“Why haven’t they talked to me?”

Okay, gents. There are a number of you whom I respect and like who are apparently really baffled that you don’t hear about cases of sexual assault and abuse. Your questions come in good faith, and I believe that you mean well. However, let me tell you precisely how it sounds to me, every time: “I haven’t seen it, so I can’t be sure that it happens.”

I don’t say that so you will self-flagellate. I already know you mean no harm. Meaning no harm, in this instance, doesn’t matter. Let me clarify some things for you, from my own perspective. I can’t and don’t claim to speak for every survivor, or even any survivor but me. But I can tell you what I see in you, that lets me know you’re not safe to talk to.

First, you don’t believe me when I talk. I talk about assault all the time, because it’s part of what drives me and feeds my soul. I have binders and binders of information on what it looks like, how it happens, how often it happens, and how we can work both to prevent it and to help those who have already been its targets. And what you communicate to me when you say things like “I don’t know what to think, because none of my women friends has ever talked to me about their assault” is very, very clear. You’re telling me that if the information doesn’t come to you in the way you deem acceptable, you’re not going to listen, and you’re not going to believe. But wait, let me phrase it another way.

Every time I teach a class, every time I do coaching, every time I do counseling or advocacy or bring up sexual assault, I’m telling you about what happened to me. Because it did happen to me, and when I talk about “how to support survivors” and “secondary trauma” and “microaggressions” and “rape myths” and “shame, silence, and fear,” I’m talking about what happened to me, and still happens to me, all the damn time. I’m talking about how I was specifically targeted, groomed, and abused (on multiple occasions, in multiple ways), and about how my communities and friends and families reacted and still react to me talking about it.

If we’ve ever had a conversation about assault, and you think that none of your female friends have ever told you about what happened to them, you’re wrong. I have. Were you listening?

Second, you’re setting yourself up as a gatekeeper. You’re expecting women to come to you with their stories, so that you can decide whether to believe them. Are you going and reading, listening to, or watching the tens of thousands of stories available to you already? Have you actively sought the stories of women you know? Or are you, like so many other people, waiting for the survivors to come to you, to tell you about what happened to them – to US? We’ve got enough work to do already. We’re healing ourselves and trying to make a new life where the old one was smashed. We don’t have the time or the energy to make a list of every person who might want to know about our assault and abuse and seeking them out.

So, if you’re a man who doesn’t understand why no women have come to him with stories, I can’t tell you why other women haven’t. But I can tell you that there are more first-person accounts easily and freely available to you than you could watch or read in this lifetime, and if you want stories, you should go out and find them. If you want to know about the women in your life, ask them, and be ready for any answer they give – including “I’m not talking to you about that.” And I promise you, by the time you’ve spent a day or two seeking out and watching, listening to, and reading women’s stories, you’ll have a very good chance of understanding why the women in your life have never talked to you about it. By the time you’ve spent a week or two, you will understand why so many women stay silent.

And I’ll give you one last note, because I love all of you, and I think that there’s something that you need to do, but probably only once. I want you to go watch this video (TW: incest and rape), and then read the comments – out loud. I want you to hear what those people are saying, in real words in a real voice. These are the things people say to us, about what happened to us, and about how it defines us. In a world where that’s the story – that our survivorhood defines us, good or ill – we are very, very careful about what we say, and to whom. It’s too dangerous to do anything else.

The Agents of AWKWARD

(Or, a field guide to common behavioral pitfalls in sex-positive and other social spaces.)

Lieutenant Laser Focus

LLF is a person who finds one person they think is interesting and attractive, and immediately brings laser focus to bear on that person. They follow their person of interest through multiple conversations or multiple rooms, or try to monopolize that person’s time. They don’t mean to be intrusive – they just want to find out more about this Fabulous Amazing Awesome person! What LLF doesn’t understand is that by focusing too hard on a single person, they can easily make that person feel uncomfortable, and way more likely to avoid LLF in future. LLF needs to learn to spread that laser focus out some, and to divide attention between multiple people and conversations, so that the people receiving that focus don’t feel cornered or harassed.


Sergeant Sexytime

SS is here for the sexytime, and wants everybody to know it. SS makes every conversation about kink or sex as soon as possible, and keeps it there as much as possible. SS really expects to come to sex-positive spaces and automatically find a hookup, because that’s what sex-positive spaces are for, AMIRITE?!? What SS doesn’t realize is that many sex-positive folks don’t want to skip straight to the sexytime, and are uncomfortable making all conversations about sex or kink, all the time. SS needs a primer in talking to people about things other than sex or kink, and a gentle reminder that many people want to know more about their partners than just their red list and their safeword.


Special Agent Role Police

SARP wants to know everyone’s labels, because labels tell SARP how to think about and treat people. SARP knows with perfect certainty that there is one right way to be dominant, to be submissive, to be leather, to be anything, and will tell anyone with those labels right away if they deviate from the appropriate behavior. SARP has a deep and burning need to get everyone to conform to the right way of being their label, because anything else is just anarchy and insanity. What SARP doesn’t realize is that labels mean different things to different people, and that there’s no “right” way to be a particular label. SARP also doesn’t realize is that role policing is a great way to make enemies instead of friends. What SARP needs is a quick and firm clue-by-four that telling other people the right way to be themselves is rude and inappropriate in any setting.


Private Personal Space

PPS is a touchy, huggy, friendly person. PPS wants to feel connected to everybody, and thinks the best way to do that is to touch them. PPS is immune to verbal and nonverbal cues about personal bubbles and boundaries, because it’s just silly to think that anybody could possibly not want to be touched! What PPS doesn’t realize is that invading others’ personal space is very offensive, and that touching other people is a privilege, not a right. PPS really needs practice in thinking and asking before touching, in order to stop making everyone else feel uncomfortable and pressured into accepting unwanted personal contact.


Ensign Entitlement

EE really, truly believes that a certain label or position excuses behavior that is awkward or against the rules. EE often seeks out labels and positions that confer a certain level of authority (dominant, DM, etc) in order to excuse inappropriate behavior, and uses them to get away with things. EE is very certain that the things they do are okay, because of who they are or what their job at the event is. EE doesn’t realize that no label or position excuses rude or awkward behavior, and that people will avoid them no matter what excuse they give for how they behave. EE needs a reality check on their importance and their ability to see and respect others’ boundaries.


Special Operative Special Operative

SOSO spends their time explaining their incredible accomplishments, achievements and accolades. SOSO doesn’t have any way to prove that they’ve done, said, and bought all the incredible and impressive things they tell people about, but they have a great story about why all their accomplishments are Super Secret and Super Serious. SOSO is fascinated by their own grandiose life story, and believes that everyone else is, too. SOSO doesn’t realize that their flirting technique is, at best, so-so. SOSO believes their own tales, to the point that they can’t see how difficult it is to take a stranger’s word for such a vast array of unlikely events. SOSO needs intense practice at talking about something other than themselves, and keeping their own stories truthful.


Corporal Catastrophe

CC’s response to “How are you?” is a litany of terrible catastrophes, usually completely out of CC’s control, that can last for minutes or hours. CC is always in the midst of a crisis, and wants to share it with the world. It’s impossible to have a conversation with CC that isn’t about how CC’s life and luck are always on the rocks. CC doesn’t realize that conversation is a give-and-take about everyone involved, and that focusing exclusively on the negative in their life is a conversation killer. CC needs to work on bringing more of their own positives into the conversation, asking questions about other people, and listening to the answers.


General Jokester

GJ has moved through all the other Ranks of Awkward, and excels at making other people feel uncomfortable in a wide variety of ways. GJ’s secret weapon is “it’s just a joke!” GJ believes that any behavior is okay if it’s just a joke, and uses that excuse to justify anything and everything that makes other people feel awkward. GJ doesn’t realize that jokes can still be super awkward and make people actively upset. GJ needs to learn that joking doesn’t make unacceptable behavior okay.



Domestic. Intimate. Partner. (TW)

Domestic. At its roots, it means home, and hearth, and comfort, and safety. Domestic bliss. Domestic harmony. When I think of the story that domestic tells, it goes a little something like this:

It’s cold outside, and rainy. It’s the sort of dark, gray day that encourages most people to stay inside, and I’m no exception. It’s been a long week, and I’m exhausted in every possible way. I’m physically tired, mentally drained, emotionally spent, and all I want to do today is curl up and read a book. I know that, from the instant I wake up and hear the rain pattering down, and see the half-drowsy, twilight quality of the light, where there should be midmorning sun. It’s a day for staying in, staying warm, and thinking quiet thoughts and enjoying the quiet of my little world.

It takes me a minute to realize that my quiet little world smells like bacon and coffee, and there’s rattling in the kitchen. It’s a comforting, familiar sound. It’s the sound of home wrapping itself around me. It’s the sound of breakfast coming to tell me good morning, carried in the hands of my love, my friend, my partner. It’s the feeling of being cherished and comfortable and welcome. It’s the snuggly feeling of soft sheets and just enough blanket, and the absolute luxury of coffee and breakfast in bed. It’s that feeling where I don’t have to worry about anything, because I am at home.

Domestic means home, and home means safe. Being domesticated means being attached to home and family. Domestic is the kind of space where no one ever tells you that you’ve stayed too long.


Intimate. From Latin – first it was intimus, meaning “inmost.” Then it passed through intimare, meaning “to make familiar.” It means closeness, an intertwining, creating the familiar from the strange through a process of discovery and acclimation. It means opening up closed spaces and allowing them to mingle with each other to create a new space, that contains parts of all the others and something greater than any of the separate and disparate pieces. When I think of the story that intimate tells, it goes a little something like this:

My breath catches just a little, feeling the slide of careful, deliberate fingers exploring my skin. Each explored inch of me tightens, gets a little shivery, and sets up a resonating tingle just under the surface of me that only gets better as it grows. My whole body starts to hum like a tuning fork, becoming more and more focused on the sensation of skin on skin, breath on the fine baby hairs behind my ear, this whole and amazing person beside me relishing in the feeling of our bodies intertwined.

I feel a little lightheaded, a little anxious, a lot excited. Part of me wants to worry about what I look like, sound like, feel like – whether I’m good enough, whether I’m doing this right. I slide my hand down and lace our fingers together, feeling so simple and so right as our palms press in tightly, skin on skin. Our breath comes together faster as we explore each other, tasting the territories of our history, feeling our way through a dance that is never the same twice, no matter who dances it or how often.

We blend and burn together, joyful and overwhelmed at the sheer presence of each other, at this space we’ve created between and inside us that has so much room for everything we want to be and do and live. In that space in our skin and our hearts, we thrive together, a constant invitation to the other to come in, to understand, to cherish, to love, to learn, to grow.


Partner. It means working together towards a common goal. It means team, but more so. It means common effort, common energy, common drive. It means shared passion, shared vision, shared responsibility, shared joy. It means people coming together to make things happen, because they agree on what’s important. When I think of the story that intimate tells, it goes a little something like this:

Everything’s gone wrong today. Everything. Nothing has been easy, nothing’s just worked, and every single tiny little thing has been a war of attrition uphill both ways in the snow. It’s just a deeply frustrating, unsatisfying day.

You walk in and look at me, leaning against the doorframe. You fold your arms and raise an eyebrow at me, quizzical and ready to help. I sigh deeply and shake my head, gesturing at all the papers and chaos on my desk. I prop my elbows on that cluttered surface, and bury my face in my hands. I’m just so over it, and so fed up, and so everything.

You take the two steps into the room that bring you beside me. You put a hand on my shoulder, firm and warm. You take the seat beside me, and bump my shoulder with yours, just enough to let me know you’re there, and you know how I feel. Then you start organizing the chaos, asking just the right questions, helping me sort out some kind of system from today’s mess.

We work on that desk for the rest of the afternoon, and further into the evening than we usually would, just to get it completely cleared off and done, ready for tomorrow. We meet each others’ eyes over the worn, scarred surface, and smile at each other. It will have to be done again tomorrow, but we’ll be starting fresh, and working together. It will work out, because we can rely on each other, and because we’re pulling together, in the same direction. We can do this work, and we will make it work, together.


(Trigger warning here, folks.  Here there be dragons, of the emotional/mental/physical abuse kind.)


Violence. From the Latin violare – to treat with force, dishonor, outrage. It means to commit an act of force upon another, to cause damage. It many contexts it is a word that can be interpreted a variety of ways. In academic feminist circles, it frequently carries the connotation of acting dishonorably or unethically – applying undue force to another and causing harm. In a number of alternative sexuality communities, it can be and is used as a descriptor of consensual activities that are pleasurable for all involved. It tells a wide variety of stories, depending on the company it keeps.


Domestic violence. Here’s a story that can happen when we add “violence” to “domestic,” and watch the results:

It’s cold outside, and rainy. It’s the sort of dark, gray day that encourages most people to stay inside, and I’m no exception. It’s been a long week, and I’m exhausted in every possible way. I’m physically tired, mentally drained, emotionally spent, and all I want to do today is curl up and read a book. I know that, from the instant I wake up and hear the rain pattering down, and see the half-drowsy, twilight quality of the light, where there should be midmorning sun. It’s a day for staying in, staying warm, and thinking quiet thoughts and enjoying the quiet of my little world.

I get up quietly, trying not to make any noise. I pad across the semi-dark bedroom and pull the door mostly closed, hoping to muffle any noise from the kitchen. I don’t want to wake anyone up, because it’s so nice to be able to make breakfast and have it waiting. It’s so nice to be able to start the day off well, and make everyone happy. I start the coffee brewing and pull out the bacon, thinking of whether pancakes or waffles would be better. I don’t know. Sometimes pancakes are the right answer, and sometimes waffles are. I haven’t figured out how to determine the right answer without asking, and asking is just as silly as fixing the wrong thing.

It’s not bad all the time. Sometimes I fix the wrong thing, and nothing happens except a comment that the other choice would have been better. But sometimes… sometimes I fix the wrong thing, and a lot happens. I end up by myself for a day or two, alone in a house that still has other people in it, because I made people unhappy by fixing the wrong thing for breakfast. Or for asking what the right thing was, on a day when it wasn’t okay to ask. Or a coffee mug gets smashed on the counter, or on the floor, because I’ve made someone so angry by asking or by making the wrong thing, and then there’s coffee to clean up, and the mess is my fault, too.

So it’s just guessing. There’s almost a pattern, and I’m sure if I just pay enough attention, I’ll figure it out. Then I’ll always get it right, and none of this will happen. Then we’ll only have happy mornings, because I finally managed to figure out something as simple as cooking breakfast. I won’t be making people disappointed or angry or tired by doing the wrong thing or asking at the wrong time. All I have to do is figure out how to do the right thing, and everything will be fine.

After all, we’re all so happy on the days I can help start us off right by getting breakfast right. Well, some of those days, anyway – at least the ones where nothing else goes wrong, or where I don’t screw up some other simple thing. The days where everything goes right are so peaceful, and so happy, and I feel so loved and so safe. I hope I will get it right today, because I’d really like to have one of those good days again. It feels like it’s been a while since that happened, and I could really use a good day. So, if I can just get breakfast right, maybe we’ll all have a good day, and then I won’t have to worry about what will happen because I didn’t get it right. I try not to worry that it seems like it’s getting worse. Who wouldn’t get frustrated with me, when I can’t even get breakfast right?

Well, that’s not good. I’ve gotten tears in the batter bowl again, and I don’t even know why I’m crying. It’s just breakfast, and it’s not like I’ve even heard anyone else awake yet. So I’ll start the batter over, and go a little faster, so that breakfast isn’t late. Even the wrong breakfast is better than late breakfast, and I really want us to have a good day. The good days are so good, and I could really use one of those. It feels like it’s been a while since we had one. So, if I can just get breakfast right, maybe we’ll have a happy day.

It’s just pancakes. Or waffles. So all I have to do is pick right.


Intimate partner violence.

We know all the geographies of each others’ history. We have explored each others’ bodies and lives and minds as much as separate people ever can. I know you love me. I know you want the best for me. I know you just want me to be happy. I’ve relished the days where you did nothing but spoil me until I thought I would ferment. I’ve seen you work for hours and days and weeks on projects that were created just to make me happy. You’ve sweated and bled and cried to make me happy. You’ve put so much time and love into understanding me, into really seeing into my heart, and into making me happy.

It’s just… I’m trying to be happy for you, and I can’t quite seem to make it. We talked about how I don’t like surprises, and how I’d rather help you plan for things, but you just keep making these big plans and decisions without me, to make me happy. It’s like you think that if I just get surprised by you doing things often enough, that I’ll start liking surprises. I wish you would listen to me about that. I try to be happy, because you’ve put so much work into those kinds of surprises, and it would be ungrateful not to be happy. But I still really don’t like surprises. And that’s not really getting better. It’s actually kind of getting worse, because I know I can’t be happy enough to show you I love you and I’m grateful for what you do when you do that.

I don’t want you to think I don’t love you. I do love you, and we’re perfect for each other. I just wish I didn’t disappoint you so often by not being excited and grateful for the things you do for me. I miss you when you’re gone working on things for me, cooking up some new surprise. I just wish you’d tell me where you are when you do that, or what you’re working on. I keep trying to figure out how to like surprises, but every time I can’t be happy enough, it just piles up.

I know it makes you sad when you’ve worked on something so hard, and I don’t appreciate all your effort. I wish you’d talk to me before you do that, because sometimes it’s something I’ve actually asked you not to do. I’m sure I didn’t say it clearly, or you forgot, or it was just a misunderstanding. You love me, and you’d never do anything to hurt me. You just want me to be happy. It’s just really hard to be happy when you make decisions that make things harder on me. I know that makes you sad, and I’m sorry. I will try to be better about that, because I really don’t like to make you sad. I miss you when you can’t be around me, because I wasn’t happy, because I didn’t appreciate you, because I didn’t love you enough to be happy for you. I’m trying to do better. I promise I’ll work on it.

I think I’m doing a lot better at it these days, because you really scared me the one time. I know it makes you sad when we fight about the things you do for me, and I love you, and I am trying to make you happy, too. I know it hurts you when we fight, and I know that it makes you feel awful when I can’t show you how much I love you. I’m so sorry, my love. I would do anything for you, and I’m trying to learn how to show you how happy I am, how grateful I am, how much I love you.

If I can figure out how to love you enough, how to be happy enough, how to be grateful enough, maybe you won’t ever really hurt yourself. That thought scares me more than anything. I love you so much, and I don’t want to make you hurt yourself. I don’t ever want to make you so sad that you feel like you have to. I’m so afraid that I won’t be happy enough over something big, or something that doesn’t seem big to me, but means the world to you. I love you, and you love me, and we want each other to be happy more than anything. Please, please help me learn how to be happy enough that you’ll be happy, too.

It’s hard, learning how to be happy enough for both of us. But I love you, and I’ll figure out a way. I don’t ever, ever want to make you sad. I don’t ever, ever want to hurt you. I will find a way to be happy enough for both of us, because then maybe we can both stop being so afraid of being unhappy.

I will learn to love surprises. I’ll find a way. Because I know I can’t live without you, and I couldn’t live with myself if I made you hurt yourself. I know you only do these things to make me happy, so that my life will be better, and I’ll learn to appreciate it. Please believe me. Please let me find a way to be happy enough. I love you. You’re my whole world. I’m so sorry I’m not happy enough. Please, please let me fix it. I’ll learn to love surprises. I will. I would do anything, for you, to make you happy.


When you hear me talk about the dangers and harms of “why didn’t you just” and “why don’t you just” questions, it’s because of stories like these. Stories of real people, living real and complex lives, doing their level best to find a way through with people they love. Domestic violence – violence in the one place that should be most sacrosanct and precious. Intimate partner violence – a dishonor and an offense to the deeply tender, dedicated places in all of us that reach out to connect with others like us. These stories are never easy, never simple. The decisions in them aren’t, either.

Domestic. Intimate. Partner. Remember what all these words meant, what all these stories looked like, before violence entered the picture. Those stories are still real, still affect us, still have power to ensnare us and render us confused, optimistic, and stubborn. We try so hard to get the good stories back that we stay in the bad stories far longer than would ever seem sensible from the outside.


Tory Bowen, Pamir Safi, and Jeffre Cheuvront: This is why we know better

So, things I forgot happened, and didn’t follow up on at the time (h/t to Jessica Valenti, from whose article I started following this bunny trail):

 In October of 2004, a man named Pamir Safi allegedly raped a woman named Tory Bowen.  You’ll see why I say “allegedly” in just a moment.

 In November of 2006, Safi went on trial.  The trial judge was a man named Jeffre Cheuvront, a Nebraska district judge.  We’ll gloss right over the fact that it took two years to get to trial.  From a Slate article on the case (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2007/06/gag_order.1.html): “Last fall, Cheuvront granted a motion by defense attorneys barring the use of the wordsrape, sexual assault, victim, assailant, and sexual assault kit from the trial of Pamir Safi”

 Think about that for a second.  No one in that courtroom was allowed to say rape, sexual assault, victim, assailant, and sexual assault kit.  The victim, the prosecutors, and all witnesses were required to use “sex” instead of “rape,” and to say “sexual kit” instead of “sexual assault kit,” and similar substitutions.  In order for the victim to testify at trial, she was required to use “sex” to describe an act of rape, which is both untruthful and retraumatizing.  Talk about a no-win situation.

So what happened at trial?  The jury was hung, 7-5, and a Cheuvront declared a mistrial.  The jurors didn’t find either the victim or the defendant credible, in no small part because they were never told about the restriction on vocabulary that the judge enforced. (http://journalstar.com/news/local/jurors-saw-witnesses-differently/article_11d54ffb-89a2-5b94-8f7e-f1c096976162.html)  Let me run that by you one more time: everyone participating in that trial was forbidden from using “rape,” “sexual assault,” “victim,” and several other terms – except the jury.  Everyone participating in that trial knew there was a language restriction – except the jury.  Jurors from that case have specifically stated that they found the victim less credible because of her choice of language, and because of the delivery which the language restriction caused.

So, in my interpretation: they placed limitations on Bowen’s speech that caused her to be complicit in the hung jury at her assailant’s trial.  If that’s not secondary trauma, I don’t know what is.

But wait, it gets better.

There was a second trial scheduled, with jury selection held in July 2007.  The order requiring all parties to refrain from using “rape,” “sexual assault,” “assailant,” “victim,” etc. was also declared for the second trial.  Cheuvront declared a mistrial during jury selection in that case, citing the media coverage and protests regarding the first trial.  Let me see if I’ve got this straight… the trial judge made a controversial ruling to protect Safi from the jury’s perceptions of words like “sexual assault” and “assailant,” and got a hung jury the first time at least in part because of that controversial ruling (which he did not disclose to the jury).  Then, when the prosecutors came back for round 2, he declared a mistrial during jury selection based on the extensive coverage of that very same controversial ruling.

I’ll freely give you that it may have been impossible to select an unbiased jury at that point, and Cheuvront in that instance may well have been upholding his judicial duty by declaring a mistrial.  Let’s look at what happens to Bowen, though – remember, the woman that Safi allegedly raped in 2004?  It’s now been three years for her – three years of being up to her eyeballs in these proceedings, three years of having to tell and re-tell her story, three years of being questioned and interviewed at the exact same time that the judge in her assailant’s trial is silencing her.  For double bonus points, have a look at the complaint in Bowen v Cheuvront, which makes it explicit that Cheuvront blamed the mistrial on Bowen for speaking publicly about the gag order and signing an online petition. (Complaint: http://wp.me/a45kJg-17 Dismissal: http://wp.me/a45kJg-18)

So, after the second mistrial, the prosecutors declined to pursue a third trial.  Honestly, I can’t say that I blame them.  I’m disappointed by that decision, but I acknowledge that I know very, very little about the circumstances under which they decided not to pursue the case anymore.

That’s when Tory Bowen decided to file a complaint against Jeffre Cheuvront, trying to find a legal avenue by which to start redressing the issues created by his gag orders. (http://journalstar.com/news/local/judge-in-sex-assault-case-sued-by-alleged-victim/article_348c8d4c-314a-5864-bdce-639f1492a754.html)  SPOILERS: her complaint was repeatedly dismissed, and no judgment in her favor or against Cheuvront was ever issued, for a variety of reasons.

Two mistrials and a lawsuit later, and Safi has never been convicted or paid any price for the rape of Tory Bowen.  He’s been raping women since 2001, at least. “Bowen’s allegation marked the third time since 2001 a woman has claimed she was sexually assaulted by Safi. Neither of the previous cases resulted in a conviction, but both of those women were permitted to testify for the state at Safi’s trial.  ‘That particular evidence was why we were deadlocked,’ said jury forewoman Cheryl Larson, who favored acquittal.” (http://journalstar.com/news/local/jurors-saw-witnesses-differently/article_11d54ffb-89a2-5b94-8f7e-f1c096976162.html)

Pamir Safi has raped at least three women, and never been convicted of it.  This is what trying to prosecute a rape case looks like.  This is why so many victims are hesitant to go the legal route.  This is why trying to explain that the legal system is the best, or indeed the only, way to respond to sexual assault is disingenuous, at best, and often simply an easy way to intimidate victims into silence.  We know what we’ll face if we step into the legal ring with our attackers and our abusers.  When you tell us to go to the cops or shut up, most of us will choose to shut up – and we’ll do it just because we aren’t willing to destroy our whole lives responding to an event the way you think we “ought to.”

Our Community, Our Responsibility – class notes and resources

You can find the pdf of the handout, including resource links and exercises for the tools we went over in class, here.

As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to post a comment or send me a message! 🙂

We Can Handle The Truth – Class List, Day One

DAY ONE: Knowing is half the battle

Day one is 3 classes, all focused on showing the problems we’re currently facing. We can’t solve anything if we don’t understand the scope of the problem. So in the first day, we study together to understand the patterns that we already see, and how to identify them in everyday life.

Our Play, Our Lifestyle, Our Life: We talk about self-policing. We talk about vetting. We talk about due diligence and personal responsibility and how to keep ourselves and each other safe. Now we’re going to look at how the patterns we’ve created are dangerous for all of us, and how we’re perpetuating a community that hides and protects predators, while shaming and silencing victims. It’s not a fun conversation, but it’s one that’s absolutely critical. We’re going to do the work of learning how we’re getting it wrong, so we can start getting it right. THIS CLASS IS: Rape culture 101, with an emphasis on patterns and behaviors present in the BDSM community. Overview on: what rape culture looks like, where it comes from, tools and techniques for calling it out and changing expectations in personal life and community.

It’s Not What You Think: No matter what you think it is, it’s not what you think. Consent violations and sexual assault follow predictable patterns, but they’re not the patterns we see in movies, on tv, and in books. We’re going to study what consent violations actually look like, especially in our own communities, and how to identify them as or before they happen. THIS CLASS IS: Identifying and addressing the stereotypes about consent violation and assault. Surveying and analyzing examples where the stereotypes are wrong and harmful. Emphasis on practical exercises in identifying and acting on consent violations that do not match the common stereotypes.

This Ain’t Your Mama’s Kinky Checklist: This is how we start getting it right. We’re going to talk about what a consent model is, what consent-positivity looks like, and how we can support ourselves and each other to do what we want, when we want, with whom we want, how we want. We’re going to study and begin to understand what a truly consent-positive culture looks like, so that we can see the world we’re trying to build. THIS CLASS IS: Consent culture 101, with an emphasis on how to create consent-positive habits in a play- and power-oriented BDSM community. Overview on: enthusiastic consent, difficulties in giving and/or soliciting enthusiastic consent, and tools and techniques for supporting enthusiastic consent in personal life and community.
See the ongoing discussion thread HERE (NSFW)

But What’s Your Real

It starts at the “but.” There’s almost always a token pacifying “yeah” in front of the “but.” Because if you start with “yeah,” there’s no way you can be disagreeing or questioning or denying someone’s identity, right? You said “yeah” right up front – you must be on my side!


So very much no.

This is what it looks like:

  • “Yeah but what’s your real name?”
  • “Yeah but where are you really from?”
  • “Yeah but what are you really?”

That last one is especially pernicious. It’s almost always about gender and/or assigned sex, and you can tell because of the distancing “what.” Not who are you, really, but what are you, really.

My real name is the name I choose for myself. The name I choose has more meaning and more power than anything decided for me by people who had not even met me yet. My real name is the name that my heart answers to with pride and joy. You’re trying to ask what my legal name is, and the fact that you think it’s important tells me a lot of things I need to know about you. If you want a state-approved document to prove that anything about me is “real,” then we don’t have anything to talk about.

Get back to me when you see me as a person in my own right, and not just as a bit player in your own personal movie. Stop trying to describe me to the casting agent in your head with boxes that cut pieces off me. Stop trying to get me to agree that your boxes are more important and more valuable than my personhood.

I’m not going to make arguments on ethnicity or gender identity, both because there are many other people who know more about those axes than I do, and because neither of them will have very much effect on my life until I can stop having to fight battles about my “real” name.

Your real is not my real.

My name is my name.

When you imply or state otherwise, you’re saying that what you think, what the government thinks, and what any number of other people who ARE NOT ME think is what’s important. You think my name has to have backup in order to be valid.

My name doesn’t need a posse.

My name is real, and meaningful, and powerful.

My name is Motley. Nice to meet you.