Consent, Community, and the Importance of Leadership Part II


I will not tolerate abusive or harassing behavior on my site. My site, my rules. Don’t like it? GTFO. I will not tolerate victim blaming, shaming, or other incendiary comments that trash victims of sexual assault or consent violations. Those comments will be deleted immediately without approval.

This is to serve as a content notice about sexual assault, consent, etc.

Settle in friends, because this one’s a doozy. By now, most of the people in my community have heard about Kelly Shibari speaking out about her experience of consent violations with Reid Mihalko. Before I continue I want to make a few things clear:

  1. I believe Kelly.
  2. I am furious at the victim blaming, slut shaming responses towards her.
  3. I am disappointed in Reid, because I want to believe the best in people.
  4. I am not surprised, because people are human, and this is what happens when individuals with power and privilege are not forced to evaluate it regularly.

The story broke two days before I heard about it, and I heard about it twice that day. First a friend ran it by me, asking my take while they figured out how their organization should respond. A few hours later a private group I’m in posted the article, asking why our sex-ed community was so silent on the issue. In the private group, a group where nearly everyone had personal interactions of varying degrees with Reid, there were a few response groups:

  • Those that have been speaking out about their experiences having their boundaries crossed only to have been silenced.
  • Those that needed to take a minute to process everything.
  • Those that felt that taking that minute to process meant you were inherently supporting the consent violations, those who violated consent, and were responsible for those whose consent would be violated.
  • Those who were surprised/disappointed/just hearing about the situation
  • Those who wanted to talk about consent, education, and how the community can move forward.

In short, it basically looked like most other comment threads about consent violations except for the fact that the vast majority of the people in the thread regularly educate on sex and sex education.

My partner and I discussed the entire situation later that evening, because I was having some feelings about the whole thing and he made a point that the sex education community was treating themselves far more gently than they would be treating someone in any other community. That our conversations, and our reactions were far more tempered than they would be if we were talking about anyone else in any other community.

I was completely flabbergasted before sitting and realizing that he was right. Here we were, a community that has verbally shredded people for victim blaming, rape apologizing, misogyny, and all the other behaviors that we find horrific, and yet having a gentle conversation with each other about someone who is a friend and loved one. The exception being that I’ve never seen my friends who are community members saying that if you take a moment to evaluate how you’re feeling about a situation that you are responsible for any future victims, and frankly most of them would speak out against those who would.

It is wise, I think, to take a moment to consider how your relationship to a person who has been called out for any level of sexual misconduct would affect your framing of the situation. It’s certainly better than speaking up immediately and throwing out a “but they were always so nice to me” moment, or any other moment that intentionally or unintentionally dismisses or victim blames. Reacting without thinking isn’t going to help anyone, and could cause more harm to the person who is already dealing with so very much.

When your relationship with someone could impact your reaction and interaction with a report of sexual misconduct to the detriment of the person reporting, take the fucking minute to digest.  

This all said, what do we do when one of our own fucks up? When one of our own makes a terrible mistake? We’re all human, we all make them. I know I have – and if you say that you haven’t, I assure you that you would be wrong. You have violated someone’s consent, whether it’s sharing information you didn’t have consent to, touching someone without permission, or engaging in sex or pressuring sex someone isn’t comfortable with. I said in the first part of Consent, Community, and the Importance of Leadership:

I believe in the power of restorative justice for a community. I believe that individuals should not have their lives ruined over one mistake. I believe that people can change, and that they can reconsider things.

And I DO believe this entirely. I believe that people and communities can heal, grow, and change. I believe that there are people who make accidental mistakes and errors in judgment and do need to go through a relearning process. I also believe there are people who have knowingly made terrible repeated decisions. I admit that I am still personally working through my own thoughts on what should be considered for individuals who make those decisions knowingly rather than occasional, accidental, mistakes that they attempt to adjust for. How do we navigate the education, healing, and reintegration of flawed individuals who have harmed a community? But if we are leaders in this community, chosen or otherwise, surely we should have an answer. Surely, we can come up with the solution… right? If nothing else, we can at least have a conversation about it, and come up with solutions, right?

I’ve written about the importance of community and leadership in dealing with sexual assault in 2015, but I’d like to talk about one point:

Being a leader means you are held to a higher standard of accountability. You have this power, this respect, this trust from the community, and that means that you need to uphold their trust in you. If you have positioned yourself in such a way that you are taking on the role of being a leader (for instance, teaching workshops, writing blog posts, or speaking publicly on the topic), you have a responsibility. You have a responsibility when you are speaking as a voice and a face for your community-especially a marginalized community- to behave better. To be better.  It is unfortunate that even within a community that is so emphatic on consent and communication, that we even need to be having this conversation. It is unfortunate that we don’t know how to care for our own, or support our own. To put it simply, “With great power, comes great responsibility”.

I still stand by this. When you’re a leader of the community you should be held to a higher standard. You should have your behavior and your interactions analyzed to make sure that you’re not abusing your power. It is so easy, when you’re put into a position of power, to abuse it. It is so easy to allow yourself in a space where you can manipulate the educational constructs of consent in a way that maneuvers around peoples boundaries and comfort – all the while making them feel like you were doing all the right things. The incomparable Aida Manduley [www.aidamanduley.com ] (Whose own blog post on the topic will be coming soon – so bookmark the page and keep watching) said it far better than I did when they said:

THOSE OF US WHO TEACH ON CONSENT AND ABUSE AND TRAUMA AND JUSTICE PROCESSES SHOULD BE SOME OF THE MOST SCRUTINIZED. We are the ones whose values and ethics should be extra paid attention to because we are in a PRIME position to abuse our power, to subvert our teachings, to be REALLY INSIDIOUS about the ways we cause harm both intentionally and unintentionally.

If we are a community which values justice, values consent, values education, we must also be a community that can navigate these situations. We cannot allow ourselves to exist at a double standard. We cannot pretend to value consent and discussion and then disappear when the conversations comes up. These discussions are hard, they are not easy to have. They are painful and complex and they regularly end in people wondering exactly what consent is and where the lines of consent are. Consent is an ongoing conversation, and in order to meet in the middle, analyze, and reduce our own double standards a very good friend of mine, J, noted that we need to create more forgiveness and leniency to others and less for our community. We need to acknowledge intersectionality (first introduced by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1991, but here’s a TED Talk that is wonderful), and in doing so acknowledge our limitations in framing and understanding of consent.

A lot of this speaks to other double standards. We cannot allow ourselves to discuss intersectionality and neglect intersectionality in our discussions of things like consent violations. Things like our gentleness in conversation, and our softness with individuals in our own circles while we shred those around us. My best friend pointed out another form of double standard in the lack of conversation about how Aziz Ansari is being ripped to shreds in ways that his white counterparts have not been. We cannot pretend that there is not a racist undertone to that conversation. We cannot pretend that we are holding Aziz Ansari to a higher standard on the basis that he has made a career off of being the clever, socially aware guy without acknowledging our racism in how we discuss people of color, and how we hold people/celebrities of color to higher standards. We cannot hold ourselves to these higher standards of talking about consent and intersectionality without also acknowledging our own personal privileges and failings in this.

We need to do things like acknowledge the ways our personal relationships might affect our framing of a situation (for instance: “I believe this person whose consent was violated, and also I know/am with this other person so I am sharing this information for others to have while allowing the original  to stand on its own without my personal relationship negating their experience”). We need to acknowledge the ways in which our experience can negatively impact how we discuss conversations around consent. We need to acknowledge the grey areas. If we are going to be leaders in our communities, we need to both hold ourselves to a higher standard and hold each other to a higher standard.

So. How do we navigate the education, healing, and reintegration of flawed individuals who have harmed a community? How do we as leaders in the community, chosen or otherwise, come together to create a solution that we can share across the board as an example? How do we have this conversation? How do we decide how to encourage restorative, or transformative justice? How do we decide where the line of transgressions is that we no longer allow people back into the community? Let’s start with ourselves. Let’s start with holding each other accountable.

We need to hold each other accountable. We need to analyze each other and our personal practices. We need to stop talking in circles and have an actual fucking conversation, putting policies in place to handle and manage the individuals in our communities when they fuck up. Most importantly, we need to drop the double standard that we are somehow incapable of human error because we teach the material while everyone else is somehow more dangerous that we are. That is unfair of us, especially when it could be argued that by nature of knowing the system, the language, and the ways in which all of these things could be manipulated, that we are the most dangerous of all.

Until next time,
The Frisky Fairy

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