I want to put this story into context, before I tell it. I found the International Ms Leather event to be exhausting, illuminating, and difficult, mostly because of my own personal context, more than anything about the event itself. I took a couple of kick ass classes at IMsL, found the vending to be great, and enjoyed hanging out with my friends quite a bit. That being said, one of my more memorable moments ocurred late in the event, with me rather exhausted and low on spoons, and feels particularly relevant today, as it's blog against disableism day
For several reasons, I had downtime late in the event, and spent it alone in the lobby downstairs that was near the dungeons. I sat in a comfortable chair, and spent some time in solitude, some time with buddies. I was sitting and eating my sandwich, chatting with a couple folks, when a person approached saying that there was cake somewhere, and did I want a piece. I asked what kind of cake, and she showed me hers, and I looked at it, and decided that it was not worth the trouble or the spoons to eat the cake, that my sandwich was probably all the carbs my diabetic system could handle at the end of an event weekend where access to high protein low carb food was rather limited, and I was already running low on spoons for various reasons and did not want to spend them on cake. I thanked her politely, and refused, which she was rather hurt by and said it was very good cake. So, I launched into a very brief explanation of my relationship to things with sugar, naming my diabetes and need to make judicious choices and really decide whether it was worth it in terms of my health, to eat a couple of bites of cake, and assured her that I was certain it was very good cake. She was mollified, and left. One of the folks I was chatting with then asked about what I was eating and was it ok for me to eat that (a question I get very very frequently, because being a diabetic seems to invite people to judge my eating choices--without a lot of information about diabetes or my health--and decide that they clearly know better than I and can ask me to account for what I eat). I answered that question in a way that shut down further questions but was polite, and hoped I was done being diabetic on display.
But oh no, I was not. A person who I did not know, who had been emptying out the food from her room about a half hour earlier, from whom I had accepted some peanuts, approached. I do not know her name, she did not know mine, we literally had not said more than a few words about peanuts to each other. She asked me if I had said that I was diabetic. I said "yes", in a tone that clearly illustrated that I did not know why she was asking such a presumptuous personal question nor why she was inviting herself into a conversation of which she had no part. She said emphatically that she had
to tell me something, that a family member of hers was diabetic, and she had something important to tell me. I said, "please don't," clearly, definitively, and politely. She started again, and I repeated my "please don't." She said not to worry, it was positive. I repeated my "please don't". She continued to try to tell me, through what I think was a total of about 7 increasingly loud and firm "Please don't"'s.
Often, broken record works. In my experience, if you just say it enough times, they flag, realize what you are saying, and stop, and one of the keys to getting through is to not vary your language. I made a valiant effort with my please don't's, but clearly the broken record was not having the desired effect. She kept on trying to tell me this urgent thing that was so important to her. I had spotted the dungeon rules posted on the wall behind her head at about the 5th "please don't", and by the 7th, I had given up on the broken record actually working. It clearly was not going to. So I thought I would try something culturally specific to leather community to grab her attention and shake her out of this. I said, even more loudly, so that surrounding clusters of people could hear, with a firmer more emphatic tone, to try to engage her social embarassment cues, "I do not consent." It had no effect as far as I could tell, because she kept right on, rolling over my wishes and trying to tell me her very important thing. So, I tried again, this time staring her right in the eye and saying very clearly, "Do you understand that I am safewording?". (I should tell you that the event safewords--posted behind her on the wall, in fact--were, as they often are, "red" and "safeword", and if you do not know, a safeword is a word you use to stop people from doing what they are doing during sex or BDSM, and such a widely understood term that most leather people will literally freeze what they are doing if they hear it, whatever the context.) She, however, was unfazed by my clear and obvious and at this point even more pointed and not as quiet refusal of consent to listen to the thing she had
to tell me, because she kept on going.
I gave up. I had refused consent 9 times, in a very clear manner, and was faced with either leaving and giving up my very comfy seat, cursing her out, yelling at her, or letting her say what she clearly was not going to be stopped from saying, and getting back to my conversation. So I stopped interrupting her and trying to stop her, and kept her gaze with a clearly hostile look on my face, and let her say it. She did, probably with less detail than she might have otherwise, and with considerable emotion. I believe that she was on the verge of tears as she sprayed her pitying bullshit on me about how I should live life to the fullest, that I could
have a good and happy life. I waited her out, glaring, until she stopped, and I let a pause grow. Her face fell as I was not responding in the (perhaps grateful?) manner she expected. She then seemed to realize that perhaps she had possibly done something not ok and offered a tentative half assed apology. To which I responded, "Thanks for the peanuts," and then turned my entire body away from her to indicate the conversation was over. She left, and one of the folks I was chatting with (not the one who asked about my sandwich) signed "I'm sorry" to me. I sighed, and finished my sandwich, realizing that she had eaten the spoons I could have spent on that cake, damnit, which definitely would have tasted better.
I am struck by the way consent is a stated and intense value in leather community, and yet clear statements of refusal to consent can be steamrolled over unselfconsciously in a leather community space. As my best friend put it that evening, it is an important illustration of the way that we need to deepen and widen our community understanding of consent and what it means. This woman clearly thought (or perhaps felt is the better word, because it seemed fairly clear that she was not thinking too hard, given the social context and her ignoring the community specific refusal of consent) the depth of her need to tell me this overrode my statement that I did not want to hear it. I am lucky, that I knew that there were at least 7 people at the event that I could tell the story to who would get it, and get all the layers of it, and one of them had even witnessed it, and respected my right to handle it as I saw fit. That is a newer thing for me in kink community, and something I am very happy to know, that I have allies and friends who get the way ableism works. And I also knew that there were even more people in my life who were not at the event but a phone call away, pretty much every person that is significant to me, that would get why it was fucked up. Which is about more than just consent, the over the top refusal to respect my consent aspect of it just emphasized the other fucked up aspects of it, really.
That experience did not end my IMsL. I went on to joke with friends, to witness a gorgeous scene, and, especially, to entice several other queers into singing showtunes for me, all of which improved my night considerably.
ETA: I have been thinking further about this. One of the things that I keep coming back to in the story is the moment where I said for the first time that I did not want to hear it. When I tell that story to people, they are often surprised, and gasp a bit, as she did when I said it. (I have often been tempted to tell the story without ever revealing the thing that she "had" to say, because that ain't the point.) That moment, when I refused to hear it without even knowing what it was, is a bit shocking to people. I knew whatever she was going to say was going to be presumptuous and fucked up, with a set up like that it was obvious. At least one person said to me: "but weren't you curious to know what it was?" I had no interest in hearing what a random stranger had to say about my diabetes, especially when there was such urgency to it. I knew it was going to be fucked up. There is something in that, in cutting her off before she got to say it, before I even knew what it was, that she could not fathom why or how, and thought she knew
that once I heard it I would feel differently. There is something about a complete refusal to listen that breaks intense social rules and is shocking. As if as a person with a disability, part of my social job is to be the screen for people to project their shit onto, and I'm supposed to let them do it and not try to stop them before they do or interrupt them while they are. Something to ponder.