Ask first.

Friends and readers, I want you to know that I have a hard time saying no. I also have a hard time stating what I want or need, and making decisions (big decisions like whether or not to continue playing roller derby, and small decisions like choosing between an iced drink or a hot drink). Lately I’m learning that dealing with all this shit is necessary to my self-care process. Even if I continue to have difficulty saying no or making decisions, it helps that I can at least tell folks about those problems. More often than not, they seem to have the same issues, and we can discuss them and work on them together.

In the workshop I wrote about in my last entry, when we broke into smaller groups and discussed our wants and needs, practicing how to ask for them, and how to say/accept no as an answer, one of the folks in our group said that they needed clear and direct communication, and for folks they’re involved with to make their boundaries known. It sounds simple, right? But myself and another person in the group both admitted that we have difficulty clarifying our boundaries for others, and that we were both dealing with our own issues surrounding assertiveness and communication, so we couldn’t promise that we could always be clear and direct. It felt good to be able to say that, and I think our answers were fairly respected within the group. It’s funny that discussing our poor communication skills actually led to a kind of honesty that I often find difficult in day-to-day life.

Consent kept coming up as well, as it has a tendency to do. I feel like the word ‘consent’ is often so tangled up with connections to conversations about sex, that folks forget that consent is important and necessary in so many other aspects of life as well.

Here’s an example. I was recently Googling images of myself, as you do, and found some photos I had never seen before. They were pictures of me at a zine reading, taken by someone I’ve never met, and posted online without my permission. I didn’t like the pictures, and I didn’t like the fact that he thought it was okay to share them with the world without talking to me first, so I emailed him and told him to take them down, and to consider, you know, asking first, in the future.

Another example: A few months ago, I made a flier, scanned it, and posted it on my blog. Without my permission, somebody posted it on Tumblr. I’m not going to rant about it right now, but I will say that Tumblr confuses me and I refuse to try to understand it. I don’t have an account on Tumblr, so it really weirds me out when I see my stuff there. Anyway, last I checked, the flier I made had been reposted nearly two-thousand times (!) [EDIT: two-thousand forty-nine times]. You could say be grateful people like what you wrote, blah blah, and I am, but the whole situation makes me really uncomfortable, and it’s hard to explain why. On a related note, somebody recently posted a picture of me on Tumblr, without my permission of course, and credited it as my sister. Oh internets, you confound me.

So yeah, I will note here that I am okay with folks reposting links to my blog and links to my Etsy and whatnot, but reposting my stuff without credit or permission is mean, and posting photos of me without permission is especially creepy. I am a human being and I am allowed to not be okay with this, and you really need to learn how to ask first.

Here’s another example: a few weeks ago, I was at a derby bout, and at the end of the game, the league members were hugging one another and posing for pictures with their friends and whatnot. Some dude showed up on the track with his camera phone and proceeded to take pictures of cute girls in hot pants, clearly trying to get shots of their asses. It’s not uncommon for folks to take pictures of league members in their cutsie derby outfits, but the more we watched this guy, the more we began to realize that he wasn’t there with anybody, he didn’t know any of the derby girls; he was essentially a stranger who thought it was okay to take pictures of girls simply because they were out in public, thus had become public property in his eyes. I didn’t have the guts to say anything to him, so I mostly just stared him down until he walked away.

And one more example. This is something I have written about extensively in the past, but it always bears repeating: Tattoos. YOU DO NOT HAVE PERMISSION TO TOUCH MY TATTOOS. They are on my body, and it is really really gross and disrespectful to touch somebody’s body without their permission, especially when you don’t know them. It’s happened to me countless times, and happened at least twice over the weekend while I was at a derby after party. Note to dudes in bars: Don’t ever touch me without asking first, ever. I am already uncomfortable in bars, and you are making it worse.

On a related but opposite note: Derby girls who greet me by pinching my bum: That is allowed! I have added that to my list of acceptable behaviour, but only for derby girls. I adore my derby pals, and I am actually a very touchy-feely-huggy person, a lot of folks just don’t know that about me because I am also shy and angry. But yeah. Derby pals have permission to touch me, and so do close friends, but nobody else.

For folks who are reading this and realize they may be unknowingly crossing somebody’s boundaries: keep repeating to yourself ASK FIRST ASK FIRST ASK FIRST. If you’re wondering whether or not something is allowed, you can save yourself and folks around you the trouble of hurting or being hurt by asking.


P.S.: Whenever I write about this stuff, I receive a lot of support from folks who are dealing with the same or similar things, like girls who have trouble saying no, lack assertiveness skills, or get angry when strangers touch their tattoos but don’t know how to tell said strangers to fuck off. So I recommend trying to share this, if you can, with folks who may be on the other side, folks who don’t know a lot about consent, and haven’t thought about asking for permission in all these situations and more. Nothing is going to change if we don’t demand these folks take a few steps back and ask themselves some serious questions about what makes them think their behaviour is okay.

P.P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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