Consent: A short victory story

Ed. note: This post was originally published on the Community Site.

I wouldn’t say we were kissing; that implies a continuous action.

We had kissed. We could kiss again. We could do a lot of things. My synapses were inundated with red wine. We were at a decision point.

I’d been in this moment many times.

There’s a lot of smart writing right now about intimacy and consent on college campuses. However,  this conversation is often somewhat excruciating, almost always discouraging, so I thought it might be helpful on a rainy  morning to share a very short personal success story.

To be clear: I am no longer “on campus.” However, I did return recently for my five-year college reunion, which was essentially a 48-hour collective performance piece in which we all acted like we were 23 again, right down to listening to Asher Roth on repeat. (Go ahead: hate me.)

And so, we were on the dance floor, college-style: low lights, heady smell of sweat, the reverberations of the bass vibrating up our legs.

We had been drinking. Clarification: we were drunk.

If I had wanted to leave, I could have simply said that I wanted to get another drink, or needed to go to the bathroom, any other reasonable excuse. But that wasn’t the issue. I was interested in this person. But I was also aware that the dance floor was swaying ever so slightly underneath my feet, indicating that I was likely not at my peak decision-making capacities.

So I said the very first words that came to mind, which just so happened to be the improbably coherent statement: “I am too fucked up to give meaningful consent right now.”

The person whom I had kissed pulled away, his face morphing into a Very Serious listening expression.

“OK,” he said.

“Let’s check in a few hours from now?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said.

I drifted away. The party continued. At some point, I stopped drinking. The man and I never did check in a few hours later, but we saw each other again later that weekend — I can’t remember now quite when it was — and we smiled at each other and said hello, and I realized that not only was everything perfectly normal between us, but that there was still plenty of space for a future romantic interaction. (It’s worth noting the fact that my friend listened to and respected these words seamlessly makes me a lot more interested in him as a human being — ideally in a future situation that includes a little less wine.)

The next morning, hung over, I opened my computer to find New York Times magazine writer Emily Bazelon’s latest piece analyzing the conclusion of college student Emma Sulkowicz’s protest and art performance “Carry that Weight,” for which she hauled a mattress around campus for months – including onstage at graduation – in order to demand the expulsion of the student she has accused of raping her.

Bazelon’s piece was depressingly entitled: “Have We Learned Anything from the Columbia Rape Case?

As I considered that question for the rest of the day, I realized that prior to this past year’s constant, never-ending, excruciating conversations about the Rolling Stone debacle, the new California consent laws, Emma Sulkowicz’s mattress, I almost certainly would have never in a drunken haze have thought it appropriate to say: “I am too fucked up to give meaningful consent right now.”

Maybe that’s the difference between being in college and returning to play college for a weekend five years later. Or maybe – I’d like to believe this latter option – it’s a reflection on how far this conversation has moved since I left campus.

Of course, creating an environment in which it is socially acceptable to talk about consent on a dance floor is just one tiny piece of this puzzle. But a small victory is nevertheless a victory. So, Emily, to answer your question: I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I learned something.

Laura Gottesdiener is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by Tom Dispatch, Al Jazeera, Mother Jones, Playboy and other outlets. She is the author of A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home. She is currently focused on issues of energy, extraction and displacement in the Americas.

Freelance journalist focused on energy, extraction and displacement.

Read more about Laura

Join the Conversation