Sometimes it smacks me in the face that I’ve immersed myself in queer/radical sex/culture for a long while. It will come as a shock to me that not everyone practices radical and explicit consent in their relationships. Somebody, even a close friend, will touch my leg or go in for a hug without asking and I’ll recoil. The reaction isn’t even necessarily because I don’t want that person touch me but because they didn’t ask; they assumed that I wanted that kind of touch at that moment. People assume that because I’ve agreed to touch them in the past in a certain way that I’m in the same space the next time I see them.
Consent is important for every person of every identity, regardless of age or ability or any other defining factor. But for trans folks it becomes something we end up guarding near and dear to us because the world already thinks it has access to our bodies. People will ask, shortly upon meeting me, whether I plan to have top surgery, if I’m going to start hormones (or, more often, when I am going to start hormones), they will make comments about my voice, my height, or my apparent age. People assume they have the right to dissect and analyze the bodies of trans folks they know just because we are trans. We remind ourselves that we have the right, as all people have the right, to consent and to desire and to utilize our bodies as we want to, regardless of the opinions of the world AND we have the right to NOT discuss that with anybody we don’t want to.
When you move into the world of intimate relationships and sexuality it gets even more complicated. Unless you want to have sex within a really, really small group of people it’s almost like you have to lead a consent workshop before any and all sexual encounters. Trans people experience violence, sexual and otherwise, at higher rates than the rest of society. Talking to my trans friends about sexual history and experience with sexual violence is a testament to how prevalent and painful rape and molestation are in society, and I’m no exception to that rule. Whether it happened before or after we were out violence is yet another way of saying “you don’t get to control your body.” It’s taking away that right to say “no” and the right to say “yes.” It’s taking away the right to ask for what you want and to set limits and to explore new things safely.
And this consent stuff doesn’t just apply to touch. You, as my friends and allies, do not get to question which bathroom I walk into when I’m out with you. You don’t get to question how I answer my phone when it rings if I suddenly change up my pronouns (“This is she.”). You don’t get to question it when I choose to not interrupt somebody to correct them on my name or pronouns and you don’t get to correct them for me unless you’ve asked if that is what I want in public situations. These things are not your things to question or analyze. When I use the women’s bathroom it’s because I don’t feel safe in the men’s bathroom. When I choose to not correct somebody on my name or pronouns it’s because I don’t feel safe enough with that person to do so, or it’s because I am sick of derailing the conversation for somebody who doesn’t seem to want to respect my identity, or it’s simply because I’m tired and don’t feel like explaining my identity to every third person I speak with on any given day.
It can sometimes seem like way more work than it could possibly be worth, but when an interaction goes right, goes how I intend it to, or when a bad situation is rectified in a way that celebrates trans identity rather than shuttering it off to the side it’s beautiful. When I get to spend time with other folks who practice the true essence of radical consent those moments are beautiful. When a friend asked if I wanted to cuddle down at Occupy once and I realized that, yeah, I did! Because I felt safe with him and knew that he’d asked because he really wanted an answer. When I lay in bed with a partner, or multiple partners, and in those lazy morning minutes one will mumble, “is it ok if I __?” with the full expectation that the answer could be yes or no and that that’s okay. When I ask a kid for consent before I give them a hug, or teach them that there are alternatives to physical contact if they want that (“Do you want a hug, a high five, or a wave?”).
There is so much beauty in respecting our bodies, and in respecting each other. There’s a certain amazingness to owning what we have and in other people radically acknowledging that.