Ariel – Incest and Child Sexuality (Part Two)Posted by Infinite Tasks
[Part One concluded by asking what is "typical of the love found in Perlman’s novel"? Ariel suggests that "it seems to be a predominately sexual love, or another way of putting this is that the only time the word love is used is when it is referencing a sexual relationship. While non-sexual relationships exist, it is the rare one that seems to be totally unhampered by sexual tension." -IT]
Non-Sexual Relationships in Letters?
One of the few non-sexual relationships is between Sophia and Sabina. Sophia says:
“When I saw tears under those long black eyelashes I felt an emotion I can’t describe with words like friendship and love. Sabina hadn’t even been ‘Jose’s Girl,’ she hadn’t ever shared his bed, she hadn’t ever desire him physically, yet she loved him; I understood her love for him only because I thought it must be similar to what I felt toward Sabina when I saw her tears.”
Whoa. We already know Sophia has a sexuality problem but admitting it like this is pretty intense. It’s basically saying she’s never had a relationship not tinged with sexual tension until that very moment. So, Jose and Sabina’s relationship is supposed to be of an example of asexual love, but it is so muddled by Jose’s disgusting possessive masculinity that I can’t really take it too seriously. Remember when Sabina is first telling us about her relationship with Jose?
“It all became extremely complex when Jose started courting me. I assured him I had never been Ron’s girl or any man’s, but he wouldn’t believe me. It was only then that I asked Tissie to move in with me. But it was already too late. I did get Jose to accept me as I was; a warm, mutual friendship replaced his initial unbelieving shock.”
Uh, I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who I could only get to stop hounding me sexually after I safely tucked myself away into “someone else’s protection.” It wasn’t until Sabina stopped being a possible future partner to Jose, and thus possibly less of a sexual object, that he was able to take her seriously as a person or friend. This is, sadly, not an inaccurate representation of hetero-normative sex relations, but again, where’s the opprobrium? Perlman isn’t showing us Jose and Sabina’s relationship as a thing to critically scrutinize, but as a tale of true camaraderie.
Vesna’s “Repressed” Desires
As for Vesna and those desires of hers, Mirna tells us:
“The fearful Vesna wasn’t the real Vesna. I didn’t know it then, but Yara knew. The real Vesna, the whole, natural, and normal Vesna had passion inside her just as we did. She’d been twisted into something unnatural. [...] When I heard Yara tell you she’d seen Vesna kissing herself in the mirror I knew my shame had been brought on by a lie. I knew it wasn’t the passion that had killed Vesna [...], that passion made her natural and healthy and beautiful. What killed her was the denial of that passion.”
For me, seeing Vesna kissing herself in the mirror is not an adequate explanation of her desire. As I keep saying, without more explanation the incestuous desire seems to come across as fairly universal in Perlman’s rendition. It seems to simply be that all desire is sexual desire. The point implicit in this concept is that Vesna does, in fact must, desire her family, and to deny this is to deny her free human desires. The only reason given, ultimately, is that she is secretly “like Mirna and Yara,” who are “true revolutionaries.”
Does this mean we all desire our family members and to deny this is to deny our desires? Uh, yeah, I seem to remember Dr. Freud saying something a little similar. I find this explanation boring at best and downright stupid at worst. I prefer the freedom for us to choose to fuck whomever we want, including family members, not the resetting of intra-familial sexuality as the new norm. Even in Vesna’s case, isn’t it possible that she secretly wanted to have sex with Yarostan and not Mirna or Yara? If we are to take Mirna’s story as the objective truth, nothing is said about Vesna’s desire for the women in her family, only the man. Isn’t it feasible that while she was repressing her desire for her father she was still not sexually attracted to her mother or sister? Confusingly, Yara later tells us:
“If it hadn’t been for the old woman, Vesna would have loved you and father – can I call him Yarostan now? – maybe not the way Tissie loved Sophia; not that way at all; but at least the way that Sophia loved Sabina. I know – ”
So… wait. Back up a minute here. Yara is aware that it’s possible that the passion Vesna had inside her might not have been “just like” the passion Mirna and Yara have inside them? And… that’s it? This is the whole treatment of the topic? I think this statement adds a whole ‘nother dimension to Yara “forcing” Vesna to admit she was kissing Yarostan in that mirror.
Love “Games” and Predatory Pederasty
Yara and Tina’s desires are even more confusing than Vesna’s! Tina is especially fascinating and I will get back to her shortly. For now, let’s focus on Yara. The question of where Yara’s desire originates from is a tough one. Does she enjoy having sexual relations with her family members because she has been freed from her socially constructed morals, or because she was raised in an equally coercive environment, one where incest wasn’t just normal, it was practically mandatory? As Mirna tells us (though Sabina remembers the interaction differently):
“It was I who taught Yara to play her love games that very afternoon. I told her that when you returned you’d make love to all three of us. I threw Yara on my bed and showed her how you’d touch us, embrace us, hug us, exactly as Sabina had once shown me Jan would embrace me.”
So Mirna is the one who taught Yara her love games. “Love games” is an interesting phrase. On the one hand, it has the totally innocuous reference to role-playing. This is an absolutely healthy sexual desire and practice. (Let me pause from all this meandering gabbldy-gook for a sec and say: Woo! Up The Kink-Friendly Anarchists!!) On the other hand, it’s remarkably similar to the language of predatory pederasts today. Sexual abuse is often referred to by the perpetrators as “games. Similarly, one of the red flags of sexual abuse teachers and caretakers are taught to look for in children is early sexual activity. Common examples are children trying “inappropriately” touch or kiss other children, often on the playground in a “game” setting.
However, even in today’s broken society, some amount of childhood sexuality is considered perfectly normal. Not every child who plays doctor is an abuse survivor, and as we are all likely aware, masturbation is common even in infancy. So expression of sexual desire very young is not necessarily worrisome. These varied but related behaviors are often hard to distinguish as an outside observer, and unfortunately I don’t have any clear answers or opinions about a hard and fast rule to adhere to when trying to decipher so-called healthy from “unhealthy” responses. In fact, part of what I am trying to point out is how futile that label is. No outsider can ever be certain of an other’s perception. With children raised to be just that, children (as opposed to a youth like Tina – treated as an adult and capable of making her own decisions no matter her biological age), there might be some socially imposed limit to their understanding of sexuality. Going back to Sabina’s version of her sexual relationship with Mirna:
“Mirna and I were only two years apart and I didn’t play the dominant role. The seduction was as mutual as the most reciprocal love depicted in any poetry. The mutuality of our love condemned the ugliness of all the brutalizing one sided relationships in the midst of which it took place. [...] Our love had nothing in common with all those. It had no blemishes.”
So from at least one perspective, this was a relationship embarked upon by equals, whereas I wouldn’t bank on the fact that Yara’s relationships with Slobodan and Julia were made equally freely.
Often children who are being abused go on to unintentionally abuse others. The abuse victims often teach other children the same “games” they themselves are being taught. In fact, abusers are occasionally caught by this fact. One child teaches another child a “game” that they don’t quite know how to, and often why to, hide and get found by adults who try and figure out where this “game” was learned in the first place. These original abuse victims often grow up feeling shame and guilt about these interactions that they initiated, feeling as if they were perpetrators themselves. These things are complicated by the relative innocence these children have about sexuality as a whole, and specifically sexual power dynamics, causing a weird dual victim/perpetrator identity or alternately feeling resentful and guilty. (This fact becomes even more muddled when hypothetically considering a world where child-on-child or child-initiated sexual activity would be seen without judgment, because then even if the original initiation by an adult was harmful or unwanted, the child-driven activities could possibly be somewhat untainted by the “pollution” of coercion, and thus not a shame-inducing thing? For now, though, let’s stick with a comparison between this world and Perlman’s world.)
My point in all this is that just because Yara has made the choice to have a sexual relationship with Slobodan and Julia doesn’t necessarily mean that decision was a completely free one. In fact, speaking of Julia and Slobodan, we have no idea what they want. They are almost never given a voice, even through a third party filter. If we are to seriously consider the question of childhood sexuality, how can we do that without knowing what the children think or feel? We have no way to gauge how freely they are engaging in these activities and how much is coercion or a feeling of inescapability.
[To be continued...]