This is a post about alcohol, sex, and consent. I am not writing this post as a person who feels that anything sexually violating has ever happened to her in any state of sobriety. I want to make that clear. To the best of my knowledge, I am also not writing this as a person who has made any other person of any other gender feel sexually violated in any state of sobriety (though, like the author of the article I will reference later, perhaps I have and I just don’t know). I also want to make that clear (especially my small feeling of uncertainty).
Feministe has a big problem with a blog I don’t really take issue with that often, The Good Men Project (GMP). Yesterday, GMP published an admittedly fairly nauseating article by a man who has come to realize that in the course of his life of partying, he has likely committed and been the victim of rape. The nonchalance with which he accepts this as part and parcel of the partying lifestyle is appalling, and it surprises me that I’m supporting anything in an article with this title, but I think the author has a few shining pieces of insight buried in all of the general dickishness. I am going to highlight them here:
That is the damnable thing. We all cluck our tongues at those evil bastards who force themselves on girls—or guys—who are insensibly passed out. At the same time, we all acknowledge that a glass or two of wine helps pave the way for a lot of good times. And in the trackless, unmappable gray swamps in between, we cough and change the subject.
In the real world, especially among experienced drinkers, being blackout drunk doesn’t necessarily look like being passed out on the floor, helpless prey for any passing predator. It can look like being drunk, but fully in control. It can look like being passionately excited. It can look like being a great dancer. It can look like being very sexually aggressive.
The truth of the matter is, everybody’s drunk looks a little bit different. My chronology of drunkenness goes a little something like this (assuming a not-empty stomach). At fewer than three drinks, I am questioning whether there is, in fact, alcohol in the beverages I am consuming. Between three and four, my head starts to feel tingly. Ah, it’s working. Between five and seven, I appear my drunkest. This stage of the night is when the timbre of my voice changes and my speech patterns begin to lilt, when I am most likely to gesticulate wildly or greet everyone I see with a hug. Wheeeeee alcohol is fun!! But by drink 8, most of that fades away. By drink 8, I am settling into a long night of drinking. I am comfortable in my drunkenness. I remember how it fits, and my voice and speech patterns return to normal. Mmmm, drinking makes me feel so warm and snuggly. Many people think I’m far more sober at 10 drinks in than I was at 5. And that can continue into somewhere around 15 or so, at which point shit will get bad quick and I will probably find myself a toilet to boot into and a couch upon which to fall asleep. Shit, why is the room spinning? This room definitely doesn’t usually spin…
At what point of that progression is a potential sex partner supposed to cut me off as unable to give consent? Obviously once the room has spun and I’m asleep on the couch, but what about before that? I might not have a great sense of chronology the next day, but nowhere in the progression am I blackout — is there a point at which my consent somehow doesn’t count? That seems…restrictive. “No” means no. Non-responsiveness means no. But I’m pretty uncomfortable with any definition of what is and is not okay when one combines alcohol and sexytime that involves qualification of when a “yes” or non-verbal enthusiastic participation means no. I just don’t get how that shit is supposed to work. I think that at anywhere between 1 and 12-14 drinks, I am perfectly capable of giving consent.
But many girls (and some guys) would be far past coherent at that number. Many girls (and some guys) would have blacked out (and, like the author of the article points out, blacked out in a myriad of ways that could look perfectly normal) by that point. And we don’t all carry breathalyzers in our back pockets at the club. (Imagine it: “Here baby, blow on this first…” No.) So what’s a person who likes to drink and likes to get physical, possibly with person(s) he or she may not know particularly well/at all, when he or she has been drinking to do?
This brings me to the second instance wherein I think the author of the article was rather poignant:
It must be bad manners to admit to being a rapist and to also say one is a rape survivor, all in one article. I don’t know any set of social mores where that’s okay. I certainly don’t feel like a rape survivor, whatever that’s supposed to feel like. I just can’t quite find a workable standard where I’m one but not the other.
I think one of the strongest points of the article is here, where the author reminds readers that when you’re drinking/drugging yourself to delirium, you can fall on either side of the blurry line of consent. He tells us of one instance in which he was informed that he’d had sex with a woman he wasn’t interested in involving himself with sexually or otherwise days after the fact by multiple witnesses. That, by definition, constitutes rape. Regardless of the fact that he doesn’t view himself as having been victimized, I don’t think he blames himself and his drinking for the actions he doesn’t remember in this instance. I don’t think he blames the women he may or may not have had consensual sex with in the past or their drunkenness for his or their actions in the past either. I don’t think that what we are supposed to take from this article is that partying causes rape, or excuses it. I think that what we are supposed to take from this article is that there is a muddiness in this particular sphere wherein sex often happens in the presence of consent that may not be worth its breath.
And this brings me to the third instance wherein I feel some valuable insight was laid on the page:
The ones that bother me are the ones where I got loaded, had some fun with a lady, and then she never wanted to contact me again. Messages go unanswered, social contact is dropped.
There are men, rape-apologist pieces of shit, who will tell you that women cry “rape” every time they have sex they later regret. I carry no brief for those assholes. What eats at me is that there’ve been cases, more than one and less than six, in my life where either explanation would seem plausible. If a woman had consensual sex with a guy because they were both drunk, and later she decided he was a loser and she regretted it, she might refuse to have further contact with him because, hey, awkward. But if a woman was raped by a man who thought she was still capable of consent when she was too far gone, she might refuse to have further contact with him because, hey, rapist.
Once, on campus, a guy started dancing with me at a party. I didn’t know him, and he hadn’t been at this party for most of the night, so I had no background knowledge of how drunk or not drunk he was. He started kissing the back of my neck and feeling me up, and being receptive to all of this, I turned around and actually kissed him. We’d been making out for a while before the music stopped and I decided to ask his name. We both ended the night with orgasms, and a few days later I used the minimal amount of information I’d gathered about him that night to friend request him on Facebook. It took him 10 months to approve my request.
Another time, in DC, I met up with a guy I’d met recently and a friend of mine from school to celebrate the guy I’d met recently’s birthday. When I got there, it was clear to me that he’d started celebrating quite a few hours earlier, because he was far more animated than he’d been the first time we met. Within ten minutes of my arrival, this guy started dancing with me, which led to him kissing the back of my neck and feeling me up, which I was overwhelmingly receptive to, and we wound up pressing each other against the wall of this club making out with no holds barred. We haven’t really talked since.
I had not thought this prior to reading this article, but am now wondering, did I take it too far with either of those guys? Should I have deemed their consent invalid regardless of the fact that they initiated our sexual contact? If a guy that I know has been drinking or is relatively drunk takes my hand and puts it on his dick, am I allowed to touch it, or have I just admitted to being on the other side of the blurry line?
In the post explaining why GMP decided to publish this post, female editor Joanna Schroeder says,
But the real world is a harsh, cold place full of mixed messages, drunken desire, Ecstasy-fueled touching, and the rush of cocaine. The real world is a place where “no means no” simply isn’t enough.
I agree with her. Wholeheartedly. I don’t really agree when she later says that the author of the article is “deeply troubled,” because again, he comes off unsettlingly content with his realizations. I think this guy is an asshole. At the same time, though, I don’t think he’s wholly wrong. And at the same time, I don’t really agree with Feministe and other critics who have called this post and the why-we-posted-this post “rape apologies,” because I think that, for better or for worse, they come from a point of questioning and cross-examining, rather than from a point of saying “I’m sorry.” If the author of the article is saying he’s sorry for anything, it’s that he’s sorry it has to be like this, and that’s not an apology.
What I think is that we as feminists, as men, as women, as people who drink, as people who have sex, and just as people, need to be willing to have conversation around what happens when you mix drinking and/or drugs and sexual desire. I think we’d be doing a disservice to ourselves and the people we care about not to. I think the point of this article was to show that we can’t have productive conversations about rape culture without having conversations about party culture and the complications of consent therein.