The Rolequeer blog is having a conversation with an erotic author going by gleefullydepraved who misused the word “rolequeer” in a fascinatingly disturbing way, unsurprisingly, given their nom de plume. You don’t need to read their conversation to understand this essay, but it might provide some useful context to my remarks. I’m responding to gleefullydepraved here.

gleefullydepraved:

the Gray Bazaar is designed to be as rapey as is consensually possible.

Here’s what’s fucked up about that: it’s designed to be rapey. Period. To justify this sort of thing by attaching an oxymoronic qualifier “as is consensually possible” isn’t actually less fucked up. Arguably, it’s even more fucked up.

It’s the equivalent of saying, “This meal I’ve cooked is designed to be as carnivorous as is possible for a vegetarian meal.” It’s a completely ridiculous concept on its face. I’m kind of amazed this needs saying, but here goes: rape is incompatible with consentingness, because the definition of rape is the violation of consent.

No one is denying that “lots of people are into [feeling] that sort of thing.” That’s not at issue here. What’s at issue here is what that fact means about the society in which we live and, given that there is and has always been a rather strong consensus that raping someone else isn’t a very nice thing to do, what we can do to change society in such a way as that thing happens less and less over time.

Now, there are at least two distinct issues to untangle in thinking about this issue that have both been rather muddled up (intentionally, I argue) by sociopathic people in positions of relative power. It’s gotten muddled up because, for reasons I won’t get into right now, most folks have a persistent blind spot when it comes to sex. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Otherwise smart people consistently behave like total fucking imbeciles in two areas: sex, and education.

First, there’s the issue of what “consent” actually means. The legalistic view is that consent is the exact same thing as “giving permission,” or “agreeing to something,” much in the way one might buy a house or a head of cattle, or, say, enter into a marriage. Marriage, it’s worth noting again, is fundamentally a legal construct in which women are defined as a form of property and owned by a man. No one seems to think this notion of actually traditional marriage makes much sense anymore, but rape fans always balk when the “traditional” notion of consent that perfectly mirrors this same legalistic structure is challenged.

The other view is that consent, much like feeling soft fabric, or hearing music, and so on, is a sense. Giving or revoking permission, or agreeing or not agreeing to a thing, is one useful way to communicate about one’s feelings of consentingness. But those communiqués are not themselves feelings. This is not a controversial assertion either: when someone says “I’m fine,” it does not always actually mean that the speaker is “fine.” In fact, sometimes it means the exact opposite.

Consent as a Felt Sense simply makes this natural fact about the way humans experience the world apparent. The legalistic view, on the other hand, does not and cannot accurately model how people feel, how they actually experience the world. Basing consent on a legal system is at best backwards: any hope a legal system has of actually becoming a justice system demands that it be based on consent, not the other way around.

The second issue that’s muddled up here is the idea of choice. There’s a common belief that any choice freely made is therefore “consensual,” but there are at least two obvious problems with that belief that make it patently false. First, again, that a “choice” agentically chosen is the act of agreement and thus, because it is an act of affirmative agreement, is (legalistically) consensual. And second, that for anyone who has agency, it is impossible (or irrational) to agentically choose to have their consent violated. In other words, the belief that it is impossible to choose to have your consent violated, because you have chosen it, and therefore the act of choosing invalidates the violation.

That’s the argument BDSM’ers make when they describe “consensual non-consent,” for example, and what’s sneaky about this argument is that it redefines rape. Recall that, unless you are speaking in solely legalistic terms (which, bluntly, is a completely useless paradigm), what rape is is the experience of sexual violation. BDSM’ers are actively seeking to create experiences of sexual violation; that’s what a rape fantasy is. I’m not trying to argue that there’s something wrong with experiencing a sexual violation, or even with wanting to, of having a rape fantasy. Quite the contrary. I’m arguing that such experiences are extraordinarily powerful, visceral, deeply somatic avenues that can help us understand what oppression feels like.

I don’t think the fact that “most people have rape fantasies” is a bad thing, that this indicates those people are fucked up or damaged. I think the fact that “most people have rape fantasies” is an obvious indication that “most people” are intuitively empathetic, that the constant minor and major injustices of the world in which we live seep into our psyches and our bodies in a hundred million different ways and seep back out of that which make us human as a desire to experience for ourselves what our fellow humans are going through, so that we may better understand one another, and collectively heal. At least, I think that about those of us whose fantasies involve being raped. I think having fantasies about raping someone else is deeply fucked up, sociopathic, and is a kind of externalized anti-social damage someone has suffered, probably itself caused by being abused in some small or large way.

So choice is not the same thing as consent. And consent is not the same thing as permission. Therefore, if you create a real system, or even a fictionalized system, in which these three things are misconstrued as the same thing, what you’ve created is a system designed to benefit rapists. So, again, no one is debating whether lots and lots of people have rape fantasies. What we’re debating here is whether or not a social system that benefits rapists is really what we want to be advocating for, and what exactly advocating for or against that looks like.

This is a serious debate because there are real systems in place right now, today, that are designed to benefit rapists. Some people call it “rape culture,” but it’s perhaps more familiar to you simply as “the law.” For example, in the great State of California, a new law was recently enacted after much misguided feminist advocacy that will consider a sexual encounter rape if one person (the “rapist”) failed to get verbal permission from the other person (the “rape victim”) before doing whatever sexual thing was not yet permitted. It’s a rule called “the affirmative consent law,” but would be less confusing if it were called “the affirmative permission law.”

What I’m pointing out here is that this system is eerily similar to your fantasy of the Gray Bazaar, because it is designed to be “as rapey as is consensually possible.” I’ll admit that it’s possible that it’s “better” to design a rapey system with oxymoronic rules than to design a rapey system without those oxymoronic rules. But I’m convinced that it’s even better to design a system that isn’t rapey at all. And given the fact that we have the ability to create whatever fucking fantasies we want, it’s obviously both possible and helpful to construct our erotic fantasies in such a way as to mirror our ethical values, one of which is that violating other people’s consent is wrong and should not be done. Unless of course that isn’t the ethical value you have, in which case constructing fantasies in which rape is totes cool “‘cause she signed the paperwork” is what you want to do. But all I have to say to that is, c’mon, where is your imagination? That’s not a fantasy. That’s just a reflection of current reality.

Someone needs to explain to me why wanting to live in a society where consent violations aren’t an acceptable pillar of our culture makes me an activist, and why advocating for increased lawyerly scrutiny on rape survivors’ actions doesn’t make someone a rape apologist.

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