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.

compromisation

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.

sluthshaming

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.

 

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the Christian, the question, and the queer

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it happened. today. in a seemingly innocuous moment of asking a colleague what their weekend had in store for them, they let me know they were attending a debate about marriage equality to be held in their church. and then we had a conversation.

let me preface this by saying that while I have been passionate about marriage equality and will be voting yes for the sake of my community, my future and generations of LGBTI people to come, I have not been emotionally attached or taken the “respectful debate” to heart. Aquarians.

But here I was, faced with the opportunity many people have talked about the importance of – to reach an influential, undecided individual. not a drop of mud was slung, nor any personal attack entered into. what was said went something like this:

he told me he was afraid that the freedoms of his community would be restricted should marriage equality be granted – that it would open a door to people of faith being further criticised and denigrated in wider society. I expressed to him my compassion, as I too was afraid that the personal, security freedoms of my community would be restricted in turn should the result be “no”. I genuinely don’t think he realised that – that we both feared the same things for those we loved – that something we believed to be so inherent to who we are – me my love of men, him his love of God – would be used as a tool to oppress us.

he told me he was scared to be judged as a Christian, that to tell people you believed in Jesus these days could attract a lot of hate and dismissal. I told him I could empathise, as telling someone I was gay has the same effect; it is a gamble. For instance, when I told a pastor attached to mission my church supported, she openly told me that for me to want to help others was selfish because God couldn’t act through me, as I was an abomination. I promptly lost my love of God, many of my friends, and a foundation of faith on which, at that time, a lot more of my life than I had thought was built. I told him not to worry, to be judged hurts, especially the first time. That you get used to it. That it gets better.

I’m sure by now you’re realising the parallels in our two perspectives as we face this issue in Australia. The irony of what I was telling him was not lost on either of us. I think if I had made the point with any derision or sarcasm, as I know is tempting to do for many people, it would have been closed to him.

So then he reveals he has suffered some incredibly isolating issues from which he knows his spiritual journey rescued him. I once again shared my empathy because I felt the same way when in amongst all my pain and confusion, the realisation I was gay allowed my mind to make sense to me, when I realised there was still love I could have, it made a peace inside me that turned my life from a sorrowful pilgrimage to a productive salvation all its own.

He said he didn’t know where he stood on the issues concerning children. I asked him if his thoughts would be the same about me having a child with a woman, which I can do, though I won’t love that woman like I would another man, though I would love my child as much. There is no law stopping me from having children, and marriage will not change my ability to procreate. On top of which, waving a marriage certificate in the school principal’s face will not play any role in whether that principal decides to deliver messages of equality, conciliation and understanding, nor what curriculum or programs that principal decides to implement or not. Being a parent is now, and has for many years been, acceptably mutually exclusive from being married.

It all came down to the same thing. They’re feeling something, potentially for the first time in the context of their social and spiritual identities: shame. Nothing awakens our defensive mechanisms like being ashamed – of our country, of our society, of our families, of our friends, of ourselves. Whatever causes us to question ourselves is often treated with contempt and rejection, because we don’t want to feel wrong; we barely want to feel unsure.

I don’t know if people opposed to marriage equality are homophobic; I feel like that’s a by-product of the real issue: fear of change. I too hope the spiritual mores of hospitality, kindness, love abundant and unconditional for one another will in this moment reign supreme over intolerance and wrath. What some call ignorance I still think of in some way as innocence. Though I am determined to move forward, to love freely as any other, to call out and disperse prejudice. Change will come, there is no stopping that. And communities under pressure of discrimination and persecution will forge what they need to for survival.

$122M could have saved lives. It could have improved health, education, environmental action or climate change. I reminded him it could be improving his pension. Instead, it’s being used to conduct a manual opinion poll, using methods that inherently discriminate against homeless people, regional communities, expats and holidaymakers.

I’m voting yes because I understand that swimming against the current is the surest way to drown, and that using these moments in our history to divide and deviate is a tragedy. I’m voting yes because I believe it’s the vote that will save more lives, bring more people together, and create more joy in this country. And now, he might too.

Keep an eye out for your ballot. Tick the box. Vote. If you are someone who believes this issue should be resolved and life progress beyond this prejudiced issues and focus on more important things, then please vote. Make the effort, on the behalf of those being slandered and belitted and abused and beaten up for who they are – and often just who they appear to be. Christians may be taking heat now, but it will die down after marriage equality is won in a way LGBT people can only dream of. Winning this will cost us, but it will be worth it, because the whole country knew we earned it.

Big love,
B.

artwork by Rachel DelaGardelle.

Further reading
https://marriagesurvey.abs.gov.au/

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/08/10/same-sex-marriage-how-vote-postal-plebiscite
http://www.smh.com.au/business/samesex-marriage-postal-plebiscite-doesnt-pass-the-pub-test-20170817-gxyhdj.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/08/15/marriage-equality-postal-plebiscite-what-you-need-to-know_a_23077619/

 

 

 

 

brother and sister, together we’ll make it through

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accustomed though I am to how many friends and family avoid my writing for its melodrama-bordering verbosity, I grant myself enough virtue to believe that if you’re reading this one, that you read the last one. so before I move on too far from the reflections on skirt-wearing, I’d like to make these final remarks:
1. To wear a skirt in public was not an “experiment”, nor an on-purpose action conducted to provoke people. It was literally the decision I made over overalls or jeans that I believed I should (indeed we all should) be free to make. It was not a “demonstration” but living as an example of the values I espouse regarding freedom to be oneself.
2. I am not trans. I do not wish to be a woman, though I admire women very deeply, their journey is their own. I feel affinity with women, and femininity, but in my head I understand that I am definitely male, gladly so.
3. Wearing a skirt for one day did not make me understand how it feels to be a woman. I would never suggest that by wearing clothes designated for women, that I would somehow be more empathetic to the female sex. I also loathe the rhetoric that positions the idea men will understand women better if they wear stilettos for charity, or nail polish, or dresses. That is SO NOT how it works. What wearing the skirt did make me understand more about is how judgemental and ensnared in masculinity men can often be.
4. I appreciate that to subvert the usual is to attract questions. And I am ready and willing to engage in debate or opinion. But know the difference between advice, and telling someone what to do; between discussion and demands; between caring and sewing fear.
5. My experience was just that: an experience. As my opinion is just that: an opinion. I do what I believe to be right for my balance of mind and spirit. I know we all often think we’re doing the right thing when we commit some horrendous actions. Maybe one day I’ll come to regret that one time I wore a skirt. But today, I think I did the right thing.

capisce

Ok. Moving on. I don’t know about you guys, but of late it has felt like ground is being gained by those who would reduce LGBTIQ people to their former victimhoods and alienation. It has been agony to watch as men who could have been me, vanish at the hands of their own parents by the direction of their own leaders in Chechnya. The tragic death of Peter “Bon” de Waal has rocked the community who fought alongside him and his partner for marriage equality in Australia, a nation dragging their feet behind much of the world, certainly nearing last among the developed democratic world. In Indonesia, two gay men were lashed 83 times each before an estimated 2500 people by three men whose identities were protected, humiliating both and their families, and likely silencing a new generation the world over. It hurt to watch. But I did it. Because I know my family saw it and thought about me, and I know their hearts clenched in fear for what might happen to me someday, what might’ve happened if things were only slightly different.

I had the pleasure to see a revival of Only Heaven Knows, the musical written by Alex Harding about gay men in the 1940s and 1950s Kings Cross facing everything from police persecution, social scorn, compromised sexual health, electro-shock therapy, prison, eviction and, maybe most painful, life without love or the ability to express it. Go see it, it’s beautiful and tender, and true to the experience as much now as when it was first performed in 1995 as I image it was in the time it reflected. Whilst in Sydney where I saw the show, I went on an impromptu coffee date after which we shared a simple kiss on the street. He exclaimed about the brazenness of our actions. In 2017. Where to hold hands might still be a gamble. Where to travel, you might still need to feign being sisters, or cousins to share a hotel room. Where to walk around in a skirt begs the question from friends and family “are you OK? Did anything happen to you?”. After I saw the show, I stream-spoke some poetry on the walk home the same streets those characters, those men and women trod in a high-razor-wire between fear and liberation.

This poem was at the end of a day spent volunteering at Sydney Writers Festival, a community I considered to be enlightened where I had seen an awesome human who is Indigenous be accosted by white politic, a man reach out and manhandle a woman’s clothing to determine her name, heard about horrendous upbringings, and another man accused feminists of inventing climate change. To top it all off, feeling incredibly vulnerable (and exhausted), I felt myself being judged by a member of my own community at that theatre. For my appearance perhaps, my single-seat status, my youth, my state of dress (muted and masculine by my standards FYI). But at a time when our community is being thrown off rooftops in Iraq, in our own country a man whose husband died can’t be recognised as married, and in Hong Kong suffers further turmoil when the remains are confiscated. I wish it wasn’t in human nature to cut into each other this way.

you’ve no need to feel powerless. you can march. you can raise the topic. you can defend yourself and others in conversation you feel safe in. you can use your vote. you can call your political representatives. you can search for the rainbow flag on businesses. you can ask the question if you genuinely think it’s the time and place. you can buy ONE by William Elm for $1 which goes straight Russian LGBT Network evacuating men fleeing persecution in Chechnya. you can contact Amnesty and the UN and the respective governments by tweeting, tagging them in posts, emailing to declare your concerns about international tragedies. you can.

I figure those of you reading this are the choir when it comes to preaching compassion, patience and openness, not only to diversity and difference, but to asking the question AND hearing the answer. but on the off chance you’re still wrapping your head around these things, please continue to do so with all the love and time from this corner of the human consciousness. it’s not about what you can’t ask, it’s about the intent of understanding and liberating. it’s about the fight for which we can all be on the right side: that of safety, tolerance and social progress.

B.

video: #DefendSafeSchools

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Too many people who need to know this, don’t. Further, too many people who need to see it this way, don’t. Making homophobia and transphobia and bi erasure about you when it suits you, during times of mass tragedy or mass celebration, and when it doesn’t suit you, during times of actual policy change and true leadership, making it about little insignificant me, is no longer tolerable. If you want to make it about “all of us”, then when you’ve finished grieving for people who’ve lost their community, their sense of public safety, some even their lives, then I hope you get onto actually picking up a flag and a voting slip and having our back where it really counts. Please. Please.

I ask that you forgive the long-form. And the emotion. And the production values. And that I have used homophobia as an umbrella-term, as I have used LGBT as an umbrella term that should include Intersex, Asexual and Queer people. I also ask that you consider the following points that have inexplicably become nails in the coffin of anti-homophobia education:

  • If a student is expressing feeling unsafe or angry because they behave as though anti-homophobia education compromises their beliefs or value structure, then they are the student that needs counselling and parent-teacher conferencing, more support than anyone to understand why it’s not alright to hate or victimise someone for who they are, in any case nor under any conditions.
  • Rather than cutting social inclusion education, I actually believe there should be more of it. Programs that educate anti-homophobia, programs that open students’ eyes to living with a disability, programs that explore Indigenous Australian perspectives. If anything, parents should take the responsibility of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic so schools can make sure they breed global citizens of empathy and inclusion. Scholastic aptitude is so important, but without the emotional intelligence to operate that aptitude functionally or with a mind to build bridges between an ever-intermingling, ever-diversifying globe, those skills are inefficient at best, entirely impotent at worst.
  • I myself would like to think I could have some control over my child’s education when that time comes for me, but if I’m trying to curate my child’s curriculum to suit my value structure as an adult, then I really ought to home school them because placing a child in a school environment for them to only socialise with who I approve of, and learn only what I think is appropriate, being taught only by professionals I like, is entirely counterintuitive.
  • If you think children aren’t being sexualised years prior to anti-homophobia education programs, then I’ll assume your child watches not a single second of television, nor interacts with any shred of the internet, nay read a single page of a contemporary book. Think about what kind of concepts Cinderella teaches young girls (or indeed young boys!), think about what movies like Toy Story show young children. Think now about what they don’t show or teach young people who won’t grow up to be straight, or white. Children are being shown images of romance and innuendo and violence earlier on than ever, without any context or education to help them process it gradually. Sex education confronts young people with knowledge, all-at-once at whatever age seems appropriate with no follow-up, review or support for children trying amalgamate that knowledge with their experience of the world.
  • Asking a student “how do you know you’re gay?” or “what did you say to Rebecca before she punched you?” to an LGBTIQA student who has just been victimised by homophobic or transphobic bullying, to me is akin to asking a woman what she was wearing or how much she’d had to drink before being assaulted. Don’t victim-blame children, much less adults.

Thank you for watching, and reading. Bear in mind I will not tolerate any homophobia, Islamophobia in the comments section of this blog or on the video. What I will accept are earnest questions and critical thoughts that deepen, challenge or clarify the content.

Don’t just pray, defend. Don’t just grieve, galvanise. Don’t just mourn, learn.

B.