WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT CONSENT
As a queer person asked frequently to write about sex, I usually try to keep things light-hearted. I make jokes about anal because men worldwide are still arrested for sodomy. I talk in-depth about rimming because people still furrow their brow in disgust when I mention it. I make jokes about sex because my sex life is deemed to be political, and because queer sex is always used to either fear-monger or sensationalize. Laughing about my own has become a defense mechanism, and it's one I'm happy to stick to.
I mention this usual playful tone as a preface to a trigger warning: this article is absolutely not light-hearted. It's about consent, it's about abuse and it's about violation.
More specifically, this following article is about a man who tried to violate my body last weekend. He groped me, called me his bitch, followed me for 45 minutes, shoved his hands down my trousers and told me repeatedly that he wanted to fuck me raw. If I did not, he said, he would follow me home and fuck me there whether I liked it or not. He repeated variations of these words to me as he tried to press his lips against mine; if I pushed him away, his grip tightened.
When, eventually, he sensed that I genuinely wouldn't cave in, he snatched my phone. I'm lucky. I'm 6'2, I was drunk and I was confident enough to throw a punch when he did try and physically grab me. This retaliatory strike was, thankfully, enough to make him finally run away. My phone was still in his hand – I chased him, but it was too late.
I'm still angry. In the space of 60 seconds, I lost my memories, my contacts, and my self-esteem. That night, my body was not my own. My body became property for sale, available for invasive, tactile inspection by a man determined to strip it from within and leave it empty, worthless. The confidence I had worked so hard to build was being gradually eroded every time he slapped me and called me his "bitch". The humiliation he seemed intent on subjecting me to was intensified whenever he bragged to strangers that he would force me to suck his dick. The strangers walked on.
I used to think I would be able to handle myself in these situations. I used to think that somebody would intervene and help. I used to think I would be smart enough to talk him out of his pursuit. I know now that this is not true; if somebody wants to abuse you, they will do everything in their power to do so.
As I arrived home safely thanks to a mercilessly unsympathetic taxi driver, I broke down in tears as my housemate held me. I cried not just because I had just been grabbed, pushed, slapped and humiliated; I cried instead because I had experienced this kind of treatment in the past, just never to this extent.
It took one man to make me realize that other men had claimed my body as their own in their individual ways. They bit my flesh despite my pleas to stop. They threatened me when I wouldn't undress. They ejaculated on my sleeping body when I refused to give head.
They hadn't robbed me in a deserted alleyway and tried to push me against a wall like my most recent perpetrator had done, but they had collectively violated my body in ways so subtle that I had never even noticed the wounds.
After a few hours of fractured slumber, I awoke and decided to deal with the situation the best way I knew how. I wrote about it. In the space of 10 minutes, I had written 1400 words on my personal Facebook profile; an act more therapeutic than I could ever have imagined.
Despite its bad reputation, I still believe in social media's ability to show that our commonalities always overwhelm our differences. In this case, my beliefs were depressingly accurate. People reached out to me with their own stories of abuse; they thanked me for my honest words; they sent sympathy, love and, in one particularly poignant message, the sincere revelation that my experience had genuinely helped someone with their struggles. I don't say this to be a martyr, or to say that my words could help anybody else. My words will likely achieve fuck all. I say this to reinforce the point that discussion of these topics can remind people that they exist.
In the year 2015-2016, 23,851 cases of rape were reported in the United Kingdom alone. Of this enormous number, only 2689 complaints resulted in conviction.
It's not hard to see why. Aside from the debilitating trauma and threat of further assault which can come from reporting these kinds of crimes, there is often a discouraging lack of hard evidence and a pervasive stigma attached to any kind of sexual assault. Recounting these stories to legal professionals is understandably horrific and, with such low rates of conviction, it's easy to write off the workload attached to formally reporting rape as wasted labor.
We assume it won't be taken seriously, or that we'll be told it's our own fault for drinking, or wearing skimpy outfits, or daring to enter into sex work. We don't feel confident that our words will be truly heard, therefore victims often suffer in silence.
For these reasons and countless more, discussion is crucial. As a queer person used to frequenting sex-positive clubs and moving in judgment-free circles, I used to think I had a pretty strong grasp of what consent meant in real terms.
I knew that it meant you could say 'no' to anything at any time. I didn't stop to consider the times men had ignored my requests to stop and instead pushed themselves deeper inside me despite my yelps of pain. They thought my groans of agony were moans of ecstasy, but they were wrong, and I was too nervous to tell them otherwise. This was partly my fault.
I say partly because I have often felt pressure to please partners whether they exerted that pressure intentionally or not. When I was younger I would lie, sneak out to clubs and, when faced with a dead phone battery and no friends around me, agree to go home with a transient lover. The excitement thrilled me, but the reality did not. Some people understood and were genuinely kind, but others weren't – it was then that I realized how transactional sex and, in particular, one-night stands can be.
These people know what consent is, but three whiskies and a bruised ego can make good people do bad things. I told myself I was partially responsible for these bad things. I had led them on, or lied to myself, or been too much of a cocktease.
I lean on these personal examples only because they demonstrate that consent is a much more slippery term than most of us realize. Sexual assault, in turn, has become a loaded linguistic gun. It sounds so serious yet describes so much; anything from unwanted groping to forced intercourse is sexual assault.
I was, to be completely honest, unaware of this until I wrote in graphic detail what had happened to me only to met by a cacophony of confirmations; yes, I had been assaulted. This meant that I had normalized other small violations over the years.
This is not okay.
We need to talk about sex – the fun, light-hearted parts, but also the serious, uncomfortable and occasionally traumatic parts too. I am sex-positive. I will always be sex-positive; I firmly believe that a good fuck with a respectful, consensual partner is something to be celebrated and never shamed. I believe that we are all responsible for drawing our boundaries, but also that those boundaries can shift. Ask yourself consistently whether you're enjoying what's happening, and if you feel comfortable revealing that you aren't.
Know that your body is your own, and that anybody that tries to take that ownership away from you is guilty of violation.