Contemplations on queerness, transness, and other Otherness.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

learning consent 1 (in anticipation of future learning)

       My life has changed a lot since an incident of partner rape several years ago. Much of this has been merely congruent change, but much has also been consequent change. Some of this has been unconscious, involuntary. My body twitches and spasms a lot. i startle easily. i feel intensely vulnerable and more scared than beforehand. In the couple months directly following the event, i took enough drugs to block out the sun but not the pain. This habit shifted for a few years into alcohol and meaningless sex.

       Eventually, i cleaned up, came to, and did a lot of active healing and trying to understand my reaction to this experience. Most importantly, i learned about consent. i’m talking about real consent, not just the “they didn’t say no” variety. The fact that my partner hurt me taught me that i could hurt people. This is a lesson i haven’t taken lightly, and a lesson that actually makes me thankful for the experience.

       i’ve learned to be careful with others. i’ve learned that things that i mean to feel good might not. i’ve learned to ask. i’ve made it habit to ask if people are ok, if what i’m doing feels good, if they still want to be there.

       i’ve learned that communication happens in different ways for different people, or at different times. Sometimes asking “Are you ok?” works well, sometimes it seems more effective to ask “Are you here? Do you want to be here?,” or “What do you want in this moment?” i know that i’m more comfortable with certain methods of consent at different moments.

       i’ve learned to look for subtle cues. These are often cues that i’m aware that i give, like a muscle spasm or a lack of eye contact. But i’ve also taught myself to learn with people, to listen to their bodies as well as their words. i have worked hard to acknowledge that i can hurt by not actively working at not hurting.

       And i’ve learned that if i hurt someone, i can check that and support them if that’s welcomed. In my own life, it’s not the worst thing to be hurt, especially accidentally, but that a lack of acknowledgement and support feels much worse for me. In recognizing this, i’ve tried to become open to hearing other folks’ experience and trying to provide what they need in a given moment.

       At some point, it dawned on me that consent wasn’t just important during sex. Consent is relevant in every interaction. A conversation or question can be as unwelcome as a touch. So i try to check in when things get heavy. i want to give people the capacity to shift as needed, and to ask for support if they want it.

       None of this is meant to imply that people cannot handle themselves. i’ve simply found that it’s easier to self-advocate when given explicit room. Again, this is not to say that folks cannot stand up if they need to, but i want to work to make that easier. i’d like to set the precedent that it is ok to have needs in any given moment, and making explicit room for them is a way that i work toward this end.

       i’ve also learned to self-advocate more clearly. i’ve learned to say no, and other ways to slow, stop, or shift situations, sexual or otherwise, that make me feel unsafe. This is not universally true, but is increasingly so.

       Further, i’ve learned the importance of initiating, and participating in, check in conversations outside of whatever event. Even if something was totally ok, it’s nice to have space to say that, and to appreciate that if something wasn’t ok there would be space for it. This tends to make space feel safer in the future, and cultivating safe futures feels incredibly important.

       None of this is to say that i, or people in general, are dangerous and terrible, or that contact of any sort should be wrought with fear. Quite the opposite, really. People can be fantastic. This is only made better, in my experience anyway, when i know that support and openness are norms. Simply having this space for “no” seems to make “yes” so much fuller.

       Learning to cultivate this space, learning to support, learning to acknowledge my capacity to damage, has made me thankful for my rape. Despite all the hardships that came from it, that still come from it, it was an impetus for a profound change in my life. This change has made me a better person, and has hopefully made the lives of those around me feel safer, if only for a moment. For this, i am deeply thankful.