So I've been thinking a lot (a lot) about issues of consent, of sexual abuse, of "gray areas," of stereotypes and assumptions, and, especially, about accountability. Last summer, here on this blog, at No Seriously, What About Teh Menz, and in various comment threads around the intertubes, I started digging deeper into what I saw as just one or two incidents of violent sexual assault I experienced as a child -- one at age four at the hands of a ~12-year-old neighbor girl, one around age 14 at the hands of a ~17-year-old neighborhood bully.
The more I've been digging into it the more I've come to realize that, you know, I grew up in a culture that was pretty rife with sexual abuse -- enough so that I only really registered the above-mentioned incidents. But the kid who was the closest thing to a best friend in elementary school? Duh, let's see, he and his sister were foster kids who's father taught them all about "corn-holing" and "fuck-rubbers?" Gee, only this summer did it occur to me to wonder why they were foster kids? The core of the new-to-town teens I hung out with in late high-school and after I dropped out but before I left home? The variously emancipated and/or runaway boys and girls who at times seemed voraciously sexual(ized) but spoke in fluent 70's-era "sexual liberation?" The ones who's attitudes and behaviors deeply influenced much of my own early sexual aspirations? It only recently occurred to me that a contemporary assessment would be that they'd been groomed to the nines both by adult influences. And speaking of grooming and sexual abuse, how about the handful of distinctly predatory adult "youth counselors" (inside a much larger group of entirely decent, appropriate ones) who advocated boundary-crossing in ways that, while not necessarily unsound advice overall, nevertheless advanced their own "hands on" agendas with various "promising young people?"
Let's not even talk about the barkingly predatory "pre-date-rape" alcohol, cocaine, and Quaalude drenched college music bar culture I lived and worked in where it seemed at the time to be perfectly "cool" for more experienced bar patrons and bartenders to take over-intoxicated young men and women home to "crash." Where what this year would be called morning-after gaslighting was considered just helping the erstwhile partner get "perspective."
And all that's got me wondering where have those early influences left me!?!?! What else has been done to me? What else have I let happen? What else have I done in all earnestness? What impact have I had on others?
It's been bugging me a lot. Sort of a hard, fast replay of the old Will Rogers line, which I cite frequently, that "it's not what you don't know that'll hurt you, it's what you know that just ain't so."
Anyway, while I could launch into how my latest runaway train of thought about consent and assumptions has been accelerated by Clarisse Thorn's controversial but excellent exploration of forgiveness vs. accountability in On Change and Accountability, or how it was set rolling by Rachel Hills' Best of 2010: “But women don’t rape!”: sexual pressure, rejection and the male sex drive discourse, and how at the moment I'm feeling a bit like the only people one should really trust in sexual situations are the meticulous negotiation fetishists in the kink community (for instance see item #4 in Andrea Zanin's Expectations of Dominance: Picking Through the Tangle.) But I'm still not feeling completely collected about it, and besides, at the moment I'm feeling all Maslow's hammer about unstated assumptions that can interfere unspoken and even verbal consent... and so at this point any conclusions I draw are likely to be, um, over the top.
So instead I'd like to point out this cute little 2004 video short Jason Reitman and his then-partner Michele Lee called "Consent." It's not perfect (the text "romance deserves better than this" at the end of the credits is a little ambiguous) but it nicely captures how little we're able to communicate with simple yeses, nos, and you-want-tos.