consent IS about you. and the Spice Girls.

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this article comes with a trigger warning for discussing sexual violence.

The last time I was ever on Grindr, I got this message:
“I’d love to rape ur penis with my arse”
I responded “As someone who has been raped, I really hate people using that word so casually”
Then I got blocked. Then I deleted the app. Then I had a cup of tea.

Consent is a topic I find unites many people when they are willing to engage in conversation around it, but typically makes men uncomfortable. That may be in some part, speaking recently, due to #MeToo and #TimesUp giving voice to women who have experienced sexually harassing and traumatic events in what appears to be endemic proportions. Even before these movements though, discussions of sexual assault or rape perpetuated a pattern of women who can’t defend themselves against men who can’t control themselves. Mainstream media narratives, unforgivably lenient sentencing, and the current presidency of the United States of America have cemented this stereotype around the world. Where great strides have been made, backlash has brokered back ground, and outside of heteronormative discourse, silence continues to dominate and dismiss victims. Not only gay men and women, but also trans people, people born intersex, prisoners, trafficked people, recipients of foreign aid, single-sex private school children and many more examples outside those we hear most about.

Speaking into my own primary community of gay males, who are often thought of synonymously with promiscuity, I’ve found there is still much to learn and myths to be busted about how we approach sex in a respectful and safe way. So I’m going to attempt imparting wisdom with the help one of the world’s universal languages: the Spice Girls.

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Consent isn’t sexy
You know what they say about throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Don’t. What I find most people mean by this is that having to instruct or talk someone through sex, isn’t sexy. I can appreciate most people want to enjoy sex the way they’ve been brainwashed to enjoy it: post-verbal passionate pornographic moaning & groaning where each person is perfectly attuned to the others’ wants and needs, hits their G-spot on the first go and ejaculates within enough time to get sweaty, but not odorous. Now with someone you’ve slept with many times, built trust between and created an instinctive communication around? Sure that’s a reasonable expectation. But a guy you’ve only met once or twice, haven’t ever seen in full light, who you’re not even sure speaks English as a first language? It’s not fair to expect that person to know instinctively and intimately how to satisfy you without communicating.

Consent during sex isn’t as complicated as we’d like to believe; being caught up in our own enjoyment or nervousness during sex can make us less able to notice or interpret the other person’s signals, and being afraid of rejection can make us unsure of how to communicate during sex.

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You only need consent for penetrative sex
Once on another gay dating app, someone I’d been talking with for a while asked me to come over for some shared nudity with casual intimacy and I made the decision to ask “are you healthy?”
This is an insufficient question. He provided an insufficient response: “I’m on PrEP”
I said that PrEP only covered him for HIV, asked when was he last tested for any other STIs and let him know I would still prefer to use a condom.
He never replied. I felt bad for not waiting to have the conversation in person. Then I had a cup of tea.

Something I didn’t know about consent when I had my first sexual experience (aside from everything because they don’t talk about that stuff in Sex Ed), was that it only applies to the situation you believe you’re in. For example, ghosting, the practice of putting a condom on to gain consent to engage in penetrative sex then removing before actually penetrating, is rape. Plain and simple. Similarly, having sex with someone whom you have told you’re sober when in fact you’re on drugs voids their consent, as does saying you’ll use lubricant but not using it in case you lose your hard-on. There’s this attitude that you only need to put a condom on at the point of insertion. There’s also an attitude that you only need to put a condom on as an alternative to pulling out. There’s an assumption that saying yes once covers you for whatever happens in the next four hours. It doesn’t.

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Isn’t consent implied if he sticks around?
An Australian Football player made waves back in 2010 with the statement “When will you learn! [sic] At 3am when you are blind drunk & you decide to go home with a guy ITS [sic] NOT FOR A CUP OF MILO!”. There’s this idea, particularly among men, that the key to absolution from any compassion or consideration of another person’s engagement in intimacy is that they can put their hands up between you, say “Stop! I don’t like it!” as they were taught to back in kindergarten and then everyone will part ways as friends. The truth is that pretty much all of us would like to feel like we have the power and the right to do as Amber Rose saidIf I’m laying down with a man, butt naked, and is his condom is on, and I say ‘you know what, no I don’t wanna do this. I changed my mind’, that means no. It doesn’t matter how far I take it or what I have on. When I say no, it means no”. I’d even go a step further to if I say “ouch”, or “wait”, or “gently”, or “try this”, I should be able to expect any of those things to ensure you check in on me, and care about my response, and respect my enjoyment as much as your own without judgement.

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Someone on twitter made a comment that there’s a spectrum of behaviour, and that being catcalled, being groped and being raped are very different things in terms of how consent works. My response to that was that consent is like a joke, if no-one is laughing, it’s not a joke. It’s only consent if everyone is on board. If you feel taken advantage of, or coerced or traumatised, that’s valid and real. Then I wrote this blog. Then I had a cup of tea.


(this blog was not authorised by the Spice Girls)
Another great read on this topic ‘The But of Butts’.
take a peek at Project Consent for more information.
I talk plenty about consent in BURLESQUE BY FORCE which is showing in Adelaide Fringe Festival February 24-27. Tickets available here.

 

“just another dead fag to you, that’s all” – Wake Up Australia

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I broke out in hives on my thighs. I slowly stopped dressing. I have been shaking with cold and anger for hours now. They are hanging us in Africa. They are imprisoning us for life in Asia. They are throwing us from rooftops in the Middle East. They are luring us on dating apps into cars, then robbing, stripping, beating and leaving us for dead in abandoned parking lots. They’re shooting us down daily. They’re legally allowed to after all in America. It brings into stark contrast how it’s not so bad Down Under, but we’d all be kidding ourselves if we think ourselves fortunate or that we’re not being hoodwinked.

The man swapped-in to lead my country erased me today. He made the massacre of my community, the largest single-event death toll in the States since 9/11, about him and about “us all”. This is the same man who won’t put marriage equality, the same party who wouldn’t amend the gay panic defence’, the same coalition who have stripped young people struggling with their identity of knowledge, safety and community in their schools by taking apart the only program that acknowledged their specific challenges when it comes to bullying and socialising. He tried to erase me, tried to deflect off me, tried to wash me out and assimilate me into his cowardly rhetoric, and he is not alone.

I have been so afraid that this event would be used to prove that marriage equality creates discord and should be avoided. That this event would be used to fuel the fires of xenophobia, and destroy resources for young people who need them to know they’re not alone, and help is within reach. All my fears have been realised by straightsplaining politicians and newreaders, by vicious anonymous twitter handles and facebook pages. We’re not so far removed down here. In Australia we are the last Western first-world nation to put marriage equality, and we only this year dismissed gay panic as a justifiable excuse for assault or murder. We have every reason to support our gay community, but our leadership just won’t. That kind of aversion sends a clear message not just to young people, but to all people – that being anything other than exclusively heterosexually monogamous is wrong and will be contested. It sends that message to me, and I cannot comprehend how anyone purporting to be a leader would see people suffer at the hands of prejudices against their very humanity, and remain completely impotent and manipulative of fact to maintain such a sad status quo.

Something missing from all the anguish and blame, is the simple knowledge that the root of this attack is homophobia, the extreme and ungoverned hatred of gay people. Not Islam, which is circumstantial in this case, nor guns, which are legitimate problems but only the tool here, but unwarranted unchecked murderous rage brought about by the lives of other people. This is not just a hate crime, but a systemic genocidal episode. And for goodness only knows what reason, some people just can’t admit that they’re accountable for the perpetuation and permission of this behaviour.

In a similar way we let misogyny go by and excuse it, using words like ‘gay’ and ‘faggot’ to discriminate and demean is behaviour that frequently goes by without being questioned, challenged or stopped. So it breeds, becomes more hurtful, more hateful. Someone glitter-bombs you a little too roughly. Strangers come up behind you and whisper sexually aggressive or threatening things in your ear. You hear ‘faggot’ yelled out of a car, and watch for brake lights in case they decide to turn around. You have one drink at a bar and within minutes feel suspiciously faint. As every act of violence is sensationalised by the media, the population of people who think it worthwhile to take a few lives as a means to express the exponential anger and disgust they’ve been allowed to feel and act on all their lives grows. When I was ten, I was told to just ignore it. How do you ignore a bullet in your back?

We do have to call out homophobia and hate crimes wherever we see them, and to whatever extent they might offend or frighten. We do have to teach teachers how to put their personal politics aside in favour of saving a child’s life from bullying and self-harm, which LGBT youth are at much higher risk of. Stop attributing homophobia to gay students; you don’t need to be gay to be called a faggot, or to be beaten up for dressing ‘like a leso’ or to be accused of representing a different gender. You can cry all you want about how our kids are doing too much social learning and not enough algebra; there’s no need for arithmetic when you feel worthless, and students struggling with a sense of belonging perform poorly in scholastic environments anyway! And as to the argument about how such education should rest solely with the parents, take a read of the shooter’s father’s statement. Or better yet, Brock Turner’s dad’s about his rapist son. You can’t ask the parents to teach something they’re ignorant of, that you didn’t teach them either. And producing a child does not in any way equate to making a person altruistic or just.

We do have to stamp on workplaces to create anti-homophobia policy and we need to hear and be proved politicians’ stances on these issues before we elect them. Where we shop, what we buy, where we invest, who we encourage, it’s all part and parcel of reaching equality. Think critically about what you do, what you let slip by. They say everyone knows or is related to a gay person. Do they know you’ve got their back today?