Creating a Culture of Joyful Consent

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By Rachael Goss
October 13, 2015

Part 2 in an Agency series: Confronting Sexual Assault on Campus

I’ve never called myself a survivor of sexual assault. What happened to me wasn’t exactly rape, but it wasn’t exactly consensual either. Somewhere around my senior year of college, I began partying a lot. One evening, I dropped acid with a male acquaintance. Things started out pretty great; we shared interesting conversation and enjoyed listening to music together. Then I started tripping pretty hard and things suddenly turned sexual between us. I don’t remember much about how it started, but I remember that he initiated it. I remember most vividly my ambivalence. I found my friend attractive, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to have sex with him.

I couldn’t think clearly enough to decide what to do. There was no pause, no break in contact, and no real opportunity to reflect on my desires. And by the time I was able to decide that I didn’t want to sleep with my friend it was already happening. I remember coming in and out of consciousness and eventually just “turning off” so that I wouldn’t have to face the emotional dissonance that I was experiencing. I don’t entirely blame my friend for this encounter—his decision making was also impaired—but I think it speaks to a broader cultural norm that we both had been taught: That it’s safe to assume that sex is on the table unless otherwise explicitly noted.

When I think back to most of the sexual experiences of my 20’s—this sentiment is echoed throughout. Sex just sort of happened—very rarely was I asked to explicitly give consent for my sexual behaviors. By my late 20’s, however, I began reading about feminist and anarchist politics and I learned that this cultural script was inherently problematic.

At the heart of anarchism are discussions about power—how we use it, how we share it, how we internalize systems of oppression, and play out those dynamics in our daily lives. Anarchism, as defined by Cindy Milstein, is a “philosophy of freedom.” It’s about finding better ways to organizing our lives and our social relationships without the coercion of the State. We ask each other to come to the table ready to negotiate and develop “voluntary social relations” that move beyond hierarchy and control.

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