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#MeToo is challenging mainstream society to critically examine long-held assumptions about sexual scripts and femme pleasure.

By Michelle Carroll Lately it feels like it's nearly impossible to go a single day without hearing a viral story of sexual violence. And of course, this is a good thing. Finally the pain and shame that was previously whispered to friends and confidantes is being taken seriously by popular media. The #MeToo movement’s goal is to promote widespread culture change—from abolishing violent sexual scripts accepted by our cultural consciousness to deliberately creating space to talk openly about healthy sex, affirmative consent, and respecting boundaries. In the short term, their work is to make sure that survivors who come forward are not only believed, but supported. However, the engines of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements is the pain and trauma of women, and unfortunately there is nearly an infinite supply of sexual trauma in our communities. https://twitter.com/rachie_claire/status/929082629877624833 But what about the survivors and victims among us who want to read something else? The 24/7 news cycle focused on victimization does not help us feel sexy or safe. Even before #MeToo, dating and sex were fraught with minefields (especially if cisgender men are your jam). Healthy, fulfilling sex was a goal that one worked towards, not the inevitable conclusion of a Friday night at a local bar or dance club. We deserve fun, exciting, hot, steamy, sexy time too! In my experience, the only place to get consistently consensual sex with a diverse array of communicative people is from a romance novel.
Romance Renaissance
It is a truth universally acknowledged that romance novels get a bad rap in popular culture. Literary critics and general readers imagine romance novel readers and writers as sexually repressed, white, suburban moms. But, in reality, romance writers and readers are a diverse group of critical thinkers. Without fanfare, a small legion of intersectional feminist romance novels has burst onto the market, reinvigorating a genre long grown stale by the domination of white, cisgender women authors. The romance novel genre is deceptively large and complex, with specific tropes and rules that challenge authors to realize unique characters within the strict confines of their chosen genre. And of course, every novel must end with a happily ever after for the characters. There are subgenres for all preferences: contemporary romance novels, cowboy romance novels, regency romance novels, historical romance novels, sci-fi romance novels, fantasy romance novels. And there are tropes within each of these subgenres that define how the author will tell the story of falling in love. Some popular examples in the genre are: the “(white) alpha hero” who uses his masculinity and white privilege to control the world around him, including, in some ways, his love interest; the “disguise” trope is when either one or both of the main characters pretends to be something they aren’t; “the fake engagement” trope is when the love interests agree to a fake engagement to circumvent some external problem but ultimately fall in love for real. Although a majority of romance novel subgenres are not predicated on violence against women or the attitudes that lead to violence against marginalized peoples and identities, it’s easy to replicate real world inequalities in romance novels if the author is not fully conscious of these lived realities.
Related: AFROFUTURISM: A BRIEF HISTORY AND FIVE BOOKS TO GET YOU STARTED

Violence is so normalized that we often don't even recognize sexual abuses in the moment.

[TW/CW: discussion of sexual violence.] I recently realized that sex is unhealthy for me. Not sex in theory. No, of course not. Sex is healthy for our bodies and even our hearts and minds.When I say that sex is unhealthy for me, I mean the kind of sex that I have experienced — an experience that I share with many women, femmes, and bottoms. The sex where my needs are neglected and my boundaries are ignored in favor of whatever desires my partner may have. Not everyone experiences sex and the things surrounding it in the same way, for various reasons. Some of those reasons might include gender cultivation, (a)sexuality, choice of sexual expression, knowledge of self/knowledge one's own (a)sexuality, or relationship with one's own body. Some of those reasons might include how certain body types are deemed "normal" and acceptable while others are only ever fetishized or demonized. Some of those reasons might include the fact certain folks are told that they should be grateful that anyone would even be willing to look at them, let alone touch or love them, while others are expected to always be available for sexual contact. Some of those reasons might include the fact that some people are afforded certain permissions to make decisions about their sex and love life without being eternally scrutinized, while others are nearly always assumed to be sexually irresponsible. Some of those reasons might include past or current trauma and abuse. And a host of other reasons not mentioned here, or reasons that you or I have never even considered because they're not a factor in our personal story. I'm not straight. I'm just an asexual with a libido—infrequent as it may be—and a preference for masculine aesthetic and certain genitalia. Most of the sex that I have had is what we would consider to be “straight” sex, and I am fairly certain that I would enjoy the act more and have a healthier relationship with it if more sexual partners were willing to make the experience comfortable and safe for me. Instead, men seem to want to make sex as uncomfortable and painful as possible for their partners, whether consciously or unconsciously, regardless of whether or not that is what we want. Many men seem to judge their sexual partners abilities the same way that they gauge how much we love them and how deep our loyalty goes — by how much pain we can endure. I say this based on my personal experience, as well as the experiences of many of the people around me who have been gracious and trusting enough to share with me their testimony. Many of us have been conditioned to measure ourselves in the same way, using our ability to endure pain as a barometer for our worth.
Related: STEALTHING NEGATES CONSENT AND IS RAPE

As sexist and misogynistic as it is heteronormative, this inordinate value placed on romance and marriage is consistently used to devalue single and unmarried women, painting us as inherently unworthy and pathetic, too difficult and too picky.

Romance is not universal, or necessary. However, due to the way that romance has been heralded as a fundamental part of human experience (and even non-human animal experience in some instances), this is something that many people will disagree with. So, I will say it again. Romance is not universal, or necessary. The idea that it is necessary is one that is deeply embedded among societal expectations and permissions about relationships (and sex), and it is imperative for us to understand that our experiences with romance are not universal and that all orientations are valid. To many people, romance is a necessary part of their lives, and that is fair. For others, however, romance is a foreign and sometimes impossible concept. For some, romantic entanglements easily become toxic. For some, romantic involvements easily trigger many anxieties. For some, romantic situations are traumatic. The term amatonormativity, coined by Elizabeth Blake, refers to the “widespread assumption that everyone is better off in an exclusive, romantic, long-term coupled relationship, and that everyone is seeking such a relationship.” It constructs romantic relationships as inherently superior and more necessary than non-romantic ones. This pervasive idea is damaging for everyone, as Elizabeth Brake details in her scholarships on marriage and policy, but especially so for those on the aromantic spectrum and others who fall outside of the heteronormative monogamous model of romance. Amatonormativity erases the significance of familial, platonic, and queerplatonic friendships/relationships. So much so, that we refer to romantic partners as “significant other.” As a largely heteronormative concept, it is one of the driving forces behind mind-boggling and widely accepted cultural myths like "men and women can't be friends,” because it assumes that romance, and by extension, sex are the default in relationships between men and women. It's also why so many people abandon friendships and neglect other people when they start dating someone new. And why the contemporary concept of marriage is viewed as the end goal of dating, despite the fact that marriage is neither wanted or needed by many people for legitimate reasons.
Related: OUR IDEAS OF ROMANCE ARE ABUSIVE

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