Verb: to permit, approve, or agree, comply or yield – to agree in sentiment.
Noun: permission, approval, or agreement, compliance…
When I was informed by my lady love Sov that the topic for this month’s issue would be “Consent,” I had a fairly visceral reaction. I have issues around consent. Because in my life, my own is so rarely thought of. The way in which I can interpret this topic in any important fashion is to share my own experience. Some of this article will be painful, and some of it might unravel my glamorous persona. But if it is helpful to some or gets others to think, then I count it as a triumph. I believe we currently live in a socially and sexually diseased culture. In my experience, that disease is the overly entitled and narcissistic feelings most straight hetero-normative males have towards all women. I cannot comment on how this may or may not mimic behavior in the gay (male) community, though I can say I’ve rarely experienced it in the lesbian community myself. But this examination is not of the LBGTQ community, it is of my experience as a female-bodied queer person in generally straight world.
In this world, I have had one painful lesson thrust into me over and over and over again. To be perceived as female means you forfeit your right to consent. If you have a vagina (or look like you might), then how you identify, what you say, how you feel, do not matter. Even to the men who say they love you. I will say that I have come to learn that this is because most men (who I’ve spoken to) have honestly never though about it. Ever. They haven’t had to. I’m here to say that’s not my fault and it’s not an excuse anymore.
If you follow me on Twitter, I’m sure you’ve picked up that I have begun working as a professional dominatrix. Diving deeper into the world of BDSM has given me more insight into this topic than ever before. Because when a client enters my room, I gain their trust to do sometimes unspeakable things to them by agreeing to their boundaries and requiring their consent. I respect that it is integral to the industry to be “safe, sane, and consensual.” I take great care to dominate in a thoughtful way that accurately reflects this level of concern. Because I have the power to ruin this for them forever. I have had a few clients come to me because they’ve had traumatic experiences with other Dommes, and this to me is a great spiritual crime. One which, if I can, I would like never to inflict. And yet even with these gentlemen whose consent I try so carefully to consider, they feel entitled to push. Some of them come by it honestly in the heat of the moment, and then I have to teach them a lesson. But more frequently it’s a general disregard for women and sex workers. Sometimes it’s that they feel such a deep emotional connection, they then feel like I owe them my consent to some kind of deeper commitment (one that doesn’t involve pay). I recognize their behavior for what it is: symptoms of this disease.
I see my BDSM interactions as a microcosm of the broader world. One where women have to play the game of “nice” to accommodate men’s egos. But unlike a child’s game, the stakes couldn’t be higher. This can be a fellow you pass on the street: your smile, your dress, your good day are all your consent to abuse. It can be an acquaintance: your social etiquette might be your consent to being dumped for all their personal problems, to mothering them, or being an easy target for them to project their desires on. It can be a friend: your friendship alone is your consent to being shamed or bullied into a co-dependant relationship, or treated like a blow-up doll, one that is selfish if it doesn’t put them first. Worst of all to me, it can be your lover, who you share your most intimate self with. And yet no matter how clear you are about boundaries, your needs are never truly as valued as theirs because you (and all women) are seen as a self-sacrificing caretaker. Or, worse, as a creature whose rights over its own body are forfeit. Because you’ve said you love someone, you therefore consent to being a 24 hour cum receptacle without feelings or opinions as to how/when/where you are used.
I say this because I’ve personally experienced all of these things. My sex being what it is has gotten me harassed in the street and chased down dark alleys in broad daylight. My social nature and my sex have obligated me against my will. My friendship and sex have gotten me humiliated for being selfish with my both my time and personal space. And my love and my sex have gotten me beaten, terrorized, and raped.
I have only ever been raped by men who say they love me. Because while my vagina implies consent to all men all over the world, my love is explicit consent to those who say they love me to take whatever they want, whenever they deem it appropriate. Growing up, I was taught not to trust men, and this was correct. It is true that a minority of men are well-versed and educated in these socio-sexual topics. But most think that because they know what feminism is, or because they buy their girlfriend flowers, they’re not part of the problem. That because they tell their gal-pal that she’s hot without seeming to pressure her, they deserve a pat on the back. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Until they put themselves in the same position and follow it all the way through to its dark and tragic end, they don’t know. And if they have experienced the violation of their consent, there should be no praise, only empathy. I heard a truly great but dark joke recently told by Ever Mainard: “Every women in her entire life has that one moment when you think, “Oh! Here’s my rape!” Those are the stakes. By a stranger, by a family friend, by co-worker, by religious leader, by your own husband – just to name a few.
This topic hits close to home for me at this very moment more so than it did two weeks ago. I have been very open in this blog about the fact that I am a rape survivor. It happened to me a long time ago. But being a rape and molestation survivor (I include domestic abuse victims) doesn’t exempt you from further abuse. Its not like a vaccine, where once you get pricked it will never happen again. Even though I know how to set boundaries, and have had largely wonderful experiences since coming out a few years ago, reality can come crashing down at any moment. I recently woke up from some truly un-fun shenanigans (in a place I considered safe) only to think those four words no one should ever have to: “I have been raped.” By someone I love. I didn’t remember what happened, I didn’t know if he used protection, I didn’t know why I was bleeding. The greatest slap in the face was that he felt like this was normal behavior. This is an all-too-terrible symptom. I see it everywhere from frat humor to the words of supposedly enlightened men. Though I don’t remember how I acted, I had apparently consented to being possibly impregnated and never offered an explanation. The entitlement one must feel to assume any of these things, including that a female-bodied person will lightly take Plan B, is indicative of what’s wrong with our society.
My story is not unique, it is common. His reaction is not unique, it is a dramatic example of what is far too acceptable. Nearly all of the men who have exhibited behaviors like those I list above, I have known to be otherwise good. All of these men cared for their families, their pets, were educated, articulate, ambitious. Men valued by society. And yet in my mind they all have this in common. This is the dirty,secret, unspoken legacy of the modern man: that while he may pay lip service to equal rights, grudgingly accept fair pay, and playfully roll his eyes when his girlfriend says “respect me,” ultimately he has never contemplated/meditated on/defined consent for himself. And he has certainly never pondered it as a philosophy.
Now more than ever it has become clear to me that any man I allow into my inner circle will have to supply a thoughtful and loving answer to this question: “How do you define consent?”
The conversation surrounding consent, and all the ways it affects the lives of women, must always cross into the companion conversation of “the cunt”: the idea that when you (the female) revoke your implied consent, you then automatically become the villain (deserving of whatever punishment soothes the male ego). I cannot count the number of altercations I’ve had where a man turned on me because I employed healthy boundaries. I became the bitch, the crazy skank, the ugly whore. My favorite punishment is the clean and simple shut down. Rather than being openly insulted or humiliated, I’m just told to be quiet. Because I did not consent to making their life easy, they in turn refuse to consent to my existence. It’s such an awful place to be with a friend or lover, because if you push further, if you break the silence again, you give him ammunition to nullify you in total. It’s an unforgivable form of emotional blackmail. One that nearly every female bodied person I’ve ever spoken to about this topic, be she young or old, black or white, gay or straight, has suffered.
There is nothing that exempts a female from this treatment. The mere fact that she is female, be she trans or biological, will initiate her into this lifelong dance, eternally tiptoeing on eggshells. The prize is being able to say, “I was one of the few who did not have something forced into me against my will.” Fear is an accepted condition.
I can say that my love and respect of the “traditional” man, as we shall call him, has in fact grown over the years, though my trust has gone largely unrewarded. I love loving a good man, and as I fumble through my life, I know there will be more disappointment. If the men I bring into my life are willing to listen, respond with respect, employ empathy, and know fundamentally that I owe them NOTHING but the same, then I will be willing to grow with them past what society has taught them about how to value my sex.
The rest, the ones who don’t become my lovers: I urge you to question every action and contemplate every motive. Just as we (the female-bodied) have to. “Did she want this?” If you assume she did without ever obtaining her consent, your diagnosis is not good. “Would I want my daughter treated this way?”. If you are so high and mighty as to think “my daughter would never dress/behave/date/drink/talk/dance/walk/work/talk/fuck/smile/look/love that way”…then I’m sorry to say your diagnosis is frightful.
You have the disease.
(Photo by: Cliff Weiss)