I had a fantastic conversation with someone today that got me thinking about scars, and specifically the role of scars in Saving the Date.
When I made the choice to write Morgan as a character with violence-inflicted scars, I made the choice to also write him as someone who doesn’t have a positive relationship with them.
Why? Because my scars aren’t beautiful.
They don’t make me stronger. They’re not a map of a victory in my life, or a trophy I proudly carry. They’re twists of knitted flesh put there by violence.
I have lost count of the number of times I’ve had the following conversations:
“I really can’t see it.” This is the one on my chin, under the beard I always wear, revealed on the very rare occasions I shave. And while I’m glad it’s faint enough that some people can’t see it at a glance, believe me, I know where to look. If I’ve shaved and look into a mirror, it might as well be neon green.
“If people stare, let them stare. It’s their issue, not yours.” That’s…untrue. So, no. I’ll keep my shirt on, if it’s all the same to you.
“You should show people you’re not angry/upset/ashamed/whatever by your scars.” Why, exactly, is this my job? Also, you’re assuming I’m not angry/upset/ashamed/whatever. On any given day, I might be.
“They’re a part of you, and therefore special/awesome/wonderful/magical/some-other-positive-adjective.” I’m curious: would you say that about a tumour? I mean, that would be a part of me, right?
Now, before I come across too bitter or mean—too late?—I’m not a fool. I do understand these sentiments are coming from a good place. They’re meant lovingly. Our society as a whole is pretty darn critical of bodily “flaws” and scars are no exception. People who fight negative associations with scars are generally trying to reinforce how flawless=beauty=good not a good message. I completely agree with fighting the flawless=beauty=good message. But telling someone they’re wrong about how they feel about their own scars starts to feel off. Anthems about how you should love your scars, or how they’re amazing/awesome/beautiful? If I don’t feel that way, are they saying I’m wrong?
It can feel like it.
Scars also get put into terrible categorizations of whether or not they’re shameful, or tragic, or brave, or—my personal frustration—“inspiring” depending on how they were made.
Don’t even start with me with that inspiring nonsense.
So how do I feel about my scars? How did I write Morgan to feel about his scars?
Conflicted, for the most part. Or, on the best days, as close to a neutral détente as possible. I feel almost entirely the opposite about my scars as I do about my tattoos, and that’s as good an analogy as I can often offer someone: my tattoos are there because I chose to put them there, they are willfully induced memorials. When I see my tattoos, I see choice and remember choice.
My scars are the opposite. And my queerness is conflated with my scars.
Now, I can hide most of them. That little irony is not lost on me, as a queer guy. There are some—my knuckles/hands, the back of my neck—that I can’t cover, but people rarely comment on those: lots of people have scars on their hands. I sport a beard, so my chin is covered. And it’s not like having your jaw reconstructed leaves outward signs, other than having a way, way better smile and straighter (fake) teeth than I ever had before.
But my queerness is also the why.
I don’t love my scars. I don’t believe I ever will. What I have managed is that neutral détente, and it was hard won. They were put there by hate, and are an enduring, life-long reminder of that hate. I get why other people want me to think of them as a victory, or a badge of honour, or a trophy of survival, and I suppose in some literal sense they could be those things, but they’re just as much a reminder of what happened. And what happened was awful, not my choice, and certainly not worth it in some nebulous “made me stronger” philosophical way.
(And don’t dare take this opportunity to say “Everything happens for a reason.” I wrote a whole novella about that particular phrase.)
Other people will—and do—disagree with me. That’s fine. They’re not wrong about their scars.
I’m not wrong about mine.
Morgan is fictional, and as a queer man writing a queer character, I’m always nervous of accidentally putting forth some idea as “speaking for all” when I’m not. That nervous feeling doubled down with Morgan. Morgan is actively seeking out a one-night stand, through a matchmaking service, on the anniversary of his bashing. He’s trying to rob the calendar date of some of its power. He is seeking out being touched despite knowing it will be difficult. Some survivors do this.
Both approaches are valid.
I did a lot with Morgan very consciously. He makes the first move in the story, precisely because he wants a good memory to associate with the date. He makes mistakes in the story, going a bit too fast and not communicating well at the beginning. He struggles with touch, even though he wants touch. He has a very mild shutdown, and works his way back out of it in no small part thanks to being with someone who can recognize the signs and talk to him. He relaxes partly because it’s a one-night stand service, clients are vetted, and the stakes and risks are low. He gets in over his head emotionally for the same reason. He makes assumptions about how the man he’s with feels about the scars. And throughout it all, he’s very aware that even a successful night won’t mean some sort of miraculous healing event has happened and never again will he be bothered by self-doubt or self-image.
But my goal with Morgan—the success of which I will have to leave up to the readers—was to show a happy ending coming to someone not in spite of how they feel about their scars, nor because of how they feel about their scars.
It just happens to someone with scars.