Driving home from Denver this afternoon…
Over multiple glowing Autumn passes, I had a lot of time to reflect upon the nature of our current political situation, namely, the senate hearings of attorney Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. I don’t know how this situation will develop or conclude over time. All I know is that it sparked some very important personal realizations for me that I am fairly reeling from, and that I aim to use as fuel for personal and collective change.
The Inconvenient Truth
I have been physically and sexually assaulted many, many times by men, and I feel very lucky that these physical and sexual assaults did not escalate to the level of out-and-out rape, as it did with many of my friends, or worse, death. Nevertheless, I have experienced things that no person should have to experience. Ever. Period. And in this moment, I’m feeling kinda pissed about that. Such is the nature of a psychological trigger.
The normalization of sexual assault
I was raised in a collective culture that normalized physical and sexual assault, and although I’m not going to internalize these incidents as “my fault,” I am going to take responsibility for never having spoken up about them…. for not having been the squeaky wheel, speaking the inconvenient truth on behalf of myself or the safety of others. I kept the memories of these incidents locked up and shut down because I didn’t want to bother anyone. I genuinely thought that these experiences were just part of the deal - part of being a woman, of being alive. In one incident I did inform the police and I was met with incredulity and inaction, which further trained me to just suck it up and move on.
The internalization of fault
At the age of 24, while attending school in Santiago, Chile, I was sexually assaulted by both of my homestay brothers. Despite their horrific behavior toward me, for some reason I couldn’t see it as that. It’s hard not to be angry at that younger self, and I want to shake her and say, “You fucking idiot! Why would you EVER let them treat you like that?!” But I did, and I even somehow came to believe that their behavior had been my fault. A fellow classmate, to whom I will forever be grateful heard the casual retelling of my story and immediately drug me to the admissions office to file a complaint. Her words, furious and disgusted, hissed, “You will not stay another day with that family. After school we’re getting your things and you’re living with me from now on.”
socially motivated silence
Listening to Dr. Ford’s testimony today I had a flashback of that experience. It had been stuffed pretty far down the memory hole, and I hadn’t recalled it in over a decade. How a 24-year-old woman of my educational background and elevated level of confidence could allow such behavior, normalizing it and accepting it as the status quo condition of Life is one of the main problems that I see facing us as a society in this moment. The acculturated silence of the female, our habituated collective desire to stay quiet, to fly under the radar, to not rock the boat, to not stick our heads above the crowd, to not be seen as a problem, to not cause waves, to not be an inconvenience… these are the driving forces behind the silence of many victims of sexual assault - not just women, but men, girls, boys, children, and ESPECIALLY women of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and the trans community.
The specter of fear
The above are merely socially motivated reasons for not speaking up or out against physical and sexual perpetrators, and they operate on top of the basal motivator that keeps so many mouths shut - the strait up specter of fear that kicks off a systematic body/mind shutdown as the result of trauma. Dan Savage first introduced me to the quote,
“At (their) core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at (their) core, women are afraid men will kill them."
The quote has been linked to both Gavin de Becker and the brilliant Canadian novelist and poet, Margaret Atwood, who also said, “War is what happens when language fails.” If I could go back and Kill Bill or Girl With the Dragon Tattoo the motherfuckers who assaulted me and contributed to the warping of my worth, that would be great, but I can’t, because I didn’t catch all of their Chilean, Mexican, Turkish, Chinese, Coloradan, Californian, New York, etc, names. So without that retribution, what remains?
CONSENT Consciousness as the ultimate panacea
Despite the memories, the anger, the regret, and the sadness around my lack of awareness as a girl and a young woman, I feel hopeful and enlivened by this opportunity to evolve as an individual and as a participating member within the great social experiment that is humanity. I don’t know how the Kavanaugh/Ford deal will shake down, but as mentioned above, I am using the realizations that I’m having as a result of this situation to fuel personal and collective change. I believe that this change begins with what I consider, “consent consciousness.” NPR ran a piece this afternoon on how Maryland state legislature delegate, Ariana Kelly, recently introduced a bill that will require the state of Maryland to include teachings on the topic of consent in K-12 sex education classes. Can you imagine?
As defined by Planned Parenthood,
“Sexual consent is an agreement to participate in a sexual activity. Before being sexual with someone, you need to know if they want to be sexual with you too. It’s also important to be honest with your partner about what you want and don’t want. Consenting and asking for consent are all about setting your personal boundaries and respecting those of your partner — and checking in if things aren’t clear. Both people must agree to sex — every single time — for it to be consensual. Without consent, sexual activity is sexual assault or rape.”
Freely given. A choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Reversible. Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing at any time.
Informed. You can only consent to something if you have the full story. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent.
Enthusiastic. When it comes to sex, you should only do what you WANT to do, and nothing that you feel expected or obligated to do.
Specific. Saying yes to one thing doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to everything.
I genuinely believe that had I been exposed to the simple guidance above by adults who had normalized the speaking of one’s truth over the silencing and invalidation of traumatic or uncomfortable experiences, my life would have taken some very different turns. As a girl and young woman, in many ways I embodied a colossal sense of self, a take-no-prisoners, badass, killer queen swagger, and an innate confidence and strength of character that guided me into really positive experiences, interactions and directions. I’m grateful for that, and I’m proud of that, but I’m also acutely aware of the ways in which my socialization as a female fell short in protecting me, often leaving me to flounder alone in confusion, denial and shame. My lack of mentoring around the power and wisdom of consent - not just sexually, but physically, verbally and energetically - left me and so many others exposed, with permeable boundaries and no clear sense of our rights as women and human beings.
I see this as a GREAT place to begin - within ourselves, within our relationships, within our groups of friends, with our children - deepening an understanding of what’s okay for us personally. Taking the time to pause and check in with what we will tolerate, what we’re open to, what we’re up for, game for, down with, stoked on. We’re worthy of that pause, and it is our fucking right as human beings to have our preferences respected and honored. I’m currently a student of the subtle energetic art of checking in with myself, and I fail in innocuous ways nearly every day - saying yes to something I don’t actually have time for; overcommitting to yet another thing; allowing someone to chew up my precious time instead of honoring my own needs as valid.
With each failure I learn and I fine tune, listening deeper and getting more clear about my boundaries as a woman and as a person. I’m going to relate to these troubled times and these challenging lessons as a gift - an opportunity to become a Jedi ninja in the art of consent - the art of nurturing my own personal boundaries. May we all love ourselves in this way.