sparr (sparr0) wrote,

Wherein Sparr stops being vague about consent discussions

This post contains topics known to be traumatically triggering to some people.

This post is meant to give some context to many of my other posts about communication, right/wrong, sexual consent, worry, blame, etc, for people who have joined these conversations in the last 2-3 years and/or aren't aware of some of the history of their own local community.

All of the mentions here of "community" refer to the local strongly overlapping meta-community of burners, social dancers, social drug users, [neo]hippies, etc.

Multiple friends of mine in the Atlanta community were given drugs of dubious composition by a local predator (W) and then pressured into having sex with them. I personally observed W initiate sex with an inebriated friend of mine at a party while that friend was saying "no", which we (the sober and/or responsible partygoers) quickly put a stop to. An aggressive campaign of information gathering and sharing, led by myself, resulted in W being mostly to completely banned from most local public and private parties and venues, and then their return to prison. This campaign involved some tough decisions about how strongly to insist that victims share their stories and how hard to push when seeking information. W is out of prison now, and I still manage a Facebook page where people occasionally share information about his new okcupid and facebook profiles, what clubs he's hunting at now, etc.

A friend of mine was forcibly raped, by a person who regularly hosted large social gatherings in their home in Boston (X). This was not nearly that person's only such offense, just the one I knew the most about. Years of quiet "back room" discussions that I knew about, and surely years more that I didn't, had failed to put a significant dent in this person's access to people to further harm, or to dissuade people from attending their parties. Everyone who discussed the issue agreed that it was a serious problem.

Two acquaintances of mine (Y and Z) from Boston had sex at Burning Man. Some time later, it became known in the Boston Burner community that Z considered the interaction to be nonconsensual, and the label "rapist" began to be applied to Y. Over the course of months, both people told their story to friends and/or to Facebook groups. The unusual aspect is that the stories matched. As near as I can tell, and I put significant effort into pursuing details I might not have had, there was no dispute about any action or activity that took place between them that night. The only distinction that was made known was that one of them went home thinking (or later realized) it was a negative and nonconsensual experience and the other thought the opposite. A vocal minority of the community supported the label of "rape" based on Y having not verbally asked for consent for the various interactions (which Z also did not ask about). Another minority, silent out of fear of the same sort of reprisal I frequently choose to endure, disputed the label based on Z having initiated the sexual act.

I have said it before and will repeat it again. The moment I realized I couldn't figure out what Y had done wrong, that was the scariest moment of my life. I was struck with the realization that I might have been raping people for years, unknowingly. And I couldn't tell how to avoid it without doing things that almost no one was suggesting that I do (such as me asking for consent before someone else did something to me).

After that, it only got worse. The discussions prompted by these situations brought to my attention that a large and vocal minority of the people surrounding me were of the opinion that no matter what I did, how careful I was, there was no way I could be sure I was having consensual sex. This left me with the fear that those people were correct, that I might actually be committing rape with no way to avoid it other than avoiding sex (if that was even enough). It also left me with the fear that they could or would use their social power to ruin my life, or even just make it significantly less comfortable or safe, if they decided I had committed rape based on this impossible-to-honor definition of theirs (regardless of whether it was accurate or not).

For years, I was of the [non secret] opinion that the Boston community was doing itself a disservice by treating Y as bad as, or even worse than, X. This extreme level of dissonance suggested a serious lack of ability of the community at large to figure out and take action on problematic actors. Later, Y died. I brought that opinion up again, and was once again shouted down. However, around the same time and in a way that I refuse to believe is coincidental, the community finally started to take serious action about X.

The above lays the groundwork for a lot of the discussions you've seen me have. There are, of course, a thousand more pieces of context, which continue to accumulate even now, but these three and the conversations about them sparked almost everything that has come since.

When you see me talking about "appropriate" and "acceptable", for actions like "flirting" or "hugging", that is me applying a filter. I am actually trying to figure out things about consent and sex, without further alienating (for my benefit) or harming (for their benefit) people who don't want to be, or can't stop themselves from, talking about consent and sex. Of course, I am *also* trying to figure out the literal subject of the discussion; I do care about flirting and hugging in an acceptable fashion, those aren't just analogies.

I hope this gives some context to discussions that might have otherwise seemed hypothetical, edge case, straw man, etc.
Tags: consent, context, trigger warning
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