We at Sexuality and the City certainly did not want our first article to capitalize on the Cleveland kidnapping of Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, and Gina DeJesus, though one of the things that inspired us to begin this site was to better understand the ways that we deal with sex and sexuality as a community – individually in our own space, as well as with coworkers, family, neighbors, and those we interact with in houses of worship, business, and entertainment.
The news of the girls release is a mixed, and we rightly feel confused. Perhaps you also feel a mixture of emotion – relief that the girls escaped and returned to their families, but a relief somehow marred with shame and disgust at the darkness of humans, or a painful reminder of your own abuse.
Publicly, we avoid and decry such behavior, as evidenced with the public response to waterboarding, disrespect of religion, and indefinite imprisonment during the wars of the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the detainment of suspected terrorists by Americans in Cuba.
Still, and this is perhaps a telling point worth thinking critically about, we are fascinated with these kinds of stories – being held captive to someone else. The success of Fifty Shades of Grey, their copycats, the acceptance of BDSM as socially acceptable to discuss with those we trust, and the sharp spike of “torture porn” in adult entertainment have proven that pain and pleasure and mixed somehow and, despite fluctuations in the economy, we are choosing to purchase this kind of entertainment. Something about this wide field of sex titillates us, and we manifest our self-shame against deviants like the girls’ captor, Ariel Castro. In him, we find a scapegoat to distance ourselves from those desires we play with in the dark spaces of our minds. Naturally, one recoils from such an idea. That’s not me. He’s a sick pervert. I’m nothing like that. And perhaps this is true of you, but not of everyone you know.
One of the most compelling questions surround this tragic occurrence is the way that a community is so far removed from their friends, neighbors, and fellow churchgoers that we cannot see what is so clear. Castro’s common-law wife, as far back as 1996, accused him of abducting children and raping them. News outlets, scouring Castro’s social media have found several curiously veiled references to women locked in his basement. Looking over our shoulders, the writing had been on the wall all along. In the days that follow residents will continue to deal with the aftermath of “one of their own” revealed as someone else entirely. They will have to deal with feelings of complicity for not staying a moment longer, lingering, and following up on the curious statements Castro had made over the years, jokes he told, and curious behaviors.
Rather than participate in witch-hunts, our communities would do well to begin engaging in honest dialogue about sex, sexuality, and the ways in which we turn a blind eye to suspicious behavior because we don’t want to pry. It’s not my business what someone else is doing, we tell ourselves. Former kidnap and abuse victims are uniting to remind all of us that that there is hope beyond our trauma, and that we need to begin having difficult conversations with each other about what is acceptable and desirable for too often fantasies have consequences. We need to continue educating ourselves and our communities on the difference between warning signs of abuse and the enjoyable outcomes of playing with a partner who has your consent. These lines are not clear, and we understand that. But we also understand that, blurry as these lines may be at times, there is a difference.
We at Sexuality & the City want to be a part of that process, to help educate, inform, and provide a platform for conversation. Because sex is fun, sexuality is wonderful, and we want you to have a great time. We’ve been meeting with writers the last few days and in the coming weeks, there will be articles on slut shaming, dating in-and-out of religious circles, an interview with an organization seeking to help religious groups engage in discussion about gender and sexuality, and essays on… erm… what “works” in the bedroom.
We officially launch on June 1st, so keep checking back.
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