Consent: Beyond Words

Using speech to ask for consent is the entry point and the bare minimum. Absolutely, we much teach each other to ask and teach each other to listen for the answers. No means no. Confirm that the yes is enthusiastic. Words are what we have chosen as a species to transcend the skin and skulls that keep us separate, words and their offspring are as close as we can currently get to telepathy.

Yet this world did not teach me to say, “no,” and the greatest betrayals I have faced happened when men not only did not hear my timid refusals in my voice, but they also did not hear the timid refusals in my shoulders, in my breath, in my eyes. These nonverbal cues scream to me when I see them in other women because I, too, have raised tiny shields and tiny trumpets and gone to war in silence. I ask, “How can you not see this?”

Still, I empathize. When I was first coming out of the closet, first to myself and then to others, I felt many things but one that I sensed intensely was, as I called it, my lack of agency. I saw the way some men took of women and seemed to get what they wanted, and I did not know how to enter this dance of lust and love and get what I wanted. I was frustrated. I was angry. I felt robbed.

I think all men enter this private battle that I entered. Do we trust the story we are seeing play out in front of our eyes and teach ourselves to take what we desire? For me, such a thing was patently unacceptable. I learned my own other way and I learned to ask and the love I receive is abundant. I realized that feeling robbed was my first mistake — I am not entitled to sex or touch or love. You get those things when you are good, when you are sweet, when you are open, and honestly just when you are lucky. I realized I was angry with myself the most; for being too cowardly to even ask, let alone touch. My frustration was my own fault, and on top of that, it made me unattractive.

Yet it is not so easy to come to these realizations. It is far easier to believe that asking for consent is just not sexy, or that practicing consent is simply doing nothing at all for fear of harming anyone. It is easy to believe a false dichotomy; either I’m an asshole and I get laid, or I’m nice and I get nothing.

My first steps towards shattering these myths were to realize 1) There are a wealth of messages sent nonverbally between human beings and I can hear them, see them, feel them if I try and 2) It is better to realize quickly a woman is not interested in me and move on than to postpone the discomfort of understanding rejection. The truth is, it hurts far more to pine secretly after someone than to let go when, in the end, it turns out they don’t want you.

Consent beyond words is learning to actively listen with all of your senses. The first wall you will face is the overwhelming tsunami of “No” and disinterest that you had been willfully ignoring to protect your own pride.  There are other walls, too, that I can’t even begin to describe in one blog post.

Beyond this initial sting, you will find a peaceful clarity. You will be able to forge honest friendships, untainted with motive. You will be able to present your truer, more vulnerable, less needy self. This self is, if we’re going to be practical, a more attractive self. And beyond your new calm, you will begin to recognize warm rays of “yes” beaming onto you. One might, unsmiling, avoid your eyes with hers when you ask her flirtful questions (no) while another will soak up your interest and laugh and speak back to you (yes?). The latter may, of course, be only seeking friendship, but she will be kind to you when you ask for her kiss and she’s not interested, because she does care for you. Bolstered by this kindness, you will be less timid to ask another your heart’s next desire.

Listen and see, listen and see. Cast aside your motivations and expectations. Offer your desires as gifts of insight, not as trials of sadness v. pleasure. That is the only way I can happily live, and happily live I do.

P.S. I am going on vacation, so next time will be posting early, on Saturday.

Flirty Followup: Should I tell my lesbian friend I think she’s sexy?

…If you’re a gal, the answer is: Well hello, there.

So, you think your lezfriend is smoldering hot. I’m guessing since you called her “lesbian friend” and not just “friend,” you’re either straight or bi/queer.

Straight girls:

First off, there’s really only one thing you can do wrong here, and that is force yourself on us. Please, don’t assume I want to make out with you. Don’t accuse me of being so desperate by getting drunk on 4 shots of Fireball and falling down my throat with your sloppy tongue. I’m not flattered if I think you’re just doing it because you’re wasted, or because you want to impress the boys. I’d much rather kiss you privately in a dark hallway or in the back bedroom wink wink.

If, however, you’ve been crushing on your gay lady friend for awhile and just want to tell her, please do. We are going to enjoy your compliment (really enjoy it, mmmf), but you do have to do it right. Help us answer our nervous, secret questions. How far does this attraction go? Flirting, occasional make-outs, a night of experimenting? Don’t lead us on to a broken heart. Use the power of your platonic certainty and let us know exactly what you want. “I think you’re extremely attractive, which is unexpected for me because I’m straightI don’t actually want to kiss you or hook-up, but would you be cool if I flirt with you sometimes?” Then tilt your head, bite your finger, and giggle because you know what you do to her, and it is so not fair.

Bi friends:

I am sad to see you hesitate, but I know how it is. Some gay women want nothing to do with you. They are bigots. They are terrible people who don’t understand the way the world works. To the women out there who try to say it hurts more when she leaves you for a man: Shut Up. You’re full of yourself. If it feels like her new dude invalidates your relationship, then maybe it was never real in the first place. She should have broken up with you.

I suppose I’d tell a bisexual woman to issue a challenge. “Hey, I want to date you, but I’m bi. Is that a problem?” Say it from the chin, smirking. If she starts to object, to explain her hesitation, cut her off and say, “Your loss.” The only right response is, “What? Why would that ever be a problem? Also yes, you’re gorgeous and brilliant, omfg I can’t believe you’re into me. I’m so lucky!”

Don’t wait. Tell her. Make her day <3

Should I tell my lesbian friend I think she’s sexy?

…If you’re a guy, the answer is: NO.

I have two guy friends who will probably think this blog post is about them, given things they have told me in the last 2-3 weeks. To them, I shrug my shoulders and say, “You inspire me…?” (Also, you know we talked about it and we’re cool.)

Anyway, I often get some variation of, “If you weren’t gay, I would totally have tried to date you.” Half of the time, this is preceded by something like, “I don’t know if I should say this, but…” or some other sign that the guy knows HE SHOULD NOT SAY THIS. And then, there he goes.

Ok, yes, my life is so hard because people think I’m attractive. I know, I’m supposed to take it as a compliment. Yay, I’m hot! “Thank you?” The thing is, it’s unsettling on so many levels to hear something like this.

1. What am I supposed to do with this information? Really? You know me well enough to know my ego doesn’t need boosting. And that I’m categorically not-interested in men. Are you committing emotional seppuku in front of me because you’re actually a masochist? Do you expect a cookie? Do you feel all better now?

2. It makes me question EVERYTHING about our past interactions. Before: Wow, cool, someone wants to talk to me about life and they think I’m interesting! What a great friendship. After: Oh, was he only being nice to me because he has a broken, one-sided crush? How often did he fantasize about me? This is awkward.

2. I talked to you about girls, dude. I told you the way seeing the back of her neck makes me feel in my crotch parts. I told you things I wouldn’t have told you otherwise, just because it seemed fucking obvious that you and I would never date. I thought we were bros. Now I don’t even know how to act around you any more.

3. Maybe because these guy friends know rejection is guaranteed, they feel free to be painfully honest. I often get more than just a passing, “Not saying I have a crush on you, but I have a crush on you.” I get confessions just short of the guy telling me he’s in love with me. How am I supposed to respond? I don’t secretly think about whether my guy friends are dateable. I cannot honestly say, “Yeah totally, I feel the same way.” I really do not.

4. It just reminds me that men are trained to think their sexual/romantic interest is something that can “validate” a woman. I mean, half of them can guess that I don’t want to hear it. But the other half tell me I make them swoon-stupid without a disclaimer. “I know what will make my friend feel awesome! Knowing that they are totally up to my dating standards! Never mind that I (should) know she doesn’t want to date me — Girl, I checked you against my rubric and you got a 9 out of 10.” Boy, I really didn’t want to be reminded that all your girl friends are categorized into “Would fuck” and “Wouldn’t.”

5. In case this point is not already clear: your sexual attraction to me is *not* a compliment. These are compliments: “You’re funny.” “You’re clever.” “You have amazing hair.” Telling me that in an alternate universe, you would have tried to bang me…? Not. A. Compliment. By virtue of being the opposite of the gender I find attractive, you’re just not that hot. It’s like hearing someone’s kid brother has heart eyes for me. Kind of adorable at first, creepy the more I think about how often I had let him sit in my lap.