Dr. LemonLove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Lemon)

A Defense of Lemons for the Lemon Writer

by KCbakeneko

Go to your kitchen and get a lemon. (I'll wait. Got it?) Hold your lemon up in your palm. It's not an unpleasant feeling, is it? It's round and firm, and it fits nicely in your palm. It's cute. And in a pinch, it makes a handy projectile. So why does this little unassuming fruit draw so much controversy? And indeed, if you go so far as to slash your lemon, even more people will find it offensive. Poor lemon, squished by naysayers and squeezed out of uptight URL's, all because of...hmm. Why exactly is the lemon so threatening to so many people?

For any readers new to this subculture and haven't caught the extended metaphor, a lemon is fanfic jargon for a story with explicit sexual conduct described within. Ironically, some groups have a difficult time defining what a lemon is, but it's not like this is nuclear physics. Sex is rather a simple act, once all the props and toys have been cleared away, and getting a grip on the lemon should be no more difficult in cyberspace than in your kitchen. Less apt to sting on a paper cut, too.

Now there are several reasons why the lemon is such a contentious fruit. Some groups practically worship citrus while others would prefer to dilute one part lemon to one part ocean. If they ever succeeded in banning it from the internet, they would likely begin a crusade to rid us of limes as the next most corruptive influence whether we like it or not. And they have their reasons, some they admit to and some they don't.

Most often cited is the "protect-the-children" mentality. I've gone on a bit about this subject in the past but it bears repeating. The mindset is characterized by a complete lack of responsibility on the part of the child or parent, and instead places blame solely on the lemon author. In their minds,, you have placed a loaded gun in front of a monkey and it is your fault the monkey has shot itself. This mentality, however, is a little flawed.

For one thing, the lemon is not a gun. It's a story or a scene, and you won't die from reading it, though according to some people it may lead to your going blind or growing hair on your palms. Some lemons are more explicit than others, but bullets they ain't.

Another problem with the monkey-packing-heat idea is that it turns the child/parent/surprised reader into a mindless fool incapable of making his or her own decisions. It's not their fault for ignoring warnings and ratings and age-check pop-ups and hidden entrance links. They're too stupid or reckless to know better and should not have to see lemons because they clinked all the links asking them to each and every lemon. It's your fault, rather, for putting it there in the first place. In fact, you didn't give the monkey the gun. You held it to its face and forced it to read your lemons. It's your fault for "disturbing" them when they decided to try something out of curiosity. Now trying something out of curiosity is not inherently wrong, but not taking responsibility for your actions after doing so is rather immature. It's not very nice to assume people are stupid and need to be kept safe from themselves, either.

This view also absolves the parent of their parenting duties. The internet is a convenient babysitter and it's easy to let the brat surf unsupervised for a few hours. What's worse than lemons, tho', is that the brat could be giving out his/her full name, age, address, and/or secure numbers to strangers, and viewing the free-pics-and-clips from all the free-pics-and-clips sites they can google. But of course your lemon fic is the absolute worst they could land on. And before you ask, no, they cannot use NetNanny or CyberSitter or any other censoring software. That's too much effort, and remember, they're too stupid to be held responsible for their actions, so how could they possibly know how to install said software?

Involved in this paradigm but worthy of its own discussion is the issue of morality. Sex is bad. Your body is inherently sinful. Your naughty bits are purest evil. Anyone else feeling the self-hatred? Now don't blame this on just the Christian evangelicals; a lot of religions and societies have these hang-ups, and in truth they have their place. We're not all young Brad Pitts or Bettie Pages and there's no need for us to go showing off our flabby butts and blemished skin to the world. And honestly, do we really need that kind of distraction in the workplace? (No we don't, quit saying yes!)

But this is not the workplace (unless you're surfing on the job and if so, get back to work), and we are not showing off our flab like some porn amateur. Lemons are the focused exhibition, either written or drawn, of human sexuality, and this is a morality call, plain and simple, and specifically their morality. Some in the "sex-is-evil" camp will say they don't mind lemons in general, just as long as you hide it behind age checks and make it next to impossible for anyone to find. Hide it. It's shameful. It corrupts. Bad.

And in the pursuit of morality, they may cite some legal sources to back them up and scare the lemon author into compliance. Especially popular this season are state obscenity laws. Admittedly I'm no lawyer, and neither are they, and you should not be intimidated from reading the documents they cite. Often you'll find not only do the obscenity laws either not apply or fit extremely loosely (more on that later), but that these morality groups show their own prejudices when they praise a state law that says lesbianism and homosexuality is obscene. Just because it's against the law doesn't mean it's wrong. Remember, interracial marriage used to be illegal (and/or lynch-able), and if that hadn't been changed I likely wouldn't be here today. Homosexuality used to be considered a mental defect. Perceptions and science change. Today's obscenity may be tomorrow's normality.

Also, keep in mind who's writing these laws and why they're being written. For the most part these are conservative Southerners (which isn't inherently evil, being one myself) who are more interested in stopping adult shops from popping up in the middle of town. Those shops are usually kept on the outskirts of town so that those who want to visit them can, while those who want to avoid them can do so. For another thing, remember that federal laws trump state laws, as so recently demonstrated by the striking down of Texas' anti-sodomy laws. You'll have to check your own state laws to see exactly what's what, but the laws should be easily accessed online. And lastly, the majority of crusading Southerners aren't really all that interested in online websites, since, being conservative on the whole, they accept responsibility for their actions and know that if they entered a website that had warnings for homosexuality or just plain sexuality, they were not forced to go in. (You put a site up without warnings tho', and you damn well better duck. We don't like being surprised and if we click a link marked Bulma&Vegeta and find a pic of Bulma getting it doggystyle, our less tolerant comrades will get quite vocal. We may not be monkeys packing heat, but we are packing heat.)

Back to the obscenity charge, though... Is a lemon fic obscene? Does it appeal only to our prurient interests with no redeeming qualities whatsoever? Depends on the fic, doesn't it? If you have a long epic of which one or two chapters happen to be explicit lemon, obviously the fic has redeeming values and is not obscene. If you have a PWP, obviously it's a lemon, but it could also contain humor, angst, tragedy, or even social commentary depending on how the dialogue and setting are handled. Not just that, but a lemon can be written so well, with plenty of interaction with the environment, that it can become a work of art, much like how a Renaissance painting of nymphs and fauns frolicking is considered art.

With a lemon, just because two characters are having sex doesn't mean the lemon is about the sex. It sounds paradoxical, but it's true. It's kind of like walking. Everybody does it, but it can be described in different ways. A character can walk down a busy New York sidewalk, jostled by the people around him. He can walk down an English country road and admire the landscape in autumn. He can walk up a mountain path and watch the cherry blossoms fall around him. Or he could be part of the Ministry of Silly Walks in Monty Python. It's the same for sex. Sex is a physical expression of the emotions and feelings between two characters (or three if you're feeling adventurous). If, say, Spike and Angel are in an angsty, mutual hate relationship, their sex is going to be rough, maybe violent, and each of them is going to try to exert some kind of dominance over the other. If it's Luke and Han in a relationship where Luke isn't freaking out about going dark and Han is comfortable with the force, their sex can be extremely intimate, gentle, and maybe even spiritual. If Goku and Vegeta are in heat, it's going to be like two animals in rut, going at it for pure pleasure and not caring if they're in the middle of traffic. On Seto and Yugi's first time together, Seto may be confident but Yugi's gonna be nervous and shy and need some reassurance during the whole thing. Sex can illuminate the characters in ways that other actions can't.

What also matters is the tone and direction the writer is going for. She can write a lemon with the intent to show how one character makes the other feel comfortable with their body. She can write a scene where one character takes advantage of the other, betraying their trust and friendship in a more intensely emotional way. She can write whatever she wants, using sex merely as a catalyst to expose her characters' feelings and round them out beyond what a non-lemon story may have limited her to. The lemon is a mirror of the characters involved. Now granted, we have to make some allowances for quality, but considering there are good and bad stories out there, it's a little unfair to cast aspersions on all lemons when there are a proportional amount of good and bad lemons out there.

Sex is a wonderful complication for both the plot and characters. Depending on who's doing who, you can create motives for murder, betrayal, confessions, suicide, self-sacrifice, and revenge. Heck, the sex can be all of those in itself. Of course you can have all this without a lemon, but if your story calls for citrus and you don't include it, the story will seem either flat or edited for TBS. If a relationship is going to be discovered with a wife walking in on two lovers, it's going to feel odd reading it Greek tragedy style, with the scene being described by a character rather than actually going into that room with the wife and feeling her shock and the lovers' panic. In the Matrix: Reloaded, the scene with Neo and Trinity making love was not just in there to add some more skin to that section of the movie. It was done as both a physical manifestation of their love and as a celebration of their animal/biological nature, something the machines could never have. This was partly achieved already with the Zionists dancing, but a more personal and intense feeling was layered on this with Neo and Trinity. Now many people found this part of the movie obscene, usually likening it to Sodom and Gomorrah. Again, this is a morality call. I found it to be thematic to the movie and intensely moving. They found it disgusting. We don't have to say one of us is right or wrong, but neither should one force their opinions on the other. I only heard complaints, not calls to censor the movie. Complaints okay. Censorship bad. And since they knew it was an R rated movie, there were no complaints about being surprised, just that the way in which it was presented offended them. This is leaps and bounds above decrying sex because sex is bad.

Of course, there is something to be said for leaving things to the imagination. Sometimes following the characters up to the bed and then cutting to a half-hour later is more effective than a lemon. This is true when you've already written one or two lemons for that story, when you are going for a lighter rating, or when you want to highlight the sensuality of your characters' emotions over their bodies. After all, a body is just a body until you put a character in it. When Spike briefly possesses a body on an Angel episode, even though the face is different, I knew when Spike was moving through it because of the style of fighting used. It stopped being an aged necromancer and went straight to Brit vamp. The same for sex. Blond body on Angel isn't nearly as interesting as Spike on Angel, and if the writer has an easier time writing limes or pure dialog, they need not spaz thinking they have to write a lemon.

As long as the characters are clear to the reader, all their impulses and feelings and reasons and actions made believable and engaging, the lemon may be extra baggage the story does not need. The writer should not be made to feel that the lemon is always unnecessary, however, because sex scenes are simply another tool in the writer's craft. If you need to use one, it's best to have some practice writing them. Sex is not inherently obscene. Denying your own stories any needed depth or character action simply because someone else thinks it's obscene or wrong is worse than including sex could ever be.