TW: Mention and discussion of sexual assault
After a troubled childhood and school days, I thought college would be awesome. That is what we demand: after a blurry day that the sun will shine one day! We all have been through complications and struggles and have our way of trading with or leaving the circumstances. But when the struggles were mine it was me who had to choose to stay, lose or fight. What I have learnt from having had all these experiences is that consent is not how those who understood my ‘no’ to be a ‘yes’ to be.
I started my first serious relationship while in college. By then I was out of the closet as a gay person. However, being open in the community is not easy either, as power dynamics continue to play out here as well.
For example, one such incident happened while I was still seeing my college boyfriend. Around that time, I developed a friendly relationship with a professor from a reputed institution. This person had an open relationship with their partner, from what I had been informed. My partner and I hung out with the professor once or twice, even though it was me who shared a great rapport with the professor. These interactions of mine with the professor led to long talks, drinks, evening walks. Slowly, I started confiding in him and shared a long-kept secret – of me not being sexually active with my partner.
These meetings grew in number with time. One such evening, I was called to the house of the professor for tea, which I happily attended. The conversation that evening was not as per usual but messy, tormenting and unsettling. So, I made some excuse to go back home early. As soon as I stood up from the table where we were seated at for tea, that professor grabbed me and pushed me slightly towards the wall near the table. I chuckled in embarrassment but said nothing; and then he kissed me and I did not stop him. As soon as we stopped kissing, he wanted to have sexual intercourse with me to which I stated ‘not today’ and rushed back home.
Months passed without any further interaction because I intentionally avoided conversation. It was almost after a month after that incident that he called me for tea again. I replied to his text message that I am not interested in having sex with him. To this, his agitation took the form of the following sentence – “It was you who gave me indications; if you were not interested why did you kiss me back?” And so forth went on the accusation.
We blocked each other that evening after the chat but the guilt continues to niggle at me on the inside. Was I the culprit? Did I give an indication? Was kissing him back automatically a ‘yes’ to sex? The answer is no. That evening when I kissed him it was my submission and not my consent. I did not agree with it.
According to an article published in April, which is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month, consent means granting permission. Consent is an ongoing process. A person might not feel comfortable or agree to have sex at all times.
In my case my sexless relationship with my partner was construed as an indication by the professor. My silence was also a form of consent to him. My no was still a yes to him. When I addressed this issue with some of my college friends, they were shocked and questioned if I could act or retaliate but I was feeling numb. I could not speak anything anymore. My relationship was sexless but it still was emotionally very strong, and the guilt trip was not yet over for me. Some days later, at a queer meet up when I wanted to share this incident, many people in powerful positions tried stopping me from voicing my opinion on how I was abused physically and mentally over and over again.
With time, I slowly began healing but something transpired again. It was after six months that I happened to meet that person again at an event on a terrace. It was a poetry night. My blood started boiling when I saw him there. Thoughts were racing at a speed where I thought my head would explode. At that very moment, one of my dear friends came to my rescue. I told her that I was feeling very uneasy. We decided to walk out of the event and sit at a cafe nearby. We sat, had food and then I walked back home as usual. That night turned really cold for me. I started questioning myself again about everything that had happened six long months ago.
I realized that I never confessed these things to my partner ever after we had broken up. It was not because I thought that I did something wrong but in my head, I was no longer right or confident. Everything seemed blurry. This time it was not the people but me who judged myself. This judgment was because of the conditioning that we were nurtured with as kids and yes, it was my conditioning that made me mentally tired. I feared comments. However, that person showed no remorse and was very confident that it was my choice that led to him ravaging my modesty. But that’s how it is, isn’t it?
Grief demands an answer but no one always has it. In today’s world, there are thousands of places where we accidentally or wilfully break consent but when we learn about it we apologize and try to make amends. We are human beings and we serve to make mistakes but at least one should acknowledge the damage done and learn from the mistakes. When we feel triggered in our interactions with friends, colleagues and others, it sometimes sticks with us for a lifetime. However, when it comes to consent it is really important to understand that it changes its forms with time and context. Sometimes silence could mean a no or a yes, but it is not for the other person to decide, especially when it is clarified. The form of consent changes over time but the point is that a no is never a yes! The power to say no should always be there because it can change the dynamic.