Is Ben Physically Attracted to Rafe?

I get emails. Great emails. I respond to them all (I should say I strive to, in case I accidentally missed yours), though it often takes me some time to get to them.

I got a bunch of great emails in the last couple weeks that put me in a good mood this morning. One of them included a question that I thought would be of interest to a lot of my readers.

Here goes, courtesy of Anissa:

Did you consciously choose to have Ben never mention being physically attracted to Rafe?

I’ve gone through the book (HONESTLY BEN) for the second time and it stuck out to me that while Ben goes into extensive detail about what he finds physically attractive about Hannah, he never mentions how he feels about Rafe’s physical characteristics or appeal.  He only says Rafe is very fit.

 Did you intentionally structure it so that Ben  focused solely on their emotional connection?

 It seems odd to me since they were physically involved. I wondered if it was another way for Ben to buffer himself from the realization that he was attracted to a boy.

honestly ben cover2

Great question! This is what I wrote back:

A lot of times, what comes out on the page is instinctual for me. Meaning that I sit in the chair of the character and I look for their truth. The only way I can answer your very smart question is to say that I think the amount of time Ben spends thinking about Rafe physically is authentic for him. It may be a sort of buffer as he is not fully comfortable being attracted to a boy, and it might be that he’s attracted to Rafe in a more holistic way. My gut feeling is that it’s a combination of both.
This question made me think, even after I sent that answer. How does that work? How do we, as writers, pull off not just sitting in the chair of a character, but getting into that subconscious place where we make the right decisions for them? Because I believe to my innermost self that had I had Ben wax poetic about Rafe’s legs, it would have been inauthentic. And I don’t fully know why, as I say above. I just know, instinctually, that it’s not right. For me as a writer. Which is only half the equation!
And this is why books are alive. Because a reader’s understanding of a book’s truth is actually just as alive, just as important, as the writer’s intention in writing it. I think.
I mean, if a reader decides that Ben is buffering himself from his true feelings for Rafe’s physicality, who am I to say that’s wrong?
Thoughts? Why doesn’t Ben focus on Rafe’s body? What’s your understanding, from your reading? Does it differ from my explanation?
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7 Responses to Is Ben Physically Attracted to Rafe?

  1. Ronald Cerabona says:

    Hi Bill – I liked the question and the answer you gave. I think too that Ben being more intellectual and introverted than Rafe and newer to the idea of same-sex attraction might play a part in the different way he feels and thinks and why it’s different to the more extroverted Rafe, who’s had longer to be out (and a more nurturing environment in which to be gay, but then he also realised his same-sex attraction earlier).
    best wishes
    Ron

  2. Lou M says:

    So then, what you are saying is that emotional attraction can lead to physical intimacy and not physical attraction? Is that what you are saying about Ben and how he sees, deals with, and loves Rafe?

    • bkonigsberg says:

      I think it’s a little of both. That his emotional attraction leads to physical intimacy, but also that subconsciously he is not ready to admit to himself that he has that physical attraction.

  3. Renato says:

    Ben mentions he is not attracted to other men, just to Rafe, and I think his attraction is mostly emotional. Will Ben ever feel attraction to other men? Who knows. I do believe it is Rafe the only man that, at his present, he feels attracted to.

    I think it was his very emotional attraction what allowed him to go to the next step with a person who he may not be 100% physically attracted to and that’s why he was ok with “agape” at first and then he was able to explore a more physycal side of his relationship, following a very natural desire to have physical contact with someone you (emotionally) like/love and not the common “first sight” sexual attraction that can ocurr in many people.

    Personally I do think that there has to be some degree of physical attraction to have intimate contact with someone. So I think there is certainly some physycal attraction to Rafe but it’s possibly not an intense one.

    • “Personally I do think that there has to be some degree of physical attraction to have intimate contact with someone.”

      Although that’s true for you – it’s true to many people, certainly – that may not be true for everyone.

      Using our own experience to understand others is often very useful, but there are times when it fails us. I’ve heard gay people opine that bisexual people are just gay people in denial, and I’ve heard bisexual people opine that no one is actually gay or straight; everyone is a little bit bisexual. It all seems to be a product of people universalizing their own experiences.

      I briefly got to know a guy whose sexuality appeared to be built somewhat like Ben. He’d conceived of himself as straight until he met one specific guy. Eventually, they broke up. When I met him, he self-described himself as bisexual, but during the time I knew him, I got the sense he was trying to force himself into a box he didn’t actually fit. I don’t think he was actually attracted to men other than his ex. Another friend of mine was, in retrospect, clearly biromantic and asexual, but because she didn’t have any externally validating framework for it, she and everyone else around her assumed she was somehow broken.

      Ben made sense to me in part because I’ve had some experience with people whose sexuality wasn’t easily understood by others. Ben simply isn’t going to get immediate validation of his identity even from open-minded people who care about him; it will probably be a source of periodic friction for the rest of his life.

  4. Shelby says:

    I am currently binge reading this series (half way through Honestly Ben) and this was something really bothering me. I still feel there should be a moment where he realizes that, yeah he does find Rafe attractive. Maybe there will be, I shall see. That being said your explanation helped me a lot. I love their connection and you’ve made a beautiful world that I can’t stop reading. Thank you!

  5. Jamie says:

    I’ve just discovered these books, and while this thread is nearly two years old, I oddly feel the need to chip in.
    Ben personally reads pansexual to me. He’s attracted to Rafe as a person, not as a boy. Totally valid, and thank you very much for having Hannah throw the option out there. Pan-erasure is rampant and not cool.
    However, the brain is a wonderfully powerful thing. And when you grow up conditioned to think that same-sex attraction is not okay, and if you are more *spontaneously* attracted to people of the opposite sex, then it’s actually not that hard to be in denial. To refuse to explore that side of yourself. To not want to know the truth. It may be that Ben hasn’t been exposed to, or allowed himself to consider, his “type”. It’s telling that when Ben goes online he specifically mentions that none of the men remind him of Rafe. I keep wondering what his reaction would have been if some of those images did.
    I personally find his dilemma very relatable. And I don’t know what the answer is for myself either, except that I do identify as bisexual, and there’s something about people of the same sex that catches me, but I was closeted for so long that I’m still not sure what it is (I’m an adult reader). So I think that Ben’s self-discovery has only just started. But I also think he answered the sexual attraction question for us when he tackled Rafe on the beach: “There was something sexual there, obviously.”

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