Friday, October 12, 2018

Dysfunctions Again: Challenging the Cliches

From the cover for Short Stay
In Cullinan's Dirty Laundry, the lovers--Adam and Denver--engage in bondage. Adam is slight, short, and bespeckled while Denver is a huge, muscled guy who works as a bouncer for most of the book.

Their relationship is not dysfunctional. At least not problematically so.

Both characters lay their cards on the table. They are honest about their needs (and when they aren't, they work it out). They know exactly where their boundaries are and exactly what they are each getting from the relationship.

As the Dom, Denver never makes the mistake of believing--or even imagining--that this role makes him "better than" his partner. His added height, weight, and job don't make him inherently abusive (although other people in the book make this assumption).

Where Dirty Laundry gets really insightful, however, is the depiction of Adam's ex (who I will refer to as Ex). He is obviously slim, though taller than Adam, even graceful. On paper, he would seem the appropriate companion to the slight Adam.

Ex claims to "care." He claims to want to make things better, to "take care of" Adam. He goes overboard trying to persuade Adam that he can't survive on his own. Adam is such a mass of problems, the only one who can put up with him is Ex!

Ex is all about control.

When Ex breaks up with Adam, he expects Adam to come crawling back. The break-up was supposed to be a "lesson." Instead, Adam takes the opportunity to break free, to move out on his own. He can't entirely explain to himself why Ex's "niceness" is so totally disruptive to his own ability to function; he just knows that it is.

I consider this brilliant characterization. Because of course, Ex is furious. That's not the way the script was supposed to go. Adam was supposed to realize what a mess he was and be grateful that someone, anyone, is willing to date him. He certainly wasn't supposed to go off and find himself a complementary mate who satisfies his needs without making him feel like crap.

"Consenting adults" has more than one layer. (Which can't be solved by legalities or by reliance on appearance.)