A few more thoughts on non-binary consent

Posted: December 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

[Reblogged from Tumblr]

thegreatgodum asked:

I liked that post, but don’t think the person u quoted was actually talking about victim blaming. got the impression they were still in a legalistic framework, thinking well we shd acknowledge a difference btwn someone who feels raped by a Bob who didn’t want to rape them & someone who feels raped by a Bob who did want to rape them, because we need to deal with those Bobs differently. not understanding that you agree and just want that difference separate from the consent/nonconsent query, yes?

That quote actually came from a much longer post, which I’d encourage you to read (follow the link after the quote), in which the author expresses in several different ways that she’s concerned consent-as-felt disempowers survivors (of which she is one) by giving us too much control over how we understand/describe/define our experiences. I do think that is victim-blaming.

In this case, perhaps, self-directed victim blaming. And she actually goes on to talk explicitly about how a felt-consent framework complicates her understanding of her own rape. I think that’s a pretty cool part of her post:


If rape is only a felt sense, what does someone who feels badly but can’t call what happened rape do? It took me six months to call what happened to me rape and abuse. I felt terrible but I couldn’t articulate what had happened to me. I couldn’t call it what it was. There was just so much shame. I was a feminist who did consent work, so shouldn’t I have known better? Maybe I imagined the whole thing. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. I’m a dom, and he’s a sub, so he couldn’t possibly rape me or abuse me. (note: I recognize all of the previous statements are complete bullshit, but it was how I thought at the time.) I wanted to pretend everything was fine. A rape still happened. Was I not raped during the time when I didn’t have the strength to address what had happened?

Of course, she’s asking this as a reductio-ad-absurdum sort of rhetorical question. But that’s actually a legitimate thing to explore. It took me a long time, also — about three months, in my case — to name what happened to me as “rape.” This “lag time” is pretty normal for people who are sexually assaulted by someone they have an existing relationship with. And, over the nine years since it happened, I’ve asked myself lots of times about whether what happened was “really” rape, or was I just “taken advantage of” and I’m making a big deal out of nothing, or maybe I “started it” and it was actually something I wanted, etc. etc.

I still don’t know if what happened to me was categorically, irrefutably “rape” according to some kind of objective standard. What I do know is that, at this point in my life, I mostly experience what happened to me as rape. And so that’s what it was. Does that mean that, during the time when I wasn’t able to address that with myself using that word, I wasn’t raped? No. It means that there was a time in my life when I was telling myself I hadn’t been raped even though I had been. I was wrong.

Is there a possibility, in the future, that my understanding of my experience might change again? That, when I’m 45, I’ll decide that I was just “taken advantage of” and believe that my 30 year old self’s description of the situation as “rape” was wrong. Yes. That might happen. I’ve been wrong before. I could be wrong again. I very well might be wrong right now.

What does that mean about the “reality” of whether I was raped? Well, why does that matter? Does that matter more than me getting the support that I need, right now?

Right now, I feel about 93% percent certain that what happened to me was rape. Because I was drunk, because the person who raped me was someone I found attractive, because I don’t know whether I explicitly said ‘no’ while it was happening, etc. I have some lingering doubts about whether my experience “counts”. But if the only way I could legitimately say, “I was raped” was if I could claim with 100% certainty beyond a shadow of a doubt that “rape” was the only accurate and appropriate word that could possibly describe what happened that night, I wouldn’t be able to. Neither would the majority of victims of sexual violence.

So, given that we’re stuck in a gaslighting culture that, as Crosswords says in her post, “twists things, especially for women, people socialized as women, and bottoms (because of how gender maps onto D/s roles). We’re trained not to think of our violations as rape,” I think we need a model of consent that makes space for our fluctuating and sometimes funhouse-mirror-like senses of our own experiences with sexual violence.

One that says, “If today, what happened to you feels like rape and you want to seek out the support that exists for rape survivors, do that. And if you didn’t call it rape right away because it took a while to really hit you, or if you wake up tomorrow or next year and realize it doesn’t feel like it was rape, and you just want people to leave you alone and accept that you’re fine, that’s okay too. That doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to seek support today.”

For what it’s worth, Crosswords, I do appreciate your effort to engage thoughtfully with this work. I disagree with most of your critiques, because I think they’re still coming from a standpoint that treats victim-blaming and rape apologism as a given, rather than acknowledging them as problems to be solved. I have some other thoughts in response to your post, that I may or may not get a chance to write up at some point. But I’m glad that other people are thinking about this stuff, and I’m glad you’re one of them, and I would just encourage you to think a little bigger.


we shd acknowledge a difference btwn someone who feels raped by a Bob who didn’t want to rape them & someone who feels raped by a Bob who did want to rape them, because we need to deal with those Bobs differently. not understanding that you agree and just want that difference separate from the consent/nonconsent query, yes?

Yes. What I wish people would understand is that I’m not really talking about how to deal with Bobs at all. The current consent conversation is so fixated on “What do we do about the Bobs?” I want to be talking about, “What can we do for the Andys?”

I mean, look, our society deals with pre-meditated murder differently than we deal with involuntary manslaughter, but we acknowledge both things as being on a continuum of killing people. Likewise, we should deal with people who intentionally violate consent differently from people who unknowingly violate consent, and still acknowledge that all of those people are on a continuum of rapists.

And I just don’t have a whole lot more to say about that — other than that, as a pretty strong believer in prison abolition, I don’t think the solution to any of those problems is non-consensually putting human beings in cages, much less continuing to support a system that exists for the express purpose of non-consensually putting lots of young, innocent, poor, black and brown humans in cages.

If other people want to spend time working on figuring out anti-racist, non-coercive, community-oriented ways to deal with various kinds of consent-violators, that’s fucking awesome and I’ll be super excited to signal boost their work. But that’s not what I’m doing right now. People constantly flailing about how a model of consent that centers survivor experiences is going to impact what happens to rapists is a total distraction.

In other words, exactly what you said: How we deal with rapists is a separate question from how we understand the consent/non-consent question. Right now, I think the second question is a lot more important for survivors than the first question. At least, it’s more important for me.


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