The thin line of consent
How I was raped and intuitively pretended to like it. #metoo
A couple of years ago, after a big break-up, I radically changed my lifestyle. It led me to become a nomad, a gender activist, new economy expert and freedom evangelist. I am a proud and happy Moroccan-French woman who owns her life, work, independence and above all her sexuality.
One of the major topics that came up increasingly to me over these years of travels, feminism and social change is the one of consent. Consent is the basis of everything. This short video explains it better than any definition.
It makes a simple parallel between sex and tea: If you offer somebody tea and they say no, you respect that and don’t give them tea. You don’t pour tea in the mouth of someone who’s half conscious. You don’t insist on serving tea to someone during an hour, or pour tea in his mouth to make them want it. That’s as simple as this. Otherwise it is called sexual abuse, or rape. And that’s what happened to “#metoo”, at the beginning of my nomadic journey.
All names in this story have been changed to respect the privacy of the people mentioned.
I was travelling to Brazil to celebrate the new year of 2016. My friend Romeo was hosting me, and I had my room, my keys, my independence and a great time. It was my last week in Rio de Janeiro and I felt grateful for his welcoming.
Romeo is what we can call a womanizer. I am also one of these profiles (or at least I considered myself like that), but in the queer version: men, women, couples. Whatever the gender and the social structure, I have always liked to seduce and to have lovers. I am also embracing this identity fully and proud of who I am, and standing for a positive sexuality approach. I think sex is healthy. Between people who really want to connect on this level, it is magical. Of course it is a powerful energy, and as such can be equally dangerous. This is why analysing, experimenting and understanding its dynamics is so crucial.
At this moment I am realizing how uneasy it is for me to write this story. I am trying to explain and understand a situation that should have never happened. That I hid in my subconscious even though it kept staying there, and created blockages and issues in my sexuality and relationships, in a subtle way. But during my healing process and quest for inner essence, I got to know myself better. Facing my demons and solving my inner issues to transform myself. With my personal life. My romances. My lovers. My work, in the new economy, in gender, as a feminist. The conversations I try to spark and bridges I try to build about all these topics.
As a feminist, an alpha woman, a free bird, how could my brain articulate what had happened? How could I accept that I had “contributed” to my own rape and pretended to like it?
I always knew that something was wrong with what happened that night. And I know that Romeo does too. Because even when your mind prevents you from admitting it, the abuse happened. The scar is there.
We barely speak to each other today, even though we were close. We tried to talk about it, a year ago. A night where I was hosting Romeo back at my place in Berlin. Because hospitality is a core value for me, and he had hosted me already, I didn’t even think of not hosting him. That night we got drunk with two other friends, and at some point burst into a “fight” about what happened. And I remember asking him at some point: «why did we stop being friends after we had sex? Why did you shut your door the whole day after this? Why do we both feel so bad and weird about it?»
I didn’t want to see the answer, and neither did he. As a feminist, an alpha woman, a free bird, how could my brain articulate what had happened? How could I accept that I had contributed to my own rape and pretended to like it? Because it’s impossible to conceive or to accept, right? Our narrative of rape is “this violent tool, used in war, in dark corners in streets and parking lots at night”… Of course this happens, too. But most of the stories I know around me are friends raped by close people. Friends, uncles, cousins, teachers. Relatives. People they trusted. But this was still something that happened to many of my friends, but couldn’t have happened to me. Not me! I am aware of these things! I am aware of myself! I have a free sexuality and I claim it!!
Rape is everywhere
Maybe this is where the problem lays. See, it was clear to me since the day I met him that Romeo wanted to have sex with me. And it was always clear to me that I never wanted to. I never was interested in an intimate one-on-one connection with him. But here’s what happened. A week before, we were with friends at a beach house, celebrating new years and having a lot of fun. I was in the healing process of my break-up, so I was drinking a lot and having a lot of sex. But it was all consensual, and all the time this house always felt like a safe space to experiment and let go.
One of the nights, I ended up engaging in group sex with Romeo, and two friends in a relationship, Peter and Jessica. At some point, Jessica was too drunk and kicked us out of the room in the middle. Romeo was still super horny and asked me to join him in his room, which I declined. It was still clear for me that I was not interested in having sex just with him. Did he feel rejected at this point, because it was only okay for me to have sex with him as part of a group, but not alone? Maybe this experience led him to think “Asmaa is very open and free, so I can abuse her without feeling guilty”?
A few days after, we went to a party in Rio, with other friends. But this night I was tired and took half a pill. At some point we went back home with Romeo. Anyone who has taken serotonin-like drugs knows that you just want human contact when you’re high. It was the case for me when we came back home. I wanted to stay with my friend, so I put a pyjama on to hang out in his room and cuddle. For me, it was still clear that I did not want to have sex. And I clearly told Romeo about my intentions. At some point we were lying in bed and talking, and my friend told me he was horny. I told him that I was not at all, and I just wanted to cuddle and sleep. He kept insisting, many times. At some point he even asked me if he could touch himself.
THIS IS THE POINT WHERE I SHOULD HAVE SAID NO. WHY DIDN’T I CLEARLY SAY NO??
I told him that I didn’t care and I was just going to sleep next to him because I really did not want to be alone. Why didn’t I walk away and go back to my room at this point? Why didn’t I just say “no, fuck off, this feels weird”? Why did I just let myself trapped in the situation, pretending to sleep and not caring while he was masturbating, and pretending to ignore that what he wanted was to put his dick inside me? He kept asking me if I wanted to join him, and I kept saying I would prefer not to. I was high and tired and did not have more energy to leave. I hate myself for this.
When he started touching me while I was half sleeping, I kept trying to say no. But at some point I just stopped resisting and entered the game. And pretended to like it. I performed. Maybe because deeply in my subconscious, like many women, I felt trapped. Since I was there, I just had do what I knew best in this kind of situation and get out of here, so it would stop feeling so awkward and bad. My dear friend Bianca told me that “performance became a female pattern that has nothing to do with what we desire as women”. And this is exactly how I felt that night. And many others. Detached from myself, my soul, my desire. Fooling myself and my friend by pretending to like and know what was expected for me to do.
It never actually occurred to me to ask myself; why the fuck did HE do that?
Why the fuck did I do that? This has always been the story I kept telling myself, with self-hatred for being high and half conscious. It never actually occurred to me to ask myself; why the fuck did HE do that? I was obviously high and not conscious. I was obviously not looking for sex, until I forced myself to engage in it I still feel like I want to throw up every time I remember this night. The day after, my friend spent the day in his room, door shut. I spent the day alone in the living room, depressed, while it was pouring rain like crazy. I felt that Rio was crying for me. I moved back to my friend Renata’s apartment the day after. And cornered this night somewhere in my subconscious.
Until it just came out, 2 weeks ago, in the middle of a deep and amazing dinner conversation about feminism with female friends and other brilliant women. One of them told us, « I was raped many times» and shared her stories. «You know, with the boys in my village, we would be hanging and at some point you just let yourself». And then it just hit me. Me too. When she then asked if any of us was raped, I naturally replied «yes, me». And shared this story for the first time.
Gender and Power dynamics
The thing is, I ended up many times in the situation at the place of my friend. Because I sleep with women too. And having a fluid sexuality allowed me to understand a lot about what’s wrong with gender and power dynamics, especially when coming to sex. It is not an easy space to navigate. When everything learned about gender stereotypes cannot apply anymore, you have to see humanity first, beyond any label and rules.
I, too, like Romeo, ended up with women I was attracted to who were drunk or high in my bed. But it would have NEVER occurred me to insist so much to fuck them, especially when in this state of vulnerability. Even when really horny.
It happened to me to turn down a lover who was obviously too wasted to really know if she wanted to have sex or not. Because I am aware, and I care about my partner’s well-being. Because I am not interested in having sex with someone who is not fully conscious. Being with women allows me to really mirror the actions of my male lovers. Consent is essential. And especially when you have a free sexuality, consent is key to enjoy an experience that is beautiful for both (or more) people involved. The complexity of sexuality and power dynamics between men and women make it even more important to address as a priority.
I remember another Brazilian lover, a year after, in a similar context. We were in a party in Rio, he was high on drugs, I was tipsy and we started making out. Then immediately, this man started asking me to consent to everything he wanted to do with me. By verbally formulating his desires, and asking me to formulate mine, it made it easier to enter in a sexy game with no room left for misunderstanding. Of course “dirty talk” is not the only way to ensure consent. Simply paying attention and listening to non-verbal and body language of your partner (as we do with any social code — remember the tea video!), is crucial. Not being selfish trying to fulfil your own pleasure and desire with little consideration for the human engaging in intimacy with you. Especially when they are in a vulnerable position involving intoxication.
I feel that in our societies today, sex is treated more and more as a commodity. We pretend to be liberated, but many of us are scared of opening up a real conversation about our sexualities. We do not talk about desire and sexuality in an open and constructive way. We can either consume sex, or reject it. We refuse to see how toxic masculinity and submissive femininity is engrained everywhere so deeply in the way we relate to sex.
The whole #metoo conversation opened up a Pandora box that will hopefully never be closed again. Societies are starting to react collectively about sexual harassment, public rape stories, and even speak-up about child abuse, from the US to Pakistan. This is a huge step towards ending gender-based violence, and it is great.
However, it seems that the conversation stops to spark collective agreement when it comes to addressing consent and abuse without physical violence. When we speak about gender stereotypes, power dynamics and sexuality. We saw it with the recent “Aziz Ansari” scandal. It is easy to shed the collective anger on “monsters” who attack innocent women and children. But what about “good men” like Aziz Ansari, Romeo, or many others, who don’t care about consent, because they learn that they are slaves to their sexual desires and that women are trophies who need to fulfil these desires? And what about women who perform and learn that their desire is shameful and they should only serve male pleasure? This is still the dominant narrative around sexuality. Present in all cultures. From religious dogmas to pornography. The “Madonna-whore complex”.
If men and women have internalized so much misogyny that it has jeopardized the most sacred and beautiful space we have as humans — one of sexuality — we must find and share solutions to make it healthy again for any humans engaging in it. We need to share and speak about the dynamics that happen between people in intimacy and transgression, and how we can play with them in a positive way. Without anyone getting hurt in a way.
And making sure to agree on everything happening between us when having sex, by bringing awareness, empathy, generosity and communication (verbal or non) allows us to create spaces where we are safe — in addition to be an incredible turn on. And that’s consent.
NB: This text was written in July 2017, but I never found the courage to share it. The #metoo movement, encouraged me to speak up as well. This article about the Aziz Ansari allegations gave me the last inner push I needed to feel confident, work on my text and share it regardless of any kind of criticism I would receive.
A HUGE thanks to my dear friends who helped me rework it and supported me to publish this: bianca praetorius ,Yatan Blumenthal , Aline Mayard, Soraya Joundy, Francesca Pick, Jon Stever, Cynthia, Manuela, Kenza and my sisters Houda & Hind.