Radical Consent

I’ve just spent the majority of the past couple hours reading other people’s journal entries and notes and whatnot on a relatively popular kink social site, and one thing is abundantly clear… there are some gifted writers and smart people here, but these concepts that we’re tackling are hard to grasp, difficult to enumerate, perhaps even impossible to grok in a universal way.

There were several writings that struck a chord with me, but I’m going to pick on one in particular, because I both respect the author and think that he got a few things wrong.

I don’t know what makes me believe that adding my voice to the chorus will make a whit of difference, but here I embark upon that quest anyway.

Consent is one of the pillars upon which we build our community and trust.  Without consent, what we do is abuse.  This is an important statement, so please bear with me as I ask you to read it again, and be sure that you see there are no hedge words here: without consent, what we do is abuse.

I would never take it upon myself to invade a scene and put a stop to any actions that I saw taking place, even if, to me, they looked like abuse.  This is a conditioned response, and it was *not* something that came naturally to me.  This thing that we do is a highly ritualized and distinct universe from the reality that makes up day-to-day life for most people.

I have been witness to things that would make my blood boil and invite violence if the context from those actions was missing in my mind.  I can walk into a public dungeon and see things that if I saw them in a vanilla nightclub would warrant intervention, and I have.  But because I understand that the playplace I am at has house rules, and I accept that it is valid for me to assume that the people in scene have pre-negotiated their own terms, any intervention on my part is unwarranted, unwanted, and indeed harmful.

I have a great deal of respect for the writer of the piece I’m talking about — he goes by the name of Master James — and in his writing, he talks about consent, but he throws context out the window.  He lambastes the masses for failing to understand something that I have difficulty with even after more than a decade in this lifestyle, more if you count the years I spent at the periphery.  Our community is the only place I know of where people are able to give informed and radical consent.  Outside of the ivory tower, this is a much more muddled subject matter.

I have a contract with my partner.  She signed it willingly.  In fact, the task of writing the contract was a task that I delegated to her, because I wanted to be absolutely certain that her consent was informed, deliberate, and incontrovertible.  Not that the document itself has any legal standing, or that it cannot be changed (she was very insightful when she put the clause that allowed for modification of the contract into the contract itself) – but whether it has standing or not, whether it can be changed or not, it represents the pinnacle of consent.  It outlines the terms under which I can take action, the things that are expected of me, and most importantly, the things that I am not to approach.

Because of this, she is the only person in the world with whom I would have sex if she were intoxicated.  Because I have sober and persistent consent from her, I do not worry that she might not be able to consent to things for which we have previous history, but erring on the side of caution, I would not, even with her, attempt to push boundaries that we have not approached before when she is intoxicated.

This is all well and good in a perfect world, but the world is not perfect, not even in the highly idealized world in which we reside as kinksters.

However, this is the point where the illusion breaks down and Master James’s argument takes hold…

What if **I** am also intoxicated?

Now, I *am* a feminist, and I object to the term ‘radical feminist’ on the premise that the word ‘radical’ has become demonized and to apply it to a person is an attempt to discredit them by appellation, but I will admit that there are variances in the degree to which people cleave to this ideal, and since I am not a woman, I will never probably be as fully cognizant of the struggles of women as I should be, so I may not be as adherent to this ideal as I could be.

As far as I understand things, this is the argument that the feminists would make:

1) Alcohol and other intoxicants alter your inhibitions and cognitive abilities, making informed consent impossible.

2) Social pressures exist for women that take hold in the situation described in 1) above, and therefore, for a woman, even simple consent (as opposed to informed consent) is impossible for women even when only moderately intoxicated.

3) I am a man, and the dangers for me are significantly less than they are for a woman, so I should endeavor to err on the side of caution in all of these situations, and I should police my own actions.

On the face of it, I agree with all three points.

Point 1) is a simple fact, proven over and over again by numerous studies and real-world scenarios.  This is only reinforced further by the fact that the number one date-rape drug of all time always has been and will continue to be alcohol.

Point 2) is arguable, but you’d have to be something of a horse’s ass to make that argument.  There is no doubt in my mind that women have pressure put upon them from even before they reach sexual maturity to ‘put out’ for the boys – this is something that we can change, and changing perceptions like this is the reason I call myself a feminist.

Point 3) is also arguable, but again, it’s a reasonable argument to make.  As an atomic argument, I have nothing to say against it.  The first part of the statement is pure fact – sex is much more dangerous for women than it is for men.  There are STIs that are much easier for women to contract and for which the consequences are much more dire than they are for men, but even if that were not the case, unwanted pregnancy is a huge problem for a woman and significantly less so for the man.

If you take each of these individually, I would say that this represents a very strong argument.

However, the problem comes up with the intersection of points 1) and 3).

Sex is less dangerous for me, so I should err on the side of caution.  Roger, I’m with you there, totally on board, 100%, no problem.

Alcohol reduces inhibitions and impairs cognitive function.  This is every bit as much true for me as it is for her.  I have been taken advantage of when intoxicated.  I didn’t report it, because, well, that point 2) up there? there are societal pressures for us men as well…

But more importantly than my own experiences as a victim, when I am cognitively impaired and my inhibitions are reduced, remembering point 3) is potentially impossible for me, and I think it is not a broad generalization to apply that to any person.

Rape is a really ugly word.  Worse than ‘radical’ by a long shot.  The thing that many feminists are trying to do is to divorce the concept of intent from that of rape.  This is where I think the problem lies, and something that I disagree with, vehemently.

Rape is legally defined as the unlawful compelling of a person through force or duress to have sexual intercourse.

This is an overly narrow definition, not the least of which because it explicitly calls out sexual intercourse when I would classify a whole host of other sex acts as potential rape, but inherent to this definition is the concept of compelling someone to do something, and that requires intent.

If I don’t intend to rape you, I cannot rape you.  At least, not in the eyes of the law, and I’m pretty sure that intent should also be the litmus test that we use for applying that term outside of the law as well.

Intent can take on many forms.

If I am at a party and I see a girl who is alone and drinking a lot, and I encourage her to drink more with the idea that I will then take her back to my place and have sex with her, that is rape.

If I am in a long term relationship with you, but things are rocky and we haven’t had sex in a while and I keep refilling your wine glass because I know that you loosen up when you’ve had a bit to drink and I hope that I can then coerce you into having sex when we get home, that is also rape.

If I am at a bar and I’m flirting with a pretty girl who is matching me drink for drink and then she invites me back to her place to have sex and I go along, is that rape?

I don’t think it is, but I’m not sure, and if I wasn’t just as drunk as she was, I would have collected her contact information and NOT gone home with her, because of point 3) above, but I’m drunk, and I’m human, and she’s pretty and she invited me to her place…

Have I ever violated the consent of someone?  It pains me to say so, but I probably have.  Not all consent violations are rape though.

No one has ever told me that I have violated her consent.  Not once, not ever.  None of the actions of my youth resulted in my incarceration, or even arrest.  I have never lost a friend because we had sex and she later decided that she didn’t want to.  I have never cultivated a friendship on the hopes that one day in a moment of weakness she would sleep with me because that was what I really wanted from the beginning…

However… I have had one night stands.  The premeditated intent to have sex was never a factor in any of those one night stands.  Never have I ever set out at the beginning of the evening thinking, “I’m going to get laid tonight,” but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened.

Does this make me an evil person?  I don’t think so, but I’m not sure.

Have I ever had sex with someone, while drunk, that I would not have, had I been sober?

Of course I have… and you can bet your last dollar that it will probably happen again at least once before I can’t get it up any more, but I am a man, and those incidents were a lot less dangerous for me than they are for a woman.

Determining intent can be hard to do, even when you are making every effort to be honest with yourself, and in the end, adjudicating rape may end up much like Justice Stewart’s famous description of hard core porn versus art: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

In his well-written and thought out piece, Master James makes the connection between a woman’s inability to consent while inebriated with being a child, and that’s where I think he’s just dead wrong.  Women are facing more danger than men in these situations and that must be considered by any rational man.

Feminism goes beyond seeking equality between the sexes because they are inherently distinct and unequal.  No matter how much I would like to be able to do so, I can never conceive a child, and that is both a blessing and burden that I can never face.

Let us, as rational beings, make things equal where they are, and accommodate the things that are not, and this is one of the things that is not equal.

I will continue to do my best to hold to points 1), 2), and especially 3) above, but I will not always succeed perfectly, because these three things are not complementary and they are not even really points, but instead they are spectra, but I know who I am and what my motives are, and I sleep very well knowing that I do the best I can.

I believe that is all any feminist, ‘radical’ or not, would ask of me.

I guess I was in the mood to rant…

I am Rant, and I have opinions, but I’m not always right.

Rant off.

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