Church this morning nearly gave me a migraine. See, a fair portion of the service was related to all the Chick-Fil-Hate hullabaloo this week, and the deep pain that it caused so many people. I’d spent the week arguing, raging, seething and hurting over the immense hatred that was flowing from the “gotta have straight chicken” and their “but what about the free speech red herring?” compatriots. It was an exhausting week, and while it was wonderful and healing to be amidst folks who shared in the hurt, just revisiting the topic sent my neck and shoulders back into the tension of that rage. The pastor’s message of “Hold on, better times are coming” was wonderful, but I still needed a massage when I got home.
While the plate was passed for the offering the image below was projected up onto the wall, I assume as a reminder that there are companies who aren’t trying to have people killed for being gay.
But there’s so much that they leave out. Coca-Cola may have wonderfully inclusive insurance, and they may include orientation and identity protections in their hiring procedures, but they also have a history of murdered union workers in their bottling plants in central America. What does it matter if they won’t discriminate against you for being gay if they’re just going to have you killed for demanding safe working conditions and fair wages. Their corporate headquarters may be a great place for LGBT people to work, but I’d bet those plants are not.
Hiring practices and sponsoring Pride parades don’t mean jack when you’re mistreating and killing your employees. You can’t be pro-gay and pro-slavery. Queer people are slaves. Queer people are union organizers. Queer people are textile workers in sweatshops.
Playing nice in the public eye doesn’t make you “pro-gay,” not when your murder, exploitation, slavery and unfair business practices affect queer employees and their families. You can’t be “pro-gay” when you’re anti-human.
A couple of the fetishes on my FetLife fetish list are things like consent, yes means yes and only yes means yes. These are big deals to me. In fact, they’re probably my only dealbreaker fetishes. I suppose that makes consent the only true fetish I’ve got. It is the one thing I absolutely must have in order to play with someone.
Because of this consent fetish, there may be a long time between expressing interest in someone and actually playing with them. Before I can do anything, I have to feel comfortable that the consent that’s given is fully informed and enthusiastic. That means talking about what consent means to us, talking about what exactly we do and do not want to do, talking about values, desires, expectations, demands. It means making sure that consent is not just an absence of “no,” but the enthusiastic presence of “yes.”
This can make things complicated. It means I won’t play with anyone who can’t or won’t have an open, direct conversation about what they want and need. It means that if someone prefers to communicate in hints and flirtations to the exclusion of directness, we’re not going to be able to do anything together.
Consent, to me, is so much more than negotiating and honoring safewords. It’s about getting to a point where I trust the negotiations are free from coercion. It’s about trusting that if consent changes or is revoked in the midst of a scene, that such will be communicated.
I see a world around me in which consent is not valued. Some people are socialized to accept that things are taken from them and others are socialized to take. Some are told to never say “No” and others are told to never take “no” for an answer. Women are often expected to, among other things, rebuff sexual advances even if they welcome them, and to welcome them even if they do not want them. We’re surrounded by a million cultural forces telling us what we should do, bending our will. Because of this, consent is a goal to reach under quite strained circumstances. If I’m going to tie you up, spank you, set you on fire, fuck you or engage in any other such delights, I need to know that the “Yes” I get from you is a yes that you mean, not one that you have given under duress, or because you’re expected to, or because you just figure you oughta. That’s what I mean by “Only yes means yes.”
It often feels to me that, despite all the focus kinksters put on consent and negotiation, there’s very little addressing how to do those things without coercion. Kinky settings can often lead to an expectation of availability. Just look at how many submissive women have to say things like “I’m a submissive, not your submissive.” There’s an expectation amongst enough folks that if you’re at a party, at a munch, on FetLife, open about being kinky, that you’re fair game because, hey, you can always say “No,” right? None of that takes into account social pressures, the conditioning that some people have to say “Yes,” the subtle ways that people can be coerced, or the effects of an expectation of availability. That’s why I like “only yes means yes” as a starting point. It’s not enough that someone can say no, that they can reject advances, that they can use their safeword if they need to. A panic button isn’t enough for me to call a situation consensual.
So I may go slow. I’ll likely ask very specific questions. I’ll assume that if we come to a consensual arrangement, that the consent is specific to that time, that place and those specified activities. Instead of saying “If you’re not comfortable tell me, and we’ll stop,” I’ll say something like “Are you comfortable with insert specific thing?” and I’ll stop unless I get a clearly affirmative answer.
Some folks think that asking for permission isn’t sexy. I think that it’s what makes what comes next sexy. You know how many times I’ve asked “Can I kiss you?” I’ve not yet had anyone who didn’t appreciate being asked. You think it’s not sexy to get a bottom’s permission before each new thing? You whisper in someone’s ear “I want to do X to you. Do you want that?” and have them repeat back to you what they want you to do and then tell me that’s not hot.
I spent most of my formative young adult years in an emotionally abusive relationship. I had to learn a lot of this shit the hard way, and I know I hurt some folks along the way in doing so. This is what it takes for me to be happy. This is what it takes for me to trust that someone’s yes is undoubtedly a yes. This is the best understanding I can get of what it means to negotiate the things we do when we live in a world infused at every turn by patriarchy, by kyriarchy. I love playing with power, but when power is so unbalanced in the world, and so abused, it takes a very serious, deep approach to consent for me to play with power in a safe, useful, respectful and feminist way.
My girlfriend digs pop country. It’s not usually my thing, but she’s turned me on to a handful of good songs. That’s what I get for writing off a genre completely, right? I end up missing out on good music. Thing is, I also miss out on a lot of utter crap, and that I’m good with.
Listening to songs about being country leaves me with the impression that to be country means to willfully narrow one’s experiences, to be anti-intellectual and to be convinced that these things make you superior to… everyone.
The one on my mind lately is “Bait a Hook” by Justin Moore. This little celebration of xenophobia sees the narrator criticizing someone’s new beau for such egregious offenses as caring about the environment, drinking fruity drinks and, god forbid, eating sushi. Mustering all his eloquence, the narrator says such a life “sounds like it sucks.” The chorus of this ditty?
He can’t even bait a hook
He can’t even skin a buck
He don’t know who Jack Daniels is
He ain’t ever drove a truck
Knows how to throw out a line, but not the kind in a field and stream book
No darlin’ I ain’t even worried, you’ll come runnin’ back
He can’t even bait a hook.
Now, setting aside the fact that the name of the man who gave us the ubiquitous Tennessee Whiskey was Jack Daniel, not Jack Daniels, this whole thing is the narrator saying “STOP LIKING WHAT I DON’T LIKE!”
This limited view of what is and isn’t country isn’t new. Hank Jr.’s “If Heaven Ain’t A Lot Like Dixie” and “Country Boy Can Survive” are two songs that I grew up on that have the same attitude. “If it’s not what I’m used to, then it’s crap!”
Things like this made me so very thankful for Johnny Cash’s words in his autobiography, Cash:
I was talking with a friend of mine about this the other day: that country life as I knew it might really be a thing of the past and when music people today, performers and fans alike, talk about being “country,” they don’t mean they know or even care about the land and the life it sustains and regulates. They’re talking more about choices — a way to look, a group to belong to, a kind of music to call their own. Which begs a question: Is there anything behind the symbols of modern “country,” or are the symbols themselves the whole story? Are the hats, the boots, the pickup trucks, and the honky-tonking poses all that’s left of a disintegrating culture? Back in Arkansas, a way of life produced a certain kind of music. Does a certain kind of music now produce a way of life? Maybe that’s okay. I don’t know.
Perhaps I’m just alienated, feeling the cold wind of exclusion blowing my way. The “country” music establishment, including “country” radio and the “Country” Music Association, does after all seem to have decided that whatever “country” is, some of us aren’t.
I grew up in the country. Country life made me who I am today. It influenced the way I think, the things I enjoy, the ideals I carry. My favorite snacks when I was a kid came out of mamaw’s garden. I’d walk next door and grab turnips, green onions and cucumbers out of the garden, wash them off with the water hose and eat them. I know that nothing storebought can beat the taste of yard eggs, and that snap beans taste best when you snap ’em yourself. I know how to milk a goat, and that you grab her by the ear and pop her on the nose if she tries to butt you.
I also hate hunting and fishing. Hell, I don’t even eat meat. I’d rather have good gas mileage than a giant pickup. I think Bud Light is shit and sushi is the shit. I’ll jump off the rope swing into the river with you, but you’re going to have to go gigging frogs on your own.
As I often do, I’ll defer to Don Williams’ classic “Good Old Boys Like Me.”
So what do you do with us? What about folks who were shaped by and love the country, but who find its trappings these days to be abhorrent? What do you do with those of us who like to read and write, who’d enjoy a glass of wine on the front porch, who’d fire up the grill and throw on some tofu or mushroom caps, but who also know what shade of yellow-green means to watch out for a tornado and that when all the cows are huddled in one corner of the field there’s rain coming? What do you do with those of us who can’t think of anything more beautiful than a star-filled silent night sky, and who wish that damn whippoorwill would shut up long enough for us to hear it, but who recite poetry when we see it?
If I were a lesser person, and I may well be, I’d turn Mr. Moore’s words back on him.
He’s never even read a book.
Hides his insecurities in a truck.
He has no clue who Walker Percy is,
and probably doesn’t give a fuck.
I’m wearing boots and a Wrangler shirt while I type this. I just got an email about the garden we’ll be planting soon. I’m in the middle of a book on the lives of Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Flannery O’Connor and, yes, Walker Percy. I cried when I saw Kris Kristofferson sing and on the day Johnny Cash died. With all due respect, Mr. Moore, if that ain’t country I’ll kiss your ass.
O God, make us children of quietness and heirs of peace.
~ St. Clement, from The Doubleday Prayer Collection
I have been wondering lately how the ubiquity of the Internet and the culture of the Internet at this point in time affect the ways we communicate and the ways I communicate. I have been and am thankful for the technology that has allowed for disparate voices to be heard and for connections to be formed despite geography. So many people now have the platform to share their thoughts with countless others, and to do so directly, mediated only by the technology. It has undoubtedly changed my life for the better.
But in some ways the effects have not been so wonderful. In the din of billions of voices I’m desperate to be heard, and I feel that most of the other people I encounter online are as well. We, perhaps, become more and more solidified in our thoughts (and in our hearts) because we are competing for a limited amount of attention from others. If we simply say it louder, strong and without compromise then we’re bound to get a stronger response, a stronger validation, right? Right?
I look at my own desire to be heard and the ways I’ve shaped my ways of thinking to fit into the instant-response culture of the Internet, and I’m not sure I like the ways I’ve been speaking and writing. If I don’t immediately respond to a discussion, it moves along without me. If I take the time to consider my response then by the time it’s ready to be shared it has become irrelevant. Faced with communication possibilities hardly dreamed of when I was younger, I see that slow, measured, considered communication is lost. Again I’ve given circumstances in which loud, strong, uncompromising communication is valued, especially when it’s instant.
In some ways we’re losing ourselves in the flood of humanity we’re exposed to daily. We respond to that by holding ourselves to stronger ideas of self, by having instant responses, by talking louder and faster in the hope that something, anything will be heard in the deluge of voices. We’re so desperate to be heard that we don’t listen. We don’t stop. We don’t allow ourselves to be changed by others. We’re so afraid that our silence means our own death that we refuse to listen each other into existence.
I crave more silence. I crave more listening. I’m afraid of losing myself in that listening, but if I truly believe what I recently wrote, that I only exist in relationship, then in order to live my self I have to allow for the vulnerability of hearing and being heard. That means letting go of the hard hearted core of “self” to which I cling and opening to the question of who I am and who we are. That means silences, both in turn and shared. I’ll never be more myself than when I truly hear and am heard by the Other.
O Jesus, Son of God, who was silent before Pilate, do not let us wag our tongues without thinking of what we are to say and how to say it.
~ Irish Gaelic Prayer, from The Doubleday Prayer Collection
Commenter APRYLLE (yes, in all caps) writes “For anyone to have the audacity to believe they have any right to tell a parent how they can or cannot proceed with something so personal is presumptuous and incredibly autocratic.”
Commenter Pam Komarnicki writes “Seriously, these people need to be tranquilized or something. I’d like to pass a “Mind Your Own Business” initiative.”
Jennifer H chimes in with “While I think there is nothing wrong with an uncircumcised penis I do not think a city or any form of government should have the right to tell me I can not do it.”
Ians mom thinks ” It’s all up to the parents, no one has the right to take that choice away!”
According to these folks it’s quite arrogant for the government to be stepping in and telling them about decisions regarding their children’s bodies. “No one has the right to take that choice away!”
Okay then, moms, what the fucking fuck gave you the right to have a part of your child’s body cut off? You want to talk about violating rights? You want to talk about who needs to mind their own business? A child’s penis isn’t the property of the parents. It’s not yours to make decisions about. The audacity is that parents think it’s okay to use “That’s what his dad looks like,” as an excuse to subject their child to useless surgery. They cry, “It’s cleaner!” You know what? So is a goddamn washcloth! Are you going to have his ears cut off so he doesn’t have to remember to wash behind them too? “He may have problems with the foreskin down the line.” Yeah, he might get appendicitis one day too, so are you going to have the doctor take that out now as well, while he’s young enough to not remember it.
It’s up to parents to care for children until they are able. I understand that. But children’s bodies are still their own. Making permanent surgical modifications to them before they are able to consent is vile and speaks of the arrogance of parents.