Friends, I am in a mood. I am in a mood and I’m going to write—yes again, now sit down!—about niceness, about yes and no, and about seduction, persuasion, cajoling, coercion, and assault. Yepper, that’s what’s on the menu today.
I write for the nice ones among us, and I write for those who have not always heard or attended to the words behind the words of nice people.
Not only am I writing this, but it’s something I wrote about not even that long ago. But I have heard, loud and clear, that it is something I must write about again. There is apparently always more, always more to the dangers of niceness and to anything less than yeses that mean yes and nos that mean no.
I wrote about niceness some time ago, and I received some lovely and important notes back. One of those, from our comrade the Rev. Judy Welles, reminded me that “No is a complete sentence.” And someone else reminded me that someone can be saying no by saying, “I don’t want to…” “I’m not going to…” or “I can’t…” Or even by saying, “I’m not sure…”
This is not news. This is nothing to bellow from the rooftops of Southwest Portland, to yell and shout my “barbaric yawp” about.
Except it kinda is. And not only for those of us who do these things, who fall back into niceness.
It’s also news for some of us, those of us who would un-build the patriarchy, brick by brick, even when we benefit from it. It’s also news for those of us who need to learn to check in, to see whether something we’re not clear about is an attempt to set a boundary or just to plain say no.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that everyone who receives Reflections in our inboxes is an adult. And adults are responsible for using our words, yes, and for being clear. And for setting our own boundaries so that others know what those boundaries are and have the chance, at least, to respect them.
I have the obligation to say no when I mean no.
And that obligation is wrapped up in years and decades of training that tell people, tell me and often other (though not exclusively) people assigned female at birth, that we must never say no when someone else wants something. Anything, really. Time. Energy. Bodies. Life force. Expertise. Money.
I have the obligation to try as hard as I can to unlearn all of this.
To unlearn what our comrade Molly was indicating toward when they said that “maybe” more often than not really means, in our heart of hearts, “no.”
And what is THAT about?! I mean, really?!
I do it. I say, “maybe” when I should say “no.” I say that I “can’t” have a social engagement, rather than, “I really don’t feel like it.” I feel as though I have to explain myself when I just want time with myself or time with my wife or unscheduled time or I just. don’t. feel. like. it.
I don’t have to explain myself, friends, and neither do you.
Oh, and then there’s the kind of no that is so easily overruled: the “no” of the intoxicated. The “I really don’t think this is a good idea,” which means, “I’m ambivalent,” which means “I’m not sure,” which really, friends, at the very least should be a yellow light, if not a red one. A time to stop, to check in—is this person, this one saying, “I really don’t think this is a good idea…”—are they conscious enough to make a good decision on their own behalf.
Are they conscious enough to offer a good decision on your behalf.
What on earth does that mean?
It means, Beloved, that some of us have committed assault. It means if someone’s not offering you a yes that is clearly a YES, you must consider whether they can give it to you.
Some of us reading this right now have ignored “no,” and ploughed ahead, and that’s just plain, clear as the nose on your face, rape, yes it is. Some of us. Some of us. Some of us.
We all know people who have committed rape. I would venture to say that we’re probably all friends with someone who has committed rape. There are people reading this right now who have committed rape. Rape, which is to say, having sex with someone who did not or could not give their consent.
Beyond that, some of us have also taken advantage, have ignored what would be clear if we had bothered to read the body language of the person we were with. And some of us have just pushed and pushed and coerced and cajoled until “I’m not going to…” or “I don’t want to…” turned into a giving over because it was more trouble to keep trying to tell us no than it was to just get it over with.
Yes, some of us here, have assaulted or been party to the assault of another human being. I mean, this list is over 400 people long. I cannot help thinking of the numbers. One in three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and one in six men. And if I could guess, I’d say that a whooooooole lot of trans people are sexually assaulted over their lifetimes. (Given how many trans women, especially, are murdered each year, it just makes a terrible kind of sense.)
That’s a lot of people, and there are people doing the assaulting, not listening or watching or attending or caring about the “no” that comes in so many forms.
We need to learn to let our no be no and our yes be yes, that is true. That is absolutely true. And yet, that admonition does not justify so much that is justified by the press, by the courts, or by the courts of popular opinion.
Because what about when one is intoxicated or exhausted or drugged, then what?
Then there may be only the ineffectual pushing away. The attempts to cover oneself. The being frozen by fear. The “I don’t know,” or the “I don’t think this is a good idea.” Or the one that makes my throat tighten and my hands feel cold, the plain old being passed out.
Here’s some news for you, friends: If in a sexual situation, if it’s anything less than a yes, you are pulling some shit. If you’re with someone you love and it’s been a long time and so you can badger them into it and you know it, it’s manipulation, at best. If you’re dating someone and they want to slow down in the middle of things and you say, “Come on, baby, it’s okay,” it’s not okay.
Both sets of these things are true. Adults need to let our yes be yes and our no be no.
And shouldn’t even taking the risk that you might be demanding sexual attention from someone who doesn’t want to, doesn’t feel like it, is too tired to care…shouldn’t that be enough to stop you in your tracks? And if it doesn’t, if you have some fucked-up idea about “conjugal rights” or some shit, then you need to stop right now and think about what you’re doing.
I say these things because both the trans and cis women as well as the non-binary people I know have put up with some serious shit and it needs to stop.
Rape at knife point.
Multiple rapes while too intoxicated to say yes or no.
Multiple counts of statutory rape.
Too many instances of in-relationship coercion for me to even imagine or count.
And let me tell you, on that that last one in particular, am I sure I have always listened? Always paid attention? Always watched or asked or checked in? No. I am not sure.
Where do seduction, persuasion, cajoling, coercion, and assault blend into one another?
I am not sure. And that does stop me in my tracks. Because they do blur and blend, let’s be real.
But there are some lines, and those of us who are on the … the “pursuing” end of things … we need to be paying closer attention to where those lines are.
So let’s all of us, all of us here at The Way of the River, whatever our pasts may be, let’s make a pact. For one thing, let’s practice our no being our no and our yes being our yes. Yep. Let’s do that. And let us also never, ever ignore our sexual partners, whether they are the people we are closest to in body for just one night, or closest over years in heart and soul. Let us never ignore what might be a no in favor of our own desires telling us, “Oh, it’s fine.”
Pinky swear? Yeah, friend, pinky swear.
Because it’s not fine, dude. It’s not fine.
This cranky lecture brought to you by me, who loves you, yes, all of you.
PS – After all this, all this pent-up outrage and frustration and desire for change, sometimes it can feel as though the life of the Spirit just doesn’t hardly matter at all. But it does. Turning toward Love always matters. Turning toward the One Who is Many, who is all genders and none and any individual—that turning always matters. And I always welcome the chance to help you make that turn.
So please know, especially if you are part of what our comrade Rhodes Perry calls the “Rainbow Family,” but which I generally identify as the queer community…. Please know most especially if you are a trans or non-binary or gender non-conforming person, I am here for you. I am here for you and for the depth of the spiritual feeling that is in you that you cannot even describe.
I am here for you, you who yearn for Something or Someone, but who don’t feel as though there’s any space or place that’s safe enough to explore that yearning.
Check me out on this page, and then set up a time. We’ll talk.