So Many Ways to Say Yes

Posted on October 16, 2019 by

This is a thread I posted on Twitter, but Twitter gets confusing and things get lost, so I copied it over here, too. I’ve been thinking about consent for a long time, and these are .some. of the thoughts. There are a lot more where these came from.

  1. There are so many ways to say yes: a consent thread. This has been gnawing at me for a while, and I’ve been wanting to put something together for the last few years.  @genderqueerwolf got me thinking (their excellent thread is here: https://twitter.com/genderqueerwolf/status/1183819829813399555?s=20) and here we are.
  2. As always, people vary, make sure you check in with the people in front of you before you apply any of this with them. 
  3. Consent is not just for sex. How many times have you ended up in a conversation or situation you simply weren’t in the right place for because the person didn’t read you right?  So even though I’m writing mostly in the sexuality and relationship context, consider where else these might apply.
  4. Consent has become a very big deal, which is a good thing. I’m old enough to remember when it wasn’t, when you were just supposed to roll with it, when saying “no” meant you were possibly going to be ostracized, when wanting someone to check was considered weak.
  5. We are not over that judgment as a society, but we are working on that. Certainly in queer, kink, and other similar spaces things are changing faster, as is often the case–margins inward is not an uncommon model for social change.
  6. Explicit, enthusiastic consent has become the gold standard. Most educators boil this down to “say a clear yes or its equivalent, with expression and body language that says you mean it.”  Alternatively, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.”  Any exceptions need to be thoroughly prenegotiated and are still revocable.
  7. Consent answers some version of four questions: What do you/I want? How will I know you/I want it? Am I willing to give it to you/are you willing to give it to me? How will we know if we want the same thing?  (And not just for sex.)
  8. Consent usually comes up in the context of “how do you know if you’re hearing no?”.  I prefer to frame it in terms of “yes” because there are so many layers and degrees of yes. 
  9. But really it’s about saying yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no, and the (kind, gracious) negotiation in the middle.  Because in fact, consent is the territory of liminality, of navigating the grey areas.  
  10. A hard spoken no and a verbal enthusiastic yes just set the outer edges of the conversation.  There are two frameworks out there that deal with setting the container: 
  11. @genderqueerwolf mentioned FRIES and RACK as models.  Those are useful ways to encapsulate the basics.  FRIES: Freely Given, Reversible (or Revocable), Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific.  (https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/sex/all-about-consent)
  12. the RACK: Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (replaced the earlier and problematic Safe, Sane, and Consensual) standard offers the idea that you should know what risks you’re taking when you’re taking them,
  13. …and that you have to consent to the risk as well as the plan.  (in-depth discussion about this here: https://epochryphal.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/rack-vs-ssc-kink-consent-ableism-agency/)
  14. This helped me: Practice your yes and your no, and I mean this literally. If yes and no are hard for you, get a group of friends together and practice asking and answering questions that feel a little loaded.
  15. You want to build the neuronal pathways that allow you to say yes please and no thank you easily, and you will freeze less if you’ve done it a bunch.
  16. I used to freeze when someone asked to do something I didn’t want to do.  Now I can smile, make eye contact, and say, “no thank you” easily.  (Not that a smile is always in order, but when it is.)  I also used to say “maybe” when I meant yes.
  17. I had to practice being clear. There’s no shame in that, but it IS worth doing.  I am still learning to invite invitations.
  18. Sometimes a thing is a dealbreaker. If I come to realize that I’m polyamorous and the person I’m in a relationship is not, then there may be a moment of “unless we can do this, I cannot remain in this kind of relationship with you.” Know your limits and honor them.
  19. This does not extend to “If you don’t [do x thing] right now I’m leaving you.” That’s coercion, and is not ok.
  20. I’ve noticed as I age that some things become less negotiable and some things become more so.  Know yourself; be clear about what you can’t bend on and be clear and verbal about it.
  21. (That’s asking a lot; there are a lot of other ways of knowing and communicating and it’s not fair that some are privileged over others.  Recognizing that can take some of the ableism and bias out of the conversation.)
  22. Then there’s everything in the middle. “In the middle” includes yes-but-not-right-now, not-that-but-this-similar-thing, I’m-not-actually-sure, I-might-change-my-mind-and-I-need-that-to-be-ok, and let’s-explore-and-find-out. 
  23. This is the hard part. It can be delicious and sexy, and it’s where a lot of growth happens, and it’s risky as fuck.
  24. To some extent, every yes is a conditional yes.  A yes to “May I kiss you?” (for my money, one of the hottest questions in the English language) doesn’t answer how: fast, hard, slow, peck on the cheek, on the lips, on the back of your hand, on the palm?
  25. The next part of the negotiation often happens in motion: where do I lean?  When do I stop? What cues am I watching for?  Do I reach for your hand or lean toward your face?  Do you pull back or lean in? Do you smile? Part or lick your lips? Blink? In short: are you into this *right now*?
  26. Because if you’re not, I’m not interested anymore. But if I’m just misinterpreting your cues, that could lead to a much different ending than we wanted, even if we pretty much want the same thing.
  27. Consider things like neurodiversity, disability, trauma responses, and intercultural communication challenges.  There are a pile of things that change what enthusiasm looks like, access to and use of verbal and body language, etc. 
  28. Those are issues in any negotiation context, but especially in something so intimate as personal desire.
  29. So now let’s get to the interesting part: All of these models makes some assumptions and privilege some particular ways of knowing and communication.
  30. (That conversation could easily be its own thread because it goes far beyond consent and similar into things like academics and institutional power.)
  31. These things can be navigated but it helps a lot if they are worked out in advance and if the people involved are fluent in more than one language of consent.
  32. So what might that look like?  How do .you. give and get consent, and how do you share that information with people who need it?
  33. You can say it, if you can say it. You can have a document, an actual written thing, that says, “when I do x, it means y.”  You can share it with people who need to know.
  34. You can let them know that when you get to particular emotional states you shift communication styles.
  35. You can teach them about your culture, or cues, or disability and learn about theirs. All of that requires both emotional labor and energy.  But all of those allow the conversation to be more explicit, more clear, more useful.
  36. Here’s the trickiest part: sometimes, whether you have the capacity to be explicit or not, it’s delightful not to. Ambiguity can be hot.  But to get there you have to have a much deeper level of trust. And trust is not just about trust-not-to-fuck-up, it’s also trust-that-we-can-repair. 
  37. Trust is layers and layers of time and space and process, and relies on both people having some steadiness in themselves, and oh god this is a whole other thread, isn’t it?  (setting that aside for later…)
  38. Honestly, the best way to get good solid consent is to know each other for a while.  If I know what enthusiasm looks like, if I know when you freeze up, if I know when you struggle or stumble, if I know what the energy of your body feels like when you relax and then relax again, if I know that look in your eyes, then our communication is just .better. and our consent situation is going to be way more solid–
  39. …as long as I don’t assume I know better than you what you need or want in any given moment.  Don’t make assumptions. 
  40. Finally, remember why you’re in it. The thing that makes you want to be in the conversation (grace, connection, pleasure, delight, joy) is the reason to get it right, and the reward. 40/40
  1. Despite the fact that the “dominant learning/communication styles” concept has been largely debunked, I find it useful as a way of understanding interactions with the world.
  2. So let’s consider visual, verbal/aural, and kinesthetic/tactile as ways of communicating.
  3. If I want to do something and I ask, and you say yes, that’s the form of communication that’s privileged in not only the models above but also our legal system.  Of course, I have to .say. something that we both understand the same way.  Even words are tricky.  (Take “have sex” for example. What exactly does that mean?)
  4. If I want to do something and I let you see me move toward doing it, but I stop before I complete the action and wait with a quizzical look, that’s also requesting consent.  But you have to know what it means–know what I’m implying, know what the look I’m giving you means, and know how to respond in the negative or the affirmative.
  5. Kinesthetic/tactile is the hardest one to wrangle without some kind of other communication, because beginning contact without consent is a consent violation.
  6. And here we are with the first problem: where does the action begin?  If the person you’re with struggles with words, especially in spaces of high emotion, how do you talk about it?  If you can’t .talk. then what do you do?