'Ask: Building Consent Culture' pushes boundaries
In a world that seems to finally, at times, be paying due attention to rampant sexual violence, a new anthology of essays edited by Kitty Stryker seeks to push the discourse around consent further. The essays in “Ask: Building Consent Culture” takes the ideas that have recently come to the forefront about sex and individuals and applies them not only to the bedroom (though that is the first collection of essays) but also to other areas of public life, including schools, the prison system, the workplace, the home, the hospital and alternative sex communities. In her introduction, Stryker, a writer and activist who specializes in developing consent culture in alternative communities, argues against the rhetoric of sex positivity or negativity in favor of a “sex critical” attitude, in order to reflect the acknowledgment that there is still a ways to go for sex positivity to truly achieve the goals it purports to have.
Some of these essays may be more relatable than others — the first is titled “Sex and Love When You Hate Yourself and Don’t Have Your Shit Together,” and one of the final essays is “Sleeping with the Fishes: A Skinny Dip into Sex Parties” — but all make readers reconsider their framework of consent. The first essay, by Av Flox, sets the groundwork for the rest of the anthology by putting forth the argument that “the legal framework of consent is worthless,” and that by deciding as a society that we could use a legal framework as a primary analysis of consent, we are letting down survivors of assault. Another essay by Richard Wright offers insight on how to begin practicing consent culture from a young age.
One of the more fascinating essays, by Navarre Overton is “The Kids Aren’t All Right: Consent and Our Miranda Rights,” which discusses how though we might have a cultural familiarity with the Miranda Rights, that doesn’t mean everyone, especially minors or people for whom English is a second language, understand them fully. And without a full understanding of their Miranda Rights, people cannot fully consent to all legal procedures. (A side effect of reading this essay includes thinking hard about the role that the plethora of cop shows and buddy cop movies plays in our media’s treatment of police brutality narratives, so be warned.)
Other essays include discussions of of the role that disclosure plays in the lives of trans people, subtle negotiations of consent in polyamorous relationships and beyond. Some aren’t for everyone — for example, Jiz Lee’s essay “‘Ethical Porn’ Starts When You Pay for It” might take some positions of the reader for granted when it shouldn’t, and others don’t sound as revolutionary now as they might have a decade ago — but they aren’t meant to be. Stryker wanted to use her anthology to elevate voices that are often marginalized, and this collection does so. The collection will prove a useful addition to the toolkit for those who are working towards not just towards sexual equality, but equity in all areas of public life.