Letter to a friend – you’re fucking up

[This is the public transmission of a highly private message.  Names have been changed, but the story still needs to be out there.  I used my own first name for the perp in this letter.  In part because it is the type of mistake i could have easily made when i was his age and in part because i would like to think it is a letter i would be open to getting had i made this mistake.]

Dearest Pax:

It was great to have you at New Years, i appreciate it when we are able to get our worlds to overlap and connect.  Immodestly, i see a bunch of the best parts of myself in you.  You’re daring, you’re confident, you are sharp, you are not waiting for someone to show you the way, you make stuff happen.  And that is awesome.

And i was pleased to see that you connected romantically with Zeta at the party.  As you know she and i have recently thrown sparks together and intimately connected as well.  And while i am happy to be in a brief poly circle with you, i am afraid i need to deliver some heavy news.  Zeta felt like you failed to get consent from her in your quick sexual connection.  She did not feel seriously violated, but from what she told me, she easily could have.  You need to check in more, you need to ask before you start getting sexual with a new partner.  She was definitely into you and attracted to you.  And in the end she felt run over by you.  Like you had your own agenda and her opinion not respected.  Even if by some measures what you were doing was principally pleasuring her, it does not matter.

I dont think you know that Zeta is the survivor of childhood sexual assault.   This has made her sexual development very slow, it is hard for her to trust people in a romantic intimate way.  You and i are some of her earliest relationships of choice, despite her age.  When she and i started getting sexually intimate, she did not tell me about her difficult past.  But i was very cautious to check in a lot about what touch she was comfortable with.  My first tip that this was clever was that she kept thanking me for checking in, strongly reinforcing this behavior.  My overwhelming experience, even with lovers who want forceful partners and even with lovers who  only had healthy sexual histories is that  they are nearly all appreciative explicitly establishing consent at lots of points in the progression of a physical intimacy.  One of the points Zeta made when we were talking about this afterwards is it is often hard for survivors to give “no” signals when they both want to be intimate and they need to be checked in with, they depend on their partners to get green lights before moving on.

And she has no regrets, she thinks you are charming and does not feel guilty or hurt by the experience.   She did feel shaken, frustrated and awkward and haunted by her past afterwards.  And frankly, you got lucky.

i think you are an amazing guy, in lots of ways far more together than when i was your age.  There are tremendous possibilities in front of you.  And this is a piece you need to work on.  i encourage you to do some self-deconstructing.  To figure out what your motives are, so you can reprogram into a person who is more consensually sexual.   It will change the dynamic between you and your partners to one you prefer OR it will tell you that your partner is not ready.  Either of these things would be better than pushing an intimate agenda with insufficient consent from your new partner.

I don’t want apologies. i do want you to think about this and change.  i know this is not who you want to be, and i am happy to share my experiences (both failures and successes) in this tricky area with you if that is in any way helpful.

Paxus at Twin Oaks

3 Icy 2012

About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

11 responses to “Letter to a friend – you’re fucking up”

  1. jSun Finn says :

    Thank you for your courage, transparency and honesty. Your openness encourages others to open up.

  2. rıchard jbırd lısko says :

    Istanbul ıs an unforgıvıng and quıck teacher for those who would come to make trouble lıke thıs. Tıme and agaın I come across the reckless and naıve traveller hopıng to get or see some booty and fınd themselves the boob. Lıve and learn, as I would say. Karma polıce are always on the way.

    • paxus says :

      he is a good kid and he fucked up, and he got lucky and he wont fuck up again like this, of that i am sure.

      And i am happy to have this issue drawing such traffic and it encourages me to write on it more.

  3. joel says :

    I don’t know if the recipient of this letter is a member of the community, or how many people would read this and know who the main characters were, but I have to say that if this letter was addressed to me, and then sent to the public as it were. I would be highly stressed by it. I don’t know the details of the interaction between “Pax” and “Zeta” on new year’s eve. I don’t know if it would have been possible for me at some point to find myself as the recipient of such a letter, or if “Pax” really is the sort of guy that should receive such a letter. But with “Zeta” as the survivor of sexual abuse, it’s hard to know how much correction the guy really deserves. I think sometimes I could make comments that falling on the wrong ears might be interpreted as racist, yet anyone who truly knows me, would recognize that I am not. I guess what motivates me to write this comment was the experience I had at twin oaks, with feeling fearful of rumors going around regarding me, that were very biased and propelled by prominent influential members of the community. It’s a very scary feeling, to imagine everyone assuming something negative that they have heard about you is true, and feeling powerless to fix that. I’m sure the “Pax” in this story likely doesn’t live at twin oaks, but I felt like throwing in my 2 cents on this, maybe he really did screw up, and was only out for his own agenda, or maybe he’s simply had a different sexual background and was drawing on that, and “Zeta’s” different experience made her feel uncomfortable, I don’t know… just offering my perspective….

    • Sara Tansey says :

      dear joel,

      not checking for consent is always something that should be compassionately called out. i cringe at your line “with “Zeta” as the survivor of sexual abuse, it’s hard to know how much correction the guy really deserves.” we live in a culture that shifts responsibility onto women who are sexually assaulted and you are doing it here, using her history as an excuse for a man who doesn’t understand how to check in with his partner. i am sure that whomever is receiving this letter is a good guy, i have faith that he did not understand the impact of his actions, and that is not an excuse. we are raised in a culture where more often than not men and women are taught that sexuality is a thing that happens to women, so men dont realize that checking for consent is a really important and powerful thing. there is a lot we have to deconstruct together and this is one of those places where we can support each other. men need to be retraining themselves to check for consent and women need to feel supported in clearly stating their boundaries and saying their no’s. you do not get off the hook because you have different sexual experiences. in fact we should be recognizing that we have different experiences, learning more about each other and being intentional in our sexual connections. there are too many women who have sexual assault in their past and there are too many men who dont understand the importance of having a fully engaged, fully consensual partner.

      thanks, sara

    • having many opinions says :

      I find the comment “but with zeta as the survivor of sexual abuse, its hard to know how much correction the guy really deserves” to be a bit problematic. I know this person means well by writing this comment and I think that the feelings of whoever the letter involves are very important to consider (as it is easy to misinterpret things and these often do have very bad consequences). I also know that the content of the original post is a message that needs to get out more and something we should be less ashamed of talking about.

      the problem I see with saying “with zeta as a survivor of sexual abuse, its hard to know…” is that the whole point of good consent is to find and respect your partner’s limits, no matter what they are. that statement could be taken as a type of victim-blaming. it is never the fault of the person who has the boundaries when those boundaries are crossed. sure, everyone can learn to communicate better. but practising good consent means always checking in, as this letter says. the amount of child sexual abuse and assault of women in this country is astounding and we all know someone and possibly have been intimate with someone (whether we know it or not) who has survived some kind of sexual violence. people who have survived sexual violence are not the exception to rules about consent because they have different boundaries. people deserve healthy, healing sexual relationships however they choose to pursue them and good consent practices are the only way to ensure that. good consent is actually hard to do and its easy to mess up.

      I also think its problematic to say “I think sometimes I could make comments that falling on the wrong ears might be interpreted as racist, yet anyone who truly knows me, would recognize that I am not.” its true, I don’t know you. but I do not believe people when they say they aren’t racist. we all grew up in a culture that is racist and its really, really hard to avoid having some views that are racist. the challenge is to try to not continue that cycle, and if you think you are saying things that might hurt someone under any circumstance (if a PoC who does not know you hears you say something that could be construed as perpetuating racist ideas), it is probably best to be a bit more self-critical and intentional in word and deed. that is my opinion anyways.

      • joel says :

        I respect everyone’s point of view, every point of view is valid. I feel they are all relevant. I can understand why the things I said might offend some, or rub them the wrong way.

        In my life experience, I have often felt I was to some degree an outcast, and am inclined to advocate the accused or attacked often. Everyone deserves that.

        No doubt I could have chosen my words better, but I think the points I made are relevant and valid.

        I agree that it is a good practice to attain clear consent before having sex with someone. And no doubt the “Pax” in this story could have done better than he did. Yet it is also possible that he could have gone about things the exact same way with another person and they would have felt completely fine about it.

        So to put myself in his shoes… imagining that many people might read this, and know who it is referring to, and recognize that this could possibly scar him and his reputation… maybe as much as he deserves this letter, he deserves an advocate.

        How can any of us really know? We didn’t witness the occurrence.

        I also recognize that a very high percentage of the population experiences some form of sexual abuse, and definitely agree the consciousness should be raised about it.

        And I think trying to help victims gain strength and courage as well as aid in adjusting the thinking and behavior of anyone who might mistreat others sexually is a good idea.

  4. paxus says :

    Dearest Joel:

    i disagree. The “all opinions are valid” line is nonsense. There are people out there who want to kill people who dont share the same race or religious background. This is not a valid opinion, it is extremist madness.

    More to the point, we can know that Pax in the story fucked up, because it does not matter than someone else might have been fine with is sexually aggressive behavior, Zeta was not and he did not check. He is not exonerated because it might be the case that someone else might not have gotten hurt. He is messing up because checking is simple and always appropriate and he did not do it.

    Your logic is weak and you are being an apolgist for rape. Think harder please.

    Paxus at Twin Oaks

    • Quirkyopteryx says :

      I did get an email something like this, and while it would have been okay to have acted the way I did in a similar situation with a different person – I still hurt the person the situation actually happened with.

      And it was totally avoidable. If I’d just said “let me know if you want me to stop” or “tell me if I do anything you don’t like” or “Can I…” or “Would you like me to…” or “I’d love to….” – then I would not have made that person feel so bad.

      And, *I* wouldn’t have felt so bad when I found out, months later, just how bad the situation had made that person feel.

      They never called it rape, and I thought that they wanted to have sex but were shy, there was no intention on my part to take anything they weren’t willing to give – but it was definitely non-consensual sex. I just didn’t know that at the time.

      “All opinions are valid” is indeed bullshit. Sometimes shit happens, yes. But how you deal with it, when it’s pointed out that you fucked up, that is the important thing.

      For the record, I’m female and so was the person I…. assaulted, I guess, since she didn’t want it. We were with our partners, and I thought she felt safe and relaxed; but she said that she didn’t feel able to say no, and that she was too drunk. My experience is that someone I had had a crush on for years invited me round and we had sex and it was awesome; hers was that a friend that she wanted to get to know better did sexual things to her under circumstances that she wasn’t okay with.

      On the other side of the coin, I’ve seen a friend molest my female friends when he gets drunk, and I don’t fucking like it. They don’t say no. But from their expression, it is *not wanted*. They look like their skin is crawling. They just don’t want to make a scene. I’ve been in their shoes too, it feels powerless. They don’t want to have to say “I DON’T WANT TO FUCK YOU. STOP TOUCHING ME.”, they don’t want everyone to know some sleazeball was touching them up, and they shouldn’t have to make a scene just to make some clueless or drunk or inexperienced person stop touching them.

      People should wait for a real sign of interest, ideally verbal (and not meaningless flirtation either), before touching even starts.

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