Friday, June 14, 2013

"Gay Fests" Are No Excuse To Ignore Consent

So in this blog we've already established that I do not like nonconsensual personal contact and want it added to the culture of consent.  I want people to be made aware that while there's nothing wrong with hugging and any other display of affection, there are people who are made extremely uncomfortable by them; because of this, people should be--by default--asking for permission to hug or otherwise touch a person (or at least giving them enough warning to accept or reject it, but keep in mind that there are also people who don't desire such contact but who are embarrassed to shoot you down).

I had a few experiences at Pridefest that just... jarred me in ways they haven't in the past.  There are two things that were very different.  The first is that I now pass well enough that practically every cis person there who didn't already know me (and many trans people as well) do not register me as a trans person.  The second is that I was wearing these:
I've never worn any sort of furry garb in public before (not counting once during Halloween) and so I was really excited about this.  I was wearing ears the whole time and a tail most of the time.  I really enjoyed it.  There aren't all that many places it's socially acceptable to do so, even as it becomes more and more common for people to get into it.

The first touch incident was a guy who gleefully told me that if I'd been wearing a tail he would have tugged on it... before "tweaking" my ribcage.  Alright, people, I know you think this is a harmless flirty move, but it's really inappropriate.  You don't fucking know me.  But he backed off and apologized when I asked him to stop and was from then on only marginally creepy from a distance (which, honestly, some people just can't help).

The second actually legit pissed me off from start to finish, and is the basis for this particular rant about consent.  I was on my way to the bathroom when a guy holding a drink--I'm pretty sure he was drunk--approached me and demanded to touch my ears.  I politely told him "no."  Honestly, I think had he asked me politely I might have allowed it--I mean, they're fabric--but I was seriously off-put by him demanding it so.  It doesn't matter, though, I have every right to reject anybody's contact to any body part of mine, including fake ones.

He didn't back off.  He reached out and touched my arm, trying to get at the ears, "reassuring" me in a frustrated, snippy manner that he wasn't going to steal them, he just wanted to touch them.  His friends were telling him to "back off, man" and I was backing away crossing my arms at him telling him to please stop.  He kept trying to convince me he wasn't going to steal them as if this was the issue.  Finally I explained that I just don't like being touched.

After his response he's seriously lucky I didn't chew him out.  He certainly would have deserved it.  He said:  "But you're at a gay fest!"

Alright, let me tell you something about Pridefest.  Pridefest is imperfect.  It's a land of corporate sponsorship, its programming is basically targeted toward gay men and lesbians, its history exhibit is woefully pinkwashed to the point where it legitimately offends me, it's supremely guilty of trans erasure, and they seem to believe drag shows are a sign of being transgender-friendly.  But it's also diverse.  There are infants being brought in by their parents, and there are elderly people, and everyone in-between.  There are gay men, but there are also lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals, heterosexuals, and others.  There are people from all around the trans umbrella, including drag performers, transsexuals, genderqueers, gender neutrois people, and many more.  There are many faiths represented, many subcultures, and many lifestyles.  Even with its flaws, it's probably the most diverse place I've ever regularly attended.  So the idea that everybody there is guaranteed to be willing to let you touch them is already a huge stretch of the imagination.

"But you're at a gay fest!" is a fucking ignorant comment to make over somebody's personal preferences at an event like this (or really anywhere).  Maybe--maybe--you could get away with saying this if somebody were commenting negatively about two men or two women kissing, or making a snark comment about a trans person, or getting all negative about the leather wear show (although "gay fest" is certainly a shallow way of saying it).  But when you try pulling this over the simple fact that I don't know you and don't want you to touch me what it tells me is that you are a part of the problem.

What problem?

The one where people assume that my being a member of a queer/LGBT/SAGD community means that I am unconditionally available to your pawing at me for whatever reason you choose.  The one where what people wear or how they wear it--yes, even a set of fabric ears--is taken to imply consent to physical contact.  The one where we make "exceptions" to common courtesy because people in a group are "supposed" to like that sort of thing.

So if you're thinking this is a gray area or that the way you do it doesn't count or some other ignorant thing, keep the following points in mind:
  • There is no way of dressing that means somebody automatically consents to your touch... except maybe a T-shirt that literally says "I consent," a phenomenon I have never actually seen.  Someone dressing in a bikini top and miniskirt is not asking for your physical contact.  A person wearing wolf ears and a tail is not asking for your physical contact.  A naturist who is wearing nothing is not asking for your physical contact.
  • Just because a subculture is generally regarded as being open to such things doesn't mean it is less rude to not ask or--even worse--to persist when you've been told to stop.  Yes, yes, I am fully aware that furry fandom, gay communities, and Pagan communities often engage in more touch than more mainstream communities.  My question would be why you think this means I don't personally have the right to turn it down.
  • Just because some subcultures tend to be touchy-feely doesn't mean they shouldn't be incorporating consent into it.  Just because I'm a furry doesn't mean I want to be glomped.  Yuck.
  • I am like this due to mostly to introversion and general discomfort.  I haven't had any severely traumatizing events that led to it.  Plenty of people have, though.  Where somebody like me might get irritated and pissy (and write a nasty blog entry about what you've done), there are people who legitimately will relive trauma if you do this sort of shit.
  • Touch entitlement walks along lines of oppression.  The most common and obvious is men's entitlement toward women's bodies, regardless of any other factor, but there are many more as well.  Gay men too often think they can get away with touching women without their consent because they "aren't enjoying it anyway."  It's still patriarchal misogyny when a gay man does it.  Recently on Twitter there was a hashtag called #youcanttouchmyhair which is in reference to white entitlement toward black women's bodies.  White people who feel it is their right to touch black women's natural hair are a common and serious problem.  Adults who don't allow children to give or withhold consent when relatives want to hug them.  And so on.
  • Unless you are literally saving my life or somebody else's or preventing me from committing a terrible crime, I am never obligated to let you touch me in any way.  Asking permission is not just a symbol.  If I say no, it means no.  Really.
 This concept is foolishly simple, and that's what boggles my mind about the fact that it hasn't usefully picked up:  If you want to touch somebody, hug somebody, fuck somebody, kiss somebody, or whatever else and they are of sound mind... ask them instead of assuming.  It's really that simple.