Consent is much more complicated than any of us wish to acknowledge.
It is often non-verbal, as is its revocation; despite our clamoring for affirmative consent or so-called enthusiastic consent.
It’s (non)communication and (mis)reading are always, already raced, gendered and read through a white centered, cisheterosexist lens. That is to say, it is always, already framed in an anti-queer, anti-Black, sex-negative framework of the public imagination of proper, lily white people.
It works on a binary which, like most binary things in life, is a matter of expediency rather than reality; and more often, a metric of ordering victims and predators, vessels for discipline and targets for dehumanization, validators of discipline and sentences of disposability.
It is defined by straight white wo/men—and written in the blood of Black and Indigenous folks across (a)genders and sexualities—the chief purveyors of rape and racial-sexual terror. (See: lynching or Emmit Till, or consider the erotic nature of stop and frisk; or pause and grope).
Rightly, it can fluctuate in a moment and bounce around internally before, ever, being announced as having departed, arrived, or re-departed. There are some moments we question around erotic practice with another, and in other moments, we cannot breathe because we have gone to new depths. There are moments when trauma creeps in and we simply cannot, seconds later where we push it away and are present in the moment, still others, where these things stand together and we still want to fuck. Complicated. Unbound. Fucked.
This isn’t merely the complicated calculus of those of us who have been raped or sexually assaulted; it’s the truth of almost anyone who has a wide, varied and conscious sex life with folks of differing experiences, cultures and modalities of communication. Each time we engage in sex we engage in a type of foreign language acquisition that is fluently messy; eager as we may be.
We will never have a uniform code of consent—besides “believe white women”—because we have yet to have a uniform set of languages, cultures, erotics, taboos and affirmations. What is uniform, is the racial-sexual consumption, terror and exoticization of Black, BlaQueer and other non-white peoples to various gradients of transmutation to agents and conduits of white desire, fear and erotics.
Further, law is wholly incapable of protecting Black folks, let alone BlaQueer folks and such uniformity would fill the jail with white men and women while reparations and truth tellings would flow from both Church and State. What a blissful state that would be. Imagine, sexual, emotional or psychic trespass as uniform offenses; and consider if there are enough cells for white racial-sexual violence to be held still? Can a cell contain whiteness? A prison contain the (white) nation’s innate desires?
Our only panacea is a comprehensive sexual education, liberation and accountability system and culture that focuses on multiple registers of knowledge and communication; that affirms agency and kinks; that is as normal and routine as sipping water. At some point, we will perhaps, come to a re-memory that sex is something to be given—or not given—like the time of a day. It is not shameful. It is not taboo. It is not—and cannot—be hidden. We move from the space of the erotic; desire itself is not the problem, but its infection with the politics and praxis of capitalism as lodestar has lead many to consume self and others, as if poison has ever healed the dispossessed.
This brief reflection does not assert that bodily integrity and control over ones own body is a fool’s errand. That is the first lie of slavery and colonialism. This essay does not assert that bodily trespass is a mere instance of confusion, hypersensitivity or youthful lapse of judgement. That is the lie of Brett Kavanaugh, Brock Turner, et al. This essay does not assert that those who would invade y/our body, space, time or other means of unemcumbered living should go unaddressed, unpunished or remain beyond reproach. That is the lie of anti-Blackness, misogynoir, queer and trans-antagonism. This essay asserts one thing and one thing only:
Consent as popularly constituted has little to do with the lives of non-white people. It often functions as a complicated calculus—masquerading as common sense—equation for the articulation of women’s liberation. However, the women being liberated are white. They are most often being liberated from the sexual violence of white men; while also being able to lash this narrative against the psyche and livelihood of Black people and children for merely existing, brushing by with a bookbag or daring to disitnerested. Consent as currently constituted embeds white-normative modalities of communication that perform a historical and comtemporary erasure of the myriad ways Black folks—especially women, femmes, BlaQueers and yes men—have resisted racial-sexual terror. It erases the fact that imprisoned, stopped, searched and seized Black and people of color are legally sexually assaulted every few seconds in this nature for the crime of “looking suspicious” or, as I say, probable cause for Blackness.
Sexual domination—white erotic contact, normalized—has long been and remains one of the primary methods of modern racial-sexual terror and non-insertive rape. This violence often happens at the request of BBQ Becky and her ilk. The Black body is held in seizure, and if it moves without consent, it is filleted in public or home or both. Korryn Gaines. Botham Jean. Jordan Davis. Renisha McBride. Stolen. Seized. Killed. For bodily autonomy. For denying white non-consensual control of their body. And Trayvon. And Philando. And Eric Garner. And Charleena Wiles. And her baby; not old enough to be named, not baby enough to be human to officers, yet Black enough to be assaulted in the womb. And Miriam Carey. And Mya Hall. And…And…And..
The White American grammar of consent does not include, and will not protect, Black bodies unable to move without penalty of death. (See: Hortense Spillers “Momma’s Baby, Poppa’s Maybe”).
What is rape, what is sexual assault, if not the arrest of ones body with the promise of death, if one dares assert autonomy?
This essay does not assert that bodily integrity and permission are not important for Black people; to the contrary, its presence, permenance and preference as white supremacist powers are the root of anti-Black racial-sexual terror
We need different words, politics and practices that re-member and remember us, whole.
Tabias is an award winning author, scholar and graduate of Howard Law School and Tufts University as well as PhD Student in African & African Diaspora Studies.
Follow or Book Tabias for Keynotes, Lectures, Readings and Performances at www.TabiasOlajuawon.com. Contact them on Facebook at Tabias Olajuawon Wilson or twitter @BlaQueerFlow. Feeling fed? Hit up the cash app $tabiasw, Venmo Tabias-wilson or paypal BlaQueerFlow@gmail.com.