I started this project with Maggie Mayhem because I was frustrated on a personal level about a community issue, but also, I realize now, because I was in an abusive relationship and I needed it.
I needed a consent culture to exist, because I needed to come out about my experience, and I needed it to not be as bad this time as it had been before with the victim-blaming and the gaslighting and the ostracization and the accusations of “just stirring up drama”. I needed to be able to tell people that my relationship was abusive, that it scared it, without worrying I would lose friends over the confession.
So I co-founded a movement. Cause, you know, why take an easy path?
The problem, of course, with all this is that while I was doing the work on Consent Culture I would compare my story to other people’s and decide that it wasn’t as bad, and therefore wasn’t actually abusive. And then I think I got to a point where I felt I had to lie to myself to get by- how could I tour the country talking about abuse in BDSM when I was living and excusing it at home? So I kept quiet, and felt miserable, and trapped, and silenced. I felt shame as I advised people to leave abusive situations if they were ready while realizing I wasn’t ready yet, and hating myself for that realization.
In my experience, it’s hard to be an activist for a cause you’re living in.
My anger at my relationship falling apart and the systems that made that so excusable- the mental health system that told him he didn’t have depression, or anger issues, he just needed more sleep, or the police officers that pulled me aside after he had thrown a vacuum to ask me if I really wanted him to get arrested on Mother’s Day- got funneled into Consent Culture, and I became determined to change it so that this shit was fixed at the source, at every source, not just within the alternative community but outside of it. I was fed up with the expectation that I should put up with being treated badly because my partner “seemed like a nice guy/a good feminist”. And I was fed up that my friends expected me to feel triggered and upset because they didn’t want to deal with their own complicated feelings about confronting the idea that someone they knew was abusive, and therefore I should keep quiet so they could stay comfortable in their ignorance.
But Consent Culture began to make me have expectations about my boundaries. As I became more solid in the work I was doing as an activist, it became more and more obvious to me that my relationship was not healthy, that boundaries had to be drawn, that my partner needed to seek help that I could no longer give. It made me realize it was ok for me to tell my friends I needed them to choose between us, because his abusiveness and lack of accountability for it was problematic enough for me that I couldn’t be around them and not resent them for wanting me to pretend nothing happened. I lost some close friends in drawing that line. I don’t regret it a bit.
It kills me. Every day I hear at least one, maybe two, maybe more stories of women, men, children who have been the victims of rape culture. Often it’s brutally affected them. It’s hard to stay fierce when your heart is breaking because you’ve been that girl, more than once, and you want to reach out but it’s too late for her. It’s impossible to stay neutral.
This can’t keep going on while we turn our heads and pretend it’s not real life. This is happening in our communities, to people we love. People we love are the abusers. We need to deal with this, and I speak as an activist and as a survivor. Consent Culture is the personal and political entwined so tightly it chokes.
The system is broken. It’s very broken, and it’s broken in many places. But more and more people are saying “fuck that noise”. I don’t pretend to know everything about what a consent culture would look like, or how we get there, but I do know this- consent culture paved me some space to leave an abusive relationship and come out to my friends without feeling shunned. When I was raped 11 years ago, 90% of the people I knew and called friends blamed me or didn’t want to talk about it and didn’t support me. This time, about 90% supported me and thanked me for my boundaries and talking to them. You can read more about that whole situation here.
Things can change. WE can change. But it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be one size fits all, and we’re going to fuck up and have to take ownership when we do. I realize now that this is probably the work I’m going to do for the rest of my life, that this work saved me, that it could save others. I hope you’ll join me in any way you can. We’ll need an army of lovers.
If this sounds at all familiar, I recommend reading “The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities” and reading this post by Pervocracy, along with Captain Awkward. Know that you’re not alone, wherever in the process you are.