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30 September 2011 @ 10:36 pm
Telepathy And Sexual Assault -- Secret Thoughts  
This trilogy, and its promotion on the World SF Blog here, is what I originally invented "psi fail bingo" for (as inspired by Angry Black Woman's BINGO Project, tithenai's Post-Colonial Bingo, annaham's Invisible Illness and Disability Bingo, swankivy's Asexual Bingo, xyxrebellion's Transphobia Bingo, and metalsunflower's long list of other bingo cards, some of which appear to be taken down).

[If I have mis-attributed anything on this list, please drop me a comment so that I can credit correctly.]

Oh, you will be introduced to my bingo cards, you will. ^_^ The cards are useful for deconstructing not only these stories, but they also work for many, many other stories with psi fail as well!

Although I have many things to say about this trilogy and the review of it, in this chapter (Telepathy And Sexual Assault), I just want to pull out one tiny clip that directly fits into this chapter.

From the review, written by someone named Anil Menon:

"The first story, "The Perfect Girl" (previously published in Dreams in Aspamia, #12) illustrates with a deft opening stroke the basic issue in telepathy. We are told that when a telepath touches someone, the telepath gains access to the other's thoughts, their emotions (the distinction isn't always clear). [1] So when the telepath Alexandra Watson wants to know if the attractive guard at the gate of Indianapolis Academy is attracted to her, she doesn't have to guess. A furtive "accidental" touch reveals all. However, her reaction is not one of pleasure, but self-disgust. [2] She has groped a mind, [3] taken something she wasn't entitled to take. [4] Her act may be immoral [5]..."

[1] We are in a world of fictionalized "touch telepathy." What follows bears little resemblance to actual touch telepathy, but it should be obvious that this trilogy was never going for anything resembling reality.
[2] Look, our psi protagonist is disgusted with herself for being psi! Why?
[3] Telepathy is sexual assault, that's why!
[4] And telepathy is theft, that's why!
[5] And using her senses is immoral, that's why!

And because she's a "good" telepath, she knows this. Which is why she is going to a Special School for Psi People in order to learn better "control." Because learning good "control" (so she doesn't go around raping and stealing and violating and stuff) is what makes her a "good" telepath.

I will return to this example later when I discuss, in more detail, the narratives of "ethical self-repression" (the "good" psi person versus the "bad" psi person), narratives which have become very pervasive (if not ubiquitous) over the past thirty plus years. What is relevant in this example, at this point, is that:

1) This character's telepathic awarenesses are per se described as sexual assault (and theft);
2) We see this association not from the point of view of an outsider who is afraid of/who hates telepaths, but through this telepathic character's own eyes;
3) The character who thinks this way about herself is the "good guy" of the book, and there is no indication that she has any experiences which cause her re-think this self-image;
4) This framing of telepathy as sexual assault and theft is in the book's opening, setting the stage for the rest of the book;
5) This opening scene is used to make a point about what, in the author's view, is the "basic issue in telepathy."

Well, what is the author's "basic issue in telepathy" (it's sure not mine)? Well, it's reflected in the title itself, for starters -- "Secret Thoughts." The reviewer writes, "Since intimacy and secrecy are all but inseparable, it's no surprise that Guy Hasson's "Secret Thoughts," a collection of three novellas, is also a triad if [sic] stories about intimacy."

The book's promotional synopsis says, "In “The Perfect Girl”, Alexandra Watson is a newcomer to Indianapolis Academy of Telepathic Studies. By touch alone, she can delve into your memories, desires, insecurities… everything that makes a person."

Here, let me sum up the "basic issue in telepathy" for you:

MY PRIVACY, OH NOES!!!

This is Psi Fail Bingo Free Space Number 1.

If you are reading a book (or short story) with telepathic characters in it, or watching a show or movie with telepathic characters in it, you might as well check this one off before you crack the spine or press play. This also raises my first point about privilege held by those who do not regularly have experiences which could be classified as psi (format adapted from Peggy McIntosh's Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Taking Up Too Much Space's Cis Privilege Checklist, and other privilege checklists around the internet):

* No one (in real life or in fiction) will ever compare my normal, healthy sensory experiences to sexual assault, rape, theft, violation, trespass or cheating, imply that I violate others by being in the same space as them or by casually touching them, or expect me to be intentionally unaware of my surroundings so that they will feel more comfortable in my presence.

(I know it's currently framed in the negative, and ideally should be framed in the positive, but I cannot think of any way to do so. This blog is a work in progress.)

If I had a nickel for every time. If only.
 
 
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(Deleted comment)
Dash: Agendaspacehawk on October 1st, 2011 03:32 am (UTC)
Yes, I have! It's very relevant to the "ethical self-repression" conversation. Not to get too ahead of myself, but it seems that the master-narrative is that there is something special and different about psi that actually justifies its exemption from the sorts of critiques that Vonnegut made.

I tried (a little) to make this sort of argument in the clip from the 2006 conversation I posted in the Star Trek entry, and you can see the result (which is the typical response): none of this applies to psi, because psi is unique in its quality of "violating others" (oh noes!).

Again, if I had a nickel.