Blogathon: 7th Hour

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…


  1. says

    “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.”

    Bingo. This is why the concept of “safe words” and such is potentially useful beyond BDSM activities. I completely agree with your points regarding consent, of course, but I’d just like to add that while such a system/understanding should certainly exist, it’s imperative to the success of communication that ALL parties use it. If that system involves someone objecting when they’re uncomfortable with the understanding that the uncomfortable activity will immediately cease when they do, they must object. I’m absolutely not defending just going ahead and doing something when boundaries are truly unclear (as it’s always best to err on the side of caution), but there is a ‘gray area’ here worth considering. If the system/understanding is one of exploration with communication being heeded (as is often the case, I personally find), and one A does something to/with B and B doesn’t explicitly object, then A has little to no (i.e., ambiguous) basis upon which to modify their behavior to accommodate B’s limits. If that were to happen and B claimed sexual assault after the fact, that’s a difficult issue. I have no idea what the specifics of the situation were in this case and as such I’m not certain that a similar scenario unfolded, but possibly? This may have been what Gray meant by “100% good consent”. If anything, this just really further illustrates the importance of communication between partners, as consent is only as “good” as the communication establishing the boundaries which are to be respected, of course.

  2. says


    I think it’s all rape.

    Yes, there are different degrees of rape. There are different methods of rape. But that’s true of almost any crime you can imagine. And yet, somehow, people still manage to understand that a violent bank heist and a daughter stealing a twenty out of her mother’s purse are both types of theft (albeit, one it robbery and the other isn’t.)

    And, honestly? I think these hangups about what does and doesn’t rise to the level of “real” rape are a big part of the problem.

    I mean, a lot of people would say that I wasn’t raped, because I didn’t fight back. Because I never said “No”.

    You know the biggest reason that I didn’t say No?

    Because, in the dizzy confusion and constant mental refrain of, “This cannot possibly be happening, this cannot possibly be happening, this cannot possibly be happening”, I was afraid to say No, because if I said No, then it would be rape.

    I really fucking thought that I could prevent myself from being raped by lying there and letting myself be raped. That must sound like the stupidest thing in the world to someone who hasn’t been there. Hell, it sounds like the stupidest fuckng thing in the world to me, sitting here. I want to smack my past self and shout, “YOU MORON!”

    But when it happens, you can’t think straight. Your mind is swimming with adrenaline and denial. You grasp for a way out, and your thoughts are so muddied that, even after you get past the “THIS CANNOT BE HAPPENING TO ME,” stage, you graduate to the equally useless rationalization stage.

    You hear yourself thinking, “Is this actually rape? Is this actually rape? No, it can’t be. No, it’s not. Because this isn’t what I ever imagined rape would be. Rape is being cornered by a stranger in a dark alley and fighting tooth and nail until you’re overpowered. Rape is not when your boyfriend penetrates you after he promised he wouldn’t. So it’s not really rape until you say No.”

    So, yeah. I think it’s all rape.


  3. Erin W says

    I began to draft a response, but I think I’ll save it until part 2. Thanks for bringing up a provocative topic like this.

  4. tort says

    I think it’s obvious that there are different degrees of bad when it comes to sexual assault but that the problem is that by trying to draw a line between the truly horrific and the just terrible that line then gets used to say that everything on the less bad side of the line is OK or at least nothing should be done about it. You have to take into account the broader society we live in, there is a rape culture that needs to shape the way we communicate about this. I don’t know the right answer. The only thing I would suggest is to steer clear of saying that it’s not “rape” rape because as it stands now that is a good indicator that the person talking is an arsehole.

  5. says

    I think enthusiastic agreement, and the right of either partner to stop at any time without being shamed, and safewords and social expectations to support that also represent a higher standard, and in sexual matters an absolute minimum standard in sexual contexts. (Not that many people actually respect that standard. Some people don’t even respect “no” or “stop” or attempts to push them away.)

    I think free agreement, equal bargaining power, and equal information represent an important standard in political contexts. (I know those can be impossible in an unequal society. Another reason to try for a more equal one.)

    And I’m inclined to think we need to consider the political elements of consent in sexual situations.

    But here’s the thing: the difficulty of achieving the political elements, as long as we live in an unequal society, does not excuse ignoring the absolute minimum standard for sexual consent.

  6. says

    WELL I don’t think I’ve left a TMI post in a while, and this is why it’s good that my account is sort-of anonymous, but I’d like to share.

    The paragraph on how we need to take responsibility for our own consent, and how our partners need to be very careful too, is so important and I’ve struggled with it a lot in the past. I get some pleasure from sex with men but don’t enjoy it properly like I do with women, and before I figured that out (even recently, before I understood how male-identified my partner was and why the sexuality wasn’t working right) I had some experiences of sex where I only enjoyed it a little and felt like I had to be “okay” with things rather than enthusiastic.

    Two of my male partners were very sensitive to when I was happy and not in sex, and I had only good experiences with them, though it meant not pleasing them very much. One was not able to tell, but was careful and asked questions so I had maybe one less-than-fine time. One thought he was sensitive, but in fact didn’t always get it right and didn’t ask careful enough questions, and made me feel uncomfortable at an age when I had had some good sex and thought I had learned how to make sure all my sex was good; so I ended up having non-consensual sex once and unenthusiastic sex other times.

    With female partners, this never came up: I was enthusiastic, so were they, and we didn’t have to worry about consent though we did talk over boundaries and safewords beforehand, and they never hesitated to be expressive. Even with one casual female partner where I didn’t really want to do all that much with her, I was perfectly comfortable doing so.

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