If they had sex the girl was always punished — an unplanned pregnancy, a hasty trip to a relative in another state, a grisly abortion (illegal in the U.S. until the 1970’s), sometimes even death. Lies. Secrets. At least one life ruined. Girls in these books had no sexual feelings and boys had no feelings other than sexual. Neither took responsibility for their actions. I wanted to present another kind of story – one in which two seniors in high school fall in love, decide together to have sex, and act responsibly. — Judy Blume
Wow, talk about a subversive premise! Reading Forever was a mind-blowing experience for me as a young teen. For two high schoolers to choose to have sex and act responsibly and everything turns out okay? It was beyond impossible — it was unimaginable for a kid brought up in a culture that teaches that you should prefer to lose your life rather than lose your virtue, that sex outside of marriage is a sin second only to murder in gravity, and that if you even think about it, to Jesus it’s as if you’d actually done it.
I’ve mentioned that my novel Exmormon is strongly influenced by the work of Judy Blume, and I’d like to explain a little bit because the segment I’m currently serializing online doesn’t live up to Blume’s lofty premise for Forever.
The girl in Forever has some pretty hip parents, and is surrounded by liberal intellectuals. Some kids aren’t so lucky, but still have some interesting tales to tell about growing up. Like Blume, I’m not interested in the cliche of “Girls in these books had no sexual feelings and boys had no feelings other than sexual,” but in the spirit of “write what you know” I’ve chosen to portray what can happen when you toss a huge dollop of religion and unabashedly patriarchal culture into the mix. The novel as a whole covers lots of different facets young adult relationships, including responsible behavior where nothing bad happens. But I’d be missing a big part of the picture of growing up Mormon if I portrayed adolescent sexuality as entirely rosy.
I mean for this to be a feminist work even if many of the female characters (especially in the first half of the book) are far from being fearless, independent action heroes. It falls into my general theory of wanting to present a range of female characters in a variety of stories: Forever has already been written, so here are some other scenarios…
Warning: possible rape triggers:
The current segment Saturday’s Warrior also relates to what Scarlett was saying the other day about the pointlessness of most rape scenarios in fiction. Asexual Penelope Pure-heart is ravished in order to be rescued by the hero and/or winds up emotionally scarred to the point of spending the rest of her life as the emasculating avenger. I’ve already read/seen that story enough times, and I’d like to add a little more range and nuance to the portrayal of this important issue.
That said, there’s a scene in my story which has the danger of “using images that might be perceived as pointless titillation.” (Described — not visual — images.) This is something I’ve been wringing my hands over ever since I wrote the story, even though I made a careful effort to add only as much detail as I felt was necessary to make the situation clear. But regardless of what I meant, as soon as you publish something, you can’t control how people will take it. I have the same problem with the spying scene from my stalker memoir. Considering how terrifying that was and the fact that it actually happened to me, it’s rather disturbing (to say the least) to see some of the search queries that have pulled up that post and to think there might be people out there actually getting off on it.
Even so, I think there exist cases where there’s value in telling such stories — despite the danger of misinterpretation — to facilitate comprehension, analysis, and discussion in order to help address such problems.