that time i did nothing: assumed consent & retraction thereof
content warning: non-graphic description of a questionable consent situation; non-graphic talk of sex, rape & trauma; self-gaslighting.
this is the third and final post in a series of posts in which i’m writing about my personal experiences with sexual abuse / violence and consent issues. the first post on sexual abuse / violence can be found here. the second post on consent issues and asexuality can be found here. this post is about something that happened during a past relationship in which consent is / was questionable and the ramifications of it.
consent. not a topic that i’m at all well informed about, but about which i’m writing a lot at the moment as i attempt to unpack and navigate things from my past that i have up until this point avoided doing.
as i mentioned in my previous post, i’ve been in two long-term relationships spanning 9 years in total, 5 of which were sexually active and all of which happened before i came out to myself as asexual (among other things). during the first relationship, something happened that has resulted in me now questioning what even ‘counts’ when it comes to consent.
in a relationship (like far too many) where sex had been consented to multiple times to the point of becoming assumed; where actual yeses and noes are no longer said because attention is no longer paid to asking for / giving consent at all, but rather to respecting when assumed consent is retracted… in that context, if i didn’t act on my ‘responsibility’ to explicitly retract my consent by verbally saying “no,” does that mean i automatically consented…?
how “active” and “enthusiastic” does consent have to be to ‘count’? and once one has consented to sex, how “active” or “enthusiastic” does retracting that consent have to be to ‘count’?
i don’t expect anyone to actually answer those questions. for now, it’s enough for me to just be able to think aloud by blabbering into the void that is the internet. as usual.
the year was 2006 and i was living in a dorm with my first partner of 3 years at the time. one night, like many a night, i’d gone to bed while he was still up on his computer. the thing to note about this night is that i had gone to bed upset with him over something that wasn’t a big deal to him, but was to me. he was seemingly oblivious to the fact that i was upset, too absorbed in his games to pay attention, as usual.
at some point during the night, he came to bed and tried to get me into the mood. i, half-asleep, turned on my side, turning my back to him in what i thought was a clear “i’m sleeping, go away,” but he persisted. and persisted.
i didn’t respond at all to the things he did. i didn’t give any sign of enjoyment whatsoever. in fact, i might as well have been unconscious because i didn’t do anything. but i wasn’t unconscious. i could have said “no.” i could have said anything, but i said nothing. i laid there unresponsive as he satisfied himself, silently stunned and angry at what was happening. stunned at how clueless he was to the fact that i wasn’t happy or enjoying it. at. all. teary-eyed at the realization that aside from my body being there in that bed, i might as well have not even been there at all, since nothing else about me seemed to matter, least of all my feelings. when it was over and he went to sleep beside me without a word, i just laid there in my anger and disbelief, willing myself to forget it’d ever happened.
i tried hard to forget that night. thought i was doing a damn good job of it.
until it happened again.
this time i was well and truly asleep when it happened. he came to bed and tried to get me into the mood, but i don’t remember anything that happened beyond that. i don’t even know how far he got with his attempts to get me to accept his advances, i just know that in the morning he was visibly hurt and upset when he told me that i’d physically pushed him away during the night.
as i said, i didn’t and still don’t remember anything that happened that night. i don’t remember pushing him away. now, in hindsight, i want to applaud myself for having finally done what i wish i’d done sooner, but at the time all i felt was confusion and guilt.
“i hurt him! why’d i do that?? ah geez, now he’s depressed and withdrawn again and it’s my fault. i have to prove to him that i’m okay with se– why’d i respond like that anyway?? i thought i was past what happened last time! it was my own fault for not saying anything, so why now…??” my thoughts and feelings were a mess, but i wasn’t concerned with myself beyond figuring out why i would have possibly done that to the person i loved.
i think it’s safe to say that that marked the beginning of the end of that relationship. even though it would take me years to realize it, the discomfort i felt in that relationship and my inability to cope with everything that was going on was a part of what lead me to running away to Japan in the middle of the relationship. it was a shitty thing to do, certainly, but i didn’t view it as running away then, even if that’s exactly what i was doing. that relationship, while good at times, had been toxic and i refused to see it, even from thousands of miles away. it took more shitty things happening for that relationship to finally be put to rest.
but wait, there was another long-term (sexually active) relationship that happened between then & now! what of that relationship?
it’s not until now that i can see the effects that my first relationship had on my second one. that those times when i woke up and my partner was seemingly distant towards / avoident of me– had i unconsciously pushed him away during the night too?? when i came out as asexual and suddenly he didn’t want to sleep in the same room as me, even going so far as to pack a bag and leave without notice– “what the hell had i done without knowing to make him react so extremely??” is something i continue to ask myself even now. in the past, i’ve beaten myself up so bad over it all, blaming myself for everything, all the while still only barely acknowledging what had happened in my first relationship that might have also happened in the second.
and i’m still not sure how to word what happened that night in 2006.
“we were in a mutually consensual relationship where sex had happened many times and consent had become assumed unless retracted. i didn’t retract it. i didn’t say “no.” i didn’t say ANYTHING. that night in that dark bedroom, how could he have known i wasn– he could have read my goddamn (lack of) body language and attempts to turn away, that’s ho– but i didn’t actually SAY it and he’s not psychic! i can’t just turn around now and cry rap– besides, if it was actually that i would have said or done something!”
a sample of the inner debate that repeats in my head every time i remember that night. i think to myself, “i should have just said something. no way it’s rape! we were partners! partners don’t rape partners, that’s just sex!” and even though i know for a fact that that is bullshit, that a partner can without a doubt rape their partner(s), it’s still hard for me to see that night as anything more than an unfortunate event that i had the power to prevent but didn’t.
“rape is traumatic. rape is violent. that night was none of those things…!”
…or so i tell myself it wasn’t traumatic, but in writing all of this out now and seeing as how what happened that night seems to have had unforeseen effects even years after the fact, maybe i’ve been lying to myself. or maybe i’m just being overly dramatic with all this.
i’m still only just beginning to think back on the experiences that i had during those past relationships. it’s hard, especially if i start questioning the quality of my own consent, let alone whether i actually consented at all or not. that said, i’m going to try my best to unpack things and break the habit of always packing everything away instead of dealing with it. everything in this post is baggage that i, ideally, should have unpacked and figured out long before now….
even though i’m really anxious about publishing this post because consent is such a gray area and, again, this blog isn’t anonymous so anything that i put out on the internet could have repercussions… i hope that the existence of a post like this can help someone out there, just as it’s helped me writing it.
there’s no where to go but forward from here… right?