Safe Space Isn't About Consent
Article by Karin Webb
If we intend on creating safe spaces (especially for women and minority people) to explore our sexualities openly, we have a lot of work to do. When I say “we” I mean everyone, but I especially mean all men, people who aren’t minorities, and those who have more privilege within their minority communities than the people they are sharing space with.
Everyone loves sex and kink and parties, right? It feels so good! A room full of oxytocin, adrenaline, and dopamine gets only more intoxicating the more people are added to the mix! And of course you have thought ahead, of course you have considered who to invite and not invite, you’ve written your party rules and sent them out for all to see. Consensual play is one of them, in fact you have it BOLDED in the email sent out to everyone: CONSENT IS SEXY — CONSENT OR GO HOME — CONSENT OR BANISHMENT FROM THE FOLD!!!
But do you mean it?
Do you? Are you willing to put your body and this idea between predators — especially those predators who are people you know well — and the victims and/or survivors who they have harmed?
As mastermind of this environment, as host/co-host/producer/involved friend/moderator/Dungeon Master/partygoer… are you willing to involve yourself (maybe painfully) in the processes of teaching friends, keeping in check, mediating, cutting ties, working towards remediating those people who fuck up, being supportive and attentive to those who’ve been harmed in your space, and choosing between close friends who you’ll completely and unequivocally support? Are you willing to put the notion out there that your group/party/event stands up for and gives resources first and foremost to people who deserved to maintain their autonomy, and consider a violation of that tantamount to violation of the event itself and your own reputation? Are you ready to not only kick out, but detain and question those who have abused your open space and vulnerable friends? Are you willing to be vocal about your commitment to survivors of assault and their needs over the reputation of your event or a perpetrator’s privacy? These questions are ones you should not just kneejerk say “of course” to.
Close your eyes and imagine throwing your best friend out of your house and having to mediate clearly and firmly their ban on your events because they molested someone at the party — someone, perhaps, you don’t even know, or someone who you don’t personally like that much, someone who you think is loud and obnoxious, or overly sensitive in general. Now try again, this time run through your mind what it will be like having to do these things with someone who is very useful to you, someone who is a good client, who has given your community many resources, who owns the property you’re using, who pays your rent, who has some type of power over you in the non-party world. Are you sure you have the stomach to act steadfast in honor of a victim in your safe space still?
Safe space isn’t about consent, it’s about the shape and resilience of the container itself.
It is unfortunate that to experience our sexualities and sensualities we often need protection and safeguards in place to allow us, for just a moment, to let go of the walls we’ve built up over the years and past abuses. It is only honest to acknowledge that at the moment we do let go we are vulnerable. We are vulnerable to people without boundaries, without socialization surrounding sexual boundaries, without clear thinking, and without respect. Vulnerable to people who drink too much, who are on drugs, who have decided to drug someone else. We are vulnerable to peer pressure, to bullying, to force, to surprise attack. We are vulnerable to grabbing, staring, and invasion of personal space by people who don’t think casual touch is worth asking about. We are vulnerable to a slew of things we haven’t considered possible, much less the ones we knowingly brace ourselves against. If you want to create safe space for this vulnerable and fragile process of letting go, you must also be actively involved in the aftermath when molestation (unfortunately too frequently) occurs.
How do we do this?
Let’s talk about that.
Safe space is about listening. Let’s look at that from the ground up for a minute. It is because we do not listen to our victims that we become predators. Perhaps we have not been listened to ourselves, and so that practice has become a habit we perpetrate on others. Perhaps we aren’t listening because we have blocked our sensibilities with the unbalancing reality of inebriants. Perhaps a million other reasons, it doesn’t matter what they are in the end. It is because there is a dearth of listening that we have gotten to this place of frequent abuse to begin with.
The perpetrator of an assault is not listening to their victim. We, as community and responders to the situation, must first and foremost be willing to listen to victims and survivors. This, of course, means we need to listen to women. We need to listen to black and brown people and others who aren’t white skinned. We must listen to queers, transgender folk, and to sex workers. We must listen to people who are in shock, angry, tearful, overtly emotional, quiet, afraid, reactionary, and confused. We must to listen to them about what they’ve experienced and their needs, and we must learn to action around their words first.
This means we must be quiet. We must be willing to sit in a corner and hear what is being said, and we must learn to untangle our own fears, personal triggers, “yeah, buts”, and agendas from what we’re being told is needed in any given moment. We must not decide that because we’ve been through this before that we know what to do. We can let those experiences inform us, but we must listen to the people in the moment that is happening right now in order to be present enough for responsible action and actual help.
This scratches the surface about how to create a safe space for open sexuality, but it’s the most important tool we can learn to use I think. Also:
• Have an experienced sober Dungeon Master or two committed to being present where there is play.
• Have Moderators or Party Officials who are introduced at the beginning of the party and available to be pulled aside at any point to be talked to if someone is feeling uncomfortable or if something that needs to be dealt with happens.
• Have an opening circle where participants introduce themselves quickly, or at least have the host address everyone and lay out the rules and expectations of the event.
• Consider having a cut-off time for arrivals. This works great if you have an opening circle as everyone can be expected to participate. Even if you don’t though, closing the door and sealing the space from outsiders, intruders, or people who are coming late and possibly inebriated helps control the space itself.
• Make your parties sober and commit to throwing out anyone suspected of being under the influence, or have a “If you’re too inebriated to drive, you’re too inebriated to consent” rule.
• Have “no play” zones where no play is happening (the kitchen or wherever food is is great for this) so that people who are feeling uncomfortable or triggered or needing a time out or to escape someone’s attention in a play space can comfortably exist without question about why they aren’t playing.
• Have a plan clearly in place about what to do if something happens. Know how the situation will be dealt with, and who is commited to deal with it.
• Have a buddy system in place where everyone at the party comes with another person, with the understanding that if your buddy gets thrown out you do too no matter what is going on. This helps create accountability in terms of people only inviting people they think will be responsible, but it also ensures that if someone is kicked out for being drunk hopefully their buddy isn’t. Ask that people check in with their buddies throughout the night…
• Have a committed designated driver or sober crew at the party who can bring people home or to safety or simply be more aware when they see odd behavior.
• Have people at the party who are trained in how to deal with an assault when one occurs.
• Have a follow-up plan for victims and perpetrators already in place.
These are only a few suggestions.
Consent can only happen once someone has deigned to ask for it and decided to listen. Consent is a popular word and an important practice which feels like a row of shining stars: THIS PERSON IS SUPER CONSENSUAL, A+++! It is not, however, what creates safe space alone. Of course, we must get positive enthusiastic consent to play. But first we have to ask questions, we have to listen, we have to be willing to accept responsibility for what is happening around us. We must listen to people we aren’t used to listening to. We must learn.
This article can also be read at The ABC’s Of Kink, credited to Creature. Reposted with permission. -DW