The hardest part of what I do is contend with its natural tension with the prevailing religion of the region and age, the religion in which I was raised and with which I’ve had something of a tough break-up. Sometimes I consider it a divorce, other times a trial separation. It’s hard to know at this point, and I’m less miserable when I dwell on those issues, so I’ve set it aside for now, leaving my doors and my mind open.
But on occasion, I must revisit the religion of my past, with which I have a lot of baggage. So far in the last year, I’ve written a Christianized cult, urban fantasy with Christian-tradition-based angels and demons, a vampire religion that mirrors Christianity, and a demonic circus with a protagonist who’s Catholic. Most of my stories exist in a framework that is either pagan or Christian, so it’s been kind of hard to avoid the matter, actually. As you might imagine, the pagan side is easier to deal with when it comes to sex and sexuality, since most forms of paganism are very sex-positive, whereas Christianity tends to be sex-restrictive, like most of the major religions.
I try to treat the religion I write with respect, although I’m sure some of my skepticism and frustration comes through. Even so, in my stories I work with truths that are slightly skewed from our reality. That means some of the things that I write border on or outright cross the line into blasphemy because they exist in different ‘verses, not necessarily because it’s what I believe or what I think Christianity should be. I ask my what-ifs as freely with religion in fiction as I do in other areas of my writing. I’m conflicted by this, because my uncertainty about matters of faith make me wonder what mistakes I’m making as I stumble blindly through the dark, grasping for more than fiction.
None of the tension is so keen between erotica and Christianity as the matter of sex – when to have it, with whom, and how. Almost invariably, the characters in my stories are not married, they have sex with multiple partners, and sometimes with same-sex partners. Now, I know that many people who are Christians have little trouble reconciling erotica and extramarital sex with their religion, often with liberal readings of the biblical texts. However, I was raised very conservative. I have rigid ideas of what is okay and what isn’t under the umbrella of the faith (which is probably why Christianity and I are having a fight at the moment, because rigid religion tends to break instead of bend when undergoing a crisis).
In some of my ‘verses, my characters share the more flexible, contextual interpretations of the biblical texts. In others, they share my guilt, but they are swept on by forces greater than their resolve, to eventually reach a tentative and tense truce between what they want and what they think they should want. Some of my characters also engage in the very prevalent act of devoted followers to take what feels right and disregard what they think isn’t, based on different interpretations. That’s what everyone does, really, but some are more up front about it than others.
It’s not just my characters or slightly alternate universes, though. Sometimes the writing of erotica itself becomes a matter of anxiety on my part, wondering whether it’s the right thing to do. For someone so prone to shame, though, I keep coming back to how fulfilling writing erotica is for me, how natural, how much it builds me up instead of tears me down, and it’s hard to believe that something sinful could bear such beneficial fruit.
But deep down, I fear that fulfillment is merely a convincing mask for something more sinister that has insinuated itself innocuously into my psyche as good – the most insidious kind of moral depravity, such that I don’t even recognize it in myself or others. With individuals and groups trying to eliminate erotica from the literary conversation, it just makes me question even more about whether I’m on the right side.
I guess my literary masochism exposes itself once again, because in spite of that fear, I continue to write and support others who do. They seem like good people to me. In spite of the fear, I can’t bring myself to stop. It’s one of the highlights of my life, and as someone who suffers from chronic depression, there’s precious little I can depend on, and you tend to cling to the few things that do make you happy.
What’s more, you tend to recognize happiness when it comes and value it so much more. I’m hesitant to poison that happiness or to remove it completely from my life. And like I said, that happiness is what makes me question those doubts about whether what I’m doing is bad. If it’s so bad, why do I feel so satisfied? Not just the transient, surface pleasure of delicious food or even orgasm, but the deep down satisfaction of doing something you think you were made to do?
So my old religion and I continue this dance. I’m not convinced it will ever be completely resolved one way or another – perhaps if public opinion shifts as greatly as it has for gay rights. Then again, public opinion conveniently isn’t all that reliable when it comes to Truth, with a capital T.
I need to get out more. I need to know how other people bend and not break. Maybe that’s the key to this conflict, because as it is, I’m still broken. And still soldiering on in spite of it. Sometimes, I hope that all that’s necessary is that I try.