“As absolutely vital as it is to practice consent as an individual, it’s also important to understand the systems and cultures we move through, how they impact us, and how we can work to impact them, too.“
Our sixth episode features a whole bunch of thoughts, ideas, and answers to the question, “how do we build a culture of consent?” We look at some great resources for understanding consent as an individual, share some actions people can take on an interpersonal level, and explore what kinds of larger-scale policy & culture shifts we can help make happen.
The whole episode is structured around this zine, which asked that question to advocates, activists, survivors, and other people in many different places. It’s a great way to explore consent, but it’s also a great way to explore activism and change-making; this is an issue that we need to understand at both levels. Some other resources from this episode:
- “How Do We Build a Culture of Consent?” Zine
- Specifically, the “resources” page of that zine is a great place for readings, books, and further info.
- Planned Parenthood’s “All About Consent” Video and more
- Guante’s “Consent at 10,000 Feet” Poem
- More poems and resources on consent and healthy sexuality
- Know Your IX’s “Supporting a Survivor: The Basics”
Thanks also to our guest, Haven Davis, from the Annex Teen Clinic! You’ll hear more about Annex before this season is over.
As always, if you like it, please subscribe (on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, all the usual platforms). If you really like it, please feel free to leave a review, and spread the word- share a favorite quote, or ask a question, or just share the link; we’ll be using the hashtag #WhatsGoodMan on Twitter and IG. Find our previous episodes here.
Finally, a quick update: we’ve created a gallery of all the quote images we’ve shared on social media; feel free to share them too!
Here’s the transcript:
“What’s Good, Man?” Episode Six: How Do We Build a Culture of Consent?
OR: Have you ever had sex in a haunted house?
Kyle: Welcome to “What’s Good, Man,” an ongoing, open conversation about men, masculinity and culture.
tony: We are your hosts. I’m tony the scribe, a writer, rapper and activist in Minneapolis, MN.
Kyle: And I’m Kyle Tran Myhre, also known as Guante; I’m also a writer, rapper and activist in Minneapolis, MN. We start every episode with three notes. First, this show is about masculinity, but it’s for anyone interested in that topic: cis men, trans men, people who don’t identify as men but have some kind of relationship with masculinity, and beyond.
tony: Second, this show exists because we listened to people, especially women, in our lives who told us that men need to speak up more about these issues, especially with other men. But we also know that “men speaking up more” isn’t always the answer. So we’re going to try and strike a balance, and be intentional about what stories are ours to tell, what topics we want to address, and how we want to address them.
Kyle: Finally, we’re not experts. We’re just rappers. We both have experience as organizers and educators around these issues, but we don’t have all the answers. We’re here to work through this stuff with you. Because we still have a long way to go. So let’s get into it. What’s good, man?
tony: One more thing before we get started today. We are talking about consent today, and that inevitably includes a lot of discussion of sexual assault. We are not going to tell a whole lot of explicit stories about sexual assault. But if that feels like something that is just not where your head’s at today, or you don’t want to be confronted with all that stuff, then maybe save this one for later. Thanks.
Kyle: What’s good, man? I love that title. Makes me smile every time I say it.
tony: I’m glad. It’s goofy. It’s real goofy; we’re goofy out here.
Kyle: But, yeah. Do you have a strong and a weak for this week?
tony: Yeah, my weak is… I don’t know. My whole life is just kind of still in shambles from moving. So I’m still settling in. I’m really busy right now and it’s been like I feel like my body especially is handling it poorly. I’m just not sleeping much. I’m not eating great food. I haven’t been working out very much. So that’s definitely my weak. But my strong is that I had sword fighting practice this morning and went and like, actually fully worked out for the first time in a couple weeks and then went and bought some probiotics afterwards to settle my stomach. And yeah, I’m feeling much better.
Kyle: Yeah; I think for me, the strong is that we just… and again, I don’t know when you’re listening, but we’re recording this in mid-September…
tony: Kyle is contractually obligated to say that every single show.
Kyle: I don’t want people to be like “what are you talking about? It’s 2025. I don’t get any of your references!”
tony: The year is 2034; men don’t even exist anymore.
Kyle: But we just kicked off a fundraising campaign for TruArtSpeaks, which is an organization that I work with here in Minnesota, that kind of does critical literacy and critical education work through hip hop and spoken word. And it’s just, you know, fundraising isn’t fun for anyone. It’s a lot of work and it’s stressful. But it’s just great to see people come out of the woodwork and talk about why this kind of work matters and why they support it. And that’s always really re-energizing to see. So shout outs to Tish and Fatima and the whole TruArtSpeaks family. And my weak… I don’t want to open a can of worms, but there was an expansion pack for the one video game that I play, and I’ve been playing it way too much. Like, that’s a good thing, you know; you could say that it’s self-care or whatever, but I think “too much.” So I need to figure out a way to be a little bit more disciplined. Yeah, that’s a strong and a weak wrapped up together.
Kyle: I’ll let people guess what’s the one video game I have a thousand hours in. And had an expansion pack in early-mid September.
Kyle: Yeah like it’s Tetris, man. I just play a thousand hours of Tetris.
tony: Ok, we have an actual topic to talk about today.
Kyle: Yeah. So in the spirit of, you know, our target audience being men, for the most part, and especially men who aren’t already immersed in social justice and feminism and all that, you know, we kind of had to do an episode on consent. And we’re being super intentional with the title, though: “how do we build a culture of consent?” Because, you know, as absolutely vital as it is to practice consent as an individual (and we’re gonna talk about that), it’s also, I think, important to understand the systems and cultures we move through, how they impact us, and how we can work to impact them, too. So we’re going to talk about a lot of stuff today, but you know, we can start with some of the basics. We’re not going to do too much of a consent 101 here because that stuff exists already. And we want to get to a space where we’re moving the conversation forward, you know, for people who’ve already had this conversation. But we can do some really like basic stuff for people who maybe haven’t heard some of these definitions and stuff before. And like we normally like to do, you know, rather than just give one definitive, authoritative definition, I’d like to share a couple.
tony: Yeah, so one from the Aurora Center, which is a center supporting victims and survivors of sexual assault at the University of Minnesota: “consent is informed, freely and affirmatively communicated willingness to participate in a sexual activity that is expressed by clear and unambiguous words or actions.”
Kyle: Yeah. Project Respect says consent is “a mutual, verbal, physical, and emotional agreement that happens without manipulation, threats or head games.”
tony: And Planned Parenthood has “consent is freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic and specific.”
Kyle: Yeah, that Planned Parenthood one is good because if you go to their website, each one of those points has a bunch of examples of what that actually means. And they also have a pretty good like, consent 101 video or video series. So if you, again, if you’re just looking for more resources, whether you’re an educator or you’re trying to learn more yourself, if you Google Planned Parenthood + consent, there’s some really good stuff.
tony: I also think one that I really like the best is the old tea metaphor. You know, like, if somebody hands you a cup of hot tea and you’re like, hey, I don’t want this cup of hot tea, you don’t have to drink the tea because they gave it to you. You know, like at any point, you can be like… if they’re like, “hey, I got this tea for you,” can be like “actually, I didn’t ask for that tea. And I don’t want that tea.” And they’re like, “nah, drink it anyway. Come on. I want to see you drink that tea.” And you’re like, “I’m not into it. I don’t wanna drink this tea right now.” And they definitely then can’t like, grab the cup and force boiling hot tea down your throat, you know? Like, that’d be really fucked up. The better way to do that, and we do this in so many other ways in our lives, is just to be like, “Yo. Do you want tea? I have tea if you want tea. You certainly don’t have to drink tea. I’m not going to think less of you, or like you less if you don’t drink this tea right now. But it’s on the table.”
Kyle: The tea video. So there’s this cartoon, and I don’t know if people there have seen it, but it’s in use by like, thousands and thousands of, you know, first-year orientation programs, Title IX offices, and stuff like that across the country. And like every educational resource, I’ve heard critiques of it. But I’ve also heard it’s opened up some people’s eyes, at least. Again, metaphors and thinking visually can be really useful. And I mean, again, we can keep showing definitions, and other people’s kind of approaches to talking about consent. But I’m curious, just like on a personal/individual level, you know, can we think, between the two of us, of any examples of how consent plays out, whether we’re talking about sex or not? But like, specific concrete examples of how consent works, how it’s popped up or manifested in our lives.
tony: Yeah. I mean, there are so many answers to this question. But on the one that I want to jump off with is (because I was at sword fighting practice this morning) in martial arts. You really, really need consent in a martial arts training context, right? Because especially if you’re committed to training with people who haven’t trained martial arts before, or have stereotype threat, and you know, feel nervous about stepping into a martial arts school for the first time… maybe that they’re not athletic enough, or they’re gonna get attacked by other people, or they have PTSD around physical contact and really aren’t sure about this idea of engaging in a sport or a hobby that involves that on a deep level, sometimes with strangers. And I think one of the most important things that I’ve learned in the last couple of years is that, especially when you’re doing training activity with other people, consent is really, really, really important.
So, for example, if we’re trying to do a drill and I’m trying to show somebody how I would crank their arm into an arm bar and shove their face into the ground, which is a valid technique we use all the time, I can’t just be like, hey, “throw a punch at me” and then do that shit to them. Like, that would be really fucked up. It would make them feel horrible. It would put their body into pain and it would make them respect me less as a teacher. And make it less safe for us to be training. And if a new person came to our class and saw that happening, they probably wouldn’t want to train with us ever again.
And instead, what I can do is be like, “Hey, what’s up? I want to show you this armbar. If you, you know, throw this punch at me slowly, then I can show you roughly what it would be like. And I’m gonna bend your arm in this particular way and I’ll set you on the ground and I’m not going to kick out your legs or whatever.” Like, being very specific about exactly the activity that we’re gonna go through. And then they can be like, yeah, absolutely, let’s do that. Or they can be like, that doesn’t actually sound like something… they can be like, oh, my arm is actually really sore today. And I have a really inflexible elbow. And if you crank it really hard, it’s probably going to hurt me really bad.
And so it becomes just a really important part of our training: to be clear, especially when you’re a teacher asking for consent before you do stuff, because a lot of like, man-ass, dude-ass martial arts instructors or even other-gendered instructors who like, really have a chip on their shoulder, will sometimes demonstrate on people. And it looks like flexing, you know, like they’re flexing on the people that they’re demonstrating with.
Kyle: When you’re telling the story, I immediately think of pop culture. Whenever there’s a fighting movie and there’s a scene like, in the dojo or in the training place, no one’s ever like, “okay, I’m gonna do this now.” It’s always like, “come here, try to punch me.” And then they hurt the person. There’s never communication, there’s never asking questions, there’s never like, what needs to happen for that space to actually be effective and safe and cool?
tony: Yeah. And it’s just really important. I think fighting, like sex, is one of the most intimate and dangerous things you can possibly do with your body and with your spirit. Not to say that both of those things aren’t fun and can’t be practiced casually. But like, both of those things are things where it actually becomes really important how much is communicated between the people ahead of time about what’s going to happen?
Kyle: Yeah, we could totally go into a rabbit hole of like, the ways in which consent is completely a normal, accepted part of everyday life in a million different ways. But once you start talking about it in the context of sex, there’s a certain element of the public and the media who will lose their minds. So the example I thought of, of like, how does consent play out in my life? The one that came to mind for me is also not a sex example. And we are going to talk about sex, in a while, probably quite a bit.
tony: (singing Salt & Pepa’s “let’s talk about sex)
Kyle: But the thing that comes to mind for me is that I don’t hug people. I don’t NOT hug people. But I don’t like, try to hug people. I don’t even shake people’s hands unless they explicitly kind of ask or make that first move. Touch, on a very basic level, is not something that everyone likes equally. So part of consent is BASIC empathy, like understanding that how I operate isn’t necessarily how other people operate, or what I want isn’t necessarily what other people want. And then, you know, creating space for those other people to do what is comfortable for them. And you know, obviously, this relates to sex. But I think that’s one vital point right off the bat. The concept of consent is applicable to all facets of social life, not just sex. It’s about clear and honest communication. It’s about asking questions. It’s about empathy and like, affirming that other human beings have agency. You know, it’s about respect too.
tony: Being like, I’m not going to impose this thing onto you, you know, without figuring out whether you enjoy it or not, just because I enjoy it. That’s been… that one around hugging has been hard for me. I grew up in a very physically affectionate family, and with a lot of very physically affectionate friendships. And it’s been a thing where I fucked up a lot as an adult and had to like re-habituate myself to ask folks, rather than just assuming like, oh, we have some affection for each other. That means we can be super physically affectionate with each other.
Kyle: That idea of unlearning is going to come up again, I think, in this conversation in a little bit. So before we get into the main question… you know, this whole episode could be about convincing the audience, the listeners, people out there, that like, you know, that rape culture exists, or that consent is important. You know, we could share a million statistics and studies. We could share personal stories or bring on guests to share their personal stories. And all that information is really important, but it’s also kind of readily available out there. And I feel like the culture right now is in a weird space where like, you get it, or maybe you don’t get it because you haven’t learned anything about it yet, or you like, very willfully don’t get it. That isn’t to say that, you know, we shouldn’t have education or outreach; those are really, really important. I think that work needs to continually be done; it’s part of the work that I do on a weekly basis. And maybe we’ll go back and do an episode on some of that stuff. But THIS episode we framed as something a little bit different. You know, we’re kind of assuming that if you’re listening, you know that this topic matters. Whether you believe every statistic or not, like, you know that sexual assault is bad. The lack of consent in all kinds of different relationships is bad. It’s something that we should work to completely eradicate. And so, yeah. Consent is part of that conversation.
tony: And even bigger than that is: how do we build a culture of consent?
Kyle: So again, that phrasing a super intentional. I mentioned the work that I do; it takes me all over the country, working primarily with young men on issues of masculinity and like, healthy sexuality. And during that time, I’ve had the honor of kind of building and working with hundreds of advocates and activists and students and people and survivors who work on these issues, like as like their job or their everyday passion that they do. So I’ve been able to ask this specific question, “how do we build a culture of consent,” to all these people. It’s part of an activity that we do. You know, I asked that question, and people can put up Post-it notes or whatever. And so both in informal conversations, or in these like activities and discussions, I’ve heard a lot of responses to that question. And so some of what we’re gonna be talking about today is rooted in a zine that I created. And zine is such a weird, culturally specific reference. I don’t know if everyone knows what a zine is, but, you know, it’s short for like, a little magazine; it’s a little booklet about a thing, whether that’s a topic you’re interested in or, you know, showcasing your art or whatever. They’re little self-published booklets that you make copies of and hand out
tony: Yeah, there like eight pages; you make them out of like, a normal sheet of printer paper basically and fold it up.
Kyle: Yeah, or staple them… there’s a whole like, cultural history of zines and stuff that we could talk about.
tony: Punk rock!
Kyle: But basically, I created this little zine that documents the responses to that question. If you want to check it out, it’s on my website. But the…
tony: That’s guante.info.
Kyle: Yeah it’s dot info because I’m very, very cool.
tony: You’re informational.
Kyle: But before we get into the actual responses to that question, a quick note about how the conversation, and how the zine is organized, because I put it in three tiers, right? Like, how do we build a culture of consent as individuals, as one person in a body? How do we build a culture of consent in community with one another? And then how do we build a culture of consent on like, a systems and policy level? And that three tiered structure has been a huge part of my understanding over the years, not just on the issue of consent and healthy sexuality, but on like, every issue. Thinking in those three tiers, to me, is how change happens. When you have one level without the other two, you know, when you have a bunch of people who are like, really, really smart as individuals but don’t like, build with each other, you can’t really create change. Or if you have people who are super, super committed to like, you know, changing the system, but haven’t done the self analysis work to be effective at it, things just don’t line up. You don’t beat racism just by being nicer to people. Racism is rooted in systems and policies. So we have to change those systems and policies. You know, we can’t save the environment just by recycling, or like, even eating less meat; the scope of the problem is just bigger than that. We need to organize. We need to elect better leaders. We need to move away from capitalist exploitation and blah, blah, blah. So when it comes to consent, these same principles I think, apply. Like, yeah, we have to be better individuals. We’re going to talk about that. We also have to practice consent in our face to face relationships AND we have to understand how our individual actions exist in this like, larger context of systems.
I can go to your college and give an awesome presentation or talk or performance about consent and bystander intervention and preventing gender violence. And it may have a real impact. It might be good. But then do I have to keep going back to your college every year, forever? Or do we get to the root of the problem at some point?
tony: Are we doing triage or are we doing prevention? Like, are we trying to cut these problems off at the absolute end point where we’re talking about whether or not somebody goes home with somebody else after a party? Or are we talking about the way that we are developing, you know, from the time we’re really young and understanding of how we exist in relationship to each other?
Kyle: Yeah. And that’s why I like this framing a lot. So of those three questions, or those three tiers, I think a lot of people start with the first one. So how do we build a culture of consent on a personal level, as individual human beings? You know, we just talked about how that individual level isn’t enough to, like, change everything. But it is, you know, a very natural, organic starting point for a lot of people. And so when I asked this question in different spaces around the country, we’re going to share some of the things that people have responded with.
tony: Yeah. So the first one is like, learning, reading, and self work in general. So increasing our own knowledge and understanding. So especially when we’re talking about issues that sometimes don’t affect us super deeply, but affect other people’s super deeply, first you need to understand that there are different perspectives out there, and hear some of those perspectives, and get some of those perspectives. So, for example, if somebody has like, an auto immune disorder, you just rushing in and being like, “oh, I’m a hugging person” and then hugging them can actually be dangerous for them, depending on what exactly they have and what their situation is, you know. And there are a whole lot of reasons. If somebody has PTSD around being hugged, you shouldn’t hug them. And it’s not just because they’re “oversensitive” or whatever; it’s because they have like, a lived experience that makes that really difficult for them. And I think it’s also important to develop that understanding that consent lives beyond like a normalized like. super basic 101-level narrative of guy girl at a party. It’s an issue in same sex relationships. It’s an issue outside the gender binary. It’s an issue outside of sexuality. And I think it’s particularly important to acknowledge, like in that space beyond like this sort of dominant narrative that like men can be and are victims/survivors, too. And I actually know a lot of male victim/survivors. And I think it’s really important that they get centered in these conversations, too.
Kyle: Yeah, that issue of just learning more… You know, I’m a cisgender straight dude. Like, reading about how consent plays out in other communities has helped me understand my own relationship to it, or helped me better understand the issue. And so, the flipside of learning, as the next point here, is unlearning. I think for a lot, especially for men, but not just for men, I think unlearning some of what we’re taught about sex and about masculinity can be really important. You know, this whole podcast, on some level, is talking about some of this unlearning stuff. But I think, you know, one really, really specific clear example is the whole like, pop culture ideal of like, “the hunt.” You know, dating and relationships as this fundamentally adversarial thing. And, you know, we’ve done an episode on that. And I think that’s one example of like, stuff that we have to just unlearn, like, that’s not how you meet someone. And that’s not how you get involved in a relationship.
tony: Another one is just getting plugged in. So figuring out what is happening in your area around these issues, and what ways you can support the people doing the work. Again, like, you got to understand that, the issue of consent doesn’t begin and end with you, but you can actually make a meaningful difference to some of these organizations. If they’re operating at a small scale, them having another volunteer or another person donating every month, you know, even just being aware about it so that you can tell other people about it when you’re having conversations about it can make a material difference.
Kyle: Later on, we’ll do a deeper dive into like, what that work can look like. But I think, again, we’re just talking about on a super, super individual level, people sometimes look at social change and like, you know, saving the world and stuff, as this big mystical thing of like, you know, the revolutionary with their fists in the air in front of much cops and like whatever. But it does start with really, really specific, unglamorous things. Like if you live in Duluth, Minnesota, you sit down at a computer and you google Duluth, Minnesota, plus, you know, survivor advocate organizations, or like, critical masculinity or whatever and just see what comes up. And then follow some people on Twitter, and follow some people on Instagram, so that when there are events or things to check out, you can go to them or, you know, you can help support that work or maybe someday become more active. Cool.
So another one here is, you know, obviously: practice consent in our relationships. Be present. Communicate. Listen. Ask questions. Again, we’re not really doing a whole consent 101 thing, but that’s a lot of it. Just be willing to be honest and communicate. And truly listen to another person. And to not be afraid to ask questions. You know, it can be as simple as “can I kiss you?” Or “are you sure?”
tony: Yeah. “Are you sure?” is such a good one. A couple years ago, I was having sex with a woman, or we were about to have sex, rather. And she actually suggested that we go through a list of all of the sexual activities that we might engage in beforehand, and like, explicitly state our feelings on whether or not we wanted to do them. And I’d never quite done consent that way before, right? And it was really awkward for me. I probably didn’t respond super well to it. Because my model of consent has usually been if we’re about to do something different, you know, we ask, and we like sort of feel it out and explore it, you know, together in this sort of soft focus space. And she was like, that doesn’t work for me. Like, I need to know exactly what things are on the table, and which things are off the table before we even get into bed together. And that was a wild experience. I feel like I learned a lot from that experience. And I try to model that more now than I did then for sure.
Kyle: That’s amazing because like, you know, the right-wing talking point about consent education is that it’s about contracts and it’s about like being super, super explicit. And like you sign your name next to the thing and like, obviously that’s bullshit for a lot of reasons. But at the same time, like the example that you just shared is actually really cool.
tony: Another one is, again, just like we talked about earlier, practice consent in other social spaces too. Ask people before hugging. Ask people before you take a photo of them. Letting kids know that they can always say no to, you know, people picking them up and throwing them around or kissing them on the forehand or tickling or those kinds of things.
Kyle: Yeah. And I think the children thing is really important, because if the first time a person is hearing about consent is like, me performing at their first year college orientation… that’s probably… well, one: that makes my job really, really hard. You know, some of these issues, and I think especially with consent and healthy sexuality in general, need to be introduced early, even before you’re talking about sex. This kind of understanding of consent, about “if you don’t want to be tickled, you know, you say so and I will stop tickling you” has ripple effects throughout someone’s life. It’s how they understand relationships and how they understand their own agency in relationship. And so, yes, starting early is really, really important.
One other point on this first tier of actions and things we can do is to believe survivors, and to listen to survivors, and to center survivors in this work. Now, I know that can be a challenge for some people. Again, the right-wing talking point is like, what about due process?
tony: And “aren’t there false accusations” and that whole thing.
Kyle: There’s so much we could talk about here. How much do you want to get into it?
tony: I mean, a little bit, right? Like I think one thing… So I choose to believe survivors. And I think one of the reasons why is because the culture in general doesn’t believe survivors. And because I also know a lot of survivors who have never felt comfortable like, going public with their stories. People that I really deeply love and value who have told me that they’re too nervous or too scared. Or too just uncomfortable in general to come forward with their stories of being assaulted or their consent being violated or what have you. And so I just like, know on a personal level that a lot of people don’t ever come forward about that and that there are no real pluses to coming forward about being sexually assaulted and a shit ton of negatives.
And I mean, there are pluses for individual people, but it’s a difficult thing to choose to do. And so when I see somebody come forward and say that they’ve been sexually assaulted, you know, or treated badly or, you know, have been abused or something like that, like, my perspective on it is I can’t imagine most of the time why you would ever want to fake that. And I know that from my own lived experience and the lived experience of people around me, that that’s not the majority of people who deal with these situations.
And another piece for me is like, I think a lot of people who don’t want to believe survivors or don’t think that believing survivors as an axiom is a good idea are caught up in this idea of like, they have to be the objective judge of what happened. As if like, this person’s life and death is riding on whether or not they look at the hard, cold evidence and make a decision about it. And they operate from like a space of looking at like the criminal justice system, like innocent until proven guilty thing. And like, you’re not a judge. Unless you are actually a judge. Unless you are actually a juror. Like, you don’t have to make that determination. You can be one subjective cog in this massive machine. And if you believe that what we need to do is heal our country and our world from a lack of consent and from unhealthy sexual boundaries, then believing survivors is like, one tiny thing you can do to just like pick a side and say, look, this is in general, maybe not in every circumstance even, but in general, this is where I’m gonna operate from and the rest of the world can sort itself out. But my priority in this situation is not to worry about due process. It’s to make sure that the survivor feels listened to, heard and supported.
Kyle: Yeah, that’s really good. I think you’ve said that really well. The thing that I think about is that, you know, the phrase or the hashtag “believe survivors,” it’s not a response to “look at the facts.” It’s a response to “let’s not believe survivors.” You know, the larger culture has had such a tradition, and such a history of not believing, especially women, when they come forward, but survivors in general. It’s about correcting, you know, it’s about making a small push against the boulder. And again, as much as we’re not going to go off into statistics land here, because that doesn’t really change anyone’s mind, we should at least say that home, according to, you know, all the research, false accusations are something like 2 to 8 percent, which is the same as other crimes, like false accusations of murder or false accusations of theft. The difference is that that number only refers to reported rapes or cases of sexual assault. And we know that sexual assault is one of the least reported crimes. And then additionally, you know, police can classify an allegation as false if they just don’t find the evidence. And so the number, I think, is actually much, much, much, much lower. And again, there’s a larger cultural issue, like, when people bring up false accusations, they’re very, very, very rarely doing it in good faith. It’s always just to end the conversation or to say, like, “oh shut up I don’t want to talk about this, let’s talk about something else.” So, you know, if we need to have a longer episode on this topic, like, you know, send us an email or tweet us or whatever, and maybe we will.
tony: This is tony the scribe. Thanks for joining us for this episode. You could have been anywhere in the world, but you’re here with… well, you’re not really here with us, but you are somewhere in the world investing time and energy and valuable brain capacity with us. So hopefully you’re enjoying the show. If you are, be sure to let us know. We want to be in conversation with you. So feel free to use the hashtag #WhatsGoodMan to join in on the conversation. You can find us on the bird themed micro-blogging site at @tony_the_scribe and @elguante. We’re also on the yearbook themed website that’s stealing your information, as well as the pretty scrolly image website owned by the yearbook website stealing your information. Oh, and we’re at WGMpod.com. Feel free to reach out and say hi with ideas, critiques, or if you want to book us for a live show, anything like that along those lines, please subscribe to the show and give us a good review if you haven’t gotten the chance yet. It helps us out a ton. We’ve consulted numerous podcasts and marketing experts and every single one of them has told us that the only real way podcasts spread is by word of mouth; so tell a friend about the show. Maybe it’ll help spark some good conversation or deeper transformation. Our theme music is by daedae and letmode and all the other music is by me, including this midnight drow raid meets day sex thing you’re listening to right now. The poem at the end of the show is by Guante. It’s called “Consent at 10,000 Feet.” We’ll put a link to it in the show notes. Our next episode will be out in two weeks and it’ll be focusing on apology and accountability. We’ve only got a couple more in the season, so keep tuned in. But before that, we have this conversation around consent culture to dive back into. Hope you enjoy it.
tony: Let’s talk about community!
Kyle: So that was the first level of this conversation; individual stuff, things that we can do right now in our own bodies. There’s a million more things we could talk about, but we’ll keep them moving. The next conversation here is how do we build a culture of consent with like, the people who we have access to, our friends, our partners, our peers, the communities that we move through? So obviously, one right off the bat is like to talk about it, and to have dialogue, and to cultivate dialogue. You know, that can be informal conversations. It could be maybe you start a book club. And we mentioned before the importance of reading. I think we’ll share a little bibliography of potential books in the text that accompanies the episode. Listening to this podcast.
tony: Sharing this podcast.
Kyle: Talking to your friends about it. Taking a class. Finding more spaces to talk through and process these issues in community. Where you don’t have to feel like you know everything, but you can also be willing to grow and to learn.
tony: Like, if you’re the type of person who really does get really freaked out about the idea of false accusations, you don’t need to have that conversation in public. That doesn’t need to be you getting in a fight with a noted rape survivor on Twitter about it. You can process that with other folks, right? Like with a therapist or with your friends or with whoever. And be like, “hey, here’s what I’m sitting with; this issue seems really important. But this particular dimension of it I don’t understand or agree with. You know, what do you think about it?” And that has been really useful for me, a lot of the time doing unlearning around these issues.
Or like the hugging thing. Just being like, “oh, yeah but like, I do want to hug people and like, I don’t see why hugging is such a big deal.” Like, I’ve talked to my friends about that a number of times. They’ve been like, here’s the deal, dude, you can’t just be hugging people.
Kyle: So, yeah. You bring up a really important point about how dialogue is vital… but to think critically about who were building those dialogues with- in a way that isn’t draining other people or, you know, just telling us what we want to hear. That can be a more a more complicated point. But I think in general, it’s just really important to be able to have a space to process.
tony: Yeah, I think speaking out is another way that we can directly affect our communities. So like, using your platform, however huge or limited that is on social media, can be a really huge way of doing that. I mean, just think of all the people that are on your Facebook or your insert like whatever. You know, how many of those people could benefit from seeing a link or a picture retweeted or, you know, a news story posted that talks about this on a deep level. I know I’ve had people come up to me before that I barely know, that I’ve gone to school with, or have done social stuff with, or I’ve done music stuff with, or whatever. And been like, wow, you posted this thing on social media six months ago and it totally turned around how I thought about this issue. And again, that was like as simple as me hitting a share button on something that I found interesting. So that kind of stuff matters.
Kyle: It’s such an incredible part of social media. And this might be another episode, too. But like, it’s very easy to write off social media as like, oh, slacktivism, you’re just posting, you’re not really doing anything about it. But, you know, if you have 50 Twitter followers, you know, for many people like, oh, that’s not a large number, but that’s 50 people that someone else probably doesn’t have access to. So you have maximum access to those 50 people. And so just sharing stuff, particularly like, people who know what they’re talking about. So not just like celebrities and talking heads, but like, you know, activists and advocates and stuff like sharing their campaigns and their work and their writing can really make a difference in your peer group, in your community. And also, you know, people see you sharing it. And so there’s a, what’s the word here, kind of it changes the saturation or the color. I’m thinking visually in my head, but it’s like it changes the tenor of the community. When people see you sharing something, even if they’re not thinking super critically about it, like it opens up space for maybe another intervention, you know, down the line for them to be a little more open minded with things.
tony: Yeah, I mean, if somebody has 10 Facebook friends and all of a sudden six of them are posting stuff about healthy consent, they’re going to be thinking about healthy consent differently than if they had only come across a random article on CNN one day or something like that. The more that we can be putting this stuff… and this is where it starts to get really witchy, right? But the more we can start putting these intentionalities out into the world around us, like, the more the world will shift in response to those intentions, and into those ways of having the conversation.
Kyle: That’s such a good example, not to go off on a tangent, but of how “witchy stuff” is real, right? Like, you’re talking about culture-shifting. It’s about shifting culture, not just through like, energy, but through lie putting specific stuff out there, sharing stuff, talking about stuff. Shifting culture is like, kind of a prerequisite often of policy shifting. Well, I mean, I’d say they’re more in dialogue with each other, but yeah, I mean, culture-shifting impacts policy.
tony: Yeah. Like, thoughts and prayers don’t matter by themselves, but thoughts and prayers when they’re communal, and then when there’s actual strength and time and energy and dedication put behind those thoughts and prayers, matter a fucking lot.
Kyle: Especially on an issue like this, which is very like, “culture war-y,” if that makes sense. And that leads to the next point really well. This is an issue where there’s a ton of misinformation floating around out there and like, misconceptions so as to do the work of like challenging the myths when they come up, which involves, you know, learning more about what those myths are and learning how to identify them, but then also being comfortable like saying like, “hey, that’s bullshit,” right. So like, you know, the idea that most accusations are just false. Or she just came forward because she wants money. Or she’s trying to get famous. We talked about that a little bit already, but there are others too.
tony: Like even I was thinking the other day about how, like Christine Blasey Ford tried every single thing to talk about her experience with Kavanaugh before she came publicly forward about it. Like, she sent anonymous letters. She talked to legislators individually, like without coming out publicly, and actually did a lot of deep reflection. Everybody says with elected officials, with friends of hers or family of hers, before she decided that she felt like, a moral responsibility to come forward and testify about her experiences with Brett Kavanaugh.
Kyle: I mean, some of this could be a whole other episode talking about some of these myths, but stuff like, just in general: victim blaming. The double standard of, “oh, she should have been watching out for herself more” as opposed to like “why did that guy assault her?” That relates to like, you know, boys will be boys, those kind of attitudes, that just normalizes sexual assault and sexual harassment. “Oh, boys will be boys; I don’t want to think about this. I’ll just put my head in the sand.” We also mentioned a second ago about the right wing talking point that consent is like a contract. You download an app. And you both sign it, and you need a notary to come and stand before you before you can kiss someone, which is just ridiculous. Like, anyone who actually does this work, who like works in a Title IX office, or institutes an affirmative consent policy on a campus, or works to support survivors, like, that’s not a thing that is on their radar.
tony: Or that they want, or are calling for.
Kyle: And then, again, this could be a whole episode. But I do think it’s worth pointing out one more myth, which is that consent takes the romance or the sexiness out of relationships. Which I think is the easiest one to disprove.
tony: Yeah. Well, like I said, I think in the last episode, like my current partnership came about because I was asking a woman I know if she wanted to sleep in my bed. And like, I don’t know, our relationship is not less romantic or less sexy because of that. Or like even the story I was telling earlier where I had sex with this woman. And we like, agreed before we had sex about the things, or at least communicated about the things, that we liked and the things that we didn’t like. And both of those experiences… like, the latter, I think was maybe a little uncomfortable for me. It wasn’t necessarily what I was used to, but it didn’t make the situation less sexy.
Kyle: I mean, “can I kiss you?” “Is this okay”? Like, “are you sure?” Like, those can be very sexy things. And even if that’s not the main point, there’s something here about how whether it’s just like a random hookup or whether it’s two people who love each other and have been together for 100 years: good sex is about communication anyway. So consent is absolutely necessary and important and vital, AND communication in every context, in every sexual or relationship context, is so, so important.
tony: Yeah. It’s how you have good sex.
Kyle: So I guess another point here, and this is maybe related more to the work that I do… well, no this is for a lot of people,, especially for men, I guess I’ll say. How do we bring these conversations into spaces where they aren’t already happening? So like, you could have a bunch of feminist friends on Tumblr; the conversation is happening there. You could take a women’s studies class; the conversation is happening there. Like, what other spaces do we, and again, especially as men, have access to where we can bring these conversations into those spaces and actually do some really cool work.
tony: Yeah. I mean, so again, martial arts is the one that most immediately comes to me. We try to be very, very explicit with students when they show up that they have the right not to fence with someone if they don’t want to, that they have the right not to drill with somebody if they don’t want to. That they have the right to tell their partner that they’re hitting too hard, or that they didn’t feel their hit and they need to be hitting a little harder.
Kyle: Can I ask: so it’s not just like a community expectation. It’s like an explicit thing that is talked about right away, like when someone comes in?
tony: Yeah. I mean, I think yes, we need to do a little bit better of a job at it. Like that’s part of the work that I’m engaged in right now; we don’t have like a formal code of conduct for my sword fighting club. And so we’re working on developing one of those right now that does include stuff like that. But we have an overall like, bylaws understanding of fencers’ rights. That is like official policy at our club. And one of them is like you have a right to only fence people you want to fence, and you always have a right to tell your opponent that you’re not comfortable with the way that they’re fencing you. That like spirals, I believe. That’s not just something that happens then in our sword fighting club. But if we normalize like, “hey, we’re going to explain exactly what we’re doing and how we’re gonna be touching each other and what is and isn’t on the table,” then that helps people to understand that in other parts of their life better, too. Like, for example, if you are a person with a penis and you’re fencing and you don’t have a cup on, you don’t want the other person kicking you in the balls, right? Like, if it’s just like a casual fun thing between friends. You know, the answer is not if you get kicked in the balls, then it’s like, “oh, well, you should’ve been, you know, wearing a cup, right?” Because like, kicking somebody in the balls during a swordfight is actually like a super valid way to fight. The sources we study teach you how to do that properly. But if, like, you’re just messing around with your friend and all of a sudden they throw a hard stop kick into your testicles, you’re gonna be pissed and you should be.
Kyle: I love that this is like Episode 6 or 7 or whatever and we’ve talked about you doing martial arts a lot. And I feel like people assume that that’s karate or taekwondo or kung fu… but no, you swordfight people.
tony: I do swordfight, and I also do I just sort of I also do baguazhang, which is what Aang does on Avatar The Last Airbender. And then I do Tai Chi Chuan… anyway, I do a bunch of stuff, but it’s mostly Chinese martial arts and sword fighting.
Kyle: But again, a perfect example of a space where this conversation isn’t already happening, and you how you bring it into that space.
tony: You know, I think where it IS already happening. And a community that we are trying to expand the way that it’s already happening.
Kyle: What came to mind for me was, I know because I do a lot of work at colleges and high schools, is coaches. Just talking about consent and making it just like a normal part of the year. So like, you have your first practices in August or whenever that happens to be, and maybe post-practice every year, you have the consent conversation. And hopefully it’s not just a one-time thing, hopefully it’s an ongoing program or whatever. But just the more and more coaches can buy into this… I work with a lot of athletes right now. I have to say it’s not because athletes are always the problem, although they can definitely be part of the problem. But because athletes are very important to like a campus ecosystem and have a lot of leadership and can really help be good ambassadors for this work, too. So when coaches buy in to talking seriously about sexual assault and gender violence and consent, that has ripple effects throughout a campus community. Or, you know, throughout a high school community, too. So just identifying what power you have, whether you’re a coach, if you’re a CEO, if you’re an artist who has a large following, like we all have different kinds of power because of the different platforms that we have.
tony: Oh, I think another one that I want to mention is actually Greek life, like fraternities and sororities. I think especially fraternities have a really, really bad reputation a lot of the time for sexual assault. And I think in many cases that’s super warranted. But I also know like there was one time in college when I was talking to a woman friend of mine and was talking about, you know, a particular fraternity that I thought was super gross. And she was like, actually, I like going to parties there because if it’s some random dude that gropes me or something like that, I know that there’s probably no way I can ever hold him accountable. But I know some of these guys in each fraternity and I know that they take stuff like this pretty seriously. And so I know that if like one of the younger brothers in one of these fraternities comes up to me and grabs my ass at a party or something like that, I know he’s going to be scrubbing, you know, the stairs with a toothbrush for a month. Look, I know he’s actually going to be held accountable for that by other people. And so I feel safer being in that space. And I think that’s really cool, too, actually.
Kyle: Yeah. There are so many more examples of this, but we’ll keep it moving. So another point on this list is that there’s this organization called Know Your IX. www.knowyourix.org. They have a really cool resource on the website that’s called Supporting a Survivor: The basics. This point is about the importance of supporting people in our lives who are survivors. So that website includes some really useful tools for supporting survivors in our lives. Like, you know, validate their feelings about the experience, acknowledge their pain without catastrophizing it, if that makes sense. You know, don’t just be like this is what you need to do right now or, you know, take matters into your own hands and go like report something on your own. It’s about how we center survivors and allow them to find whatever strength means to them or whatever makes sense to them; that it’s their agency and their kind of space to do with that as they need to.
tony: Yeah, I mean, one example was: I’ve supported a lot of survivors after they’ve been sexually assaulted or or otherwise hurt. And I feel grateful for that in a lot of ways; I think it’s a big trust that people have chosen to give me. But one example was a person who went to a particular house at the college that I went to and got groped. And without naming her right, I put up a huge Facebook post the next day without her permission being like, oh, here’s you know, this house is garbage. Fuck this culture that exists in this house. It’s super not good. And she got rightfully really mad at me. And was like, that’s my experience. I was already in the process of handling it in a different way. And I was like, oh, but I didn’t even name you. And she’s like, it doesn’t matter. People know who is at that house last night. Like, you’re airing me out in a way that makes me feel really unsafe. Again, that could have been prevented consent wise if I just asked her, like, what do you want me to do around this situation? So, again, it matters when we support folks the way that they want to be supported instead of the ways that we think we should support them.
Kyle: Yeah, it’s callback to another episode where we were kind of talking about, I don’t remember the phraseology we were using, but kind of like soft power and hard power. Sometimes men’s response, and not just men, but like, often men’s response to someone in their life being assaulted is like, I’m going to go kick that guy’s ass. Or I’m going to kill that guy. Or I’m going to call the cops. Get the cops involved. But you have to center the person. And like you said, sometimes just being there, and being someone they can talk to if they choose to, is the most powerful thing you can do.
Yeah. Communication. The last point in this section of like, interpersonal things is just something on bystander intervention. And you know, hopefully this is a term people have heard before. But basically what we talk about when I work with students is like, yes, there are perpetrators and there are victims and survivors, but there’s also all the other people who are like, around in the community, in the space and wherever. And so I think it’s about recognizing that we exist in community with each other and that we all have different kinds of power to shift the culture or to intervene in a specific instance. You know, there’s the classic picture of bystander intervention: you’re at a party and you notice there’s maybe a young woman has been like, drinking too much and they’re kind of swaying back and forth. And you see this other guy who’s kind of like watching her and waiting for his moment to, like, take her up to his room or whatever. And then you do something. Yeah, that’s the classic example. But that also does happen. And in those examples, people who do bystander intervention work talk about like the 3Ds. You can disrupt the situation. You can be like, hey, don’t do that. And that can sometimes be the most effective thing. You can distract. You can be like, hey, your car is getting towed, where you’re not explicitly talking about the thing that’s happening, but you’re breaking up the harmful situation. Or you can delegate; where you just get some friends to come and back you up if you don’t feel comfortable or safe doing it.
And so, yeah, I think the 3Ds is really important to know about. I think bystander invention in general is really important to know about. But I also think that it sometimes is only conceptualized as that in-the-moment thing that’s happening. You know, when someone is experiencing street harassment or when someone you know, when bad things are happening, what do you do in that moment? But I think we also need to talk about how we can build a world in which, like, that situation doesn’t happen in the first place. And that’s harder. But I think, well, that’s a good transition into this last section, which is how do we build a culture of consent via policy and systems change?
And when I asked that question to people doing this kind of work, it’s definitely the one that’s the most challenging, because, you know, when we’re in high school or even in college, we often don’t learn a lot about movement building and activism and organizing. Even, you know, when people discover the world of healthy sexuality and consent, stuff like on the Internet, it tends to, even when the information is really good, it also tends to be kind of individual-focused. So let’s talk for a minute about this third section, about organizing. What can this work look like on an even bigger level?
tony: I think of a bunch of policies that have been won. And sometimes it’s easier than anything else to look at how this functions on college campuses. When we talk about how we want to have affirmative consent policies on college campuses that say, actually, you have a responsibility not just to not hear a no from somebody, but to hear a yes from somebody if you’re trying to sleep with them. Or like comprehensive sex ed classes, you know, at the high school level and even younger. K-12 consent education. First year orientation programs in college that address bystander intervention as well as good consent practices. Funding and infrastructure for rape crisis centers and prevention work; for counselors, all of those kinds of things.
Because I think sometimes when we’re talking about, you know, cultural problems, like sexual assault, it can feel like there’s nothing we can do systemically because it operates at an individual level. But like, there’s always something you can do to change the climate around a cultural issue. And I think those sorts of systems, what infrastructure exists, what offices exist, what practices exist at a macro level, policies like those things matter for addressing the individual cultural environment.
Kyle: That’s a good… you know, if you ever do like a community organizing training, like it’s a good case study to think about how you actually create change. Like what are the bottlenecks? One bottleneck is first your orientation programs. Because even though not everyone goes to college, everyone who does go to a college all goes through the same orientation in first year programs, you know, for the most part. And so that’s a specific space where some of this work can happen because you reach every single student, not just the people who opt into the conversation. But, you know, that’s only if people go to college. I think something like K-12 consent education, that K-12 comprehensive sex ed would be a game changer. Suddenly people are equipped with more tools and more understanding of these issues. And it isn’t a conversation that they’re having for the very first time when they’re 19. And when we talk about bottlenecks, like, that’s because these are winnable battles. In a lot of states, you can win that battle.
tony: There’s are people currently, in Minnesota, fighting for K-12 consent education.
Kyle: You know, affirmative consent policies on college campuses have been fought for and won at college after college after college, almost always just by like, student organizers who just decided to give a fuck and get involved and do something. And I mean, that’s the you know, the transition to the next point here, which is like, so these are all really good policies and things to fight for. But like, how do you actually do them? Like, how do you actually win, for people who don’t have a background in organizing?
tony: Well, I think the most important thing around these issues, especially if a person isn’t super versed in them, or has learned a lot about them on an individual and communal level, but hasn’t done the systems policy change work is like: don’t try to do it by yourself. Because for almost any issue in almost any environment, there’s somebody already doing the work out there and maybe they’re not doing the work quite the way that you would do it or with quite the same perspective as you would do it. But even if you don’t 100 percent square with them, like you can still do great work with them. So go and find the people who are already doing the work and learn from them. Ask them. Say I’m really interested in getting involved in this issue. What do you need? You know, what ways are there that I can support your work? Even if what they’re doing isn’t exactly what you’re doing. Find the closest thing you can, right? Learn as much as you can from them and then say, OK, cool. Thank you. I’m gonna go work on this other issue that I feel really passionate about.
Kyle: Yeah. And I mean, this conversation is so important. This is the nuts and bolts of how change happens. But I also understand that, you know, we’re speaking from Minneapolis. If I Google like, who’s doing this work in Minneapolis? One hundred names will come up in a hundred organizations and and all that. Like, I realize some people might be listening from a smaller community or a more isolated community where there isn’t a ton of stuff happening. But I still think the process is really similar. You see what is happening, and that could be just Googling stuff, or having conversations and asking people that, you know, who might know what’s going on. And then finding ways to like support those organizations, whether that’s organizing a benefit show and giving them money, whether that’s writing a consent themed Christmas song and donating half the proceeds to a local sexual violence center…
tony: Shout out Lydia Liza. And Josiah. Yeah, that’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which is an awesome consent themed Christmas song from our friends Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski. It bangs.
But yeah, sometimes we can get overly geographically focused when we’re talking about organizing stuff. You know, if you want to run like, a K-12 consent education drive in your community in rural Arkansas, like you can find folks who are doing that somewhere else on the Internet where they have a little bit more of a foothold and a few more resources than you. And you can find those people and email them or tweet at them or, you know, try and sit down with them for a Skype call. Right. And like almost all the time, those people are happy to see that work happening in places where it isn’t happening already, and will be happy to teach you everything they know about how to do that kind of work.
Kyle: Yeah. So that’s kind of like the dive in and get involved model. There’s also, I mean, you know, maybe you work two jobs and you’re taking care of kids and life is busy; like it could be signal boosting, like retweeting or posting people’s events and stuff, donating if you have the capacity to donate volunteering. For some people, you know. So locally, we talked about the Aurora Center. There’s also like MNCASA, The Coalition Against Sexual Assault. a million different campus organizations at the different schools. And then a non campus organization is SVC, the Sexual Violence Center. And SVC, you know, aside from, yes, you can signal boost them, you can donate to them, you can help support their work in different ways. You could show up and get trained and become an advocate yourself. And that might not be the move for everyone who’s listening, but that’s an option that’s out there. And like, other organizations may have similar options to do that face to face work. I just, you know, another part of the conversation around policy change, and this could also be a can of worms, is voting.
Kyle: Don’t boo voting. I know where we’re radicals and shit, but…
tony: Yeah, voting is important.
Kyle: It goes back to the conversation about bottlenecks, right? Voting is important not because voting will fix all our problems magically, especially when we’re talking about consent and sexual assault. But you know, getting better people into positions of power like, actually matters.
tony: It does actually matter. As much as I would love for it not to.
Kyle: And, you know, we can also look at leadership beyond elected officials and beyond politicians, like just the way that power flows through organizations, through who are the CEOs of the company or the managers; who are the, you know, the staff people at a particular institution. And just seeing how to get better people in positions where they can have impact on those bottleneck areas. It’s not always glamorous, but again, it’s the nuts and bolts of change work.
tony: And one word for that, because like I mean, that can exist, you know, in terms of talking about policies like on a campus (is the way that Kyle’s mostly talking about it). But again, like also policies in businesses. And I think it’s really important that people understand that a lot of the time, the place where people talk about sexual harassment or sexual assault or those kinds of things are human resources, especially in large organizations. And it’s important that people recognize that human resources, in general, is not on your side. Human resources’ job is to protect the company, and to make sure that the company doesn’t absorb any legal liability for any harassment or assault or anything like that that happens. And so there are incredible H.R. directors out there, and incredible H.R. departments that do really, really care about these issues. But there are a lot that don’t too. And so one way that you can be effective in your organization, or in an organization you care about, is by pushing them to adopt like, a real survivor-centric HR approach to dealing with these issues and saying, hey, actually, we’re not just going to go the normative route and like, make sure it’s all about protecting the company legally from any accusations that may happen. But we’re actually trying to make sure that the people who work here are feeling held and supported and being taken care of as we move forward.
Kyle: Yeah, I think, you know, a takeaway from all these points in this last section is just that people do have power. Even on an issue that is this big and seems this kind of fundamentally, intrinsically part of all of our spaces that we move through; like, we do have the power to change them. These cultures and these systems affect us, but we can also affect them. And I mean, just flipping that switch as a mindset can be a great first step. That’s what the zine looks like. But, you know, as we approach the end of this conversation, I do hear a little editor in my head saying that we need to talk about why this matters. The comms person in me is like, you got to talk about the why. You know, we did talk about this earlier. And part of me does want to push back that if you’re listening to this, you probably already know why it matters. You know, and you probably know that changing the culture isn’t about convincing the worst of the worst weirdos out there to change their minds. It’s about shifting the culture and making them irrelevant. But it’s also about equipping those of us who do care with more tools. It’s about mobilizing the people in the middle who might be open to these ideas, but have never just thought about them before, or had the opportunity to think about them before.
Kyle: I think it’s a great point to end with in that like, on one level, we have to acknowledge that there’s so much work to do. Like the issue is really bad and it sometimes can feel like it’s not getting better. And like, sexual assault is still at epidemic levels. AND I would say that doing this work over the past almost 10 years now, things have shifted. There’s a noticeable change in how people talk about sexual assault. How people… well, right away we’re talking about consent; 10 years ago, the conversation I think was less about… and I’m not a scholar or whatever, like I’m sure people were talking about consent… But I think like the big, pop cultural dominant conversation, right now, we can talk about consent. But before it was just about like sexual assault and sexual assault prevention.
tony: And about rape even more specifically than that.
Kyle: And so to see this reframing happen, you know, that’s been amazing. And because of the work of the advocates and activists and organizers and survivors especially across the country, really, really changing the narrative of how we talk about this stuff. And of course, how we talk about the stuff isn’t the only problem, right? Like, changing the narrative doesn’t necessarily change the policy, but the policy doesn’t change unless the narrative is changed too.
tony: So anyway, before the last word, we want to close out with a poem of yours again, that I think is a really, really amazing encapsulation of why consent is important and how good consent feels. So take it away.
Kyle: Thank you. I will say one really brief thing; you’re not supposed to introduce the poem, but I’ll say a brief thing: I wrote this to be the kind of poem I could read to a hostile audience, or at least like a noncommittal audience, where they wouldn’t have to like it or stand up and give me a standing ovation or whatever, but that it would plant a seed. It reframes some of the these myths that we are talking about a minute ago. And it plants that seed, or waters a seed that had already been planted. And I think that’s one way to think about this kind of cultural shift is that we all have to do what we can in the spaces that we have to keep planting those seeds and keep watering those seeds so that someday they can be cultivated.
This poem is called Consent at 10,000 Feet.
You ever have sex in a haunted house? Like you know, you sneak in together, and you’re both laughing, and you got it all planned out because you both worked there last year and know the layout of the building, and then like a werewolf jumps out and it’s like aaahhh but then you find that one spare room and it’s like… aahhh… you know: it’s different, it’s outside the box, but there’s nothing wrong with it.
You ever go to your roommate’s fringe festival show and end up hooking up with one of the supporting cast members, but they’re like, a method actor in the middle of a series of performances so they never break character? And, it’s cool but their character is this, like alternate universe steampunk Mercutio and their blunderbuss keeps getting in the way and you both laugh about it, and it’s like, memorable, something beyond the norm, but there’s nothing wrong with it.
You ever have sex inside an enormous bowl of fettucine alfredo that is suspended by chains between two sequoia trees because you’re dating this super avant garde performance artist and wanted to draw attention to their new vanity publishing press but they only got like a hundred Twitter followers? Yeah, it’s squishy, and definitely an experience that is not easily replicated, but there is nothing wrong with it.
There is nothing wrong with any of these scenarios, because in all of them, both partners are 100%, flamboyantly beyond any shadow of a doubt, down with what’s happening; and the communication of that, verbal and nonverbal, is clear and constant. This is consent. And wrong… would be the absence of that. In any context. For any reason.
It would be silence. It would be “I don’t know if this is what I want right now.” Because maybe that’s not a no, but it’s definitely not a yes. It would be just about everyone agreeing that rape is bad, but only when it’s called rape; how the amount of men who will admit to getting someone drunk, or otherwise manipulating, coercing, or forcing them into a sexual act is so much larger than the amount who will admit to raping someone.
How wrong is it, to continue to talk about sexual assault like it’s always that stranger lurking in the bushes, or always that cartoon caricature of a predatory fratboy and never… the boyfriend. Or the girlfriend. Or the best friend. Or the “ally.” Or that really sweet guy from class.
This is for that really sweet guy from class, who might be asking: what about the grey areas? What if we’re just both really drunk? What if she sends mixed messages? What if I’m trying to do the right thing but I read those signals wrong?
Have you ever had sex while skydiving? Like where you talk about consent the same way you talk about wearing a parachute—no grey areas, no assumptions like, “I’m pretty sure I’m wearing a parachute.” No questions like “I asked her to check my parachute and she didn’t say anything, but it was okay last time so I’m sure it’s good this time too.”
Have you ever had sex in a burning building, when smoke and cinder wrapped itself around your neck, but coming was more important to you than going? Have you ever had sex on a liferaft in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by sharks? I’m not saying the water can’t be cloudy. I’m just saying: we are under no obligation to swim through it. Have you ever not had sex? Just watched a movie, maybe made out, maybe made plans to get up again later, and then maybe days or weeks later, when you’re both there, and both ready, and both smiling, and both completely alive in your own bodies, and both listening to each other, fully, and maybe it isn’t love, maybe it’s just sex, and that’s perfectly okay, but love is so much bigger than “let’s spend our lives together;” it is also “let’s spend this moment together” as two (or more) people, present, electric, the opposite of grey, the embodiment of human: hands, eyes, lips, everything.
Kyle: For this episode’s last word, we turned to Haven Davis, a sexuality educator at the Annex Teen Clinic here in Minnesota, a sexual health clinic serving young people through age 25 with education and clinical services. The Annex provides a full range of low cost sexual health services, including clinical services, referrals, follow up and education. All services are confidential and no one is turned away for the inability to pay. Haven, originally from northern Minnesota, has been on the front lines of building this culture of consent we’re talking about, working directly with young people. So, Haven, what’s the last word? How do we build a culture of consent?
Haven: When I was thinking about the question of building a culture of consent, I thought of a particular story from when I first started working on teaching sexuality education.
I was teaching in a K-4 elementary school. My co-teacher and I were working on fulfilling the national sexuality education standards, which for elementary school is things that aren’t necessarily related to sex. There are more things about healthy relationships and what makes a family and why family is important. How does different kinds of touch make people feel and how can they keep themselves safe from touch that they don’t want? So two of the classes that we had, we did a series of role plays, and with this kindergarten class, we started with helping students to think about how they felt about different kinds of touch and what they liked and didn’t like. And then we went through a role play where they practiced telling someone to stop touching them. And then the next day we said, you know, once you’ve told someone to stop touching you, you can always tell an adult too, to get help. And so we had a second role play where we wanted to emphasize that someone can keep asking for help until they get help.
And so we did a role play where I pretended to be on my computer and I was sort of air typing and students would come up to me and would say, I can’t remember the exact phrase; I think it was “someone touched my private parts” or “someone touched me in a way I didn’t like” or something like that. And I was over the top intentionally, like goofy, dismissive, like, oh, I’m busy right now.
And the role-play, the students were expected to then move to my co-teacher and say the same thing. And she responded in a very different way, right, of like being more supportive and thinking through kind of next steps. And so the intention being that we would set students up to be more successful and feel more confident in getting help if they need it. And in the very next class, like literally a week later, one of the students raised her hand. So I asked a question, and I don’t remember the question I asked. But I was asking for some kind of information from the students. And a student raised her hand and she said, “someone touched my private parts.” And I was like, that’s great. I’m glad that you remember that. We learned that last week. Good job. But this is the actual question I’m asking. You can see where I’m going with this. And I just didn’t even think about it; I didn’t follow up with her at all. And I should have. And her homeroom teacher came up to me later and said, just, you know, (I can’t remember her name; let’s just say Rachel, whatever). “Rachel came up to me and said, someone touched my private parts” and I was like… And she asks, you know, is that related to something that was happening in health care? I said, yeah, that was, we worked on that. They figured out that the student who was standing behind her in line when they were walking in the hallways was touching her backside. And so I was the weak link in the chain of like, what I had set out to protect these students from. And it ended up, you know, they had conversations with those students, the different school staff. And, you know, parents were contacted, and the line order was switched. And there were all kinds of things that were done to to help protect the student.
But it was just such an interesting experience because it required a lot of sort of a mix of both feeling very validated and also having to feel really humble. There was not a ton of adult pushback against starting these classes, but there was sort of some confusion. And I think that really contributed to my response of me being really almost apologetic for teaching these students these things. And so my initial instinct was, oh, no, they said this thing out of context or they don’t they didn’t understand. I just assumed that they weren’t going to understand it until they were older. But at the same time, it was really validating because it was like, yeah, we need to be having these conversations. Like these students understand this and they’re using this information almost immediately to help protect themselves. So it was pretty, pretty surreal.
Kyle: So much consent education is built around first year college students. Are there any techniques for that age group, for really younger kids about introducing some of these topics?
Haven: So now I’m working currently with mostly middle school and high school. So it was a sort of brief period where I was working with this K-4, but it was really incredible. And I think one of the things that I learned through that was this stuff doesn’t have to be heavy. I think honoring people’s feelings, like if someone is having big feelings or something is heavy for someone, finding a way to honor that while also respectfully and kindly like, bringing levity to the stuff too. When we practiced having students say a phrase to get someone to stop touching them in a way that they didn’t like, we used like Beanie Babies or puppets and it was hilarious. They were so giggly and they were so… it was like a fun and silly thing. And so I want to be able to talk about consent and teach about consent in a way that honors that human connection is fun and important and fulfilling. And so how can we talk about consent in a way that honors the parts of it that are fun and then are life-giving as opposed to just making it like the scary, punitive, intense thing?
I think the only other thing that I was thinking about… So one of the curricula that we use defines, in the same way that you have these points from Planned Parenthood about what is consent. The four points in this particular curricula about consent are that it’s clear, it’s willing, it’s ongoing, and it’s based on equal power.
And I think that based on equal power one is the one that really gets me thinking, because power is so complicated and so nuanced and so covert sometimes and something that we don’t even recognize. It’s sort of the the air that we swim in. And so how can you truly have consent if you don’t have a good understanding of how power works and how power affects people and how power affects people’s relationships?
And then thinking about teaching consent, I think it is so interesting and kind of scary to think about what kind of power does a person who’s teaching about consent hold over people in a class? So that the story that I told with a kindergarten student; it’s like, what would have happened if she had not gone to another teacher? It highlights for me how there are so many different aspects of power in different relationships that we don’t talk about in terms of consent. And so I think if a person wants to build a culture of consent, I think that understanding power goes hand-in-hand with that, and making sure that a person is recognizing, starting to see, starting to notice like who’s in the room, starting to notice who has power over whom, who has time to speak, who has resources. All that stuff is a part of building a culture of consent.
tony: That was the last word with Haven Davis from Annex teen clinic. You can find them at AnnexTeenClinic.org. Thanks again. And we’ll see you in two weeks.