Why Consent in Queer Relationships Should Not Be Overlooked

Why Consent in Queer Relationships Should Not Be Overlooked

Consent remains to be a complicated issue in and for the queer community.

“I was just a teenager the first time [my consent was violated] in a relationship,” Eric, a trans white man in his late twenties explained. “I mean, I’d been assaulted before, but it was by someone older…that took advantage of me, not by a boyfriend.

“[My boyfriend] told me guys always want sex. I thought that meant I should pretend to want [sex] too, even if I didn’t. Eventually, I said yes.”

Eric’s experience is, unfortunately, common in the queer community. While movements focusing on consent, like #metoo, are spreading through the United States, they have mainly told the stories of straight able-bodied white women experiencing violence from men. This is a huge problem, but it is far from the only scenario in which people have their consent violated.

Consent, while it should be clear that only a freely given yes is the only green light for sex, is complicated, particularly in queer relationships. A black bisexual woman told me queer friends of hers tried to discredit abuse from a former girlfriend, while straight friends tried to convince her that the abuse wasn’t as bad because it was from a woman and not a man. “It felt like I had no one to talk to about it. I know what happened and it was wrong no matter who hurt me.”

Roles in queer relationships violate the heteronormative paradigm in which only men abuse and violate women. In queer relationships, sometimes there are two men and sometimes there are no men. Queer relationships are, for lack of a better word, inherently queer, making it difficult to navigate even acknowledging when consent has been violated. I used to date a woman that would beg me to have sex with her even when I wasn’t in the mood. After a while, she wore me down until I reluctantly agreed. It took me years to realize she violated my consent, whereas abuse I’d received from men was always crystal clear to me.

Rose McGowan, one of the leading voices in the #metoo movement, actually Tweeted to Ellen DeGenerous “right now in America, birth control is being taken away & abortion is almost illegal. Speak for women as well plz. Huge platform.” after DeGenerous Tweeted about the way the LGBTQ community was being treated in Mississippi by unjust laws. Given how many women and nonbinary people are in the LGBTQ community and actively use birth control or get abortions that McGowan chose to overlook in her statement, it is evident that even the leading voices of #metoo don’t consider consent to be much of a queer issue.

It is ironic because, according to the Center for Disease Control, LGBTQ people are more likely to be raped, assaulted, and abused by their male partners than straight white women, especially trans women of color. Tausif Sanzum, in an article titled “Is the #MeToo Movement Inclusive of Queer Voices Globally?” said that “movements such as #MeToo are important to make sure that power and assault do not go unchecked. This makes it even more mandatory to make these liberation and solidarity movements accessible to everyone. Never has the need been stronger than today for a global stance where no queer voice goes unheard.”

Queer voices need to be heard, listened to. So how can the voices of LGBTQ people that have had their consent violated feel included when they aren’t a priority to the majority? I don’t have the answers, unfortunately, but I do know that change is needed. We need to create a dialogue about consent in queer relationships and how that fits into the overall movement. A space that safely allows queer victims of violence, having different needs than that average cis straight white woman, the chance to heal is needed.

In her article “#MeToo: Don’t Make Trans and Queer Survivors a Footnote,” Jess Fournier said, “by failing to understand the ways LGBTQ people are uniquely victimized by sexual violence, we fail to gain a complete picture of the way systematic oppression facilitates…violence.” She’s right. We have a lot to think about and a long way to go.

Cover image courtesy of Getty Images.