Me, and a friend sit on a couch:
Him: I can’t make you do anything without your consent.
Me (grinning): I think we both know that’s not true.
Him (raising an eyebrow): And I think we both know that’s consensual.
One of the things we talk about a lot, being feminists, is consent. What it means, how to get and give it, how important it is. It is discussed at length here, and elsewhere. I often go back to this post of Julie”s as a way of explaining what consent means.
But one thing I don’t think we talk about enough, is that consent doesn’t just apply to sex. It applies to anything you might ‘do’ to another person.
A conversation Emma and I have had a lot of times, is about how difficult it can be to share things here. Because if we want to talk about our experiences, and our lives, and our various kinks, we’re often talking about someone else. And it’s not up to us to tell the world what they want to do behind closed doors. That’s not our right. And so we try to tell our stories, without making reference to someone else, knowing they’re reading, and we invite them to come and fill the gaps in, if they want.
Um, as it were.
We’re lucky enough that a handful of people do feel comfortable coming and sharing their stories here. Otherwise, those discussions would just devolve into me and Emma talking about handcuffs. Which would be a different kind of website. (Also, if you want to see that, you just need to come to the pub with us.)
I was watching something on the internet recently, in which someone was talking to Nathan Fillion, and mentioned he was on his wife’s ‘celebrity list’. And it struck me how creepy that is. Sure, you can have fantasies about someone…but do you have to actively involve them in your fantasy – without their consent? Because isn’t that what telling people about it does – when they’ve never met you, never talked to you? Isn’t saying ‘I have sexual thoughts about you, and I don’t care if you return them, or how you feel about that’, kind of douchey, aside from anything else?
On a recent episode of Glee (full disclosure, I haven’t seen it, I don’t really watch the show) one of the characters was forcibly outed:
One of the various sub-plots involves cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester running for Congress. In a campaign smear ad against Sue, an opponent outs Santana by questioning the coach’s morals for promoting a lesbian to team captain. The source of the information: a student who overheard Finn’s comment in the hallway. When Santana is informed, she runs out of the room crying, stating that she hadn’t told her parents yet, who will surely see the ad.
After Allen says the outing was “wrong“. I’d go further than that. I’d say it’s fucking disgusting. And yes, I am aware that I am speaking from a platform of immense privilege here (not actually having to face coming out), and about, you know, a fictional show. Perhaps someone with more experience of this can talk about it.
But the thing is? Someone else’s sexuality, be it who they want to sleep with, how they want to do it, or how many times they have – that’s their secret. It’s not anyone else’s to tell.
And something akin to this has happened to me, more than once. I used to think it was the price I paid for being a slut. That that meant people could feel free to share my stories, to tell the world who I’ve fucked. And you know what? No one is free to do that. It’s gossipy, and it’s childish, and it is profoundly, deeply, disrespectful. Turning someone into a notch on your bedpost is reducing them to a sexual object. And taking away their right to tell those stories on their own terms, in their own way, is emotional violence.
I do think that we’d all be better off if we were more open. I wish that coming out as not hetero or cis or vanilla or any combination thereof wasn’t fraught with pressures. But that’s simply not the world we live in. And it _really_ isn’t the world we live in, in a country as small as New Zealand.
Getting enthusiastic consent isn’t just about asking someone before you kiss them. It doesn’t just extend to the bedroom. It isn’t just listening to what someone says about how they like to be touched, and whether they do. It also doesn’t end when the relationship or encounter ends. You don’t have to be touching someone to do something to them they didn’t consent to. And if you don’t know how they might react to something you might do? Well, that’s where that really handy “asking” thing comes in. Because some people are private, and some people are public, and it’s not your right to make that decision for them.