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No happy sex, but bitter sex #WU14

Sometimes a Writers Unlimited programme can catch you off guard. Last year, the late-night talk show on literary sex was a hilarious highlight - pun intended - of the festival. This time, the programme dropped Let's talk about sex bar little to laugh at.

Forget the connotations with Salt N Pepa. Indonesian Linda Christanty writes not about 'happy sex, but about bitter sex as a means of power, as a form of coercion and violence.' That made us quiet for a moment. 

Things are not going well. China's Geling Yan had to cancel due to illness, and was replaced by Gary Barker, the timid Linda Christanty from Indonesia has a rather difficult time speaking in English, and with a loud bang all the microphones decide to stop. After that, it takes some effort to loosen things up a bit, but the tactful moderator Petra Stienen still manages to make for a fascinating conversation.

Christanty writes in Bahasa Indonesia and her work has not yet been translated into English or Dutch. In her story The Pink Butterfly - read aloud in Bahasa, but to be followed via surtitles - she tells of a transgender main character who, after being repeatedly raped by the Koranic teacher, and David Cronenberg-like mutations, take revenge and come to terms with themselves. "I don't talk about 'victims' of sexual violence, I prefer to call them 'survivors'," Christanty says. "Because despite everything, life goes on. Even in dark times, there is light."

She previously worked for a non-profit organisation, and now, as a writer and blogger, seeks to use literature to give a voice to the LGBT-community, including in Aceh, where the terror of Sharia law now reigns. Then you have guts.

Gary Barker is also concerned with gender violence and the role men play in it. Both as an author and researcher/activist at the International Center for Research on Women. He reads a passage from his novel Incoming light. A Congolese woman (Maria) barely survives a gruesome gang rape, but thanks to her husband (Josef), she does not perish despite all the darkness and shame.

Men who rape are not born wandering devils, says Barker. "That violence comes from somewhere today and they too are often damaged in horrific ways. At the same time, I want to show that the lives of people in Congo - the 'rape-capital' of the world - are not just dominated by that violence. People sometimes also find the strength to live on."

"I try to show the whole spectrum of sex. We need an open discussion worldwide about what good, voluntary sex can mean for people. After the Arab Spring, now a Spring in Bed."




Daniel Bertina

/// Freelance cultural journalist, critic, writer and dramatist. Omnivore with a love of art, culture & media in all unfathomable gradations between obscure underground and wildly commercial mainstream. Also works for Het Parool and VPRO. And trains Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.View Author posts

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