Category Archives: Consent
I know that might be a controversial statement considering how often I get variations of “Hello sexy” in my inbox, but it’s the truth: I’m not the cause of a man’s erection.
I’ve known this since the very start of my sexual life and it’s been reinforced over time and validated by in-depth pillow talk and post-sex debriefings, men don’t get hard because of me, but because of their ideas about me. This knowledge became a means of liberation, a way to own my own sexual self and encourage my lovers to do the same.
Erections aren’t about or for me
Whenever I mention this, I inevitably get push back: Some insisting that their man is totally into them, men insisting that they’re totally into me. I’m not necessarily trying to convince them that they’re wrong, they have their experiences – but I have mine as well.
My experience spans decades. I was an early bloomer sexually. Over the 30 or so years I’ve been a sexually aware being, I’ve had more crushes than I can count, a diverse array of experiences and lovers from the sacred to the profane, I became familiar with the saints and the demons within us all. My “body count”, while high compared to most, doesn’t begin to encompass those who have never touched me yet still claimed me as the cause of their erection and/or orgasm. I am no stranger to the cis-male boner.
So understand that when I say this, I speak with the authority of some significant lived experience: Most men don’t get hard because of me.
No, they’re hard because of what they’ve imagined with me, a projected muse in the mind-movies of their fantasies. That’s not to say I don’t play a factor, but it’s detached from who I am. I am a channel of opportunity for their desires whether I want to be or not, whether I asked for it or not, whether they can act on it or not. A proxy, a stand-in for the excitement of potential scenarios, the thrill of fantasy, a vessel for playful imagination. A replaceable cog in the vast, sexual dopamine delivery system.
And yet, I forever get messages that look like this: “But baby, don’t you see how hard I am for you? Don’t you have a few minutes to help a guy out?”
No and No. Your erection isn’t my responsibility.
The contextual causality
It sounds cynical, doesn’t it? But consider, when we rely on the false formulas that all erections equal arousal, we skew some important truths.
An erection is a physiological response to stimuli, whether internal or external. The presence of a boner doesn’t automatically equal attraction or consent. For example, research has shown that “beer goggles” are actually sort of a thing. Likewise, an erection doesn’t mean male survivors wanted or enjoyed being sexually assaulted, a close cousin to the “she was asking for it” rape myth. Just like “Whiskey Dick” doesn’t mean I’m not attractive to him, the presence of an erection isn’t proof that I am either.
I am forever amused when men tell me that I’m the cause of their erection. Nah, boy, I just happened to be present either in your field of vision or a thread in your thoughts when you got one. If I was a mind reader, I’d see that while yes, I happened to be part of the field of stimulus, the erection actually came about due to certain thoughts, memories or physiological experiences. Consider the following real life situations (yes, these actually all happened to me):
- Ken is self-described boob guy. He was already half hard on his commute looking at the pretty boob-owners on the bus with him. He opens Twitter, scrolling for photos. A photo of my cleavage is one of many that fueled his lust to full hardness. That predisposition isn’t my doing.
- John sees me out of the corner of his eye flirting with the bartender. He notices I have a wedding ring. Boom! He’s hard because he imagines I’m cheating. This story isn’t my creation.
- Lucas has been bitter and lonely after a painful break-up. I chat with him in line at the grocery store and laugh at his jokes. He gets hard from feeling validated by an attractive-ish stranger. That role could be filled by anyone.
- Maurice has been catching up with his ex online, remembering all the great sex they once had together. I come home from work and he is hard and horny. That desire wasn’t because I suddenly showed up.
- Steve is out partying with his buddies and was rejected by my lesbian friend. He drinks until I’m cute, imagining a three-way with my friend until he’s hard. That backhanded compliment isn’t flattering
- Damian takes me to see a movie for our first date. There is a heavy gay leather sex scene that hits all of his repressed, sexual buttons. That desire is not at all about me.
- Ron is on a class camping trip and has never noticed me before. He wakes up with morning wood and I happen to be somewhere in a 200 foot radius. That wood is most definitely not for me.
Simply put: The boner isn’t because of me. The boner is because of the totality of the situation, the thoughts, the feelings, the memories, which only sometimes have anything to do with me.
The nature of my (role) play
Flirting is a better expression of interest for me. Playful banter that fans the initial, energetic sparks of attraction into some juicy mutual desire. Intellectual, witty wordplay with seductive innuendo. The tension of proximity, of express desire, of shared investment in the potential of sexual fireworks between us. Oh yeah…that’s the good stuff.
Good flirting is an art form. Back when I was in my prime, I was a master at flirtation and seduction. I could see a person’s desires as plain as you read these words here today. Written all over their word choices and body language, I could usually tell their deeper needs and I could tilt the conversation in that direction, adjusting myself to their ongoing display of desires. That is where the magic begins!
An erection is the least persuasive demonstration of desire. It limits my influence to a sexual impulse, a fleeting moment jumbled in with a ton of other thoughts and ideas. And even when it’s pinpointed to something I do or say, it still doesn’t say as much as when someone takes an actual interest in me, in my ideals and expression, in the magic I will actually bring to their world. Reductive, physiological responses aren’t enough – they have to be into ME beyond my cleavage and the sway of my hips.
Instead of wearing the costume of whatever image conjured that erection, their assumptions, their need, their aspirations, I prefer to play myself, not be a stand-in for someone or something else. And when someone only points to their erection as evidence of their attraction, it tells me that they know they don’t bring much else to the table – they treat me superficially becasue they are hiding from the depth I inevitably bring out.
At some point in my life I started recognizing that all spiritual exchange requires just that–an exchange. But when I serve as a placeholder, a meantime girl, a port in any storm, the exchange becomes more like a transaction. I was exhausted from providing more than I was receiving.
This caused me ultimately to stop sexual interaction with men who couldn’t see me, value me or be bothered to try to meet me where I am emotionally. Each message I receive I can usually pinpoint the desires. I can see their needs. And while I know I still have the skill to become exactly what they want, to get them hard for their own release, I am just uninterested in being anything but who I am. I don’t waste my precious energy unless those needs and desires align directly (not vaguely) with my own.
Your erection = your problem
In my world, an erection is only evidence a complex system of physiological and psychological responses to stimuli and thoughts. It isn’t evidence of arousal for me in particular. When men send me photos of their hard-ons, what I see is evidence of arousal from the exhibitionist nature of taking the photo. A photo of a hard dick doesn’t prove what someone actually thinks of me. (One man went so far as to recycle his dick pic photos, always claiming they were due to me in that moment. When I called him out on it he disappeared. Seriously, don’t do this.)
There is a certain freedom, as a woman, to know that a man’s hard-on isn’t because of me; it relieves me of any sense of responsibility or guilt to do something about it. How many times as a teenager did boys try to guilt me into oral sex through the coercive excuse of blue balls? Men have tried to convince me that my mere presence was enough to cause a hard on and then tried to make me responsible for relieving them of the burden of it.
“A person does not need a partner to relieve blue balls through sex. People can get rid of the symptoms by ejaculating through masturbation or by doing a nonarousing activity to distract them.”https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324870#myths
Someone once said that I was making a harsh, blanket judgment and making arousal too simplistic. On the contrary, arousal is a beautifully complex and dense array of possibilities. It is just as much a conditioned response to cultural stimuli (racists being turned on by POC due to the forbidden nature of the attraction), as it is to physical attributes (an ass man getting an eyeful of cheerleader butts during halftime). It is memory (“Oh, the last time she did this she gave me a blowjob”) and it is hope (a hint of skin leading to daydreams of more). It comes in so many forms and rarely will there ever be one, singular source of arousal. Arousal is ultimately a magnificent cocktail of stimuli.
I’m simply pragmatic enough to understand that the part that I play in that cocktail is just one flavor of the mixture. I don’t carry the burden to satisfy the thirst completely, only to be who I authentically am in the moment. I get to choose whether he presents a problem worthy enough for me to delight in solving it.
This isn’t like my other posts, but I hope you’ll stick with me as I put together the pieces of the puzzle that has been my life for the past 40 years. This will be a very long post, but one that I hope brings some hope in the wake of current events.
Targeted because of truth
I have always been an expressive woman. I tend to dominate conversations because I can usually find some connection to the topic, the person or the theme. I make my point of view known by weaving in the threads of my life with the topics at hand. I’m a classic ENFP and love connecting individuals to the bigger picture through narrative.
As such, I had an online journal where I attempted to do just that. And of course, because I’m me, I focused on sexuality, politics and real-life storytelling. It was a display of sexual confidence, but also sexual healing.
Eleven years ago that blog was exposed by a republican website seeking to make its bones with political gossip. They effectively outed me as bisexual, kinky and poly. Friday the 13 of October 2006.
It was my own damn fault I told myself. I got careless with the security settings. I was revealing too much about my own life, family. I put everything and everyone at risk. For what?! for sex? For authenticity? For my truth? My truth was dangerous to my family, my career and my psyche.
The blog that outed me had no problem using my journal and photos to speculate wildly about my sex life, so within two hours, I became a liability to my employer and I resigned. I could no longer do my job because my credibility had been ruined, not because I was honest and transparent about my life, but because I was a slut and proud of it. I didn’t speak up. I felt such shame, such repugnant regret for my hubris that I hid out, taking low-level jobs, deliberately staying off of anyone’s radar, feeling undeserving of anything more.
I acquiesced, sacrificing authenticity for security.
The poison well of toxic masculinity
As I took time away, getting progressively more isolated, alone and depressed, my anxiety flourished. We couldn’t watch the news. I screened every call. I got used to never having enough, never being enough, never feeling deserving. And when I would take one triumphant step forward another obstacle would hurtle toward me. It was kind of like a brutal game of dodgeball where I was also taking friendly fire from trusted friends, family, and partners. My perimeter of safety contracted and filled with a toxic dose of self-doubt resulting in a few suicide attempts that I don’t discuss. I knew my view was distorted, but I was so deflated, so traumatized, I could no longer even trust myself.
This darkness has led me down several different paths of healing. But there was a recurring theme in that healing: my sexuality never fully came back to the voracious lust that it had once been. It’s not that I don’t have an exciting or fulfilling sex life, but that I felt like that previous life had all been a dream. My consent had been violated in a deeper way than I had ever identified now was in a constant state of hypervigilance.
I had no choice but to illuminate the patterns that were starting to emerge. The influence of an early childhood sexual assault, continual pressure for Much of the sexual history and identity I had been so anxious to get back to had been heavily influenced by some distinct experiences with men who had taken their lack of power out on me. A poisoned well of pride.
While a handful of men from my childhood and adolescence infected me with poison from that well, far more benefitted from the impact it had on me. They didn’t care that it would poison my thoughts about myself. They didn’t care that they were inflicting sexual assault, harassment, and exploitation that would carry a current of trauma in my life. They didn’t care that their actions were wrong and criminal. They felt desire and they felt entitled to have their shot, no matter what price I would personally pay. They normalized the abuse and dismissal of my consent with the constancy of it. What might my life had been without that?
I adapted to survive
Shining the light on this part of my life has been the hardest thing I’ve had to do. Tearing apart my sexual experience and examining my lopsided relationship with consent has thrown everything I believe about myself into question. Where I once thought I was sexually liberated and commanded respect for how I approached sexuality, I realized how often my consent had been coerced, how often I succumbed to the intimidation or perceived threats of harm. It wasn’t the whole of my history or even the majority of it, but those distinct moments shaped me and what I should expect from men.
But in examining this, I had to also acknowledge that I survived. Not because anyone else came to my rescue. I survived because of me.
After I was raped, I developed abilities that I used to protect myself. I used limited acquiescence for reconnaissance. I learned how to read them before they could read me. I learned how to touch a raw nerve to get them to back off or show their true colors sooner. I developed closer female friendships and learned how to use our stories as examples so that other survivors would know they weren’t alone. I was able to speak up, safeword if needed and fight back.
Ten years later (last year – October 2016), my life was finally starting to shift for the better. I was ready to start emerging from the cocoon. Trusting others was still a minefield, but I’m better at trusting my knowledge, my intuition, my sacredness, my value. I’ve faced a lot of the scariest parts of myself, some of the scariest situations and have emerged stronger than I expected. By walking through my own darkness, allowing myself to recover threads of resilience, I started to love this new wholeness of me.
The personal is political
Around the same time I chose to cast aside my self-doubt and shame, the infamous “Grab ‘em by the pussy” comment came out. Despite my political expertise, I was struck that Donald Trump had the audacity to defend it. The people around him had the audacity to defend it. The news became a too real personalization of rape culture.
I wasn’t alone in recognizing that this event retriggered most survivors of sexual assault. All the work I had done to regain my strength, confidence and sexual joy was smashed right back down with a deluge from that poisoned well of toxic masculinity. This sudden onslaught of smug entitlement, fueled by open victim blaming and lame justifications for criminal behavior has brought back all of the memories of every other lonely, angry man who decided he was entitled to whatever he wanted from my body.
The personal is political now. This Presidency has been an eerie real-life example of the abuse many of us have suffered in our personal lives.
Abuse relies on an insidious spiral of control and power. It starts as small boundary-pushing, floating test balloons to see where we’re willing to tolerate their foolishness (questioning Obama’s citizenship, Mexicans are rapists and murderers). If they can get close enough, they can start to condition us (“lock her up”), feed us lies (“fake news”) so that we don’t believe what previously trusted sources would have told us. They continue the isolation and they prevent us from asking for help (pissing off our allies), screen our visitors (ICE raids and travel ban), control our money (health care costs will rise). They openly mock us (disabled reporter impression), they make a big personal issue out of an innocent gesture (Take a Knee), control our bodies (birth control), they make us dependent on their help (Puerto Rico vs Houston vs California), they expect to receive better treatment than us (unjustified costs of protection and travel for administration). And when they know they’ve gone too far, they give the hearts and flowers usually with the delivery of a backhanded compliment (“very fine people”).
Alone, powerless, you endure it the best you can because you’re just hoping someone will notice and come save the day.
This entitlement and power hungry structure are not just confined to Trump. Much like the poison that infected my own sense of self, it permeates our culture. Harvey Weinstein exposes just how poisonous our culture is. How truth is stifled through intimidation. How mind-boggling common it is for this behavior to persist, not just in Hollywood, but everywhere. The courage that I have seen this week has been extraordinary. The more we speak our truth, the closer we come to freedom and justice for us all.
Freedom is Found in Authenticity.
This weekend Professor Marston and the Wonder Women was released on the same day as the anniversary of when I was outed. What was so remarkable and inspiring for me in this movie is that it celebrated all of the things that I was outed for: bisexuality, polyamory, and kink. The problem is not that we are different, it is that others feel entitled to project their vulgar interpretations on us, to taint authenticity with judgment, fear, and shame.
To see this triad fight through prophecies and internalized shame was a beautiful affirmation of what I have fought to regain for myself. To watch them submit to the authenticity of their love and prioritize their intimate connection over the compliance society expected is exactly the message we need right now. Living a lie just won’t work, not when those lies are used to subdue others into compliance. We must take the plunge into authenticity with our whole heart and soul, despite what the outside world convinces us to believe.
This especially is true when faced with harmful patterns of abuse and control.
Owning our own story, declaring ourselves to the world matters in the current environment. Being visible matters. Representation matters. Your truth matters. Your consent to live and experience life on your terms also matters. And in the reckless, power hungry, abusive patterns of men like Trump and Weinstein and the unfathomable number of other powerful men like them, speaking your truth matters. Because living authentically gives others permission to do so as well.
Wonder Woman was the hero I looked up to as a young girl. In seeing some of the origins of her creator and the inspiring women who inspired her, I am more and more convinced that she is the symbol of the power that we need right now in our national narrative. So many women share a common experience, have found our truth stifled for too long, that we are speaking up, speaking louder and refusing to drink the poison fed to us by toxic masculinity. She stands for relentless truth, compassionate justice and an unwavering alignment with her authentic self.
And what is encouraging isn’t just that women are speaking up, but men too. We’re making room for more of us to be heard and to hold more people accountable as we wake up to admitting our own truth. A truth that cascades into our selves and starts to wash out the poison, healing the toxicity left behind in the wake of our too common traumas.
The golden lasso of awareness is starting to wrap itself around the body of the American politic – accountability demanded by those whose power has been most stifled and stunted: Women and marginalized communities. The powers that be are scared, lashing out and doubling down on their abuses.
But we are reaching the tipping point where the cost of silence is no longer a price we’re willing to pay. Putting pressure on America to confront itself: its racism, misogyny, rape culture, violence worship, cycles of poverty and inequality, and devastating patterns of environmental abuse and injustice. We are shining a light on the monsters the lurk deep within the American psyche.
It’s time for us to face our collective shadow, to recover the threads of our connective community that have been torn apart by hatred and oppression. To find inspiration in the collective light of our resilience and strength. Only in confronting the deepest truths within, pulling forth the authentic power of our true selves, will we realize the freedom, equality, and respect we each deserve.
Fight on, my friends. We are in this together.
Since December I’ve been broadcasting weekly Periscope videos focusing on various topics about polyamory. I’ve been having trouble deciding when it was best for me to do these live chats. Lately it’s been Friday afternoons between 4-6pm my time. Due to having previous Valentine’s Day plans with Warrior, I was going to do this one around 10am.
Maybe it was the difference in time and thus the availability of people to join in and watch, but there were a lot more people than usual. And there was more interaction. For this topic I was doing this time, looking at the notes from the session about Poly Political Resistance, I was flattered that I could talk about this topic with so many people.
As any woman who is active on the internet who even hints about sex on her profile, you’re inevitably asked to show off for your (primarily) male followers. I’ve had a few comments here and there during the few weeks I’ve been doing this. The ones that are “hi beautiful” and then ask for me to show them my boobs. Usually I will just say no and move on. Asking more than once is enough to distract me from what I was talking about. (How sad is it that I’m so used to it that asking once doesn’t seem to phase me?)
Well, this Friday, someone was asking way more than once for me to show them my boobs. Daring me to block them to get them to stop. Because I didn’t know how to do that and obviously telling them no wasn’t going to work, I just ended the whole thing. (I have since learned how to block during the broadcast).
I got back on a few minutes later (Video here) and tried to pick up before I had been interrupted. I had a few minor incidents during the 2nd broadcast and tried to handle them the best I could.
It’s an ambitious title up there.
I feel like I should have something profound to say to live up to that title.
Instead all I have are distant observations that are colored by the more vivid memories that I deliberately want to block out.
TW: Descriptions of sexual assault, rape
Twenty years ago today, I was raped.
I was raped in a college dorm room. Right before Thanksgiving break in 1996, my freshman year. It was less than a month until my 19th birthday. I was 900 miles away from home, there alone, without any of my familiar friends or family nearby.
I was an A student, sorority girl and up and coming leader when I was raped. I had just been initiated into Alpha Chi Omega. Within a few weeks I elected to be Vice President of Intellectual Development, unprecedented in our chapter to have someone so young on the Exec Board. I was chosen in part because of my academic credentials, which i admit now were pretty decent. It helped that I was mostly articulate and could flirt easily with the men in the fraternities on campus.
I was raped by someone I knew. I was in the room of my current fuck-buddy at the time. His friend was visiting from out of town for his last hurrah before getting married. We sat and watched the Fly while drinking beers. I left for a bit to sit and talk with the Indian guy down the hall whose name escapes me.
I was raped after a lot of alcohol had been consumed. But I had two beers that night. Two over the course of maybe three hours. They had the rest of the case to themselves. I’d say they had at least four or six on me each.
I was raped after I had previously consented to a sexual activity. When I returned to the room I was caught in a three way kiss between the fuck buddy and his friend (not the bachelor) that I had previously fucked with. This kind of threesome had happened a few times before and we always had a good time with each other. They invited Bachelor to join in and I consented to that–three pairs of hands on me at once is so magnificent.
I was raped after someone had drunk so much that they passed out: At one point in this 10 minute group grope session (which, if I’m not mistaken may have hinted at some man-on-man action too), fuck buddy had to get up and take a piss, so we all stopped. We turned another movie back on and pretended to watch it. Fuck-buddy’s friend noticed that fuck buddy had been gone for a while, so he got up and left to go find him, leaving me alone with Bachelor (and a creepy dude in the opposite corner of the room trying to go unnoticed).
I was raped by someone who wouldn’t take no for an answer. He suggested that we make out while we waited for Fuck Buddy to return. I consented to making out. When he tried to grope under my clothes, I didn’t feel comfortable and told him to stop. He didn’t.
I was raped by someone despite trying to fight back. He continued to undress himself and me. I struggled as he was trying to get my jeans off. I told him no repeatedly. He was able to get my pants and underwear off while keeping me pinned down with his knee. He had slithered a hand between my naked thighs and I was squeezing them hard to try to get him to stop. I didn’t want to be touched anymore and I gave every signal both verbal and non verbal that would be recognized.
I was raped by threat and force. As I struggled, he had flipped me over onto my stomach, his hand holding me down into the pillow by the neck. I could only look to the side–I couldn’t even tell you which side. We were on the top bunk and my head was smashed into a pillow. Tears and drool on the pillowcase, blacking out for a moment because I couldn’t breathe. I remember being outside my body at that point, ready to make due with whatever happened so long as I didn’t die. That was my bargain. If I don’t die, God, I promise I will deal with this. Even our bargains with deities are soured by internalized misogyny.
I was raped anally. I had never done anal play of any kind. I had a boyfriend ask for it once and it just never came to anything. While still holding me down he first tried my vagina. Then when I was still blocking him with my thighs and movements, he raped me anally. No lube, no prepping, no asking.
I was raped as a demonstration of dominance over me. Rape is and always will be a crime of power. This is about power and control over another human being–sex is just the vehicle for that exertion of control. It’s pathological, angry and destructive by intent. It is not impulse or a force of nature. It is a deliberate choice. I was his promised Bachelor’s gift (I would later find out) and fuck this bitch for daring to say no to me. Entitlement. projection and blame is the environment where our rapists dwell.
I feared for my life. I screamed into the pillow the minute I felt him enter me, his grip became tighter around my neck. I was worried my neck would snap. I froze. In shock. I still don’t know where my head was looking. I was out of body again. Maybe blacked out.All I know is how much all of my senses were on overload. The only thing I felt besides life-threatening fear was the white-hot, searing pain from my ass.
I was raped in front of a silent accomplice. Remember creepy dude in the corner? He was still there, watching the whole thing. When my rapist was done, all i could hear was the fapping sound of his hand on his skinny, shitty prick. He was getting off on this. I was doubly humiliated. I call him an accomplice because he was complicit in what was happening. He would have been clearly witnessed me saying no. He would have clearly seen me struggling. He would have clearly known that I didn’t want it. And what’s worse is that he got off on witnessing that.
- Fuck Buddy had passed out in the bathroom. Friend was blocking people from getting into the room I was in.
- Fuck Buddy’s roommate heard me screaming and the Friend told him to not worry about it that we were all role playing.
- Another guy who was just getting back in that night, heard banging against the wall and faint sounds, but the music in the hallway was too loud for him to know what was going on.
- At least 5 other guys on the floor heard me that night; not one of them intervened. Two others (in addition to the in-room witness) had gotten off to it.
- I found out he had used a condom. I heard him snap it off when he was done.
- It took me more than 10 minutes to get back to my room, from getting over the shock to getting my clothes back on, to drying my tears, to breaking through the guys who were trying to block me in and make me go for round 2.I stumbled down the flight of stairs to my floor
- I was bleeding and in a lot of pain. I already had a bad back and it had completely seized up.
- I called one of my major crushes who was in school in Detroit. He was an architecture student, so I knew he would be up. I cried on the phone with him for 2 hours without being able to say much.
- I skipped all my classes the next day.
- I skipped my date that night with a man who I’m pretty sure would have taken me straight to the police to report it to distract me while he would have been getting his mob friends to dispense justice.
- I did eventually shower, but only because I couldn’t sleep.
By the end of that weekend, I had taken myself down to the lake at 4 am. I couldn’t sleep more than a few hours at a time. I decided to take a walk to the lake, halfway torn between suicide and victorious resistance. One of the guys from that night who had been just getting home from a date, saw me leaving. We didn’t really talk much as we walked. I confirmed his suspicions: that I was really saying no and crying out for help. His feeling of guilt and shame was evident. We found a bench outside the library, looking out at the lake.
Right now, I’m reminiscing about Lake Michigan. All the healing that happened in that spot over the years. Not just from this, but other things too. Remembering one of my most stable and stalwart lovers during my years there. A Navy Man who still provides me comfort and protection from my overthinking and strict need for control even after years and many miles apart. Texting with him right now.
As we sat there, he just held my hand. He was present for me as I channeled whatever strength I had left into the words that tumbled out of my mouth. It was just a stream of consciousness. Acceptance that what happened to me was real. Resolve that it would never happen again in the future. A commitment to dictate the terms of any sexual encounter I had from there on out. From now on I was in control of my body, my voice, my actions, my motives. And if a sexual encounter didn’t align with what I waned then it wasn’t going to happen.
But there was one glaring absence in my bold speech of recovery:
I didn’t call it rape.
TW: Descriptions of rape, sexual assault, child sexual assault, sexual harassment.
(This is a story of my comeback from rape, prior and subsequent experiences of sexual assault and harassment, internalized misogyny, depression, anxiety, PTSD and Catholic guilt. Read Part 1 here. )
It wasn’t until the past year or so that I started to see the night of my rape in the larger scheme of things. Patterns started to emerge that were both good and bad for me, for us as a society. The following is just a dispassionate description of those observations, loosely woven into the part of my personal story i’m willing to share with the public.
Sexual assault is far more common than we think.
In the three years I was in college (yes, gradutated a year early), I encountered many stories from women and men who had been sexually assaulted. Either taken advantage of when drunk or high or coerced and pressured into sex by a needy, jealous and demanding partner.
One night, at the end of my senior year as our sorority held one of its fireside chats (usually an attempt to clear the air about our grievances with each other), I confessed to them this story I shared here. More than a third of the sorority shared similar stories that night. I remember all of us sitting there, tears in our eyes as we recalled separate but shared histories of the humiliation of objectification and dehumanization. It had never been quantified for me like that before.
But beyond this, I started to recognize and see all the minor ways in which sexual assault has been normalized. So when we talk about rape culture, this is what we mean. The legitimization of smaller aggressions against the consent of those involved in a sexual scenario.
Tolerance and acceptance of sexual assault, harassment and objectification have been way too common in my life.
As a woman and at that a Catholic, Mexican-American woman, I had been conditioned to accept violation of boundaries on a near constant basis. I mean, when the Church condemns women to a grave sin for exercising control over their own bodies, we send a very powerful message about the sanctity of female autonomy. Or rather, the lack of it. When we control, regulate, gaze at and objectify women we create a world in which rape and sexual assault is normalized and accepted.
I learned just recently how normal it was in my life (and I mean even as a child) to put up with this kind of behavior. I use the word “inappropriate” to describe these today, but I was definitely trained through experience to treat these things as normal and expected. Because going along with it has usually been safer than calling it out–after all, I’ve been close to death a few times for daring to say no. And it’s not just the assaults or attempts or harassments that are important, it’s the cultural attitudes and expectations that made them acceptable and relieved the perpetrators of any consequence or responsibility for honoring my consent or autonomy. Here are some examples of what I mean:
- Someone close to my family sexually assaulting me at the age of 6 or 7.
- Grown men in the Army sending me naked pictures of themselves when I was as young as 13. At least two of them knew my real age.
- Also at 13 a boyfriend was stalking me, slashing my neighbor’s tires and making threats outside my window while I slept after I refused to have sex with him.
- Co-workers at my first job taking monetary bets as to who would get to fuck me first.
- A 36 year old co-worker trying to finger me when I was 15.
- A 40 year old delivery man inviting me to his house alone when I was 16.
- The biggest womanizer in school stalking me until I’d have sex with him. I lost my virginity to him at 16.
- Being pressured into having sex with a classmate as a way to be jumped into a gang at 13. I backed out at the last minute.
- Engaging in sexual activity as more of a defense mechanism than as a rational and enthusiastic choice.
- Being drugged by two men who secretly tried to record me “consenting” to sex. I eventually escaped.
- Being outed and slut shamed by a republican blog and losing my job as a result.
- Getting unsolicited dick pics whenever I’m on any dating site.
- Relentless harassment to coerce me into sending nude photos.
- Sexual prowess in male co-workers are joked about with ease; sexual interest I expressed being condemned as a stain against the organization.
- Emotional manipulation including guilt and shaming if I express limits. Usually takes the form of “not a real submissive” or “not really poly”, especially when trying to hold someone responsible for behavior that violates those limits.
- Threats of violence for refusing a drink/kiss/ride home.
- Being given a dildo as a present by my boss when I turned 17; my acceptance of that gift was used to imply consent for all sorts of touching, grabbing and propositions for years to come.
- Subjected regularly to groping when doing absolutely nothing–like ordering a drink at the bar or even standing at a bus stop.
- Having my consent violated in a scene by an “elder” who never obtained my consent for a needle scene he had planned.
- Not reporting any of these because of the fear of retaliation, ruin and rejection.
- Screaming red in a dungeon and having no one intervene in our scene; this was after the DMs held me down for a tickling scene I did not consent to.
- Sacrificing my own needs and voice in order to protect the ego of the person I was with.
I just don’t have the energy to describe each and every detail but I think you get my drift. I have been raised to not just expect this behavior, but to reward it with my attention, time and politeness. And guess what? So have you.
This is about as far as I can get tonight. The rest is just too raw on the surface.
Too much shit has been stirred up lately.
Example: Playing with a new submissive boy, still dipping my toes in the water of what my own dominance might look like, he fell oddly distant and cold afterward. Stirring up those feelings of rejection, feeling exposed and like I was being judged for my size, my taste, my age, my grace, my fashion, my ignorance. That feeling, that all too familiar feeling like I was supposed to change myself to accommodate invisible expectations that he didn’t communicate, but I am supposed to somehow anticipate. I could be wrong–we haven’t discussed it, but even my equivocation of how I feel is evidence of this trend to set aside my own insight in favor of someone else’s.
Shine On You Crazy Diamond
How much of my existence has been defined as being the pretty, little doll existing solely for the pleasure and whims of others? And let’s face it, I’m not the prettiest, so it’s an existence that is easily defined as being the doll at the very bottom of the trunk that carries nostalgia, memory and this sensation of soul-full-ness. I’m kept around for memory’s sake, but used, discarded and forgotten until I’m needed again.
I have spent most of my life trying to convince myself, through the excuse of my calling, that this was the purpose of my life. I molded myself around these awful, horrible experiences, trying to become the perfect woman that could easily slide into people’s hearts unobtrusively to bring out goodness and love. It’s not to say I didn’t do that or that the goals were bad, but it was that I became an avatar of myself, a projected 3-D image of myself that was real in every way, except my own desires, needs, hopes and dreams. Those were always irrelevant to the more important business of pleasing the people I was with.
None of this is to say that the rape was my fault, that the sexual assaults and harassments I’ve endured are my fault. Those men made choices. Choices that they knew were wrong. Choices that knew were a violation of my autonomy and free will. These violations, because they bundle together super vulnerable things–like sex/nudity, self-worth, guilt and shame–they are easier to manipulate and exploit. It’s not our fault that these things are vulnerable–they are vulnerable for everyone, but we are wrongfully accused of being too open to sharing those intimate parts of self, when it was the manipulator who violated the terms of that sharing. Most of the time we are left shadow boxing with ourselves in a distorted mirror of shame and guilt, feeling utterly responsible for the fallout of choices that someone else had the audacity to make for us.
We have to remember that this mirror only reflects a particular facet of ourselves. The part locked away in time and trapped behind the glass. But diamonds, those hard as fuck little mini crystals that manifest from the pressure of the earth, have several facets to them. The ultimate in resilience, radiant with reflection and beauty. And what we see in that mirror, in that battle with ourselves, the shame and guilt that were projected onto us, that’s just one facet of who we are. But we contain so much more than that and deserve so much more than that.
So shine on you crazy diamonds.
I sit with all of these thoughts, reflections on what it took for me to become a whole and healthy person. I can’t say I’ve done it well, but the fact that I’m still here, still fighting, still making these realizations, understanding my patterns and fighting to change the perverse patterns of exploitation around…this is how I will continue to shine, the crazy, hard as fuck diamond that I am.
There are a 1001 posts rolling around in my head right now ranging from a critical assessment of the pejorative “self-indulgence” to the Pope’s recent statements about homosexuality. But since I’m running a facilitated conversation about consent practices in the kink community within the next week, issues about consent are more prominent for me. And where have consent issues been most irksome and public is with the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal.
Carlos Danger isn’t the big problem
In almost everything that I’ve read reporters and media treat this as yet another scandal. They cover the texts and explicit images that were traded with women and his brazen defiance to prevailing political wisdom’s call for him to step down from the NYC mayor’s race with equal amounts shock and consternation. And while I agree with the political analysis of this, most commentators focus on the sex
addiction (which is questionable) or the Carlos Danger = bad decision-making aspects. Yet, they continue to miss the dangerous and pervasive cultural point that has a greater impact on his qualifications as a leader: Weiner is the equivalent of the creepy trench coat guy who got caught and expects us to give him a free ride. And this troubling predatory behavior that has become all too commonplace and excusable.
The Stranger Danger
Do not think for a moment I’m referring to two sex partners, romantic partners or even occasional fuck buddies who consensually
exchange explicit texts or pictures. And at least some of the women Weiner has texted with over the years were certainly consensual. See, my issue isn’t with the “terrible decision-making” that would make his run for mayor questionable. Nor is it the fact that he’s unapologetic about the impact on his wife or family.
It’s the fact that on at least one of those occasions and possibly more, he has sent those pictures and sexually explicit messages unsolicited. And it’s this level of aggressive and needy boundary pushing that makes it scary that he would be in a position of real power over New York City (or any agency for that matter) much less the obvious disrespect he has for the women he was doing this to after only a few messages sometimes.
And right now, the people who are raising this important consent issue are bloggers at Shakesville and Yes Means Yes blog but not the reporters, the politicos or the public who will get to ignore him at the polls. And ever since I encountered another post from Yes Means Yes blog about the unsolicited cock photo is really about pushing boundaries, I have been starting to look at online behavior in a much different way. And that level of boundary pushing nags at my mind throughout this latest scandal.
I agree with the bloggers and and tend disagree with the media and most of the opinion gurus, who come close without ever delving into the troubling behavior:
Weiner, who seems to have sent at least one illicit photo to a woman without any encouragement whatsoever, seems to have a thing for exhibitionism. Some might see in his behavior the online equivalent to donning a raincoat in an alleyway and flashing women who walk by, but others suggest he represents something else: A man whose deviance could only exist in the online world, which makes spontaneous flashing possible without the effort involved in the more traditional variety. “I’d bet my whole Ph.D. that he wouldn’t be standing on a corner doing that,” notes Barry McCarthy, a sex and marital therapist, and professor of psychology at American University. – Bianca Bosker, Huffington Post
And yet doing it online relieves him of facing the immediate reaction where he otherwise would likely face inevitable punch in the face or the audible horror screams at his deflating schlong. For me this goes beyond mere thrill seeking or “exhibitionist” behavior. It’s still non-consensual.
But more than that, I think Melissa McEwan at Shakesville really hits the nail on the head with this piece of wisdom :
He has repeatedly used his position, privilege, power, and access to solicit the sexual attentions of young women who do not have anything like the kind of position, privilege, power, and access he has. He isn’t interested in an equal. He is, when necessary, indifferent to consent.
Let’s be real about what sexual predators are about. This isn’t about sex. This isn’t about getting off. This isn’t about pursuing a relationship. This is about establishing an imbalance of power and control. In this situation, Weiner was the guy in charge. Making promises and pushing the boundaries of women online, escalating the pressure and pleading for acceptance of his wildly inappropriate behavior.
The Real Danger
But this wildly inappropriate behavior is so commonplace that it’s become cliche to pretty much any woman who uses an online dating site. It’s not just the Weiners of the world who have engaged in this type of behavior. I’d say about 60% of the men who contact me on dating sites do to varying degrees whether it be sending me the unsolicited cock shot or being so blatant as to make it their profile pic (quite common on FetLife). I love Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel for putting together this nifty little guide to when a man should send a woman a picture of his dick. But this tidbit is priceless: And yet, he’s asking the people of NY to trust him making decisions for their welfare and enforcing the laws. I dunno, do you want to give the creepy trenchcoat flasher that level of power? Over one of the most visible cities on the globe? The fact that he refuses to take public accountability for his actions, accept criticism from political powers much more forbidible than he is (not to mention his wife’s boss), and of course the constant lying and covering up to the now blatant “fuck off” sort of attitude he is carrying around with him is dangerous in a policy maker. (Oh and his staff calling a former intern who likewise critiqued him as a “slutbag” takes the whole campaign down the toilet of sexist rhetoric.)
Scenario 8: You are a Congressman and your ambitious, beautiful, and pregnant wife is never around and she’s like no fun at all and you just want to feel LOVED and ADORED and your ego is hungry, hungry for approval. Tons of hot chicks follow you on Twitter and Facebook, because you are a Famous Politician, and you just know they want to see your junk. Your perfect, unimpeachable junk.
Should you send the lady a dick pic? No, you fucking creepy dumbass. No you should not.
The fact Weiner is still standing isn’t a testament to what a big New Yorker he is. It’s a testament to the powerful influence of predatory behavior. Habitual, unrepentent and predatory non-consent is given a free pass if Weiner continues into the election. Yes, the voters will likely give him the boot (I would hope so), but by then the damage will have been done.
The fact that he has a political career at all in this moment legitimizes every creepy guy who thinks an appropriate introduction into sexual contact is a virtual flash of his penis in a woman’s face whether she wanted it or not. Staying in the race puts the mayor’s personal seal of approval on this all too commonplace violation of consent* in a digital age.
*Note I have no research on how common this is in a more LGBTQ context. Do men send unsolicited pics to other men? Do women send unsolicited pussy shots to other women? i’d be interested to find out.
Hypothesis: The Purpose Of The Cockshot Is To Test Boundaries
Passing on this wonderful link about an insidious means of testing and violating consent that sadly we are all too familiar with.
*edited to correct auto-correct presumptions and clarify two points*
Tonight I responded to someone on FetLife who was rather personally offended that the term patriarchy had been applied and connected to rape culture.
The offense started with a photo of a brilliant exchange that blames a mugging victim for being “generous” and having “post-donation regrets”. It ended with “Fuck the patriarchy”.
I found it an apt way to describe why people (mostly women) don’t report rape or sexual assault. but this special snowflake found it “selectively prejudicial” and interpreted all of this to mean that “any man in power” is to blame for rape culture.
blinks in bewilderment
From what I gathered from his very lengthy exchanges with anyone who bothered to clear up that misinterpretation he apparently is above all of that and was hell bent on demonstrating both his lack of prejudice as well as his stand-up-guy-ness in terms of rape culture.
The exception-to-the-rule guy. Which of course is another way to sidestep analyzing and thus acknowledging any relationship between patriarchy and rape culture and instead do a very um…patriarchal thing and dismiss the critique of the connection or existence of either altogether with his singular but stunning example of being such an awesome guy while still defending his fellow men (good and bad) from further “discrimination”.
Ummm…K. If patriarchy were actually about that and not a sociological descriptor I could see his issue. But the problem flows not just from a fundamental failure to understand the meaning of the word patriarchy, but also any observance of its influence in society. Gah!!!!
Because it is 4 am and I’m sleepy this the best I could do in response.