91: Consent As A Way of Being
Purpose can be a guiding light. It can also be a dark shadow. But we rarely talk about the latter. We explore that conversation in this episode.
Speaker 1: How to make love. Now, is that from recipe or from scratch? Laura: This is how to make love. Speaker 2: Wow. Speaker 3: Oh, gosh. Laura: Ooh. Speaker 4: Oh, my God. Laura: A little to the left and faster, a show that tests the edges of what love is, worthiness and beauty, sex positive, the borders it can cross how we do integrity in all of our relationships and its hidden costs and shadows. Speaker 5: In a world where we other other people, where we build walls and just tear down walls. Speaker 6: Fuck finding it or falling into it, our future depends on making it. Laura: Hey, my friends. I'm Laura, and you are plugged into a podcast all about growing your love, courage and justice muscles. Welcome. Let's jump right in. In this month's Ask Me Anything and community space that I hold exclusively for Patreon, so this podcast, a request came up for a podcast episode dedicated to consent. Thank you for this request. Thank you to all the members of that community and the radical, liberatory space you all hold with me once a month and your support of me and this podcast's financial aid.
BTDubs, if you all haven't checked out the new transcript feature on my website that Patreon support has enabled, it's super cool. Every episode moving forward will have a downloadable transcript. It's really, really neat, so thank you again, Patreons. I appreciate you, and here we go, an episode all about consent.
All right, let's start at the start. What is consent? On the one hand, it's one person or an organization or a team or an entity really giving someone else the sincere, true, very clear opportunity to say yes, no or maybe to a request and then honoring their response. On the other side of the coin, it's someone's willful yes, no or maybe.
When we talk about consent, we mostly tend to talk about it as the yes, someone consenting to a request, and that's huge. It's essential. Consent means yes only. If I don't give a yes, I don't give consent. It has helped me to think about consent with that specificity, in addition to thinking about it a little bit more broadly as those two sides of a coin or as two different roles that, at any given point, we might be playing and, as we are in either one of those roles or both roles, to know that consent is a practice and consent is a way of being.
When I'm in the role of responder, in other words, the person who is saying yes, no, maybe, with my yes being consent, I want to think about consent as a practice in addition to giving my yes or not giving my yes, and when I'm in the role or when we all are in the role of people making a request of someone else. Let's think about building a way of being that continually, perpetually, reliably, enables consent for other people. Either way, it's a practice. Consent is a yes and nothing else, and consent is also a practice and a way being.
For this episode, I want to break down some of the consent-based skills, practices, orientations on both sides of the coin or for when we are in either one of those roles. I also want to honor the ways that the conversation around consent has tended to focus on sex or sexual touch or touch or advancing generally. We all know the reasons for that. It's essential that we continue to focus here and have conversations around what consent means and how to build a culture of consent when it comes to sex and touch. Period.
I want to say this episode is not about touch or sex. It includes that, of course, but moving forward, that's not the sort of consent I'm going to be talking about. That's not the sort of yes I'm going to be talking about. That's not the sort of no I'm going to be talking about. I want us to talk and think much more expansively and radically about embodying consent and enabling consent in lots of different domains of our lives as a practice of love and courage and justice. Here we go.
If you have worked with me in a group setting for a revolution lab or a group coaching or a workshop, you have likely heard me ask even to people who have paid to be there and who have opted in to the event with me, I'll say, "May I ask you a question?" or, "May I offer a suggestion?" or, "May I add a little bit heat and push you here?"
A couple months ago, I went on a double date to reconnect with an old friend when I moved back to my hometown, and I was meeting his husband for the first time. I hadn't seen him in a long time, and I asked both of them if I could hug them. When I was at Trader Joe's this weekend getting groceries, I asked the clerk if it was okay with them if I helped with bagging. Before I jumped to assist someone when I think they might need my help, I asked, "Would you like help? May I help you lift that into your car?"
My language strives to give people the opportunity to say yes and, importantly, to say no or to say maybe. I believe consent is essential everywhere, anywhere. It's a practice of seeing someone else deeply and honoring their agency and their choice and checking ourselves on the ways that we sometimes think someone wants our "help".
As a white-bodied person in particular, using consent as often as I can is a critical part of my practice of justice. People conditioned by white supremacy and especially white people, sometimes we feel entitled, or act entitled even if we don't believe we're entitled, to touch. We can feel entitled to yes to someone else saying yes to us. We can feel affronted or offended by nos and take them very personally. We can feel entitled to people accommodating us, our requests, our bodies, our physical space, our anecdotal stories, our jokes and on and on and on.
Why is this white supremacy? Well, remember I talk about the construct and the system of whiteness of white supremacy, which all of us who live in the land now called the United States have absorbed. We have all been conditioned by it. We are all with very different consequences, very different benefits, very different realities, different contexts. We're all conditioned and trying to decondition the ways that the system has gotten up all inside our insides. Entitlement is a form of supremacy. It functions as a power play. It expects someone else to make room. When we plop that in the system with a history of erasure and violence and slavery and subjugation of people of color by white people, over time, habits form from that foundational orientation created long ago, habits of dominance, habits of entitlement, habits of ownership, and they are all racially charged and racially violent and exist in a living history and a living reality of a system that demeans, subjugates, controls people of color.
My expecting someone to move out of the way is plain old entitlement, assholery, dis-consciousness, and it holds hands with a historical and contemporary system that takes advantage of the bodies of people of color and seeks to enact superiority on to them. Even if that's not what I mean, even if that's not what I'm trying to do, I live and exist in a system that does. Consent is both a way to be less entitled, less of an asshole and even more conscious of the fact that we all live on this planet and need to share. When conscious, consent is also a part of my practice of undoing the automatic behaviors of white supremacy, undoing its tools, having antidotes as a conscious part of my practice of trying to unweave superiority and othering and dominance and entitlement and force and ownership from my body and from my way of being.
The more we practice consent, in addition to a lot of other things we need to practice, the more we get opportunities to undo these forces and these behaviors of oppression, the more we get to break apart that automatic gravitational pull toward oppression and dominance in ourselves and in our own world and in the world around us. When we limit the topic of consent to physical or sexual touch, and though, again, that is an essential, critical place that we need to focus on, but when we stop there, we miss out on so many opportunities for unlearning, for deconditioning, for healing.
When we limit the conversation of consent to just a very particular situation, we also limit our growth, and we limit the work of justice and liberation, so how can we practice? Let's remember that, at any given moment, we can be in two different roles, either as the person giving consent or the person practicing the way of being of consent, of extending consent. There are different skills, different needs, different opportunities in each role.
When you or we are in the role of using our words, our language, our body, our being to help enable someone else's ability to consent... and by the way, the word enabling, I'm going to ask you all to hold that sort of loosely. I don't mean to insinuate with that word that we can bequeath something to someone else, that we can bequeath consent, that we hold this superpower. Also, I want us to be more aware of the power that we hold, whether we like it or not, the way that our language, our body, our way of being can strip people of consent, whether we mean to or not. It's simultaneously true that no one needs us to enable something for them. Also, we can be clearer, more conscious practitioners of consent. By doing that, we will help enable other people to practice consent and to give their clear yes or no or maybe from a place of freedom.
Lots of tensions to hold here, but when we are in the role of someone making a request of someone else, how can we be a better and a more mindful practitioner of consent? Well, first, number one, you didn't enable consent if someone truly didn't have the freedom to say yes, no, or maybe. That means that you need to, one, ask, two, wait for a response and, three, honor the response or assume the response is no if the response is unclear to you. Practice asking clear yes, no, maybe questions. Work on your ability to ask a question and stop and wait for a response. That's a big one for me. Work on tending to your emotions and holding yourself when someone says no without taking that personally. That's a huge one.
For a lot of us, we hear no, and we throw a fit. I'm learning to delight in someone saying no to me. It means I asked a question so clearly that they really had choice, they really felt choice. It means I'm getting to witness someone making a declaration for themselves. It means our exchange was one that moved us both closer to freedom and agency. You may need to practice celebrating those, learning to see them as beautiful displays of freedom and choice rather than an affront to your goodwill.
Other things to keep in mind when we are in the role of making our request of others, I just want to reiterate that, if I ask a great question that enables consent, but I don't listen to or honor the response that the person shares with me, then I did not offer consent. For example, if I ask you if I can share my opinion with you and then you say, "I'm okay. I'd prefer you didn't," or, "I don't think so," and I share it anyway, consent was not actually offered because I didn't listen to your answer. I didn't care what your answer was. I did the thing I wanted to do anyway.
There's a huge practice of discipline, of learning to curb this drive we feel to just jump in any way, that we have to learn to sit with if we truly want to be folks who embody consent as a way of being. This example might sound silly, but it happens all day long, every day. Most of us are so unpresent, so distracted, so busy that we don't even realize we've bypassed a response that someone has offered to us. When we do that, we negate consent, if it was even offered in the first place through the use of our language, so, suggestion two, and I say this with love, learn to bite your tongue. Learn to stop. Learn to hear and learn to honor what's been given.
Third, a friendly reminder, that consent can be revisited, renegotiated and reversed at any time. A yes right now is not a yes later, and making assumptions that it is is harmful. It is an extraordinary practice in relationships of all kinds to renegotiate needs and boundaries regularly. We shouldn't see that as a loss or as an indicator that something is off. Life changes. Feelings change. Contexts change. It's a gorgeous sign of intimacy to say, "Hey, it seems like this was a yes before, and maybe it's not now. Can we renegotiate how this might be working for us?" Just remember, in the role of the requester, that a yes now is only a yes now and it's not necessarily a yes later.
Fourth, can we talk about helping people for a minute? You did not actually help someone unless you asked and they said yes. You may think you are helping, but you may actually be violating or even traumatizing.
I read an article recently written by a person with disabilities, physical disabilities, who relies on a wheelchair for their mobility, and they shared how violating it can be to them When people who are "trying to help" touch or push or move their wheelchair without asking for consent. Those folks truly believe that they're doing something good. They truly believe that they're helping by pushing the chair, and they walk away feeling like they did a nice deed, and the other person feels or even was potentially violated. You do not get to decide what is best for others. What looks like a person in distress to you may be another person exercising their agency or not wanting to be touched or needing to do something on their own for themself. They may also be in distress. The only way to know is to ask and get a clear response. Your good intentions or my good intentions are not more important than the need for consent, so help, by all means, help, but ask and get consent first.
Okay, fifth suggestion here for when we are in a position of making a request of others, we can continue to refine our way of being of consent. No matter how valuable you find someone else's work, images, art, thoughts, courses, materials or ideas, do not use them without consent. Do not copy them. When you respect a teacher or a mentor or a human, you lift up their work. You do not take it. Feeling entitled to use someone else's words, work or materials is a form of extraction. Get consent to use something. If you feel nervous asking, it's probably your internal ethics compass saying consent is extra important to get.
If you can't get consent for some reason, maybe because the person is famous, say, and they're not going to reply, don't take. Lift up. Shine a light. Give credit. Enable the success of other people. We are not entitled to take and use whether the context is a piece of art or a body or an idea. Again, this is all a part of the practice of learning to make your way of being one of consent. These are different arenas in our lives where we can be more mindful and better practitioners.
Remember, any example I've given in this entire episode, it can be racialized. It likely is racialized. All of these suggestions and tips become especially important practices, including this one, when the ideas, the language, the work, et cetera, is a person of colors. I just want to highlight that. The practice of getting permission, of asking for permission is important all the time with all people and no matter what our or their identity markers might be.
Last, and I hope this is obvious, but let's all remind ourselves a no is not a consent. A maybe is not a consent. Do not proceed in any interaction unless there is a yes. A friendly reminder, if you didn't ask, it's also not a yes.
Okay. I know, for me, as a survivor of sexual assault, when other people enable my ability to consent or at least show a mindfulness that consent is a real thing, it feels extraordinarily loving and healing to me. It helps me rebuild trust. It helps restore my faith. It helps provide opportunities for me to do my own healing work by declaring my yes or my no or my maybe for myself. I know we focus so far on how to embody consent by making sure we are extending opportunities to others when we are making requests, but I want to shift the focus now for when we are all thinking about our own nos, our own yeses and our own maybes.
I'm going to start with the importance of saying no casually, meaning, when we have the true opportunity to say no or advocate for a no and maybe choose not to say no for a variety of reasons. I'm not talking about when the option to say no is stripped from us. If you've endured that trauma, the next little bit about saying no when we can say no could potentially be pretty activating. Also, it might also be quite healing, so just go gently. Feel free to fast forward, but I want to talk about the skill and the practice and the healing and the freedom to say no for a couple of minutes, again, specifically in those casual day-to-day moments where we have opportunities to answer from a place of freedom, to answer freely.
First, a loving reminder, you get to say no at any point even when someone hasn't asked. I know that's likely intellectually obvious, but I can't tell you how many times folks come to coaching sessions frustrated with themselves that they didn't say no. I can't tell you how many times I have gotten angry and upset with myself for allowing something to happen that I didn't want, but I didn't say no. There are a lot of reasons we don't say no when we want to. Those reasons are extra charged for folks with marginalized and oppressed identities, who are conditioned over and over and over and over again to be accommodating, to get out of the way, to step aside, to defer.
I have a ton of compassion for those of us who have been taught that our no is irrelevant, particularly people of color. I'm holding my hand over my heart right now in tender solidarity for that special hell, it is, to be conditioned and reminded constantly that you don't really get a say. It makes every moment we do choose to say no all the more important, all the more healing, all the more revolutionary, all the more radical.
I'm not saying that there aren't potential consequences to that, no, for people with marginalized identities or people saying no to other people who hold power. There may be and, when you can, where you can, sing your no. Even when no one is there to listen, sing it as a love song, as a rage song, as a healing song. Your no is worthy. Your no is liberating. Your no is sexy. Your no or even your maybe, when you can give it is a courageous declaration of your freedom and my freedom and an act of love for humanity.
Tip number one, suggestion number one, practice number one, way of being. Number one, for folks who are responding to requests, don't be afraid of your no. It's healing for you and it's healing for the world. Practice number two, as we all know, sometimes our yes or no or maybe gets ignored. I can't prevent that, but I can tell you that having good, clear boundaries and communicating those boundaries to others as clearly as you can is a part of how we can embody a way of being of consent as people who are responding with a yes no, or maybe.
I'll do an entire episode on boundaries at some point because they involve a lot of skills. It is a difficult practice for many of us, but each of us knowing our limits, knowing our needs is good for all of us. What are your nos at work or in life? What are your limits? How do you know when you hit a limit? How do you communicate those limits? How can you invite others to be radical supporters of your boundaries? These are all things for us to think about. We are entitled to have boundaries and not communicate them. Period.
When we know our boundaries and when we communicate them as best we can, it's an active love toward others, but, most importantly, it's an act of self-care, not just having the boundary itself, but the communication of it, because the more I can communicate my boundaries, the more I am equipping others to proactively honor my requests, my needs, my time, my body, my limits and my fundamental agency.
One way to shore up our skillset and our way of being of consent is to deeply consider what those boundaries might be and do our best to vulnerably communicate them as often as possible. Every time I assert or declare or even tremble when I name my own boundary, I give myself a chance to heal especially as someone with a history of trauma where my consent was violated. My nose are healing. My boundaries are healing, and working to reflect on our boundaries and communicate them is a beautiful, essential practice.
Last suggestion here, I have shared this over and over in this podcast, but not in the context of consent, the more often we can ask ourselves what do I want, the better we can train ourselves to embody consent as a way of being, as someone who gets to say yes, no or maybe. You're not likely to magically know the answers one day to what you want unless you are in an intimate relationship with the question. It must be lived with. It must be practiced every day. What do I want right now? What do I want in the next 10 minutes? What do I want tonight? We have to honor for ourselves that the answer can change on a dime. The answer maybe I don't know. I might want vulnerability in one moment and not in another. I might want touch one moment and not in the next. I might want help right now and not tomorrow.
I implore you to ask yourself the question, "What do I want?" at least once a day. You don't have to do anything with the answer. You just have to listen and give your heart the opportunity to respond. It might not, but, remember, we're unlikely to wake up one day and realize we know exactly what we want if we aren't making the time to live with a question regularly.
All right, y'all, I hope these suggestions, practices, considerations provoke and challenge you in at least one way to be a more mindful, enthusiastic practitioner of consent, both as someone who gets to say yes, no, maybe and as someone who's making requests of others.
As a final suggestion here, please remember all of this content is super applicable if you are a part of a team or a leader of an organization. All of this content is relevant and applicable in a work setting as it is in relationships, romantic and not, as it is in parenting, as it is in community, as it is everywhere. An orientation, a practice, a way of being of consent is valuable and healing everywhere.
If you've got questions about the content, use the SpeakPipe link in the episode notes to holler at me. I love questions. They help all of us deepen our learning and our community, and last, y'all, it would be a real treat, happy Halloween by the way, if you sent this episode to someone you think might enjoy the podcast or encourage them to subscribe or if you leave a review on iTunes, please, and thank you my friends. It means a lot.
Okay, y'all, that's it for this month. I'll see you next month and, until then, may your way of being be evermore a way of moving us all closer and closer to consent, to agency, to freedom whether you're making a request or giving a response. I'll see you next time, friends. Bye for now.
Speaker 1: How to make love. Now, is that from recipe or from scratch?
Laura: This is how to make love.
Speaker 2: Wow.
Speaker 3: Oh, gosh.
Speaker 4: Oh, my God.
Laura: A little to the left and faster, a show that tests the edges of what love is, worthiness and beauty, sex positive, the borders it can cross how we do integrity in all of our relationships and its hidden costs and shadows.
Speaker 5: In a world where we other other people, where we build walls and just tear down walls.
Speaker 6: Fuck finding it or falling into it, our future depends on making it.
Laura: Hey, my friends. I'm Laura, and you are plugged into a podcast all about growing your love, courage and justice muscles. Welcome. Let's jump right in. In this month's Ask Me Anything and community space that I hold exclusively for Patreon, so this podcast, a request came up for a podcast episode dedicated to consent. Thank you for this request. Thank you to all the members of that community and the radical, liberatory space you all hold with me once a month and your support of me and this podcast's financial aid.