it?
First, let’s have a quick list at some taboo/sensitive topics:
Violence against people of color;
Terrorism and Islam;
Out of the norm sexuality;
You can add other topics of course!
Second about the “should authors write about them?”
One year ago I discussed with an author’s friend about it. She told me “not speaking and avoiding to write about taboo topics won’t make them disappear. But it will help the perpetrators to stay in the shadows, unpunished and unaccountable.”
She was right!
For example, if we don’t speak about children’s rape by priests this will never end! The abusers won’t ever be stopped nor punished.
More than punishing it is also very important to acknowledge the victims in their status.
Part of the healing process is to be seen, to be recognized as a victim. Not as an accomplice. Not as a consenting party. Not as someone who “asked for it”. Think of the “She had such a short skirt she asked for it!”.
In child abuse the perpetrator often manipulates the kid and make him or her think that it’s “their secret” or that “they enjoyed it”. As a result, the victim feels guilty and wonders if he indeed was not at fault.
If you don’t speak about violence against black people or people of color, this won’t stop either.
In short: to make abuses stop we have to speak about them.
Taboo is not always “bad” and violent. If you have a sexuality “out of the norm” like homosexuality or you like BDSM, as long as people don’t speak or write about it you will always be seen as marginalized. You will be either rejected or worse bullied.
Speaking about taboo topics not involving violence also helps to “normalize” them. To have others accept them.
Of course it can be seen as a bad thing if you are convinced from your beliefs that homosexuality is the devil’s work. But I am from the opinion that as long as something does not involve violence to others (either physical or moral), as long as there is abolutely no coercion, people should be allowed to live their life as they please as long as they respect others as in: don’t flaunt it in other’s faces if they know that it will embarrass others. Yes respect goes both way!
Third point here: how should authors write about taboo topics?
Above all else: with respect for the victims of violence if violence was involved. And avoiding generalizing.
For example: if you write about the violence done to people of color (think The Hate U Give) you have to give nuances and avoid suggesting that ALL white policemen are violents against black people. Because that’s not true.
That same author’s friend, Nikki Sex (yes yes I know her name is provocative but she wants others to know exactly what is waiting for them in her books) has written many books about taboo topics like BDSM, sex slavery and child abuse. If you read her books, my favorite being the “Abuse” trilogy, you will notice that she has an enormous respect for the victims. She will call a spade a spade and won’t sugarcoat it or skirt around the topic BUT she will always respect the victims. You could say that she has a deep understanding and tenderness for all victims of abuse. Truth be told she is a former nurse specialised in victims of abuse.
So respect is the key word.
Aknowledge the topic, avoid generalizing (not every white people is a bad guy or every black people or …), research your topic properly (don’t give half truth or false “facts”), show respect and empathy for the victims .
When you don’t have violence (back on the homosexuality and the likes) authors usually want to open other’s people’s eyes.
They want readers to walk into their character’s shoes to feel empathy and stop prejudice.
Fourth point: should they warn the readers?
In my opinion: yes. Always.
Even if you spoil some of the fun I think it is very important that readers know about the taboo that will be broached into the story.
Because some people don’t want to read about taboos and we should respect this.
Because some victims should be warned and choose to read about something that was traumatizing for them or not.
Because people spend money for books and if you don’t warn them the chance is high that you’ll have complaints if people don’t like these topics.
Fifth point: do you read about taboo topics?
Personally, I do. Not all my books are about taboo as I have to be in the right frame of mind. But I’d say 10 to 20% of my reads are probably about taboo topics.
I read them to learn. To open my eyes. To understand. To be a witness. In a sense to offer moral support to victims of violence. To teach my kids to be open minded, respectful and understanding.
One of the first things I taught them was to respect people with other skin color, other religious beliefs, other sexual preferences. Respect the difference. And learn from these people who are different from you. Because you’ll be wiser, better educated and forgiving.
Open your mind is the most valuable lesson that I hope they’ll remember.
I want to conclude with some books that opened my mind about taboo or controversial topics.
Incest: Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma (be warned that I ended the book still aware that incest was wrong yet understanding and loving the characters!);
Child abuse: Abuse trilogy by Nikki Sex (one of the best books on this topic. If you are a victim, read it);
Homosexuality: The Silver Cage by Anonymous, Wolfsong by TJ Klune; A Charm of Finches by Suanne Laqueur;
Prostitution and escorts: Fallen from Grace by Laura Leone;
Mental illness: Grayson by Lisa Eugene; Find You in the Dark by A. Meredith Walters;
Autism: Reclaiming the Sand by A. Meredith Walters; Puddle Jumping by Amber L Johnson; The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang;
Rape and sexual violence: Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnson; Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake; The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns all by Khaled Hosseini;
Domestic violence: It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover;
Transgender: Stop! by Alison G Bailey;
Islam and preconceived ideas: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi;
Racism and violence againts people of color: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas;
Refugees: The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt;
Physical handicap: Priceless by Linda Kage.
Now let’s chat! What do you think about taboos? Should authors write about them and how? Do you have books to recommend on these topics (I hope so as I’d love to add some to my TBR).
Thanks for reading!