Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pirates of the Narrow Seas, Pornography, and Gay Rights

Recently I discovered a critic who decried me as a 'porn author', and cited Pirates of the Narrow Seas as an example of pornography I had written. This illustrates the point I was addressing in writing Pirates of the Narrow Seas in the first place: there are people out there who automatically assume that gay=porn. When writing PoNS I made the deliberate decision not to include explicit sex in PoNS precisely because I was tired of the assumption that everything gay is pornographic, and that by implication, gay men are hypersexual monsters with uncontrollable appetites who can't be trusted and therefore must be suppressed for the good of society.

While the definition of pornography varies depending on who is defining it, everyone agrees that pornography is sexually explicit. No sex, no porn. Pornography is sexual. Period. Whether there's a difference between erotica and pornography is debatable; but I am not even going to address that argument because it doesn't apply to PoNS. Simply put, there is no explicit sex in PoNS. Ergo, it cannot be porn by anyone's definition, unless that person is a lunatic prude or a homophobe.

Pirates of the Narrow Seas does contain explicit kissing and fondling, but when the main characters have sex, it is alluded to in the most discreet manner; the actual coitus is not depicted. For example, when Lt. Thorton finally succumbs to Capt. Tangle’s charms, they kiss passionately, start removing their clothes, and disappear behind a curtain. The implication is clear: they are getting it on. But it happens ‘off screen.’ When we see them again, they are waking up in bed together the next morning. Comedy ensues as Thorton panics.

Likewise, there is male nudity, but the nudity is not sexual -- abused slaves covered in filth and naked, chained to their oars in a galley, for example. They are victims inhumane violence, and anybody who finds them sexually arousing does not ascribe to the same moral code I do. There is another scene in which Capt. Tangle has his ears and scrotum pierced, but this is a culturally accurate scene: North African Muslims of this time period believed scrotal piercing was a proof of courage. It was a rite of passage for warriors. There are readers today who will be titillated by such a scene, but that doesn’t make it porn—there are people who are titillated by automobiles, but that doesn’t mean Ferraris are porn. On the other hand, it is male nudity, and that is part of the reason why the work would be rated ‘R’ if it were a movie, but R-rated movies aren’t porn, either.

Pirates of the Narrow Seas is popular with readers of male/male romance novels, so it is not surprisingly that readers unfamiliar with the series might assume it features the standard formula of such novels, but it doesn’t. It has been widely read by romance reviewers who focus on the romance aspect, but they also point out that it isn’t a ‘traditional’ romance. It is almost an afterthought that they mention it is an adventure novel set during the Age of Sail. Calling it a m/m romance is like calling Pirates of the Caribbean a heterosexual romance. Yes, the love story is an important part of the tale, but that’s not the point!

Pirates of the Narrow Seas is an adventure series. It features storms at sea, ship to ship battles, duels, kidnapping, fire, earthquake, political intrigue, courtroom drama, rescues, escapes, disguises, and more. It’s a swashbuckler, and it belongs to the same genre as Captain Blood, The Princess Bride, Robin Hood, Master and Commander, The Prisoner of Zenda, Hornblower, and yes, Pirates of the Caribbean. It contains the standard elements of classic swashbucklers: adventure, excitement, and romance.

That being the case, how could anyone in their right mind call it pornography? Assuming that such a person is in fact sane (a dubious proposition in some cases) we must examine the underlying bias of the reviewer, and to that, we must delve into the series a bit. Our hero, Peter Thorton, begins the story as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy during the middle of the 18th century. At this time, the navy prescribes the death penalty for a man convicted of the “abominable crime of sodomy or buggery with man or beast.” There is no excuse, no mercy, and no redemption. It doesn’t matter who the man is, what his character is, or what his accomplishments are. The “abominable crime” cancels out everything. He is worthless, fit only for destruction. Law, religion, and culture unite to destroy LGBT people.

Fast forward to the modern day. Law, religion, and social custom continue to stigmatize LGBT as worthless--they do not deserve protection under the law. They do not deserve to be judged based on their work by an employer, they are judged by their sexuality. They do not deserve to have their unions recognized, they do not deserve to serve in the armed forces, they do not deserve to be safe when they attend school or walks the street, they do not deserve health care or anything else. A dog has more rights than an LGBT person does. If a dog is beaten and left to die, the public will cry out--nobody will post hateful blogs about how the dog’s ‘lifestyle’ caused his death, and therefore it's his own fault he’s dead.

If LGBT people are worthless, then by extension, literature by and about LGBT people is also worthless. There is no redemption for the “abominable crime”--it carries an LGBT taint and therefore the only possible appeal it could have is to prurience. In other words, it’s pornography. In this line of thinking, it doesn’t matter if the work contains sex or not. It doesn’t matter if it’s well written. The mere fact that is has some connection to LGBT people is sufficient to convict it and impose the death penalty. It should not be read; people should not make up their own minds about it; it should be destroyed. Anyone who does read it is tainting themselves and are guilty by association. LGBT-ness is contagious--you can catch by merely reading a book. No wonder homophobes want to stamp it out!

Pirates of the Narrow Seas is more than an adventure tale. It is also a coming out story as Lt. Peter Thorton--raised in a minister’s household, serving in a navy that will kill him if it catches him loving another man--must find a way to resolve the conflicts between what he was taught to believe and who he is. This is Everyman’s story, really. Everyone of us must come to know who we are and to stand proud in spite of all the ‘shoulds’ and ‘isms’ that we were taught growing up. Not one of us embodies the ideal we were taught, and part of becoming mature and competent adults is to realize it and make our peace with ourselves.

Pirates of the Narrow Seas is not a gay adventure series: it’s a human adventure series. The precise details of Thorton’s life differ from the details of someone else’s life, but that’s because each of us is a unique individual. Yet although the details differ, we are all human beings struggling for survival, dignity, and acceptance. Like Peter Thorton, we are on a quest for true love and self respect in this adventure called ‘life.’

No comments:

Post a Comment