I do a lot of things with science fiction conventions, including doing panels on sex and culture. So, I thought it would be funny to do a panel on 50 Shades of Grey, called 50 Shades of WTF? Only, I didn’t expect the book to be so fucking triggery for me. To be honest, some of the BDSM things they present are not awful. They discuss limits, although he does get her drunk to discuss them, which bugged me. But what really set me off was the fact that his “seduction” of her was a blueprint of an abusive relationship. I made it 2/3 of the way through the first book, and then I started to get physically ill reading it. I was nauseated and shaking before I finally gave up.
Now, to get this out of the way so I can move on to what triggered me about them, the books are badly written, poorly researched, and I completely know how British people feel when American authors try to write them. I don’t think E.L. James has ever even met an American college student. And yes, I am well aware that 50 Shades began it’s life as a Twilight Fanfic. Dear Author has done a comparison of the original fic and the published work.
I could give you a synopsis here, but I really don’t want to because I started to and it made my tummy go all squidgy again. Basically, Christian Grey engages in a lot of behaviors that are controlling and manipulative. Giving her ludicrously expensive gifts (creating a sense of indebtedness), insisting on constant contact (giving her a laptop and a Blackberry, and then getting angry when she doesn’t keep them on her or on all the time), making decisions for her (buying her a new car and making her sell hers). The first spanking scene, afterwards she tells him she doesn’t like it, and he tells her that her body responded, the equivalent of “your lips say no, but your eyes say yes.” He charms her father right off the bat, after she’s tried to keep him from meeting him at graduation. Abusers are very charming when they first meet both their victims and their victims’ families. If abusers were always dickheads they’d never get new victims. He moves the relationship forward really quickly, also a potential warning of an abuser. Here is one list of warning signs, several of which he meets.
I had no idea how triggery this would be for me before I started reading it, and the first third didn’t ring any alarm bells. But eventually even the hilariously stilted dialogue couldn’t keep me distracted from the trajectory of the relationship. His behavior followed a pattern very similar to that of a guy I dated who turned into a stalker for several years. He charmed my father after I told him to fuck off because he was clingy, controlling and dismissive of my boundaries, just like Mr. Grey. Oh, yeah, and the unwanted stupidly expensive presents.
Had I started reading it earlier than I did, I might have been able to either cancel the panel or find someone else to do it. But I didn’t, there wasn’t enough time. So the panel did not go quite as planned, sadly, though we did do it. But I did want to put this here as a warning to other women who have experienced abuse or even relationships that had just started to veer into those waters. I have not reacted so badly to a piece of written fiction since I threw up reading Joyce Carol Oates’s short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” in a Lit class in college.