Photo by Georjie Adams
PART TWO: Navigating Situations
Welcome to part two of our consent culture blog. If you missed the previous blog about boundaries, check it out here. This week we are exploring how to stay aware of other’s boundaries and what to do if you think you’ve crossed a boundary.
Boundary crossing probably happens a lot more often than we would like to admit. It can be unintentional, which may lead the offender to think they should be forgiven without making appropriate reparations. Whether intended or not, it is important to consider impact as well as intention, as the hurt caused is real. Remember that the hurt of a person’s boundary being crossed is not diminished by intention. How you make someone feel means far more than your intention.
Upon realising a boundary has been crossed, shame often follows. We might think something like, “But I’m a good person, I would never do that!”. It’s certainly confronting, but holding on to our defensiveness does not allow for true repair to be made.
Working through shame may involve self-reflection, or talking with friends or trusted people who will listen and hold you accountable. This is hard work, but it will likely have positive impacts on the person whose boundary you crossed, your own life, and within the community.
Oh crap, I think I crossed someone’s boundary, now what?
Here are some thoughts that may be helpful:
- Making repairs can be challenging and anxiety inducing. Communicating your willingness to repair and apologise may help reduce this anxiety.
- Quickly acknowledge the mistake and apologise if appropriate. Even if your intent was not to hurt or upset someone, acknowledgement and respect for their feelings is very important.
- Be receptive to feedback and open dialogue, but also know and respect that they may not wish to give feedback.
- If you have crossed someone’s boundary, they may be feeling unsafe. It’s important not to pressure someone into talking to you so you can apologise and make yourself feel better. Sometimes you will need to self-reflect without them, and sometimes this is a better course of action.
- During difficult conversations, remain empathetic. Listening fully and searching for solutions should be placed ahead of convincing yourself and others that you didn’t do anything wrong.
- If you are feeling defensive, take some time to process before engaging in an apology.
- Defending boundaries can trigger PTSD, anxiety, or any number of difficult emotions. If you feel someone’s response to an interaction was “over the top”, “aggressive” or lacked proper communication skills, use your empathy skills to understand that skipping a “reasonable” response may be necessary for their own safety.
For more information, check out what The Consent Crew has to say.
You can also check out this personal account of how someone crossed a boundary, learned from it, and changed (Trigger Warning: content discusses sexual assault and rape).
So, this all sounds really complicated. How do I stay aware of others boundaries and avoid unintentionally harming someone?
Great question! First up, remember that everybody has different boundaries. Recognising this will help to develop social acuity and empathy skills. You could start by talking with friends and trusted people about what they are comfortable with and how they differ from yours. Surprise: we’re all different! Here are some thoughts from the Kiwiburn community:
- If you’re unclear about someone’s boundaries, it’s best to be straight up and ask. You might be thinking; “But I don’t want to ask for explicit consent in case it ruins the mood”. But really this means: “I don’t want to ask for explicit consent for fear of rejection”. Funny thing is, when you’re explicit about your intentions, people feel more comfortable in their “Yes” and their “No”.
- Reducing alcohol consumption or substance use can allow you to be much more aware of other people and their boundaries.
- And on that note, if someone is under the influence, they cannot give consent. Do not escalate a situation (i.e. feel someone up, take a photo, get jiggy on the dancefloor, engage in sexual interactions) if the person is intoxicated.
- If someone is emotionally un-grounded or feeling vulnerable, do not escalate a situation.
- Observe and be aware of invitations/disinterest. If you’re unsure, just ask. You can be cute about it if you want!
- Stay aware of people’s body language and tone. Give people space immediately if they appear closed off, or if their tone becomes angry or worried.
- In cuddle puddles, make a point of being verbal. Unidentified wandering hands can make people very uncomfortable.
- Costumes are not consent. Someone may be wearing fur, leather, lycra, or nothing at all. Ask before touching, even if you think touching is expected or desired.
- On the dancefloor, make eye contact, smile, dance a little in their direction (but where they can actually see you). If there is no response, or there is closed body language, take this as an indication and move on.
- Ask before you hug!
For more ways to promote and educate consent culture, check this out.
What if I just want to proceed without checking in ‘cos it’s soooooo awkward?
- Don’t. Just don’t. Please read this article again.
Hopefully these blogs have helped provide some clear and practical ways to navigate the sometimes overwhelming topic that is consent. If you found this helpful, share it with your friends, and get some discussions going.
If you would like to contribute more to this conversation there are a few options:
- Join ‘Women of Kiwiburn’ a Facebook group offered to all the women-folk and specifically inclusive of all our non-male / non-binary / femme-identifying people.
- Join the ‘Brotherhood’ a Facebook group for male identifying persons of Kiwiburn culture.
- Contact the Kiwiburn ExCom (organising body of Kiwiburn) here.
by Hana Tuwhare in collaboration with many folk from the Kiwiburn Community. Thanks to everyone who contributed.
Thanks for tuning in. The first blog explores boundaries, what they are, how to create them, and what to do when they are crossed.
Part One: Boundaries can be found here.