… and I’d like to share my experiences.
So there was a call to action this morning on my Twitter. Basically it said that if you’re a man that dates women, check in with them and ask for feedback about how they experienced your handling of consent and boundaries.
I was originally unsure whether I should, but I posted a status about it and was encouraged by several friends to go ahead, so I did.
There were several things going through my head:
- If I ask people that I’ve had good and pleasant interactions with, won’t it feel like I’m just fishing for compliments?
- In cases where things didn’t go so well, is it fair to ask the other person to perform emotional labour for my personal growth?
I thought this through and decided I should definitely ask the people where I personally thought things went well. Those are exactly the situations where I may have a blind spot. It’s very possible I made someone uncomfortable but they didn’t feel OK to tell me. If you take into account how much women are taught to go along and not make waves that’s actually very likely.
As to the emotional labour I chose to word it as such: I’m aware that this can be uncomfortable for you and involves emotional labour so I’d like to make this not so much a request as me consenting to receive feedback if you have any to give.
I specifically also included women that I am friends with but where our relationship doesn’t include sexual elements. The beauty of poly is that relationships can span a million shades of grey in how much intimacy they contain. However this also means there are more opportunities for running into boundaries.
All of this happened in the morning. In the afternoon I watched the BOOS show with my love and sickening as it was one thing struck me: the prominent image was that only bad apples commit consent violations. That to violate consent makes you some kind of monster.
I’ve never knowingly and willingly violated consent, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never crossed boundaries. In fact, I have made plenty of mistakes there. I’ve made sexual jokes that were met with awkward silence. I’ve hugged women and felt them freeze under my touch. I’ve sent nudes that turned out to be unwelcome. On each of those occasions I did wrong and I hurt people I cared about in doing so. Am I a monster? I’d like to think that I am not. I’ve made mistakes and caused harm and pain. I’ve tried to own the harm I have caused, make amends and do better. The “only a monster would do this” narrative stops us from owning our shit and working on ourselves.
With that image in my head I decided to share this writing.
So, what did I learn? Luckily most of the reactions were positive. All of my friends expressed positive feelings towards me taking this step. Nobody declined to answer, though I did get some “Let me get back to you” responses.
There was one reaction that I’d like to highlight though, because it shows the value of asking this question. This is from a friend who I have no sexual relationship with. We had gone on a hike together in a nice park on a hot day, and at some point I was soaking through my t-shirt and decided to take my shirt off. As a guy I didn’t think anything of it, she didn’t say anything either at the time.
When I talked to her to ask this question though, the point came up and she told me that it had made her uncomfortable. I hadn’t thought it through, but it made tons of sense: there were no other people around, we were in a spot where she had no easy way to get away from me and I had just taken off a piece of clothing.
I thanked her for her feedback, and made a mental note to consider taking my shirt off something that requires consent. Now, maybe for a lot of people this would have been a non-issue, but that actually brings me to my second point: you can’t really assume consent without asking. What is fine for one person can be a trigger for someone else. If there is any doubt, just ask.
I haven’t heard back from everyone yet, and if anything major pops up I’ll amend this writing. For now, I’d like to say though: if you identify as a man and you date, consider asking this question. Ask for feedback. You might learn some unexpected things.