If there was anyone I didn’t want to kiss as a child, it was Uncle Cowboy. His moustache was made of steel wool and so was his personality. Back then, parents made sure their kids did what other adults wanted us to do, so Cowboy got his kiss unless I could turn invisible. Then he wouldn’t notice me at all.
If he’d had darker tendencies, my family would have groomed me to be the perfect victim.
By the age of eight I’d already learned one of the biggest lessons of my adult life: Hide, because being noticed often means having your personal space breached by unwelcome advances. I tried to navigate that false dichotomy well into my adulthood.
In the Eighties, kids were seen as extensions of our parents. They knew what predators looked like, so we could trust that any physical affection required of us was perfectly safe.
Not long after my eighth birthday, my mother let me spend the day in the company of a friend and her paedophile father. This was how accurate mom’s predator-spotting skills were. I got home untouched, but I never told her what that man did to my friend when the lights went out. I had been taught to be silent, which wasn’t much different than my lesson about hiding. I was to make my voice small and quiet because it was assumed that my judgement was as sketchy as my math skills.
I grew up to be every bit the adult I’d been taught to be: one who felt guilty when she defended her physical space and who shrunk away instead of saying a resounding “no”. When I look back at the social contortions I used to do to avoid unwanted touch, I wonder how I managed to reach 20 without being assaulted.
I began to understand my right to autonomy late, and I found the lessons baffling. I once made it to the end of a book about boundaries still not knowing what a boundary was. I wasn’t even prepared to start learning, let alone guard my right to say no. BDSM was the only thing that could explain consent to me clearly.
During the years since I found this community, I’ve become louder and less diplomatic. I’ve learned that I’m entitled to anger when people throw sex in my face without permission. I call this “growth.”
The #MeToo movement is churning up increasingly diverse conversations about consent, but the kink community has been having them for decades. Researchers have begun to notice that we have a few things to teach the vanilla world about consent culture. Studies show we accept rape myths less often and display less victim blaming. I’ve untangled the toxic lessons of my childhood thanks to the many brave subs who speak up about their violations. Those conversations always look like warzones, but they have value beyond the far more important task of ousting abusers from our ranks. You’re showing people like me that we don’t have to shrink and hide. You’re helping us to find our voices.