Blog update January 14, 2016
I posted this original essay on my blog in July last year. Every month since then I revisited the essay and based on my growing knowledge and awareness of conscious consent and boundaries I rewrote parts of it.
Elephant Journal recently published my essay. Two days after it was published, several women in the festival community wrote to the editors and told them that I was not a “credible expert” on conscious consent because I had not always been impeccable with my actions in the past and they wanted more “accountability” from me before I published about this subject. The editors were put in an uncomfortable position and they pulled the piece.
I spent months writing this essay as part of my growth process and with the intent to educated others about what I had learned-- and continue to learn-- about conscious consent and personal boundaries.
I’m more aware now that being behind the camera can be very seductive. Though I usually showed up professionally and with integrity, I was not always impeccable with my actions as a well-known west coast festival photographer. I have felt remorse for my past behavior, and I am deeply sorry for anyone that I negatively impacted.
I am also aware that a lot has been projected on me, especially by those I’ve never met or I barely know, and the “telephone game” and social media have distorted many truths.
Since February 2014, I have spent many hours speaking with women and men in our greater community about conscious consent and boundaries, reflecting and learning about my blind spots and how I could have acted differently in the past. In early December 2014, I posted on my Facebook wall asking for candid feedback. I received a lot, and not all of it was flattering. I also messaged people privately asking for feedback. Last year I worked with a wonderful counselor and a men’s group.
The process of writing this essay has been a constant reminder (a “mantra”) for me of how to show up in this world around conscious consent and boundaries. We can’t change the past, but we can change our behavior.
I submitted my article to Elephant Journal to help educate people about a subject that is very important to me, and to many others. Below is my essay as it was published in Elephant Journal.
I don’t claim to be an “expert” on conscious consent and boundaries, and I have a lot more to learn, but I do believe that I have a somewhat unique and valuable perspective to share. Thank you for taking the time to read and give some thought to my essay. ~Kyer
Author’s note: The topics in this essay could fill an entire book and it lacks depth and further explanation at times. I don’t have personal experience with non-heterosexual relationships and there are other sexual orientation perspectives that I didn’t discuss in this article.
This is for the millions of men and women like myself who have had, at least once in their lives, challenges around boundaries and consent, especially with new connections.
As a woman you might have made a conscious or an unconscious decision to be intimate with someone that left you feeling confused, disempowered, or negatively impacted by that person. As a man, you’re wondering why she’s stopped returning your calls or she seems to stay away from you at social events.
We live in a culture where sexual boundaries are less defined than they are in a more religious or “conservative” one, and so I wrote this as a personal mantra, offering some advice on how we can better recognize our own patterns, make more conscious decisions, and be more impeccable in how we show up to share intimacy with others.
I write about this tricky subject with the following premise: we are sexual beings, and that is okay. Whether you are gay, straight, bisexual or transgendered, whether they’ve called you a slut, frigid, prudish, promiscuous, manipulative, dominant or a submissive; it’s all okay. For simplicity I wrote about the more typical male-female dynamic.
Western psychologists and eastern mystics believe that we are happiest when we feel connected to others. They also say that behind every negative behavior is a wound or an unmet need.
When we seek to meet our needs by connecting with others, it is essential that we do our best to understand and respect known boundaries. We do this by asking questions and listening, and making a conscious effort to empathize with those we desire intimate connection. We can also follow what the Buddhists call “positive right action.” If in our gut we believe that what we say or do will bring greater joy to ourselves and to others, then it is a positive right action.
Keep in mind that we all have different beliefs and awareness around sexuality, boundaries, consent and intimacy, and each of us is at a different stage of personal growth and perspective. We have our own blind spots, prejudices, opinions, needs, desires and fears. Recognizing our own patterns and lack of awareness is important to help end negative behaviors that can have impacts ranging from simple confusion to serious emotional damage for others and for ourselves.
While each of us is unique, there are cultural beliefs that influence us. These beliefs underlie the stereotypes that we use to describe the roles of men and women, where men are more likely to be assertive and sexually confident and women are more likely to be passive and chaste.
Many women are tired of feeling objectified.
Women are often dealing with uninvited comments about their appearance. Some have become so tired of being hit on that they are very sensitive to any motives for attention that a man may have. Therefore, if a woman doesn’t want to engage a man, he doesn’t need to take it personally. It’s sad that some women feel the need to put walls around themselves, but until men (in general) learn to do a better job of relating to women, we all experience this sense of disconnection.
Women need to be more aware of their own sexual energy and power.
All heterosexual women, sometime in their lives, have felt the need for validation from men, and sex can make a man seem attractive and interesting, even though he might not be a right match for her. Before opening up sexually, a woman needs to take an honest look at what her motivations are, because sometimes there are conflicting messages that women get in our society around sex that create a confusing dynamic of shame, pleasure and validation.
For some younger women, once they discover the power of their sexuality, they use it to get men to like them for a sense of validation, instead of listening to their own boundaries and desires.
If a woman puts out sexual energy in an unconscious way, she might enjoy the response from the men that she finds attractive or interesting, but others will desire her attention in unwanted ways. And yes, sometimes she will get hit on no matter what she does, and these interactions can be annoying and frustrating. I also invite women to be patient and compassionate with men. Even the most “conscious” man can at times be clueless, and men are often not capable of understanding, let alone reading, her mind.
In general, men need be more tuned in to a woman’s desires and boundaries.
I invite all men to ask questions in order to more clearly understand a woman’s boundaries and desires (not just sexual ones), to pause and check in with themselves and not be ruled by their passion. Even in the moment, give her some time and space to make her (non) consent clear before proceeding with an activity that could potentially cross her boundaries in an undesired way. Partners also need to check in from time to time around their current boundaries and desires.
A man also needs to be open to listening about how his behavior impacts others. He needs to spend time looking at and owning what part he is responsible for in any interaction, and simply holding with love and understanding that part which has been projected on him by the other. This is an important part of his personal growth process of becoming a better man, lover and friend.
He also needs to understand that the boundary crossing behavior that sometimes causes emotional pain or fear is challenging for women, especially if they are one of millions of women who have experienced abuse or neglect in their lives. Many of these women are not able to do the following, and that’s understandable: if a man crosses a strong boundary or is clearly disrespectful, tell him with confidence that his behavior is not okay.
Many women have trouble speaking their truth and drawing clear boundaries for fear of negative repercussions. Therefore, speaking up, despite legitimate fears, is important for one’s own healing, and the healing of gender dynamics in general.
As women become more adept at communicating their boundaries, they can practice speaking with grace and compassion to the men who have crossed them. This requires a lot of maturity, and it also very empowering. Individually it’s not a woman’s job to teach a man about conscious consent, but with empathy she might see that he’s a good man looking for connection and intimacy who needs help with a certain behavior or misperception.
Most men consider themselves to be good people, and there is no shame in a man desiring a woman sexually. How a man gracefully navigates his sexual desires is counsel that he can receive both from other men and from women.
Understand that a no is a no.
A “maybe” is also more than likely a “no.” A “yes” is a “yes,” or sometimes a maybe. Some women often speak about how they feel in the moment, so a “yes” right now can easily be a “no” later. Consent is sexy.
Because of a fear of a negative reaction, or a man not understanding them, many women are not able or willing to speak up around their boundaries. An intimate connection doesn’t need to be awkward or lacking in excitement, but when a man and a woman are getting to know each other, his job is to check in for clear consent before moving forward, understanding that she can shut down easily if he isn’t conscious enough of her boundaries. Remember that one the greatest gifts a woman can give to a man is to open up and surrender to him sexually.
What makes healthy intimacy easier?
For women especially, healthy and sustainable intimacy becomes easier when they learn, clearly know, and are able to voice their own boundaries. This sometimes requires making mistakes and exploring boundaries to learn the edges.
It’s important to understand that in the realm of intimacy and relationships, both men and women can be self centered or manipulative. Let’s all hold empathy and respect for one another.
We often live without the strict moral guidelines of religion or community, and parents sometimes don’t teach or model boundaries well. If we desire to explore our sexual and intimate edges, we need to consciously learn these lessons, and as sexual beings we then integrate them into our own life, and with those we desire intimate connection.