Consent Culture: 5 Lessons You Need To Learn
Consent is not optional: what the queer community can teach and learn about sexual and gender consent.
In the 6 years of being an activist focused on the intersections of consent with the rest of the world, I have learned a great many things from all corners of society. From sex clubs to hospitals, prison abolition meetings to live action role playing games, I’ve developed a complex understanding of what consent means, and what a consent culture, centered around that concept, might look like.
Queer community is one of the places I gained some vital, intersectional lessons about creating a consent culture, and I wanted to share them with you.
1. Keep multiple marginalizations in mind.
When you’re creating an event, consider whether it’s accessible to people with disabilities (not just wheelchair accessible, but if it’s scent free, if therapy animals are allowed, if there’s places to sit, etc) and let people know on your flyers. Offer an email for people who are unsure if the space will be accessible for them to contact you to check in. Also consider having your event be sliding scale, so it’s accessible to the many queer folks who are poor. Think about who you feature, too, on your marketing - are all the photos of slender, white, cisgender femmes? Consider opening up your casting call to express the wonderful diversity of the queer community! Who are you booking to perform, to DJ, to host? Employ Black and brown queer folks (especially trans and enby—non-binary—folks), and pay them a decent wage. Reflecting on how multiple marginalizations impact queer community is a vital way to support consent culture proactively.
2. Respond graciously to “no”.
As a culture, we’ve accustomed to being pushy. “Aw, c’mon” we say when someone says they’re heading home from the bar. “Just one more!” We need to encourage each other, especially if we identify as women and/or femmes, to say no, and one of the best ways to do that is to graciously accept it when we hear it. I like to say “good job doing self care!” when someone says no to a project I want them on, or coming with me on a night out. By making it safe to say no, and ensuring the other person doesn’t have to worry about hurting my feelings, I demonstrate that I value their consent.
3. Don’t reveal private information without permission.
With social media throwing information at us all the time, it can be difficult to remember that people have different levels of privacy. Don’t give away where someone lives, their last name, whether they’re trans, cis, enby, or something else, if they have mental health issues, etc. Even if someone posts about it on Facebook, you don’t know who is seeing that post, so let people be in charge of what information becomes common knowledge. The only exception to this is if a friend asks you to correct people on their behalf (like, for example, with pronouns or a change of name). Get that consent first!
4. Ask before you hug someone or take a photo.
Especially as we approach summer (and gay pride season!) it can be easy to forget that not everyone likes to hug, and not everyone likes their photo taken. It can be hugely reassuring to ask someone “may I hug you?” or “can I get a photo of your look?” and it indicates that you are aware of personal boundaries… which bodes well for negotiation if you move from the social sphere into something a little more flirtatious. By modeling your comfort with asking for consent and responding well to no, you’re showing that you’re a considerate friend. I also like to try to get a contact from people who are ok with me taking their photo (often I give them a business card so they can choose to follow up with me) - there’s nothing as disappointing as having loads of people snapping pics of my sweet Pride outfit, and then not getting to see a single one!
5. Respect your own boundaries.
It’s important to know where your boundaries are so that you can effectively communicate them to others, but it’s also really important to respect those limits. If you know you’ll be happiest going home at 11pm so you get a full night’s sleep? Go for it, take care of yourself. If you need to cancel a plan to watch TV because you’ve been having a rough week? It’s ok, explain to your friend and reschedule for another time. If your buds are trying to get you to stay for one more beer but you know you need to eat? Take care of your needs! By respecting your boundaries and communicating them gently but firmly to those around you, you can help empower others to do the same. And you’ll feel a lot better when you’re not pushing yourself past the breaking point. Queer femmes have taught me everything I know about having strong boundaries.
By following the above guidelines as a starting place, we can begin to forge a more equitable society based on consent and cooperation instead of coercion and competition. Let’s help each other build solid groundwork for our communities to have healthier relationships built on mutual respect.
About the author:
Kitty Stryker is a feminist writer, queer activist, and rising authority on developing a consent culture in alternative communities as well as an active member of the genderqueer feminist art collective, the NorCal Degenderettes. She was the founder of ConsentCulture.com, a now offline website that ran for 4 years as a hub for LGBT/kinky/poly folks looking for a sex critical approach to relationships. Now fundraising for a book tour in honor of her book "Ask: Building Consent Culture" (an anthology through Thorntree Press coming out in 2017), Kitty tours internationally speaking at universities and conferences about feminism, sex work, body positivity, queer politics, and more. She lives in Oakland, California with her wife, boyfriend, and two cats, Foucault and Nietzsche. For media inquiries and bookings, email firstname.lastname@example.org.