As I travel to Seattle for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom’s Consent Summit, I reflect on the collaborative process of preparing for the workshop with a co-facilitator that I have never met. The title and subject matter for the workshop is “Consent and Negotiation.” Following the workshop presentation and facilitation, it is evident that we share in common the passion for advocacy, empowerment, and human rights. Yet, our perspectives are different about the complexity and the influence of history, class, politics, and social dynamics on the concepts of consent and negotiation.
With marginalized and oppressed groups, the role of power with the “who?, what?, where?, when?, and how?” for defining, giving, and receiving enthusiastic consent is significantly different. By definition and inherent assumptions, enthusiastic consent involves an agreement that is 100% (or, it is extremely close to it.) that each person's expressed desires, wants, and needs are met. This is contrary to compromise in which each person gives up something to achieve the identified goal. Ultimately, the outcome for both is viewed as a win-win experience. In my opinion, based upon the history of oppressed communities, there are two assumptions for both, negotiation and compromise, that are not met. One is that each person has the capacity and the egalitarian space to advocate for their boundaries, needs, wants, and desires. Two, that each person views all parties in the process equitably and equally.
Very recently, my husband shared an insightful point about consent during a conversation about transgressive acts. Part of our conversation related to individuals’ “understanding and belief of their choice.” He stated that consent has an inherent assumption that people view each other as autonomous beings and with agency in regards to their body. He offered several examples to illustrate the problem with this assumption, such as, a person touching a black person’s hair or skin without consideration of establishing consent; the intrusive questions that people ask transgender individuals with an entitlement to have their questions answered; the person who assumes that one shared intimate kiss is a mutually understood consent that all sexual activities are welcomed; history past and present reality shows that persons who look like me are not entitled to informed consent; Therefore, if one's experience informs their beliefs, actions, and reality, what would support the capacity and capability of enthusiastic consent and negotiation?
Never, was that so glaringly visible and visceral as this past weekend.
Before I go further, this is my narrative of experiencing and participating within the event. This experience and perspective is not isolated to this specific event; it is a accumulation of years of professional and academic events.This is not reflection of the NCSF; its mission, purpose, and vision; its board, founders, and leadership. I am honored to be a member and coalition partner.
At this event, I would say there were 100 or more attendees. The target audience was sex positive, aware, and affirming individuals who advocate for Kink/BDSM and polyamory communities. The underrepresentation and the lack of inclusion people of color is not new within the sexuality field. What is different, is the assertiveness of advocates to confront and shine a spotlight on the exclusion.There appears to be more confrontation. In short, I was asked to speak at this event to attempt to have more voice. I counted 5 people of color at the event. There was two people of color who presented out of about 20 presenters. The ratio is not uncommon or shocking, unfortunately.
The Wear and Tear of it all...the emotional and mental wreckage.
What is also different, I have the courage to share the aftermath.
The palpable disembodiment of ME is so surreal and visceral that I can feel myself choking on my own screams. I felt as though I had been assaulted and violated from all angles - emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. To listen to white people share about white privilege to other white people is soul numbing. The futility of it all felt like walking through quick sand. I found words to articulate these emotions while reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
“all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body (Coates, 2015)."
I did not feel the mental and emotional fatigue until after the event. I had this fatigue before. My body experienced the exhaustion many times over the last 17 years. The gut punches, uppercuts, and backhanded slaps of the news reports, blogs, and commentators negating the black experience of racism by negating with reactions such as “You are overreacting;” “That’s not true;” “Can’t you get pass this racism thing. It is only an issue because you make it an issue.” This is reminiscent of the dynamic between the abuser and the abuser's victim - don’t we call that gaslighting?
"Disembodiment is a kind of terrorism, and the threat of it alters the orbit of all our lives and, like terrorism, this distortion is intentional. Disembodiment. The dragon that compelled the boys I knew, way back, into extravagant theater of ownership. Disembodiment. The demon that pushed the middle-class black survivors into aggressive passivity, our conversation restrained in public quarters, our best manners on display, our hands never out of pockets, our whole manner ordered as if to say, “I make no sudden moves.” Disembodiment. The serpent of school years, demanding I be twice as good, though I was but a boy. Murder was all around us and we knew, deep in ourselves, in some silent space, that the author of these murders was beyond us, that it suited some other person’s ends (Coates, 2015)."
I share this not for sympathy and pity. I share story for those who look like me. I share for those who struggle to find solidarity. Most important, I share this because I am capable.