Interview with Michelle Browne: Consent, Abuse, Trauma, and Dark Romance

I’m a little late in sharing this, but several months back, around the time that my editor and I were hammering out revisions on Edgeplay, we had a very long conversation-turned-interview on the direction of romance, and the ways it intersects with the world around us. The links were shared on my facebook and such at the time, but I forgot to share them here. And there’s some really meaty stuff. Because I’m apparently a sucker for punishment and tough conversations. Samples and links below.

Part 1’s here. A sample:

Q: What is it about this kind of dark romance that seems to have struck a nerve?

A: A little more on this specific kind of romance in the question below, but I think people use dark romances similarly to horror, for catharsis in the fear. Indeed, the two genres often have a lot of overlap. Tweak a few wordings in 50 Shades of Grey, and you have a tragedy about a woman psychologically and physically abused until she gives up her very identity. Tweak the wording on a few of the scenes in a captivity fantasy romance and it becomes a harrowing fight to escape from imprisonment by a monster. Tweak the balance of elements in a revenge thriller about a girl getting close enough to avenge her dad, and you have a dark romantic thriller when her conflicting feelings toward her target and those around him become plain.

That gives it versatility; you can incorporate thriller elements, film-noir elements, suspense elements, dark supernatural or horror elements, and explore some of the most complex variants of human sexuality. And this isn’t a new thing. Look to the movies, and you’ll see an endless parade of concepts that would be lumped in with Dark Romance, worked in as romance subplots in action movies, self-destructive fighters redeemed by the love of the right woman, brightened up a la Pretty Woman, or explored through stalker narratives like Elijah Woods’ rendition of the classic movie Maniac, which is in many many places just a few conversations and a sex scene away from an actual romance. We’re honestly really familiar with these narratives: the hatefuck revenge one, the Beauty and the Beast capture fantasy, the girl in over her head with a Mafia Don, the nice guy turned stalker… They aren’t always center stage, but they’re still present in our vernacular, and so long as that’s the case, we’ll continue to see people draw to these blends.

Part Two’s here. And a teaser:

Basically, we really don’t educate people to provide a framework for people to talk about their wants and needs– especially sexually. And BDSM is the exact opposite. It’s an ongoing conversation that’s intended to change as you do. In some ways, this makes it the perfect tool for exploring your sexuality, both vanilla and kinky. And for someone whose consent has already been violated, it can be a hugely useful tool for rebuilding trust in your consent, believing it will be listened to.  In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need discussions of Dom/sub roles to set boundaries. But for a lot of people, those conversations never happen until they decide to try embracing one role or the other, and start those negotiations. And in a lot of relationships, both partners would benefit from these conversations.

For some of those who’ve survived abuse, BDSM can be a great way of rebuilding trust, working through hurdles, with someone who is expecting the absolute worst, and is watching to see what they need to do to make it healthy for you. But it goes beyond that. Even if it’s just that you’re shy, and have a difficult time expressing yourself, negotiating to try being a sub can result in you becoming a lot better at stating exactly what you want. If you’re already a forceful person, negotiating how you might Dominate someone, maybe it lets you feel less guilty about stating exactly what you want, or reassures you that you are giving others what they want, too. Or maybe you want to try the opposite role. You want to give up your power, and know that things will still be okay. Or maybe you want to know that even if you choose not to be assertive most of the time, you could, in a pinch, take charge.

Many thanks to Michelle, both for her painstaking work as my editor, and for the great conversations! Check out her writing, too.

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