Essential Consent

I knew walking out my door to go “to town” for drinks with friends on St. Patrick’s Day that I was going to get pinched. I knew. I knew that the little bit of greenish bluish teal in my outfit (the only almost-green thing I own) was not going to be enough for some drunk fuck and he was going to pinch me. I knew that a male bodied person would violate my consent. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, I don’t know. There he was, checking people at the door to make sure they had an appropriate quantity of precise kelly green on their person. After discovering my non-conformity to the mandatory dress code, he pinched me. In the tender, squishy flesh of my arm, in a spot that actually really stung. He reached out his hand and touched me without asking or caring, or listening to the end of my sentence, “No, don’t you — ” Don’t you understand that you don’t fucking touch someone without permission? Flustered, I said that I had a mind to assaulting him in return, but when he pointed to his cheek where I was apparently supposed to throw a sissy punch at him, I stopped myself.  I said, “That was non-consensual. Don’t fucking touch me again, in fact, I don’t ever want you to speak to me again.” Was I overreacting? The cultural atmosphere that disregards consent says that yes, I was making a big deal out of nothing because he pinched my arm and not my breast or ass, and had therefore done no wrong. In this cultural atmosphere, some non-consensual touch is allowed and some isn’t – it depends who you’re touching and where. What’s shitty is that if I had been followed by a big burly boyfriend (especially the one I left behind in Florida!), this lousy excuse for a human being wouldn’t have dared to touch me. But I was un-escorted. He had no one to answer to besides me, and I posed no threat to him. It sickens me that was not the last person he pinched that night.

One of the major themes of Body Electric School workshops, as I see it, is consent. While this may seem somewhat obvious, take a moment to think about all the ways in which our consent is consistently violated or overlooked. During concentric-circle speed “dating” on Saturday morning, we practiced saying yes and no. In the first round, you ask your partner if you can do something to them: “Can I touch your face? Can I kiss your neck?” The point isn’t to do these things, but just to practice asking for consent. The other person practices saying “no” to these things. Then, partners switch roles. In the second round, you ask your partner similar questions, and they practice saying “yes” to your requests. I find this to be a very humbling and worshipful experience. It is never easy to be gracious and honor someone’s rejection. Even when we practice giving/withholding consent verbally, even when we practice receiving someone’s yes or no, it may not be fully prepare us to say yes or (especially) no in the thick of things. Still, there is so much value in the practice. Especially in specifically asking for consent.

When was the last time you asked if you could hug someone – a new acquaintance, or even an old friend? When was the last time you checked in with someone, to see if they were comfortable with you leaning your head upon their shoulder or to pat their hair, or to walk arm-in-arm? It is so uncommon to do this, but think about how beautiful and special it is to have such an exchange – to receive someone’s express permission to interact with them on an intimate level.

Shall we practice? Ask someone for their consent. Think about things or people that you need to talk to about consent. If you’re not really that into hugs and there’s someone who won’t stop hugging you, see if you can find the words to say, “Hey, I value you your friendship so much, but it is important to me that you ask before hugging me next time. It would be better for me to have an opportunity be honest with you about whether or not  want to be hugged.” You’re allowed to say yes or no to physical touch, even if it is “socially acceptable” touch. You might even find yourself having to say, “DON’T FUCKING TOUCH ME” – and that’s OK, too. Don’t cheat yourself out of full consent. You’re not overreacting if you speak up, if you say no. Do it out of respect for yourself and out of respect for other people.

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