More writing about the sexual gray areas, including possible gray areas within consent.
(Warnings: sexual assault, rape, gaslighting, invalidation of survivors’ experiences)
The latest The Asexual Agenda linkspam rounded up many posts written in response of Queenie’s post on sexual gray areas and gray-area consent. In the comments, Elizabeth brought up some very important concerns, and I agree.
The concept of gray-area consent may be useful for some peoples’ experiences, and I found it useful for mine. Some people sincerely feel like their experiences were partially consensual, and don’t fit the all-or-nothing view on consent.
However, there are ways that the concept could be used, or misused for harm.
As it was pointed out, it could be used by sexual abusers to manipulate their victims, and make them not recognize their experiences as sexual violence. Being less likely to recognize it as sexual violence means being less likely to report the perpetrator.
As much as I found the gray-area consent concept useful, there are ways it hurt me too, and I may have come to the conclusion that my experiences fell in a gray area because of some harmful ideas.
From personal experience, I wasn’t (directly) coerced into compromising, and it was me who believed that those experiences fell under a gray area. It wasn’t sex, but still pushed me far past my boundaries, and because I believed that I partially consented despite not wanting any form of intimacy, that I had no right to complain about my situation; it was partly consensual, not non-consensual. I believed that consent was consent, no matter how questionable and contrived it was, even though I disliked that belief, and was still very much against the idea of someone engaging in any kind of contact that they don’t want.
Typing this up, I remember the times that I did try to turn to one of our friends for help. She was the one whom I mentioned earlier that constantly invalidated my asexuality. While she didn’t push sex on me, she was an enabler. She said I was playing hard to get. She didn’t understand sex-repulsion as a real thing, nor that boundary violations are still psychologically painful if sex isn’t involved.
“Playing hard to get” is a trope very common in the heteronormative dating scene, that people (usually women, because of how this idea is usually gendered) pretend that they don’t want sex, but actually do. Women are expected to play into this idea, being sexual, but passive, because women who do want sex with their partner, may be shamed for outright saying it. Men are expected to be the pursuers, and the aggressors, while women are expected to be the pursued, and available, yet “supposed” to be a challenge.
It doesn’t allow clear consent, and erases the fact that people don’t always want sex, and that some never want it. Women who don’t want sex with whoever is pursuing them, may be accused of “secretly wanting it”, leading to disbelief and invalidation if it escalates to sexual violence.
There are so many stigmas surrounding being a survivor of sexual violence. Society as a whole sees a hierarchy of sexual violence survivors, placing some survivors’ experiences as more valid than others.
Survivors whose experiences were deemed less valid, have their experiences invalidated, by their peers and societal messages insisting that they consented in some form, which also devalues consent itself. The people who make these invalidating statements aren’t talking about enthusiastic consent either, but are suggesting that consent can be coerced out of someone, or can just be implied.
Many female survivors whom said no to a man’s sexual advances, may be accused of “playing hard to get”, or in other words, she’s told that she “actually wanted it”.
Because of the idea that men are “supposed” to be the aggressor in heterosexual relationships, it’s extremely difficult for male survivors of female abusers to speak out about it. So many have had their trauma invalidated, either directly by their peers who said this, or through societal messages on sexual violence, that they “must have wanted it”.
Homophobia makes it difficult for someone whose attacker is the same gender as them, to speak out about it (regardless of the actual sexual orientation of both people). Reporting abuse in a same-gender relationship may involve the survivor having to out themselves, which may not be safe for them to do.
The asexual community still struggles with how to support sexual violence survivors, and there are ways that our community as a whole is guilty of invalidating their experiences, in ways directly related to the Unassailable Asexual concept. (warning: detailed discussions of sexual violence, invalidation, identity policing)
The concept of gray-area consent didn’t develop in a vacuum, and can’t be removed from this context. I’m questioning if my experiences actually count as gray-area consent as I type this, or if I’m just blaming myself for not enforcing my boundaries as well as I wanted to. A lot of times I wondered if I was just playing hard to get. I blamed myself for giving my partner mixed messages.
The more I think about this, the more I realize that the concept of gray-area consent may have done more harm than good to me. So why do I bother explaining its merits at the same time? Because I still found it useful despite the harm, and others found it useful for their experiences too.
However, if we’re going to implement any sort of framework of gray-area consent, it needs a lot of refinement in order to patch up the loopholes, and reduce the likelihood of it being misused. The posts written so far make a lot of great points, but we’re still working towards piecing together how the points made in each are connected, to make a refined framework.
It might be necessary to impose limitations on how this concept is used. People who feel like their experiences fall under gray-area consent should feel free to use the label for their own, but it shouldn’t be said that another’s experiences with unwanted sexual contact fall under gray-area consent. If the other person doesn’t see their experiences that way, then the assertion theirs fell under the gray area is invalidating, and reinforce the doubt that so many survivors feel.