Compassion, Communication, and Community in Consent Culture

“I think part of the reason we have trouble drawing the line “it’s not okay to force someone into sexual activity” is that in many ways, forcing people to do things is part of our culture in general.  Cut that shit out of your life.  If someone doesn’t want to go to a party, try a new food, get up and dance, make small talk at the lunchtable–that’s their right.  Stop the “aww c’mon” and “just this once” and the games where you playfully force someone to play along.  Accept that no means no–all the time.”

~ The Pervocracy

I do not put myself up as a poster-child for Consent. Like everyone else in the world, I have been raised with mixed messages around Consent, messages about gender roles that negate autonomy, messages about societal expectations and how to counter that. It has been a journey of great humility and some difficult lessons, for myself and for many others. But, it is a journey I am 100% dedicated to, because I believe that at least 98% of us have no desire to hurt or harm another person.

I’ll say that again- I believe that at least 98% of us have no desire to hurt or harm another person. However, I also believe that we have all done so, in moments of what I call “selfish idiocy”.

There are no experts here, we are all students.

12The deeper you go into the “rabbit hole” of Consent Culture, the more you find there is that you had never considered before, and the more you begin to see every interaction with another human being through that lens of Consent.

That can be challenging, for many people. It can be especially challenging for people who have been the victims of consent violations to realise that they have violated the consent of others.

I have deep respect for all the people who have devoted their time and energy to exploring aspects of Consent in so many different arenas of life. We, today, are better equipped, have better tools for learning consent than ever before. And change is happening, inch by inch.

However, I personally caution against anyone thinking that they’ve got consent 100% nailed down in themselves. Overwhelmingly the message about consent is linked in with sex. But, consent is about so much more than sex. Consent is something we can aspire to in every interaction.

When we are learning about consent only with sexual motivations as a reference point, I think it hinders the ability to really develop consent within ourselves.

https://instagram.com/ecoeclectica/

Got Consent?

What is a consent violation, if not something solely to do with sex? Quite simply, it is when you take what someone else isn’t willing to give, or force someone to accept something they don’t want. It could be physical, verbal, tangible or intangible, emotional, or simply a question of using time and/or space. Whether intended to harm or not it doesn’t matter. What matters is that another individual’s desires and boundaries were not respected. And any violation of consent becomes serious if it creates trauma.

Consent culture is about respecting that we have no right to take or demand what someone else is not willing to give or share.

A culture of consent is, I believe, one in which interactions are guided by compassion, respect, tolerance, kindness, and patience.

I’ve been contemplating for a long time- how does one call someone on their non-consensual behaviour? When someone within your community, your ‘tribe’, your polycule, or your family is behaving with disregard to others, how can you confront them? And, when someone has seriously violated others- whether intending harm, or simply acting from a place of selfish idiocy- how can we, a community, lovingly yet sternly put our foot down about it?

shadowsCalling someone ‘out’ can ostracise them. It can leave a long-lasting stigma. Staying silent about someone’s behaviour, on the other hand, means that they will likely to continue to engage with those same behaviour patterns, and- intentional or not- continue to hurt others. I’ve seen some community groups just quietly remove someone from their social circles. I’ve witnessed the “back-stage” type gossip, where people try to pass along the word about a potential ‘predator’ (or actual predator) without pulling things into a public spotlight. I don’t think any of these approaches really addresses the root cause.

The root cause, is that we’ve grown up in a paradigm where we’re told it’s okay to take something from someone, even if they aren’t willing to give it to you. We’re told we live in a world of scarcity, that we have to battle to be seen, to be heard, to be accepted. We live in a paradigm of fear, of distrust, and of competition. And because we- as a society- tend to default to seeing the world through that lens, we are more prone to violate the consent of others.

I think we need to change that paradigm. And I think we can do that by shifting the way we address situations where people have problems recognising boundaries, and problems recognising that they have violated consent.

“The first part of calling each other in is allowing mistakes to happen. Mistakes in communities seeking justice and freedom may not hurt any less but they also have possibility for transforming the ways we build with each other for a new, better world. We have got to believe that we can transform.”

~ Ngọc Loan Trần, in Black Girl Dangerous

If we embrace the fact that we are all going to make mistakes, I think it becomes easier to talk about our mistakes. And, talking about our mistakes brings us closer in a practice of healthy conflict process. We can accept and own our errors more readily when everyone else accepts and owns their own errors too- and then, we get to share some humble pie and look at how we can transform together.

It’s also very important to remember that, even if our own consent has been violated in the past, even if we carry trauma from that, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t capable of hurting others. We all need to work on healing our wounds, and make sure that we don’t transfer our pain onto others.

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So, when we need to call someone in our tribe on their behaviour, are we doing so to try and vilainise and ostracise them? Or, are we doing so because we want to let them know they made a mistake, and to ask for their support in helping the person(s) who have suffered from that mistake, while also supporting them in their learning journey?

When we ourselves are called on our errors, the moments we have pushed past thinking about whether there were boundaries or not, how do we respond? Do we fly off the wall in a rage, defending every minutiae of our behaviours, or can we listen and accept that, regardless of our intent, something went wrong, and another being has suffered. If so, how then can we atone, and show remorse?

I believe that answer to all of this, is that we need to be involved in one another’s consent journey, in the healing process for everyone. Being involved in someone’s healing journey might well mean staying the fuck away from them if your presence is going to remind them of the trauma you inadvertently caused. The things that support someone else to heal might be very different from the things that support you to heal. Ultimately though, we’re not alone. We are in this together, and so I think we need to come together, with love, with patience, with compassion.

I don’t pretend this will be easy. In fact, I have already witnessed how hard it is, both in myself and in others. However, I think an essential part of talking about Consent Culture is the willingness to examine one’s own behaviour, and willingly place oneself in a place of accountability that can be challenging or uncomfortable. Yes, this means having difficult and uncomfortable conversations, having your words or actions challenged, or sometimes interacting with people who might make you feel uncomfortable.

People are hesitant to question leaders, afraid to be shunned. I think that sometimes leaders are, just like any human, oblivious to the added power dynamic they employ in relationships through being a leader. That means it is so important for community leaders to be open to public feedback, to be humble and earnest about their own journey with Consent, and to respond with respect and compassion when they learn they have caused hurt or harm to others.

So we have also got to have compassion for the challenge this presents, and have patience with one another.

My own personal goal, is to hold space and provide experiences whereby others can really grok, that is, to know it inside and out, what consent is and isn’t. What it feels like right in your bones to ask for consent, to respect a no, to give a no, to give an authentic yes, and so forth. And, not just with sex. With anything and everything. With, “May I touch your nose?” all the way to “Would you like some help?”, or, “May I interest you in these plums?”.

Developing that awareness, that honest and heart felt consideration for one another, in the face of living in a society that gives us the explicit message that we can only get what we want by demanding or taking it, regardless of others- that’s the challenge. And that’s a process that needs to be engaged with not just at sex parties and sex clubs, but across the board- in schools, in work places, in relationships, in shared homes, within families, at dance parties, on the bus, on the street, in the stores- in any place and in any way that humans interact with one another.

be-excellent-to-each-other

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O Brave New World!

I’m sitting here, waiting for the bath to run, listening to the pitter-patter of rain and the exploding Halloween fireworks outside, and I am feeling so incredibly lonely and alone.

I question my life choices far more than I should.

What if my mom was right? What if ‘sexually deviant’ people can never be happy? What if there really is no silver lining in all this. Have I been foolish? My heart yearns so badly to have connection with one person, let alone multiple people, and at every turn I find myself feeling disillusioned, disappointed, distracted, defeated.

I want to love with every pore of my being. And I don’t want to limit it. And I’m tired of feeling the connections of love that I build cut short.

WordPress says that the writing assignment this week is to write on the theme “I wish I were”.

Some days, I wish I were monogamous and straight.

I wish I could have had a more ‘traditional’ life. That I could be like the happy housewives, starting their families, looking after their homes, their babies, their husbands; preparing large festive meals for their family and friends; attending community functions and being a productive member of their society. I wish I were able to fathom what that life could be like with me in it.

I wish I were able to stay focussed and devoted to just one person in an intimate monogamous relationship. That I were content with one man and one man only.

However, that isn’t my reality. I tried the mono-hetero thing. 8 years. I was miserable, unhappy, and only began to find joy in my life again when I started to see the possibilities of a poly and bisexual lifestyle.

I spent some time today hanging out with my ex-husband, Finn. People are sometimes surprised that we are still friends, that we still talk, and share with each other what’s going on in our lives. Our separation was so entirely mutually amicable that there’s not really any ‘bad-blood’ between us, and for that I’m grateful. I do miss his company some times. Not the pot-smoking, or his body odor, or boring sex, or frustrating way of doing things, but I do miss his company.

We used to cuddle up on the couch almost every night and watch a tv series, usually sci-fi. We went through Stargate, Farscape, Battlestar Gallactica, Fringe… sometimes we would watch comedy movies, like Blades of Glory, or epic action adventure superhero movies like The Watchmen. He knew my ups and downs, understood my frustrations with my mother, and over the years he learnt how to read when I was just tired versus really depressed. Out of every one who is a regular feature in my life today, he has known me the longest. And so it really hit home this afternoon when he shared with me that he’d had a dream a couple of weeks ago that we were sitting on the couch, cuddled up, watching a movie just like we used to do, and that he missed that- because I miss that too.

Not that we are going to get back together. That’d be a most resounding “no”. We’ve had a good laugh at the very divergent relationship paths we have taken. He’s in a really beautiful, loving, monogamous relationship with a woman who I think is a perfect match for him. They compliment each other in wonderful ways, and I’ve seen that she brings out some of his best qualities, qualities I never saw come out when he and I were together. And I, on the other hand, have been a wild child- this summer especially- diving into the deep end, in many ways, to a world that I had for so long yearned to experience, and yet, never had, till now.

I miss the companionship. The comfort of that reliable relationship.
When I have longed so much for the freedom that this poly lifestyle affords me, when I have spent so many years with my real self pent up, why is it I feel so discontent and unhappy now?

I wish I could have more emotional detachment in my poly relationships. It’s a common misconception that poly people have some kind of immunity to feeling hurt, jealousy, anger, or any of those more shadowy-side of the emotional spectrum. Well, I can’t speak for everyone, I just know that I most certainly feel all of those, as equally as I feel the happier things like love, adoration, joy and contentment.

I can’t help but love someone. And love them completely. And want to share that love all-the-time. And maybe its the impatience in me that causes me so much grief, perhaps I want things so immediately that I rush into things with a wild abandon, only to grind to a halt when I realise I’m moving too fast and should stop to think things through.

What on earth do regular, normal people do? You know, those straight and monogamous ones? Is there some massive chapter in life skills, covering patience and virtue, self restraint and thoughtful consideration, and maintaining one’s emotional well being that I somehow missed out on entirely? Are there bi and poly people who have those skills too? If they do, how on earth did they learn them, and where can I sign up for the next course please?

I wish I were able to take a peek into the future. To look at myself in 10, 20, 50 years from now, and see what I’m doing. My hope would be that I’m happy, and content. Surrounded by people I adore and share mutual bonds of affection and love with. It would be so consoling to know that, despite the momentary ripples and tremors I experience day-to-day in my here and now, somewhere down the road there’s equilibrium waiting for me.

So much of my self-work the last few months has been about receptivity and my inability to be open to receiving. This has manifested in many ways- even down to my ability to let someone else give me an orgasm. Somewhere in my subconscious lies a pattern of diving into connections and then shutting down when they might be reciprocated fully, of refusing help from people who love me lest I seem weak, of stubbornly persisting in courses of action that I know will lead me nowhere and/or could cause me harm, a pattern of lashing out in anger at the people I care about the most when I feel my most vulnerable and scared.

In that preview of the future, I’d hope to see a me who is able to receive: who can trust the people she meets, rather than treat them as enemies first and friends later; a me who has forgiven all wrongs, including the mistakes I myself have made; a woman who can really walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk, and fully embody the core values she believes in and espouses. A me who is gentle with herself, and with others.

Interesting to note that in expressing that future vision, I don’t seem to care if I have a life-partner or not, or whether I have children of my own or not. I think I’ve trained myself to be unattached from the notion of either, even though deep down in my core, I know I still want both. It won’t look like anything that I had in my marriage with Finn. I honestly doubt, if it happens, that it will resemble any other relationship model I’ve known. But, there’s that fantasy lurking in the subtext of my mind- of the perfect picket-fence partnership, with plenty of poly playfulness- that needs to be acknowledged.

Yes, I am still looking for a life partner. Eventually. Not right now, though some long-term security and stability would be quite welcome. Can I do this while still being poly and singleish? I wish I were certain that I could. I’m not. I’d like to believe it’s possible. Only time- and a heck of a lot of patience- will reveal if it really is.