Last week, I wrote a post called Asking for Sex: What to Do When the Guy Says No. My interest in writing the post was to explore the contingencies and challenges of asserting sexual desire as a straight Black woman. What I know now is that there is much truth to that saying about hell and good intentions.
Because I respect our community of readers, I want to both take some responsibility for the lack of clarity in the post and also actively (and perhaps aggressively) respond to many of the claims (and attacks) made on and about me in light of it.
Here is the section of the post that seem to give many of you pause:
#TrueStory: chalk it up to #VenusRetrograde but last month saw exes coming out the woodworks. I had a chance to have dinner and clear the air with one that I really liked. After a lovely dinner and good conversation (not to mention an extended drought), I asked if he’d like to accompany me back to my room.
Surprise of surprises: he declined. Exasperated (and horny) I asked “Why?” Lo and behold, he flipped the gender script and told me some version of: “I’m happy to have you back in my life. I don’t want to move too prematurely because we are rebuilding our relationship.” Riiiiight. What I wanted to know is what our “relationship” had to do with the sex that I needed to have right then and there.
The primary criticism of my story has been about the issue of consent. My choice to question my ex’s decision read to many of you as a failure to respect the classic feminist anti-rape mantra “no means no.” Thus, one blogger whom I respect referred to my story as “rapey and presumptuous.” Moreover, some of you felt that my suspicion about his intentions and my read of his responses as a kind of patriarchal power play amounted to a bad and un-rigorous invocation of feminism. Many of our male readers felt compelled to let me know that “men are human beings with feelings, and not mindless sex fiends.” Finally, many of you felt that the post wreaked of entitlement to sex and/or partnership.
I usually move through the world with an absolute refusal to defend myself against claims that I feel are baseless, but my feminist inspired commitment to end sexual violence has been called into question by suggestions that my actions toward my ex participate in and perpetuate rape culture. An accusation of rape necessitates a response.
Let me unequivocally state that all people of all genders have the right to say no, to withhold consent, without fear or threat of coercion. Anything short of that is rape.
I also want to revisit the narrative I told, in hopes that folks will understand the emotion I attempted (rather clumsily) to communicate in the original post.
My ex’s refusal of sex was exasperating for many reasons—this is the same man who two years ago rejected out of hand my desire to explore a relationship, because we lived long distance. He wanted to keep the friendship – the deep emotional connection, long conversations, and access to a person with whom he could talk politics, and commiserate—sans the sex. And while I value and have good platonic friendships with men, that’s not what I’m in the market for right now. Particularly since as I’ve written elsewhere, many of these “friendships” turn into intellectual and emotional affairs, that are predicated on me doing girlfriend duties without getting girlfriend benefits. I want and deserve more, and I am no longer willing to do this kind of prolonged emotional labor unless it has some intimate returns. And the sex I wanted that night didn’t foreclose the possibility of a relationship.
So when he came calling last month, after a year and a half, my interests were peaked. When I saw him several weeks later, I asked why he had called. His reply: “I missed our interaction. Our friendship.” That sounds beautiful, but could easily have meant more of the same—he wanted my emotional and intellectual investment without any intimacy investment on his part. His actions became even more telling when he arrived home a while later, and then sexted a barrage of salacious messages about his future intentions towards me. #powerplay
I recognize that women who struggle to find partners often have competing challenges – some women meet men who objectify them and want to jump into bed with them without regard to knowing them as people. Women with this experience often take great issue with my story because what they see is a man who wants substance and not merely sex. But the flip side can be equally exploitative –dudes (and that is intentionally plural) who want to use me for intellectual masturbation and who benefit from my capacity to offer deep and consistent emotional support, which they happily and thoughtlessly exploit on their way to sexual and/or full romantic connections with other partners. And mind fucks are not what I’m interested in.
So like I said in the original post…exasperation is the word.
Now that I’ve shared more of my business than I should ever have to, I want to share a list of reflections on my story and on the general reactions to the blog.
- Dudes be on bullshit when it comes to acknowledging the operations of (Black) male privilege.
- Consent was never an issue in this interaction. It became a straw man in this blog conversation, used in a reactionary way by men who didn’t want to acknowledge another manifestation of male privilege, namely the fact that men do play power games with sex.
- Consent and desire are not competing goals; the former, freely expressed, is a prerequisite for the free, healthy and legal expression of the latter.
- Black female desire is not (inherently) predatory. But casting our desire as predatory and threatening allows others to police us into silence. Then it becomes easy to blame Black women not only for having needs in the first place but also for the failure to have them met.
- A Black man who claims to want a relationship is inherently a more sympathetic character than a Black woman who claims to want sex, even among feminists who claim to be pro-sex.
- Black men still feel like their needs are primary and will take up all the space (and air) in the room to protect their primacy in racial dialogue.
- They do this without regard to how their choices affect Black women.
- Black men didn’t create the structures that disadvantage Black women in romance and sex, but the same education and career attainments that open doors for Black men around sex and partnership, frequently foreclose options for Black women.
- These are all examples of Black male privilege.
- No one really believes Black women when we testify about our experiences.
To get theoretical and academic for a minute:
- Agency is not freedom. Agency is the shit we talk about in a system of limited options and choices. That means that our uses of agency are inherently limited. Enslaved folk created rich and vibrant cultures in the unreasonable conditions of unfreedom, but they never mistaked their ability to do one (agency) for their right to have the other (freedom).
- For some of us, trying to find partners (of whatever type, for whatever purpose) is like trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents. Many of us go for it, actively donning our supershero costumes, with battle cries of “statistics be damned. I’ma find me a man.” That’s agency, for sure. And for many of us it works; but for many it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t work, surely we can be honest about that, too? Surely those who make it happen or luck up, depending on your perspective, don’t have to get amnesia and start treating other sisters like we are all working with a full 100% on the dollar.
- Discursive constructions of freedom and material access to freedom are not the same thing, no matter what poststructuralism would have us believe. In other words, we can’t just imagine ourselves out of this shit.
- That fact doesn’t mean we don’t get up everyday and try again to create the world anew.
- We would rather call the desire for partnership and sex on one’s own terms entitlement, than a basic expression of human need and desire.
- The question of whether partnership is a right and if so what kind of right is interesting theoretically. It is perhaps more telling that the people who get asked to justify their sexual and romantic desires are lacking in some sort of obvious privileges (race, gender, sex, age, ability).
Readers, over these years of blogging I have shared personal narratives about my dating life with this community, because intimate interactions are one of the key places that we work out our ideas about gender, sex, and power. But this shit is hard to do. It is frequently violent (the comments section is not for the faint of heart). If we want a sustained archive of Black women talking and testifying about sex and relationships in a substantive way, we have to figure out how to make this a less violent process. I hope we can begin that work today by engaging the comments section in a thoughtful, loving, gracious, and emotionally just manner.
Thanks for reading,