[This is not really something I ever anticipated writing on my blog, but I felt like I had to.]
On June 6th 2003 I made the conscious decision to join a lifestyle with the slogan “poison free” – the poison is sometimes debatable, but the main evils are substances that alter your state of mind, such as cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. I “claimed edge”, that is to say, I decided to follow this lifestyle called straight edge after reading a lot about it and feeling that it was and is exactly what I believe in. I am not here to give a detailed overview of what is and what is not straight edge. Straight edge is a subculture that has been around since the 80s, it is heavily linked to hardcore [punk] music, sometimes classed as a cult, and really not that easy to explain. But for me, it was about taking control of my own life and actions, of staying clear of being an addict, and I didn’t really have much of a subculture, because I was alone in this endeavour. I still am, mostly, a lone straight edger. I don’t do it to be cool. I don’t do it because it is a trend. I don’t do it because I want to belong [because it is kind of the opposite of doing things to belong]. I do it to be me. My body, my rules.
It is now thirteen years later and this whole topic is still so extremely relevant and important, I could not help but write a post. Straight edge is not about sex, not about “you cannot have sex, not even masturbate” and also not even about “you can only have sex within a committed relationship” – there is nothing about sex in straight edge, just so we’re clear. This was’t always clear to me, so I wanted to get that straight. [heh.] If you know about straight edge and are confused/ want to know about that, here’s an excellent read.
No. There is no real connection between straight edge and sex. But there is one between alcohol and sex? or so some people want to think. But they are wrong. It’s more about alcohol and CONSENT. I wish I could underline that three times, because consent is freaking important. Maybe like this:
CONSENT!!! IS!!! IMPORTANT!!!
This morning, thirteen years after my “I want to regain control over my own body” decision to claim edge, I read the letter that rape victim called the Stanford Victim wrote to her abuser. It is a very heavy read. It fills me with anger and disgust and sadness and despair.
It’s baffling to me how it’s 2016 now and some asshole rapist uses “college campus drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that” [whatever that even means?] as some sort of excuse as to why he is a rapist. Newsflash: it’s not the alcohol that makes you an abusive asshole. He says “one night of drinking can ruin a life” but this letter makes it more than obvious that it ruins more than one life when you’re an abusive asshole.
I don’t want to be that person that turns a shocking event in a “look at me” kind of way to be all ~hey guys I’m relevant~ but the Stanford Victim letter inspired me. I have kept quiet for way too long about this. We do not deserve to live in shame and taboo because asshole abusers will find excuses. It’s not about alcohol, it’s about consent.
Yes, the drinking culture in the UK shocked me when I lived there, but I wasn’t sexually abused by people under the influence of alcohol.
When I experienced incidences of the crossing of my boundaries, the other parties weren’t drunk or high. They were fully aware of what was happening. I have had to be the explaining party, be the one to say that what was happening wasn’t right. And somehow, even though I was the one who felt violated because, well, my consent was violated, I had to respond to “wow okay, uhm, you made me feel like I raped you – I didn’t rape you, did I?” with some sort of comforting reassurance that it’s okay, you’re not a rapist monster, just, you know, stop when people say stop? please?
I have never spoken out about being abused by my then-partner because I didn’t want to be the ‘bitch’ who paints people in a negative light after they dumped me really soon after – they have a tough life, I don’t do things right all the time either, this, that, all sorts of things that go through your mind because well, humans make mistakes. I am careful to use the word ‘rape’ because it is a heavy word with big impact. I was not raped.
But these things still reverberate to this day – when will it be enough? When will people learn that consent is not the absence of ‘no’ or a back rub does not mean ‘yes’. (!!!) When will it stop? Even if I was not raped then, I still want to send out this message: sexual abuse is not always done by stereotypical rapists monster types. I was taken advantage of by someone who was my partner, someone who I trusted. Just because we had had sex so many times in the past, because I had consented to one act, does not mean that it gave them the right to continue when I said “no”. And luckily for me, I might have been able to tell them that later – to hopefully prevent things like this to happen again in the future, and for them and myself to learn from the experience and move on. But the scary statistics are showing that 45 percent of Dutch women have been assaulted, in the UK that is 1 in 5 women that have experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16 and 90% of those who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the offence.
This is why consent is SO. EXTREMELY. IMPORTANT. You might think you know a situation: but you really, really, don’t. People change, opinions change, moods change. Consent is not a thing that is given once and holds true forever.
What worries me the most is that we do not teach consent. Hickman & Muehlenhard (1999) sketched this problem with students: what is consent? And the answer that came out of that study was: consent is usually not clear. Too often, there is no verbal consent.
This is wrong. I don’t have to spell out why that is so, so, very, very wrong.
I don’t want to turn my blog into a sex blog but seriously if there is one thing that I want to yell into the world is that we, flawed humans that we are, need to communicate better. There is nothing ‘unsexy’ about asking if someone is up for something. It can be really fun and liberating to talk about things, because eh, it kind of follows that as soon as you stop worrying “do they actually like this???” because you got the actual affirmation that “yesssss this is okay”, you can have worry-free fun. Worry free fun = WAY MORE FUN!
It is NOT about alcohol and things being unclear and oops, well, guess it “was the alcohol”. No. Again: alcohol does not turn people into rapists. Shocking, I know, for someone who is straight edge to ‘defend’ alcohol: you’re an asshole because you’re an asshole, not because alcohol is a creepy potion with sadistic magical abilities to ruin lives.
It is depressing, that on this day where I wanted to celebrate 13 years of being in control of my own body and making my own rules, I was reminded that this is not actually a given. In those years that I claimed my body, I have had to redefine and defend my boundaries after having been violated. Lose and reclaim my body after it felt not mine anymore. I have been left thinking, “oh, maybe the things I said and did gave the wrong impression, it was probably my fault”. Not just on one, but multiple occasions. This is not okay. And because I had a conversation with a close friend recounting our weekend and hers was a tale detailing how she was groped and touched inappropriately even after repeatedly making clear that this was unwanted, I will not let it slide. It is not okay that people have conversations about this in passing, as if it’s normal. It is not normal. We talk about it like it is, because it happens so often. It happens to so many of us. We are taught that this is okay and it is to be expected and we are the ones to blame. To this I say: ENOUGH. It is time to end victim blaming.
We do not ask for it. We wear what we want, we drink [or not] what we want, we party how we want, we walk how we want, we say what we want. All of this does not give anyone the right to do something that we have not consented to. Teach people not to rape, instead of shaming victims for doing very ordinary things. OUR BODIES. OUR RULES.
From the letter, which I really recommend everyone read:
And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.
I want to say to the Stanford Victim: I stand with you. Your letter is so incredibly powerful and important. I wish you strength and love and the knowledge that you, also, are not alone. You have been through a hell I cannot imagine, but your fire will not die. You are strong and you are shining – but you are not alone.