C for Consent : Navigating Intimacy In Queer Relationships

If the #MeToo movement has made anything clear is that people certainly need to gain a better understanding of what consent means, and what respecting your partner entails.

In 2006, Tarana Burke, an African-American civil rights activist from New York began using the phrase “Me Too” as an effort to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and assault in society. Eleven years later, in the wake of allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the phrase was morphed into a hashtag by American actress Alyssa Milano. What began as an effort to simply “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” went on to become a space where women could finally open up about their worst experiences. Late last year, when former actress Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment, it set into motion the “Me Too” movement in India. Without taking away what the movement has achieved, we must acknowledge that it comes with its own share of hang ups. Take for example, the fact that the movement does not give space to the 600,000 women in India who are currently involuntary sex workers, and are typically poor, uneducated or lack a family. Several Dalit feminist activists spoke up about how the movement was not accessible to Dalit women, especially considering that the movement repeatedly called the LoSHA a “witch hunt.”

But, did you ever wonder why there were no stories by lesbians or transwomen? Data suggests that approximately 1 in 8 lesbian women and nearly half of bisexual women experience rape in their lifetime, and nearly half of bisexual men and four in ten gay men have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetime. Transgender individuals are most affected by  hate-based violence, and about  64% of  them have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime. It is also important to point out this statistics have been provided by the CDC and there isn’t enough information about the same within Indian context. Given the fact that until recently homosexuality was a crime, intra-community sexual assault continues to go unreported and unacknowledged.

If the #MeToo movement has made anything clear is that people certainly need to gain a better understanding of what consent means, and what respecting your partner entails. Keeping all this in mind, I reached out to several queer people, some single, and some in loving relationships, and asked them what intimacy means to them and how they navigate consent within hookups and relationships:

Anu, 22, In a Relationship

Q. How do you navigate the idea of consent in a relationship?

You should trust your partner a 100 percent, that’s the only way one can be sure within in a relationship. At least, that’s how it is for me, because sexuality is still a myth in some societies, the choices you make could affect you forever.

Q. What is a major turnoff for you when you are in a relationship?

It’s depressing when your significant other feels that they are abnormal for being queer or being in a queer relationship.

Q. People often tend to mistake a “no” for playing coy. What do you think is the best way to avoid such miscommunication?

I don’t know an exact answer for this but, I think communication can make things better.

Q. One advice you would one to give people in relationships.

You are not abnormal. It is very important to remember that. If you have had a bad experience previously with a same sex partner, please don’t think that it was because you were doing something abnormal. Don’t run away from your sexual orientations. Also, be ready to admit your mistakes in relationships.

Q. What does “Intimacy” mean for you?

Intimacy means sharing, for me. If my partner could share anything with me, for me, that is intimacy. It could be even emotions or pleasure or whatever.

Pooja Krishnakumar, 23, In a Relationship

Q. How do you navigate the idea of consent in a relationship?

Consent should not be taken for granted- whether in a solid relationship like marriage, where there are other stakeholders involved or in short term relationships. It doesn’t matter. I always look out for signs of consent (or the lack thereof) when I’m with my partner, and the good thing is we have made it a point to  make it easy for each other to explicitly say no.

Q. What is a major turnoff for you when you are in a relationship?

When I don’t feel listened to. I don’t get into relationships with people who don’t have the same views on things as me, but fights are natural.

Q. People often tend to mistake a “no” for playing coy. What do you think is the best way to avoid such miscommunication?

I’m a person who says no as a game as well. BUT, I have discussed a safe word with my partner, which I will use when I want to say no. She knows the  difference and I feel the main idea is communicating this with your partner.

Q. One advice you would one to give people in relationships.

Communication is key and I sound like an aunty. But it’s true. It IS key. To feel heard, to make this a partnership, you should be constantly talking about your comforts and discomforts and boundaries.

Q. What does “Intimacy” mean for you?

I’m not a very sexual person. I love sex though, talking about it, reading about it, flirting sexually. But the act itself doesn’t fancy me as much as it may fancy another person. For me intimacy is about being able to work in the same space together, feeling that level of comfort where you both can be productive together.

Anonymous, 24, Single

Q. What have you found to be the best way to approach someone that you found attractive?

Approach them directly and tell them.

Q. What counts as consent? Do you think one should always explicitly ask for it?

Yes. Consent should always be explicitly expressed.

Q. What is a major turnoff for you when initiating a hookup?

If the person seems to be disinterested.

Q. One advice you would want to give people on dating apps?

I would say be yourself and keep a lookout for imposters.

Q. What does “Intimacy” mean for you?

Intimacy can be both emotional and physical.

Anonymous, 25, In a Relationship

Q. How do you navigate the idea of consent in a relationship?

Same as you would when you are single. Relationship does not necessarily negate the need for consent. One should always ask for the consent of their partner before they do anything.

Q.What is a major turnoff for you when you are in a relationship?

Lack of understanding. It is always a turnoff when the other person is too eager to try out something without thinking of their other half’s comfort level.

Q. People often tend to mistake a “no” for playing coy. What do you think is the best way to avoid such miscommunication?

To educate people better in their understanding of ‘no’, if that’s the case. It is not coyness, it is not anything else in the world. It simply means ‘no’.

Q.One advice you would one to give people in relationships.

Understand each other’s preferences and comfort before you go into and try anything new. It’s always better to discuss rather than feel uncomfortable after starting out on anything new.

Q. What does “Intimacy” mean for you?

Intimacy can be relative. I mean, at times, even looking at each other can be intimate while the other times even having sex might not be intimate. It depends on whom you are with, and how comfortable you are with them. It is not anything physical, in my opinion, but something which connects people emotionally.

Anonymous, 25, Single

Q. What have you found to be the best way to approach someone that you found attractive?

By asking them out for coffee via text or call.

Q. What counts as consent? Do you think one should always explicitly ask for it?

Asking for consent explicitly is perhaps the best way to go about it. It is always better to be sure about the other person’s consent rather than assuming things.

Q. What is a major turnoff for you when initiating a hookup?

Hurried gestures and uncomfortable physical contact without consent.

Q. One advice you would want to give people on dating apps?

Please talk. It’s extremely disappointing when the first message you are sending to an unknown person concerns their size of genitalia or their sexual position. That can always wait. Ask and know about the person before all that.

Q. What does “Intimacy” mean for you?

For me, it’s more about the emotional connection than just the physical relationship.

Ikshaku Bezbaroa, 27, Single

Q. What have you found to be the best way to approach someone that you found attractive?

If it’s online, I tell them I find them cute or attractive, and if they reciprocate we continue engaging on that particular front.  If they don’t I don’t pursue that line of discussion. In-person, however, I’m often worried about violating someone’s comfort and so I avoid flirting in person. I usually wait for the other person to show an interest and then reciprocate.

Q. What counts as consent? Do you think one should always explicitly ask for it?

Yes, always explicitly ask. It’s consent if you are sure the other person not only responds but continues to do so in every little measured intimate interaction. Even if one does start kissing or something you should continue to gauge be sensitive to it.

Q.What is a major turnoff for you when initiating a hookup?

Disrespect. When the person is objectifying or making you feel small, not valuing your responses and insisting on things, or just talking badly to you.

Q. One advice you would want to give people on dating apps?

Value your safety above all else; even if you are extremely horny or trusting of the person they are meeting. This means incorporating protocols which one will not compromise on. Such as multiple photos, meeting in neutral places first, discussing safe sex practices, limitations and what one will agree to do, so on and so forth.

Q. What does “Intimacy” mean for you?

I guess it means allowing someone into your personal spaces and moments. It is more than physical, it has a lot to do with trust and comfort

            Tee, 23, In a Relationship

Q. How do you navigate the idea of consent in a relationship?

When I find that there is no clarity or a clear ‘Yes’, I simply ask my partner a question to understand whether or not I have their consent. Sometimes, to some people, this may be perceived as a turn off, but I think it’s okay to know for sure.

Q. What is a major turnoff for you when you are in a relationship?

I don’t appreciate lying (even lying by omission) or hypocrisy.

Q. People often tend to mistake a “no” for playing coy. What do you think is the best way to avoid such miscommunication?

The safest way is to ask your partner a clear question, even if you have to do it multiple times. It also helps to have a safe word that you both agree upon.

Q. One advice you would one to give people in relationships.

Communication is key! Be open and clear about your intentions, and ask questions! Even if it about sex, or how you can please them, Just ask!

Q. What does “Intimacy” mean for you?

Intimacy means a range of things for me. The context varies too. Intimacy is being able to hold hands on a bus ride; it is lying in bed together with the intention of doing nothing but just feel each other’s presence; it is stolen kisses and little moments like when you’re in the kitchen and your partner comes up to give you a little kiss; it is making coffee for each other; it is sex; and it is just being together in a space that allows us to have our own individual spaces, where we do our own thing- it is comfort, it is home.

            Anonymous, 21, Single

Q. What have you found to be the best way to approach someone that you found attractive?

I will simply text them.

Q. What counts as consent? Do you think one should always explicitly ask for it?

Yes, explicitly ask someone.

Q. What is a major turnoff for you when initiating a hookup?

I don’t usually(ever) initiate hookups.

Q. One advice you would want to give people on dating apps?

Stop texting people incessantly once they’ve shown disinterest.

Q. What does “Intimacy” mean for you?

Emotional vulnerability, for me, trumps, a physical relationship.

            Anonymous, 21, Single

Q. What have you found to be the best way to approach someone that you found attractive?

Talk to them, and see if they reciprocate interest.

Q. What counts as consent? Do you think one should always explicitly ask for it?

I believe verbal consent is the best. I won’t like anyone invading my space, and I respect the space the others want.

Q. What is a major turnoff for you when initiating a hookup?

I will be insanely turned off if they hate homophobes. There are some things that we just have to accept, like legalization is not equal to acceptance.

Q. One advice you would want to give people on dating apps?

Be true to yourself and the others. Don’t exploit the trust one gives you.

Q. What does “Intimacy” mean for you?

To me intimacy is anything from a hug to a kiss. But that’s just physical intimacy. Emotional intimacy is being able to share your feelings, both happy and sad.

            Anonymous, 21, In a relationship

Q. How do you navigate the idea of consent in a relationship?

I believe being in a relationship itself is consent. You can’t ask your partner consent every time you want to have sex.

Q. What is a major turnoff for you when you are in a relationship?

When the partner is controlling.

Q. People often tend to mistake a “no” for playing coy. What do you think is the best way to avoid such miscommunication?

Master the difference between answering in a flirting manner and answering with a stern voice.

Q. One advice you would one to give people in relationships.

Don’t play with their feelings and don’t make them choose between their friends and you. Cause it’s hard to be in a lesbian relationship and have friends. It will eventually ruin what you have. And if you are experimenting, make it clear to the other person instead of misleading them

Q. What does “Intimacy” mean for you?

It is both, physical and emotional. Both are equally important.

            Anonymous, 30, In a Relationship

Q. How do you navigate the idea of consent in a relationship?

One the most important thing in any relationship is consent. You need to respect your partner’s choices no matter how difficult it is.

Q. What is a major turnoff for you when you are in a relationship?

Dishonesty.

Q. People often tend to mistake a “no” for playing coy. What do you think is the best way to avoid such miscommunication?

If my no is misunderstood, I would be a little more stern and make them realize that it’s a NO.

Q. One advice you would one to give people in relationships.

Always be honest and be or do what you like to do and don’t give in just to please your partner.

Q. What does “Intimacy” mean for you?

Any physical contact when you are longing to be with your partner is intimacy.

NOTE: A questionnaire was sent out to people who reached out, following a shoutout on our personal pages/ the Gaysi social media. The response from the same was compiled together for the purpose of the article. Most respondents were female (with only two male respondents), all between the ages of 20-30, from across India. Regardless of their relationship status, everyone seemed to agree on the idea that “intimacy” implied both, a physical and emotional connection, with most of them prioritising the latter. Ten out of the eleven people questioned agreed that consent must always be explicitly asked for, even if it means simply ensuring your partner is alright with a certain act. While two respondents seemed to place the entire burden of establishing consent on the person granting it, others named better communication and establishing a safe word as practices that help in the long run. Except for one, that consent is not something to be taken for granted, even in the context of a relationship, was reiterated by most.

The idea of navigating consent can be tricky. Yes, consent is black and white and “No means no,” but against certain contexts such as role play and games, establishing consent can be difficult. And, let’s be honest, movies and books have taught us that grabbing the person you are attracted to and kissing them, whether the other person wants to or not, is the way to go. However, the beauty of being an adult is that you can separate fantasy and reality, and that you can unlearn the things that you thought to be true. Being a respectful human implies that you ensure that your partner is on board at every single point, even if doesn’t really feel ‘sexy.’ Have a conversation before-hand, if that helps, or establish a safe word.  If you are having sex, be responsible and respectful about it. It is also important to remember that you are not owed sex, by anyone– be it your wife, husband, or even a someone you met on Tinder or Grindr. It is a fair game for someone to change their mind, even in the middle of foreplay, and while it might not feel fun for you in the moment, you better pull up your pants.

About the author

Krupa Joseph

Armed with a B.A in English Literature from St. Xavier's college, Mumbai she set out to become a writer about a year ago. When not binge eating and watching reruns of any show she can get her hands on you will find her talking animatedly/ day dreaming/ glued to a book.
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