I'll start with a story, something that really happened though I changed the names and some details for anonymity. Ella was good friends with a couple, Bob and Cate, and they flirted and kissed. Sometimes they attended the same sex and BDSM parties and scened with each other. One time, years ago, at such a party, Ella was having sex with someone and Bob came over. While she was giving the other guy head, Bob went down on her after what he thought was a nonverbal okay from her to join in. Ella actually would've rather he didn't, but she didn't think she minded much and she was having too much fun to interrupt what she was doing and tell him to stop, so she just enjoyed herself and let it go. Later, however, she realized that it was more of a problem for her than she knew at the time, and it made her feel icky and a little bit violated. Wanting to keep her friendship with Bob healthy, she told him about it. Not only did Bob get defensive, but Cate really freaked out. She seemed to interpret this as an attack, an accusation that Bob was a bad person, and she knew he wasn't! They weren't able to reconcile this and the friendship fizzled.
It's been on my mind lately, partly due to attending the "Addressing Sexual Harassment in Our Communities" panel at Arisia and the hours of fascinating post-panel conversation with a few people. Not long after Arisia, a friend told me about finding out from someone close to her that, a long time ago, she'd had sex with the person thinking it was consensual when actually this person did not want to and wasn't able to tell her so and just went along with it. I've long known that it's possible that I've done something like that sometime in my past, despite trying to be very careful never to do so, and I might've really hurt someone, and if it has happened, I may never know. In fact, after that post-panel discussion, I told one of the people I'd been talking about one instance where I worried, after the fact, that I might've made a mistake and crossed someone's boundaries even though the interaction seemed good while it was happening. It's on my mind because I know that any of us - including most of you who read this - may possibly have done this to someone, and may never know for sure.
My reason for writing this post is my belief that our very efforts to combat harassment and assault and rape are exacerbating this aspect of the problem, ( and I want to explain why, and what we can change to stop doing this.Collapse )