Oh look! A fancy banner thing!
I hope you’ve been donating, because I’m not bloody well doing this just for the sake of sore wrists, misery and exhausting a month’s worth of topics in a single weekend.
Anyway, I hate to break the levity, but one thing that has been very significant to me this past week, and has triggered a lot of painful thinking on my part, albeit not in the ways you might expect, has been the recent emergence of accusations of rape directed towards trans activist Ira Dalton Gray.
Ira and I don’t have much of a history, but we have e-spoken a couple times, and you may remember him as one of the trans men making accusing me of racism in response to my statements that spiritual faith is a universally dangerous thing, which ended up being the motivation to include some paragraphs on race in my God Does Not Love Trans People post (paragraphs which, in an interesting catch-22, were then used to accuse me of racism by others for doing exactly what Ira Gray accused me of racism for not doing).
That’s really neither here not there, of course. What happened was that over the last week or two (not quite sure on all the details), someone stated that she felt Ira Gray had raped her (in the sense of the acquaintance rape, or even more specifically, rape within the context of a relationship; her consent and boundaries were not respected). Shortly afterward, at least one other person emerged corroborating the accusation, and stating that they too felt Gray had not properly respected boundaries and consent.
It’s not my place to speculate on the veracity of the accusations, but corroboration by two independent parties of a trend in his behaviour is certainly something that demands attention. But what was most damning of all was Ira Gray’s own response, his “apology”, in which he indicated very, very creepy attitudes, and demonstrated some very, very creepy behaviours.
For instance, Ira Gray spoke of the mental health of the individuals involved. Carefully prefaced as “I don’t want to smear them”, he then nonetheless proceeded to use their mental health issues against them, suggested it invalidated their interpretation of events, and carefully positioning it as an excuse for his behaviour. Here’s the thing: when you’re engaging in a sexual relationship with someone, and they inform you of mental health issues (or you become aware of such issues), that means you should be extra, super-duper careful in terms of respecting their boundaries, consent, needs, etc. It means you have to take on extra responsibility for their well-being (and your own) before you go ahead and start having sexy times. It is NOT an excuse for irresponsibility, nor is it something you file away for later to use against them in the event they call you out on having behaved irresponsibly, cruelly, abusively or…well…having sexually assaulted them.
But what was particularly noticeable in Gray’s open letter was the admission that he didn’t practice “100% good consent”. He claimed that “100% good consent” was impossible, and that the best any of us can do is just fumble around with ambiguities and make our best guess.
That is NOT an acceptable way to approach sexual consent.
There is no such thing as “77% consent”, or “52% consent”, or even “99% consent”. You either have “100% consent”, where you are certain that your partner(s) are comfortable (and enthusiastically so) with whatever it is you’re going to do. At the bare minimum, there should be a clear, unambiguous consent framed BEFORE the sex begins in which some kind of clear system is set up where both parties can be aware at all times that the others are enjoying what’s currently going on, providing permission to explore or try things out or go further, want you to slow down or take it easy but not fully stop, or want you to fully, immediately stop as they’ve become uncomfortable.
It is our own responsibility to pay attention to our own feelings, and what we are or are not comfortable with, and to stop ourselves from going along with something we’re not comfortable with, no matter how much we might be embarrassed, or worried about seeming wimpy, or worried about hurting their feelings, or worried about not being a satisfying partner. And we have a responsibility to communicate our comfort levels and needs clearly. But our partner ALSO has a responsibility to pay very close attention to our comfort levels, the signs and signals that we might be uncomfortable with something, the suggestion that we might be uncomfortable but scared to say so, to never EVER pressure us (even in subtle, “gentle” ways) to do something we don’t want to do, and to stop the second it becomes ambiguous as to whether enthusiastic consent is really, fully there.
If Ira Gray repeatedly found himself in a situation of ambiguity, where it wasn’t quite clear whether or not his partners were really okay with what was going on, and decided to go ahead and do it anyway…. yeah, that’s sexual assault. And it’s NOT OKAY.
This is really really important. I want all of you to ALWAYS remember this:
No means no, but yes means MAYBE.
But remember the painful questions that came up from this?
Well… here’s the thing…
What Ira Gray seems to have done is clearly not okay. And is clearly a violation of his partner’s rights. And is clearly sexual assault. And clearly needs to be talked about. But is it rape?
Sometimes we hear people say things like “Yeah, but it wasn’t RAPE rape!” And when people say that kind of thing, people get really angry. It’s a valid anger. Is there really a line to be drawn? Is rape EVER more or less okay than other kinds of rape?
No, of course rape is never okay. It doesn’t matter if it’s between a married couple, acquaintance rape, date rape, “not 100% consent” rape, etc. It’s always fucking horrible. It’s always a deep violation of another human being’s rights and body. It’s always a form of violence.
But is all rape really the same?
I worry that sweeping all instances of sexual assault under the same word, and the same admonition, might be dangerously erasing some very important distinctions, might be very dismissive of some meaningful realities, and might also have some very creepy motivations that are political in nature… and potentially exploitative, and tied to race, class, gender, sexuality and other axes of privilege and oppression.
To be continued next hour…