Radical Uncertainty About Sexual Identity: Fifty Shades of Dismay

“Perversity is the human thirst for self-torture.” – Edgar Allan Poe

Sexual: Relating to the instincts, physiological processes, and activities connected with physical attraction or intimate physical contact between individuals.

Identity: The characteristics determining who or what a person or thing is.

Radical uncertainty about sexual identity.

Sexual identity is undoubtedly a large part of what makes a person who he or she is. It’s a defining quality. So if there’s something extreme about what it is that floats someone’s boat, something that doesn’t fall within the scope of what’s deemed normal or acceptable by society as a majority, this would make a person’s sexual identity uncanny.

But what about the radical uncertainty part? Is it a person questioning their own sexual identity, or is it somebody having serious doubts as to the sexual identity of someone else? I suppose it could be either.

The uncanniness in which Freud refers to, I think, relates to all of the sexual things that make most of us feel all squirmy and emotive about – paedophilia, bestiality, necrophilia, rape, incest, etc – the whole range of perversions that nobody feels comfortable discussing or thinking about because they’re just, well, plain wrong.

So yeah, uncertainty about sexual identity refers to the dark stuff that people might keep hidden away in their own heads (or at least should do), and the feelings of guilt and turmoil which might come about from having had such thoughts in the first place. And it’s also the doubt a person might have about someone else’s sexually deviant inclinations.

At this point I sort of feel it’d be rude not to mention Fifty Shades of Grey since the franchise has purportedly turned the world and her fella onto mainstream BDSM, and I think there are some issues to address here. I only read the first book of the trilogy, and I must say I had radical uncertainty about the whole damn thing.

So, what exactly was it that got a high percentage of the world’s female population hot under the collar? I honestly don’t know. If I were to hazard a guess I’d say the fascination was more to do with the hope that a psychologically damaged person’s broken mind could be fixed. Because, as we discovered, Grey’s character had been abused during childhood which is the reason implied as to why, as an adult, he was a domineering control freak who didn’t have the emotional capacity with which to enter into a meaningful relationship and liked to rough his women up in the bedroom – sorry, his red room of pain. So I do wonder if the intrigue for a lot of readers was to see if Ana could change him, to soften him up and fix him so that by the end they were making love like if there was extra footage at the end of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

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Because it can’t have been the sex scenes that fascinated people. Surely? Or indeed the kink. Erotic fiction has been about since, well, I dunno, probably since time began. And it’d be crazy to say that this was some ground-breaking piece of literature that stood out from the masters of the genre.

I don’t want to blur the lines here. By mentioning Fifty Shades I’m not suggesting that BDSM is some sort of evil which warrants a spot in this minefield of sexual uncanniness of Freud’s – not if it’s consensual anyhow. I mean, who gives a shit what adults do behind closed doors so long as it’s consensual? The problem with Fifty Shades, for me, lies herein: Christian and Ana’s relationship crosses the boundaries of abuse and I really disliked that – he moulds her, shapes her, stalks her, controls her. In my mind it was really creepy behaviour. I mean, who’d willingly choose to put up with that shit?

Most women I spoke to about the book/s referred to the love story, saying that’s what they enjoyed most. And I guess that’s subjective because I didn’t pick up on any sort of love story. What I picked up on was two people who didn’t seem to have anything in common, driven by lust in a storyline that was wildly ridiculous at best. Christian Grey was a total prick and Ana was insanely irritating. I sort of wanted her to beat him to death with his own paddle, or at the very least get a restraining order against him. But then, I never really got on board with Ana so I found it hard to care. She was as shallow as puddle water, undoubtedly motivated by the magnitude of Grey’s wealth. I imagine if he’d been an IT helpdesk consultant or a refuse collector she wouldn’t have given his demands the time of day, as it was he was a millionaire. He was like a challenge for her, I think. If she could get him to overcome his sexual preferences, which were alien at best to her, then she’d be left with the perfect man – handsome, fit and stinking rich. All she needed to do was address the issue of him wanting to beat her every time they had sex, then everything would be hunky dory.

Funnily enough, Fifty Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fan-fic. You know, Twilight where Bella is seriously lusting after Edward the sparkly vampire, who is like the daddy of all sugar daddies because he’s eons older than she is. Anyway, before they take their courtship to the next level, Edward insists that he must turn Bella into a vampire because, apparently, he’s so goddamn wild between the sheets she won’t be able to cope as a mere human being and he might well seriously hurt her – not with paddles and horsewhips, but raw sexual power. This only serves to stoke Bella’s intrigue (which was perhaps Edward’s ploy – I mean, who’s got time to wait for transformations and shit to take place when we’re onto film three already? Hurry up for chrissakes!)

It seemed that Bella was having some radical uncertainty about Edward’s sexual identity that she wanted to be certain of before she committed to the charm of immortality, so they did the deed – she as a human. Now, I doubt they’d have got the deposit back on the holiday let afterwards, because Edward held true to his word and things got pretty rough – but hey, she did insist.

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So although I’m not the biggest fan of Fifty Shades or Twilight, I can at least see the love story development in Twilight. I can see the appeal. Whereas I still have radical uncertainty about Fifty Shades.

And while we’re on the subject of vampires, I think they’re extremely relevant to this month’s uncanny. Take Dracula for example, he comes in the middle of the night to women’s bedrooms, and even though he’s a predatory monster, he’s somehow seen as being this seductive creature with great allure. He’s a deadly and mysterious character to be feared, and yet there’s an element of lust thrown into the mix.

Why?

The promise of eternal life? Everlasting youth? Danger? Risk? The unknown? Probably all of those things and more.

But looks play a large part in these fictional blood-sucking creations too. Women might have no qualms about leaving their windows unlocked for slick-haired Christopher Lee, pointy-collared Bela Lugosi or sunglasses-toting Gary Oldman – but if Nosferatu turns up at the window then that sonofabitch is getting a bucketful of garlic flavoured holy water chucked in his face.

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So to conclude, I think in the throes of lust, (as well as horror, because fear and sex can be closely linked) we become a different version of our everyday sociable persona. Stripped down (pardon the pun) to a primal, selfish version of ourselves that cares for nothing but what’s happening in that moment.

Radical uncertainty about sexual identity is someone’s personal battle within. It’s the physical and psychological trauma of a victim. It’s denial. It’s pretence. It’s well-kept dirty secrets. It’s not knowing what makes a person tick behind their outwardly sociable persona. That anyone could well be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That the seemingly harmless middle-aged man you talk to every Friday in the fish shop might be harbouring some seriously messed up, perhaps harmful, sexual perversions.

Because you never can tell.

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