The terrorist attack against the satirical weekly magazine, Charlie Hebdo has affected me deeply. As a writer of erotic fiction, I am frequently advised to censor myself or not talk about what I write about in social settings. As a woman, my voice is generally disregarded as being shrill or unimportant on a daily basis. I’m either ignored or informed that my opinion and thoughts do not matter. I’m marginalized and as a result, I keep silent and retreat. I suppose the benefit is yours, my readers, as through my fiction writing I am able to speak freely.
The advice of censorship regarding my writing continues. It is fun in some situations where I receive the wayward glance or the moral huff of disapproval over what I write. That’s fine. I don’t read certain journals or books as they do not appeal to me, but as a writer I can respect their opinions and expression. I simply don’t pick up the journal. If you don’t agree with something, you can voice your opinion and be done with it. The terrorist attack in Paris reminded me that this sentiment is not shared by all.
The attack on Charlie Hebdo has left me heartbroken and rattled to my very core. The extreme violence stunned me. It also reminded me of when I was threatened with physical violence as a result of what I had written. A memory that I had stuffed away and was not eager to revisit.
I was in my late 20’s and still lived with the belief that free speech and expression prevailed especially in my home. I kept a journal. It was my solace and creative outlet. I wrote freely. And of course, as the saying goes, if people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have treated you better. My son’s father did not approve of my journalling. I’ll never forget how I saw my journal being ripped to pieces in front of me while being threatened with physical harm if I ever wrote again. I didn’t give up. I picked up the pieces out of the trash can and re-wrote my entry. I hid the books under my mattress and wrote in secret.
The pressure eventually became too much. After enduring threats that eventually became promises, my voice was silenced. I became steeped in a relationship wrought with violence, power and control. I lost myself. I became a shell of a human being. The young woman who majored in feminist studies and championed others was now unable to make a simple decision.
For years I existed and remained silent. I was eventually saved, but it took another six years for me to figure out who I was again. My current boyfriend inadvertently attemped to control me in a different way by pushing me into social roles I wasn’t quite ready for. I tried to fit in but failed. Then one night on a whim, I picked up my laptop and wrote a short story, the first one in over a decade. I shared it with a friend and they liked it. So I wrote another one. The result is Libertine Awakenings, book one in a series. I found my voice and for the first time in nearly 20 years, I felt whole.
I became strong enough to start writing again but the censorship continues in a different form. Now it is the sense that writing about sex is somehow wrong and dirty. Erotica isn’t “real writing” or that words that entice and arouse are somehow unacceptable. I can understand this notion. I write under my pen name not out of shame, but that my birth name conjures up car pools and baking cupcakes. I knew my writing could anger someone, but I didn’t give it a second thought. However, the attack in Paris, the city of my heart and my familial roots has made me afraid once again.
The action of a group of extremists, fanatics seeped in religious ideology and anger has rattled all of us who write for a living. I know that my book would cost me my life if I were living in a country that was governed by such an oppressive religious authority. I fret over the risk of attack in my country and worry about my sister writers across the globe. Not just erotic writers, but journalists, feminists, romance writers…we’re all subject to censorship and if the extremists have their way, as in Paris, death.
I followed the breaking news and when I saw the pictures of the bloodied offices at Charlie Hebdo, I wept. I felt sick when I watched the video of the police officer executed in the streets. Fear gripped me. I questioned my writing and part of me wanted to retreat and never write another word.
I remembered how I felt a decade ago. I decided, no.
As the crowds gather in Paris at this moment in a show of solidarity, I am sitting on my couch writing this blog, sharing my intimate thoughts with you. I weep over the loss of life. I have walked on that street and shopped near that market. It breaks my heart. My beloved city has been violated.
The writers and artists at Charlie Hebdo snubbed convention. They were outrageous. They also knew that with each stroke of the keyboard and scrape of the pencil, fate was tested. Yet they were brave enough to continue, regardless of threats. It cost them their lives.
I stand in solidarity with the people of Paris as a creative. I will not hide my journals under my bed. I will not let them win.
I am a writer.
Je Suis Charlie