Ok, so here’s the thing, I never, ever intended to write about Fifty Shades of Grey. Oh the reasons for not writing about it are endless.
I’m a literature snob. I do love a good trashy, low rent beach read from time to time, but my reading tastes lean to works that are more, shall we say artful?
Think pieces are not really my thing either.
Also, I’m not a prude; the sex in the book generally doesn’t bother me, and I’m intrigued by the zillions of interpretive dance think pieces on freaky sex, control based sex, sex abuse, sex assault, feminism, patriarchy, religion, etc that have been launched by the book. My commentary on the sex is simple: as a literary vehicle, the sex in the book is gratuitous, even if it is consensual.
The reviews and promotion of the books and the movie have been pervasive; I mean what could I say that hasn’t already been said? Really?
So much writing over a book that is as close to real literature as a frosted poptart from a box is to a slice of cake from the best cakery you can name? Chile, please.
The truth is that I’m trying to get back into pleasure reading post-dissertation, and my recent trip to St. Kitts [for work!] afforded me a few languid hours of beach time. I left a new book at home by accident and didn’t find anything in the airport worth reading. So in scrolling through my trove of e-books the Fifty series came up. Meh, it’s an easy, mind numbing read. So I reread the first two books previously read while laying on a beach a few islands over a couple of years ago.
And I got to thinking… about Christian and his sexy shenanigans.
Spoiler alert for anyone living under a rock and doesn’t know much about the books: Christian Grey was adopted.
In fact, the whole premise for Christian Grey’s fifty shades of effed up is the neglect and abuse he experienced as a very young child. And although he was adopted by an affluent, loving family, he went on to be a vulnerable teen who was further sexually abused by a family friend. He became a successful entrepreneur who experiences wild mood swings, seeks to control every aspect of his environment, experiences night terrors related to childhood trauma and engages in sexual behavior that some may find deviant, but it allows him to control what happens to him and his body.
So, um, yeah.
Any adoptive parents out there see what I see here once you strip away all the sexy time distractions?
Hey, I don’t know what’s going on in your house, but as I reread the first book I thought, on a much smaller scale, I see some of these behaviors with Hope. Yeah, I compared Hope to Christian Grey, don’t get your drawers in a bunch! #followmenow
Mood swings? Check.
Fear for safety? Check, but less so now.
Night terrors? Check, still have them occasionally.
Socially vulnerable? Check.
Full of shame? Check.
Control freak? Check.
Presence of some really hard limits? Oh yeah, triple check.
In fact over the last week I’ve been using a hard/soft limit/safe word framework for sorting through what Hope and I work through. We have hard limits–sooo hard they feel like emotional granite. I’ve told the therapist what they are; I’ve encouraged Hope to discuss them, but nope. Not going to happen. She ain’t budging anytime soon.
I know when to push the soft limits now, and I know the safe words to soothe her and to make her relax a bit.
Troubled first families, adoption, childhood trauma and its lingering effects are major explanatory drivers for Christian’s behavior in this series, and I haven’t really seen anyone talk about it. Really…are we so hopped up about the sex in the book that folks missed these elements? I mean, It’s not until the later books in the series that Christian’s adoption narrative gets a bit more attention and his early abuse is really cast as the reason for his behavior, but the groundwork for this narrative is firmly laid in the first book.
As I had this epiphany about the storyline, I found myself questioning E.L. James’ use of adoption as this narrative thread through the books. Why don’t interviewers ask her about it? Why aren’t there think pieces about adoption narratives as literary tools? I wonder if James thinks that adopting an older child just leads to this kinda thing? I mean…might this inadvertently reinforce that older adoptees are some how broken? Or does it make folks think that this isn’t the picture of dealing with the drama of childhood trauma? Did she make Christian a poster kid for vulnerable, traumatized kids only to then paint him as somehow exceptional because this just doesn’t really happen with “truly committed” adoptive families?
So, I saw Fifty Shades through a lens that I didn’t have about 3 years ago. I see Christian for what he is, someone still fighting the struggle to heal from the fifty effed up things that happened to him. I wonder how adoptees feel about this storyline? I wonder how other adoptive parents feel about it? It gives me fifty shades of feelings that are hard to parse out and describe. It’s uncomfortable because purely focusing on some of Christian’s emotional capacity issues makes the book story plausible.
My daughter came to me emotionally much younger than her chronological years. Hope struggles with the long term effects of childhood trauma. She didn’t want to be touched at all when she first came home. Some soothing behaviors were socially awkward at best, offensive at worst. She works hard at healing. We work hard at healing.
It’s hard seeing some of your story in the backstory of a book like Fifty. It’s also hard knowing how hard the child and parents are working to get to some sort of normal, because it doesn’t happen automatically at placement or finalization. It’s hard seeing a characterization that all of the work might still lead to adult behaviors that give people the willies and make them write think pieces about your sexual proclivities.
I find myself wanting to sit down and have a drink with Christian and his adoptive parents. Hey what therapies did you try? What behaviors were the most challenging? Mom, how did you not know your bestie was getting it in with your son? How did you manage? What would you do differently? You had resources for all kinds of stuff, but did you have the emotional support you needed?
I have so many questions about Christian’s life and healing. 99 questions and not one about sex.
February 15th, 2015 at 1:12 am
Can always rely on you for a fresh take on something. But finding a fresh take on 50 Shades … now that is REALLY something!
February 15th, 2015 at 6:07 am
Ha! Like I said, I never would have thought about writing about it, but the the character’s existence is based in an adoption narrative. And no one seemed to notice? Thanks as always!
February 15th, 2015 at 11:06 am
I haven’t read the book and had no idea it was a series…but I knew the character was an adoptee…and just like all adoptees – you could say his character is the extreme rather than the middle of the bell curve where probably most of us reside.
As to your checks for Hope – I have many of those and I was an infant adoptee – so – I think there are certain impacts that cross all types of adoption…and I don’t think they are avoidable and can be enhanced by your story or decreased by it.
There are books and TV shows that do a pretty good job of showing typical adoptee response to things about adoption. One is http://www.tessgerritsen.com/ (if memory serves she’s an adoptee)…
February 16th, 2015 at 8:16 am
Tao, as always, super thanks for the read and comment. Yeah, it’s not just one book and I heard the director confirm that she’s on-board to produce the 2nd movie in the series. Ugh!
Of course the character is an extreme one, but because of the popularity of the book, I fret a bit about how it reemphasizes the notion that older child adoption in particular means getting a “weird, freaky” kid. It still annoys me how many people asked me prior to Hope and even now after Hope will I or do I regret not getting an infant so I could “train” her not to be broken in someway. Ugh!
Your point about the checks is well taken; some things transcend the kind of adoption involved. Thanks for the link–will definitely check it out; I’m always interested in hearing the voice of adoptees!
February 16th, 2015 at 10:00 am
I can understand why you are concerned – I wish everyone could step outside of themselves and ask if they would have any challenges to work through if they had a different upbringing than they did. If they could do that and believe they would come out the other side – then perhaps they’d realize that older age adoptees are just like they are – human beings…some rise to the occasion and some need a hand to get there…
February 18th, 2015 at 8:40 pm
Great blog post! I have not read the book or seen the movie and frankly had no interest to do either until reading your blog. I’m intrigued now; not by the perverse sexual content but the underlying story-line and how it relates to the overall character. Here I was thinking from the females point of view and how the hell could she allow herself to get caught in a sexual game and what happened in her past that impacted her judgement. I never gave a thought to the male in this story.
February 18th, 2015 at 10:26 pm
Meh, the sexual content is really overrated and it’s popularity is proof that folks aren’t getting enough regular spice in their life. Like I said, it’s a lazy writing device. But yes, the male character has a lot of his own issues that he struggles with and that are not appropriately addressed throughout the series. Thanks!
February 18th, 2015 at 10:01 pm
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