The Evolution of My Fantasies, As Recalled One Midnight.

I wrote what follows last summer (as I recall, I found it emotionally very difficult to do so), and I just came across it and thought it relevant.

Elementary school: there’s this sort of series of cells, two rows that flank a central courtyard, one child per cell. They’re really happy there (my prison fantasies have always featured peace and contentment). Their cells are cozy, with loads of quilts and cushions and stuffed animals. Spectators peer at them through the bars — the whole front wall of each cell is bars, or maybe a sort of wire mesh. The kids wear collars, and are permitted to leave their cells only leashed and accompanied by a guard — a bit like a dog going for a walk. Sometimes they visit each other’s cells. I would look at the Pottery Barn Kids catalogue and transplant this “story” there.

Later (especially after reading Roald Dahl’s Boy), I had schools. I’ve always had schools. Boarding schools populated by cheeky kids who do something silly (it was always obscure quite what) and then had some punishment meted out. I struggled quite hard to think of the crime in one particular phase, because I wanted a story where “the punishment fit the crime” and couldn’t quite think of a plausible schoolboy caper that would fit whatever odd punishment I wanted. Sometimes it was just canings by prefects or headmasters, but other times there was this public display kind of like stocks, or public whippings, or a communal jail cell (or even solitary confinement). I hit upon a clever solution to the “punishment fits the crime” thing when I decided that in retribution for playing a prank on a given teacher, a kid would have to serve as that teacher’s slave. This got increasingly more erotic as I got older; by middle school the teacher whom the pupil (sometimes female, sometimes male) was serving was always this sort of romantic hero-type 30-year-old male with long dark hair and a mysterious expression. I gleaned my “bedtime stories” (these imaginings always occurred — and still occasionally do — as the requirement for falling asleep) from the sort of books one gives children: a child’s history of Colonial America, with its stocks and whipping posts, or, of course, the boarding-school tales, or bits on the Civil War and how horrible slavery was. It wasn’t that I didn’t realise it was horrible — it just got quietly incorporated into my games.

And yet I remember one incredibly harrowing occasion on which I ran from the table in tears when my father described one dinnertime how he was paddled at school. It traumatised me for a day or two — and I still don’t quite understand why. But I have never with great ease expressed my stories out loud, in the real world.

One bit of slow evolution towards less cuddly fantasies occurred after watching an episode of (if you can believe it) the animated Redwall television series. This was the summer before seventh grade. After the show, there’d be a live segment talking about some historical basis for the show, and since that particular episode had been about some pirate rats or something there was a segment on pirate ships. And they quite literally brought the cat out of the bag, because there was a bit about the cat o’ nine tails and punishing recalcitrant pirates. And this was what started off the “ships” bit of my “swords, ships and Scotland” “obsessions” that persisted for a couple years. I got really into pirates. I tried playing pirates with my sister, because I was totally absorbed by the fantasies in my head of dashing, brave kids (I don’t do well imagining protagonists not my age) getting tied to the mast and flogged. I remember playing out in the backyard of my grandparents’ house with the intention of getting to the flogging bit, but somehow changing the direction of the plot because I was nervous what my sister would think of where I wanted to go. I tried it again one night with her, whispering the actions of our characters in an RPG-way. We got to the flogging bit, but I toned it down a considerable amount — she was into the story so that her characters would get some screen time, and I didn’t know how to explain to her the purpose behind my fixation on the “cat”.

I think for the next few years most of them were really the school ones. There were so many of those: different characters, different scenarios, differing levels of fantasy (versus real-life settings and characters) and definitely differing levels of sexuality. I think these stories got increasingly more sexual (as one might expect) as I grew older and went through puberty, and as I discovered more things one could do. In seventh grade I started reading adult novels, and the preteen crushes on the schoolmasters became less chaste; the schoolboys, I think, started experimenting on one another (though I’m not sure when that was, as I don’t think I started reading Stephen Fry and whatnot till what, the summer before freshman or sophomore year?). But there was still largely a formula: someone erred and was punished. And for some reason, they always took great delight in it. There was a sense of “deserving” — my characters always recognised that they had done something stupid (whatever it was; again, this was usually incredibly vague) and ought to be punished for it, though this did not at all cause remorse or an inclination to see the error of their ways in any moral sense. There was a high rate of recidivism in my fictional prisons.

I hoped as I thought these things up that I would be so brave as to appreciate my punishment, were I ever to get in trouble, and I came to realise that I derived a sense of enjoyment from the prospect of situations that most people would find highly unenjoyable. I remember telling myself in ninth-grade PE, as I slogged through the last lap of a mile in utter misery, “You’re supposed to enjoy pain!” And indeed, I found this did make it easier to get through, despite asthma attacks and general dejection.

It was sophomore year, I think, whence I remember what are probably classed as my “darkest fantasies”. I finally got off the school thing and branched out. This may, actually, have been after reading Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale in April of sophomore year, because that must have been where I got the idea for a society where men are utterly in charge of women. It’s certainly something you know about from history and all, but in the fantasy (of the fiction genre variety) books I read then, women generally weren’t subjugated to such a blatant degree. I started imagining a world where women were their husbands’ property, and it just went from there. From being their husbands’ property these women became slaves, could not go out without a male escort — in fact, some of the richer households had male slaves just to keep an eye on the female slaves. With this development, the female slaves couldn’t just be around to do domestic tasks, their first role, because why not just send a man to do it? And so they became concubines, my first real experience, I think, with overt sexual fantasy. They lay in gutters and were used as furniture by their male masters. Every woman was branded, and the scenes of their branding I recreated in graphic detail. They were shown off as prize trophies to indicate a man’s social status. In a feature perhaps drawn from reading about public executions as a form of entertainment in days gone by, I had the women tortured publicly: I caused them to be tied up and then put on the rack, or have their blood drawn in some way, or maybe they were just left up on the public platform and gang-raped in turn.

Even now, I can barely believe that this was my bedtime fare for quite a while — and at the time I had some knowledge that what I was imagining was not exactly condoned. I’ve always lain back and let my imagination do the work — but if my imagination started in on a rape, for instance, some other part of me would take control and put a stop to the story, for a little while, until I would start again. I think at this time I was experiencing sexual arousal from my stories, though I’m not sure as I didn’t really understand what that meant for a girl until later, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me then to try masturbating, anyway.

So then, in the summer before junior year, I read LeGuin’s Four Ways to Forgiveness, which has slavery in it, and made a connection between the story and the aching in my genital region. At about the same time, I also learned that there can be a distinct sexual connection to subjugation and imprisonment and pain — and so all of a sudden, my stories became sexual. I tried to explain this to my boyfriend at the time, and he had no clue what I was going on about. But another friend did, and in November he bought me Pauline Reage’s Story of O.

But as I’ve had cause to remark upon in the past, it seems that realising that my fantasies had sexual connotations took all the imagination out of me. It is now difficult for me to contrive a plot on my own — and what plots I do contrive seem to have faded into niceties. My characters always take the most contented, relaxed pleasure in their submissions, and there are no more rapes in my unfettered imagination. My attempts to write stories down are even blander and more ridiculous. I get turned on by pornography, whether intentional or unintentional (a movie with a commonplace kidnapping can just as easily become pornography as the writings of de Sade). But it’s incredibly frustrating to me, because it’s as if knowing I’m normal and seeing the wider world has taken the edge off my head. I did much better when I frightened myself — but that, I suppose, is the point of the whole exercise.

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