On Consent, Sex Positivity, & Cultures of Color after Colonization
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I wrote this last night while we were talking about this NSFW picture on Tumblr and all the cultural connotations imbedded in the idea of the knowing sexually available black woman teaching the young white man. We got off into sex positivity, the racially specific messages about sex that WOC often get inside their communities as well as what is projected on them from the outside and what all of that really means for us. Then we started talking about consent & how it has been an illusion for so many WOC throughout history. One of my great grandmothers was a quadroon out of Louisiana, and while I’m pretty she was at the base of all the anti sex messages I got from my grandmother, I can only imagine what led her there & what led my grandmother to where she ended up. She could run numbers, but my grandmother always made sex sound like a chore. So, this is a rough approximation of something I want to expand on later.
Looking back I don’t think they could conceive of actually owning their bodies in any meaningful way. I come from a family of beautiful women with hourglass figures (and before someone starts in about arrogance, I am not trying to be a shit, it is just our reality is one where we tend to fall into that range of physical symmetry that American culture prizes), who spent a lot of time fleeing or hiding or passing as men if they could in order to travel safely and those were skills and lessons that they passed on to their girl children. I struggle with the idea that my body belongs to me, and that’s after some legal protections (however weak and ill applied) for black women were codified. Imagine being an attractive WOC with not even that hint of protection.
Further, imagine a reality where rape isn’t even a concept that applies to you. A white man wants your body? Well shit, that’s what it’s there for so lay down girl so he can do his business and move on. A black man wants you? So? Be grateful someone wants you. After all, what other purpose can your body serve in this world when it looks like that? You’re too sexy to be sexless, & you’re not allowed any power including the power to say no. At least not here in your home. So, what do you do? You run. North to that mythical promised land of freedom. Only you’re not free there either. Not really. Different standards apply & maybe having a husband is some protection, but him being your husband after a lifetime of sexual trauma isn’t the same as whatever things might have been if your body ever belonged to you. And so you teach your daughters that sex is a thing they must do to appease men, but you separated from yourself to get through what happened & you try to teach them how to do that out front so they won’t hurt like you do. Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t but either way you’re trying to make the best of an awful reality. And they learn their own version of the lesson that they try to pass on to their daughters. Because a black girl child isn’t safe any where & so the cycle begins again only you’re further North, or education is a protection that marriage was not, or your daughters have learned not to feel, or whatever else you think might make things better.
Now here I stand, the last of a line of women who never owned their bodies with my own scars. I lost the right to my body before I ever knew it was mine & I have the education, the husband, the law, & still none of it made consent matter as much as it should in my life either. So I teach my sons about enthusiastic consent & hope that works out for someone else’s daughter. And I can enjoy sex, albeit with a heavy dose of shame at times, and much coaxing from a patient man who can live with the fact that sometimes I cannot be touched at all. But I still don’t know what consent looks like without baggage, because when I cannot bear touching I will fight like a rabid dog to keep hand off me and my body to myself even though I don’t really believe it is mine and mine alone. That’s our rape culture. Consent is an illusion, the law doesn’t really protect us, & the risk of enjoying sex might be the thing that turns around to bite out our souls when it blows up in our face.