Friday 27 January 2012

Comments on Consent (Based on the BBC Article on Asexuality)

JenniPosted by Jenni

[Trigger Warning: Sexual assault, rape, violence]

As some of you may know, I recently appeared both in a TV program on BBC3 and in a linked article on their news website. Most of the response I've had has either been positive, or curious, but here I'm going to discuss the negatives. (Oh, and the most common 'worry' I've had? “Aren't you worried if you're not out to your parents about doing that?” I'm sort of out – the program just exaggerated. I'm out to my mum, and she even watched the program, whereas me and my dad do not talk about sex. Ever. So it doesn't get discussed.)

Now I'll be clear here and say that these comments weren't all that common, but they still existed. Comments like “Oh, her boyfriend just needs to man up and make her have sex,” were the nicest. Seriously. Other such 'nice' comments included suggestions I was going elsewhere for sex and stringing him along, or that he would eventually cheat on me. The not nice ones? Well, that either the person in question would 'fix me' (often discussing how I 'wasn't half bad looking, bit boyish, but she'd still love it, right?) or that my boyfriend would just have to rape me. Yes, you heard that right. People suggested that having willingly gotten into a relationship with an openly asexual girl, done visibility with her about it and seemed pretty okay with it, the obvious ending to the story is that my boyfriend would turn into a rapist.

The reason these comments annoyed me so much is they don't just manage to be anti-asexual, virgin-shaming and misogynistic – they're also encouraging the view that men can't help their sexual urges, and it's only a matter of time before they have to act on them! Now, speaking as a girl, maybe I'm wrong? But no, I'm pretty sure that all of my friends are adult enough to well, have a minimum level of self-control. You know, not to decide 'I want to have sex with her, screw her feelings on the matter!'. Other comments linked to this included insults to his masculinity, suggestions he must be gay to be happy with the arrangement, or that maybe he was 'too pathetic'.

An interesting opposition to this is my brother's response to the program. My brother is a 'lad', of the most traditional sense – he likes drinking, going out with the boys, discusses 'fit girls' with them, etc. And his only comment on me and my boyfriend as portrayed in the program? “Fair play to him.” He actually appreciates the respect and understanding my boyfriend's role involves – it's not a slight to his masculinity, if anything, it highlights it in that he doesn't feel the need to prove himself.

Now, if you've actually read the article in question, you may notice that nowhere in it do I state whether or not I am celibate as well as asexual, so all of these comments come from assumptions. And these assumptions have led to the idea that it's not okay for me to force someone to be celibate for me, but it is okay for someone to force me to have sex. Now I don't want to argue that the former is okay – it's not – but neither is the latter. Both of these are unacceptable forms of acting in a relationship because they involve forcing someone to do what they don't want to do. Asking someone to do something is great, and if they refuse, then you need to have a good long chat and decide whether it's something you can compromise on – and if it's not, then force shouldn't ever be involved. It's also okay to break up if you don't think you can sleep with someone/can't be in a relationship without sex. It doesn't make you a bad person. Like with marriage, or children, or anything else important to someone – if one person considers something a necessity to a relationship and the other doesn't, and if it's something the two of them can't compromise on, then it won't work. And that's fine - you're allowed to end a relationship that won't satisfy what you need, and it certainly doesn't make you or the other person the 'bad guy'.

Consent isn't just important in sex – I've seen the discussed elsewhere that we have a culture that devalues consent. As a tee-total person, I experience it it elsewhere too:
Go on, have a drink.”
Oh, why not, go on...” is quite a common conversation for me. The word 'no' is devalued in culture in general, and this obviously plays into consent elsewhere. Equally, with the drink conversation, I've had 'friends' try to spike my drink (Spiking water with vodka? Really? I'm not stupid.) to prove to me that alcohol is okay. Sound familiar? Whilst consent in sex is, I would argue, the most important place for consent to be valued, it needs to be valued all the time – the word 'no' needs to mean something. I'm sure that most people (I know I've done it myself) have done the 'come on, do x' 'no' 'oh go on...' conversation with someone, and I know for one that the responses to my article have inspired me to stop. Even the little things -
"Are you coming the pub tonight?"
"No, I don't want to."
"Aw, why not?"
"I'm just not up for it."
"Oh, come on."
"Rather not."
- sound innocent enough, but once we stop taking 'No' at face value (yes, maybe asking for a reason is fine, but they don't have to give you one, but once the answer is no, that's when you stop) here, we stop it elsewhere.

Anything that's a minority - like being tee-total and a student - is bound to get this, so if we look from this small example to the bigger minorities, we find that yes, as expected - a minority saying no is often valued less than the majority. As with my example - an asexual saying no to sex isn't taken seriously, and it becomes a problem that needs to be fixed. This can be these case with lesbian women too - the assumption that the 'no' is meaningless and a bit of hetero-sex will fix them - and I'm sure other people would have examples of this happening in other ways.

The point of this then? Even those of us who value consent in sex should look at how we value consent elsewhere, because the less the word 'no' means in society, the less it means in specific, important situations. And the less it means in those situations for those of us who aren't hetero-normative. I'm not sure if other people find it the case, but I find it easier to call out someone pressuring someone to go to the pub than I do to get into a discussion on rape culture - but I like to believe that at least, in doing that, I'm trying to emphasis the 'no means no' point for a potential future conversation.

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