Thursday, April 4, 2013

Creating Consent*

Sometimes I wonder why NO is taken so personally.
We live in a world where women's bodies are other peoples' properties. Even here in the "western world" where the phrase "no means no" was supposed to mean something. Now, it's just a phrase. This post, although sounding like a reflection to 'rape-culture' currently in the media actually has everything to do with my illness as lived by a woman. You see, when a woman is pregnant stupid people still think they have every right to touch her belly to feel her own fetus. A woman isn't thought able to make our own choices. I'm being sarcastic but truthful. I'm a feminist. I took women's studies in both undergrad and graduate schools. I'm not a man-hater, despite devoting my intimate life to a woman. It's just taste. Like wine: liking one type doesn't imply that one hates the other, they simply know what they prefer. That's all. In fact, I spent much of my career helping men...a feminist knows if you want to chagne something, begin with the men.

Anyway, I'm straying again... so what on earth does consent have to do with being palliative, or being ill for that matter? Everything. In this society, despite being taught that women have the right to say no, speak up for herself or make her own decisions, those decisions or NO's are still second-guessed. Not just second guessed, but women are expected to defend their position because all too often the receiver of their decision takes it personally.

Why can't a woman make her own decision without it having anything to do with 'the other'? The simple explanation that women are always the viewed, never the voyeur (or at least that's how I learned in gynergenic art history class). To be more blunt: women are always in relation to something else, never  accepted as an independent organism unto themselves. So, when she says "no thank you", it's assumed the no has something to do with the other person. When a man declines an invite, it stands. Period.

Illness? Palliative?
There are well meaning folks who insist on being a part of my process but I never asked them to be. That's where the notion of consent comes in. Perhaps I should explain it another way: why are (my) boundaries always taken personally? Why does my "no thank you" have to do with your own grieving process? You don't need me to process losing me. You need your own therapist, friend, partner, etc. NOT me. I have enough on my plate already then to entertain folks who want to be supportive. Support comes in asking. Support comes in consent. Support comes in not taking it personally if I exercise my right to say NO.

When I was in the hospital I had a visit from a couple that I'm not even close to. I never had ill-feelings towards them, we just weren't close. Their visit however was non consensual. (They irony is that this particular couple speak about consent!). Actually, I think it's sad, not ironic that they could visit, unannounced, without consent, and then overstay their visit. People also assume that because they know you, consent is implied. Hm, sounds like another excuse to bypass the process of asking. I had another situation where someone who was once close also broke many boundaries, boundaries that perhaps weren't there years ago when we were tight. Times change, people change  and even if they don't, you still need to ASK.

So here's the second part to consent. Being able to exercise our voices through asserting boundaries. Sometimes boundaries unintentionally hurt others. That's hard to avoid especially when others' intentions are well-meaning. If we (women) do say NO we are seen as bitches, not nice and cold. Yet we continue to do it to each other, and allow ourselves to become people-pleasers. I could have told them that it wasn't a good time. I did tell them, many times, when I was tired and I wanted to rest. But that aside, the fear of hurting their feelings made it so that I didn't say "not a good time" when they just showed up, without consent. I see the intention in people and it inspires me and even moves me. It's that feeling that keeps me from setting a boundary. So I end up hurting myself rather than the ones who were non-consensual to begin with.

There was another occasion where a very clear boundary was crossed which resulted in my deleting said folks from social media. I'm proud of myself for the boundary but sad that it had to come to that. It hasn't stopped there.

Folks, as well-meaning as they are, have been crawling out of the woodwork it seems to 'get a piece of me' while I'm still alive. For a while, I thought "what do I have to lose, I'm a nice person who can see their intention" however the more I reflected on it, the more I realized that I am a nice person, and it's time to be nice to me. My time is my time and I have every right to say no and if someone takes it personally, that's their issue with NO, not mine. If they are struggling with the thought of mortality and youth (yes, I still think I'm young, despite being 40) then it's up to them to get the appropriate help, read the appropriate literature etc. It's not up to me to give up some of my precious time to help them through it simply by being a presence.

As I moved into my recovery community I moved out of the women's 'alternative' community. As time progressed all I heard were new discussions on the importance of consent versus non consensual acts etc. but loads of people not practicing what they preach outside of the 'discussion' venues. I don't miss the politics or people walking all over my/your no, well-meaning or not.  I'm not suggesting that everyone on a spiritual path or 'in recovery' is respectful, but I've had an overwhelmingly positive experience of 'those folks' asking before doing anything. None of 'them' in my life make assumptions. Most of them don't take it personally when I say no or 'another time' and they sure as heck don't ask for an explanation. No means no period. I've been so blessed to have some of those folks in my life.

All this to say it's never too late to turn over a new leaf. I'm starting to say NO and if you're on the other end of the NO it isn't because I don't like you, it's because my energy is going elsewhere. Some of the time it's with close friends/family but most days it stays with me. I'm spending time immersing myself in creativity - allowing my soul to speak while I still have the chance. Afterall, if you can't do what you love during your last chapter, then what exactly are you doing?

*"creating consent" borrowed from a friend and her brililant response to 'rape culture'. She's building curriculum "creating a culture of consent". Support it at