Kalliel (kalliel) wrote,

Notes on Dishabille

I don't normally write Sam/Dean, and I don't read much of it, either. I'm unfamiliar with the culture surrounding it. But I just added an additional warning to Dishabille that I am not really comfortable with adding, or having to add, so I wanted to talk a little more about this story.

It took four months to think about and three to write. And by "write" I mean it took two days to write, a few days to be beta-read, six hours to rewrite, and the rest of that time to think about whether to post it or not. Because especially for a fic of this nature, I think you're required to really think about what you're putting out there.

This fic supposed to be upsetting. It's supposed to be really damn upsetting. I'm not sure there was a single scene, or a single means of framing a scene, that wasn't upsetting to me, as its writer and by virtue of that, likely its most careful reader. Obviously I don't want anyone triggered, and that's a very individualized response with a lot of different if/thens that I am unequal to the task of controlling. But I would also hope that there is nothing about my fic header that suggests that the text below the cut isn't going to be upsetting. That there is nothing about the first 1300 words of this fic that promises the next 120 aren't going to happen.

Text beyond the cut involves discussion of rape and other incarnations of dubious/coerced/psychologically suspect tensions related to consent.

This fic is premised on the idea that possession is not a clean interchange between two discrete states ("I am 100% me"--> possession --> "I am actually a demon" --> exorcism --> "I am 100% me"). It's opens right after 2x14 "Born Under a Bad Sign," with a recently exorcised Sam very aware of the damages done Jo (and others), and still feeling both the physical and psychological aftereffects of Meg's tenure in his body. Dean takes them to an isolated stretch of highway to deal with the consequences in private. The situation becomes more complicated, because it's soulless!Sam accessing these memories, and attempting to re-embody them. To say nothing of the spectral violence against women that permeates this fic (which is yes, both uncomfortable and intentional), even though all of the primary actors are male.

After the opening scene, the narration attempts to reanimate a moment that Sam remembers incompletely. He has very little awareness of his embodied self, or what he's doing, and the narrator pieces the moment together only in terms of how Dean is reacting to the situation. Dean must have some notion of what's going on with Sam, because his reaction is not particularly calm.

He attempts to normalize the impending situation by treating Sam as other than Sam--in this case, a girl he's picked up at a bar. (Possibly Meg, or the idea of Meg, since that's the scenery where Dean first met her. But a girl.) He tries to make what's about to happen okay by forcing it into a pattern of more familiar sexual encounters. It's Dean here who initiates the flirtation and innuendo, or tries to.

But that breaks down quickly. Because whomever Dean imagines in the car with him, you're still left with two strangers in a car, in isolation, and an aura of extremely dubious consent. The image fractures from a casual barroom pickup to a "stock" rape scenario, which is fractured yet again when it's Dean who endures the assault.

They leave Bobby's house and the public eye entirely (and leave the possibility of assistance). Dean disarms himself and closes his eyes and he waits for what's coming. And I tried my very best to give the reader as many outs as possible before they hit those 120 damning words.

The fic's 3700 remaining words deal with the fallout of that 120. And the driving issue is possibly less that they are unable to decide whether the event occurred under Meg's residual influence, as much as it is they are unable to fit the experience into that kind of either/or model. Because so what if it's that residual influence that sponsored the attack? Sam still feels shitty about it. And Dean feels shitty that Sam has to feel shitty because he feels it's his job to keep Sam from harm. And even if he is logically certain that this was all Meg's fault, it's still Sam's body. And it is really, really hard, if not impossible, to separate that out.

Simply blaming Meg, or knowing that Meg played into this big time, isn't actually worth much when it comes to their reactions, or their emotional fallout.

So Dean tries to overwrite everything. He reasons (and is willing to buy into his own reasoning) that everything needs to be okay, and he can make it okay if okay can be stretched to include a sexual relationship with Sam. Because of course he wouldn't have "let" it happen if he weren't okay with it, right? And he pulls out all the stops to get Sam to believe this, too.

Of course, these zealous narrativizatons on Dean's part (and eventually Sam's as well) are somewhat easier said than done, because both Sam and Dean are, truly, still of many minds about this. And their lingering reflexive/visceral responses to each other don't especially toe the line. And even as they somewhat uneasily decide that the relationship they now have is by choice and not coercion. Meg's recurrence in their lives continually calls this into question.

In the last part of the fic, Sam isn't present, so soulless!Sam enters as an actor rather than just a voyeur of past experiences. He's interpolated the relationship Sam and Dean have with each other, and he's surprisingly a little jealous of Meg--or, at least, he doesn't know how to position her with respect to Sam and Dean. (Join the club! Neither do Sam and Dean.)

In the final scene, he's also surprised to learn that Dean is quite capable of his own skeevy bullshit, when he pretends to love soulless!Sam, then drugs him and departs for Doc Roberts' (where he will later consult with Death and bargain for the return of Sam's soul, i.e. the demolition of soulless!Sam as a separate agency/entity). Which hopefully also makes one reconsider the lengths he goes to earlier in the fic to normalize (his own) assault, normalize his and Sam's subsequent sexual relationship, and to make something that in no world could ever be "okay" okay by virtue of desperation. By virtue of redrawing the boundaries of "okay" rather than returning to the realm of the term's old purview. Because "okay" is at once impossible and absolutely, absolutely essential. (This brand of Dean!resolution is not limited to the specific conditions of this fic.)

In the end they're all victims yet no one's hands are clean. They survive a mess and the aftermath just gets messier. It's sexy when they make it sexy (and Meg for her part probably finds the whole thing pretty sexy), loving when they remember to be loving, fucked up when they're trying to be loving and something goes wrong, and deeply upsetting because the whole maelstrom is deeply upsetting. And I think that's true regardless of what complications might be at play.

Should it feel any less upsetting to be able to sit back with certainty and say, "Oh, well, it's Meg!Sam. If she rapes Dean, then that's fine." (Or, "Oh, well, Dean's doing those things to soulless!Sam, not Sam.")? Objectively, maybe, because it's a cleaner cut to think about things with the distance those distinctions provide. But I also have a really hard time believing that those cuts are possible--and if they are, in fiction, that it's the best course to maintain those lines of thought.

I think it's hurtful to perpetuate that kind of cleanliness in fiction. I don't think it helps Sam to think, ah, but that was Meg, not me. I don't think it helps Dean to think, ah, but that was Meg. (Or ah, this must really be what I want.) Even if maybe it seems like it should, or they feel like it should. Because I don't think that's ever how it feels.

Rape should be warned for. Obviously. But I'm still not convinced that rape between family members should necessarily be warned for separately. To me, it just makes it feel like we're working in a world that is easier and more technical and definable than it actually is. Does it feel different to the reader because the aggressor is not a verified monster--a demon, or other creature? Is it because the aggressor is known? Because the aggressor is family? Because there are acts or feelings of love in addition to this act and it makes it really damn hard to figure out up from down?

Forget possession and other supernatural complications of consent/agency/etc. for a moment. This is the truth of most rape/sexual assault. And I am extremely reluctant to cordon that off in a different, separate warning, on a fic that already warns upfront for rape. This is the face of rape. And discussions or depictions of rape should be automatically, very much alive with the possibility that the aggressor is someone you love.

And I would hope that all rape is pretty damn upsetting. I would never write it as though it weren't.

That convoluted, messy system of fuckery is what this fic is about. Being unable to parse that fuckery and put into a collection of separate terms is what this fic is about. And to potentially present it or label it in a way that presents it as anything but a convoluted, messy, irreparably tangled system of fuckery makes me personally very uncomfortable, in a way that is different from the discomfort I signed on for when I moved to write this fic.

Anon, you experienced a discomfort different than the discomfort you signed on for when you moved to read this fic. And I'm sorry, I really am, if that was a deeply upsetting experience for you.

But I've thought about this overnight now, and I think that maybe that was also the point. That was the point of this fic. To be surprised and upset and then forced to think about something you didn't think could happen.

It can.

Comments are closed. If there's something here you feel you need to respond to, you can reach me via e-mail or PM. Full disclosure, I'm upset and I may choose not to respond.
Tags: fandom: spn, these things matter, writing

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