The C Word –
A Story of Consent
© Chris Courtney Photography
I love women. There were times in my life I was sure I was a lesbian, but the lifestyle – at least in the States - is about more than loving women, and those social and political aspects were beyond my nature. I could never entirely give up men, but with each passing day, I find it harder and harder to accept what is happening in this male dominated world.
I grew up during the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. I lost more than 20 friends before I turned 30. Most of the friends I’d lost were in their 20’s. In that time and place, getting people to wear condoms seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. People said that taking time to put condoms on ruined the mood or got in the way, but the more people who died, and the more AIDS became a heterosexual epidemic, the more condoms became a lifestyle imperative. Now it’s part and parcel of the act, and the sensuality around condom wearing has become a turn-on rather than a mood killer. What could be sexier than knowing the pleasuring you’re engaging in won’t cost you your life?
I hear similar arguments from men now about consent. As if talking about what you want to do and getting consent somehow diminishes the experience. A conversation doesn’t diminish anything and in fact can enhance the moment – and more importantly, if you can’t talk about it, you don't really have the balls to do it. If you can’t look me in the eye and discuss having anal sex with me like an adult (and not in some ridiculous porn trash way), then you probably don’t have the confidence and experience to do it without causing serious damage (this is where the Ulster case really fell down).
I have a sincere delectation for initiating women into the intimate pleasures of the feminine. In this, I am absolutely commanding and confident. I prefer men to take the reins with me, but I relish taking the reins with women who have not yet tasted feminine pleasure. The adventure of introducing a woman to all of the possibilities is intoxicating and sacred – but only if she wants to go – there is no pleasure and no beauty in forcing her into something she’s not ready for or just does not want to do. And when things are allowed to evolve, the will continue to evolve over and over and over again.
Last August (2017), a week before I left to go to California, I was invited to an evening with a lover and another couple. My lover was a beautiful Creole man, from Mauritius, named Angel. We had met in odd circumstances, but there was a tender, grace and beauty about him that I could not ignore. He didn’t speak much English, and I don’t speak any French, so talking wasn’t optimal, and I relished the electric silences between us.
For the most part, the only way we had to communicate was through touch, expression and our eyes. It distilled everything down to what was essential. There was nothing superfluous or artificial in our encounters. Everything between us was pure and devoid of misunderstanding because the physical is experiential not intellectual. When in the midst of experience, I am loath to speak. Words require thoughts and thoughts detract from engagement and ultimately, bliss.
The first time he and I were together, he handed me a beer in a truly squalid room he had rented somewhere near the river (the building has since been condemned). His magnificent presence betrayed our humble surroundings and made me want to worship him. His spirit was priceless, but his means were exceedingly humble, and I could feel his shame and nervousness. He said something in French, and I shook my head, ‘no,’ as much to say, ‘don’t speak,’ as to convey that I did not understand. I reached my hand towards him and caressed the inside of his forearm until he was able to breathe deeply and smile. Initiation of anything physical before that moment of calm acceptance would have been forced and ultimately unenjoyable.
A smile can tell you everything you need to know about a person’s state of pleasure if you pay attention to it. Between lovers who don’t use words, a smile is worth the consent of a thousand yesses.
He had already been with the couple he invited me to join. She was curious about women but had never dared, and Angel hadn’t a clue about how much I love being with women - and the irony was, I couldn't tell him.
We arrived at the hotel separately, and I found Angel and Sean in the bar having a drink. She wasn’t with them. I was pleasantly surprised not just by Sean’s attractiveness, but by his sense of humour. Wit is a special turn on for me, but it broke into the silence I liked with Angel and created a bit of friction from the beginning. They bought me a drink and we decided to head up to the room, where Aileen was. She had been too nervous to meet me in the bar.
When we got to the room, Aileen was having a drink in nothing but one of Sean’s shirts and her knickers, which she had thrown on after a shower. She was tall and slender with beautiful long legs, and she was tan – not spray on or fake but sun kissed tan. They had just come back from a sun holiday, and she had obviously soaked it all in. She had lovely, soft greenish-grey eyes and she had a sadness about her, like a woman who life had taken its toll on. She was more nervous than any woman I had ever met.
We began to chat, and I let Aileen know that she was in control of the room for the night. Nothing would happen that she didn’t want to happen and that in most situations like the one we were in, women had a lot of power – more power than we do in a lot of other situations if and only if we are willing to let go of all the social graces we’ve been taught.
Once Angel had finished his drink, I gave him a kiss and began to undress him to move the night forward. Things got awkward quickly when Sean made it a point of complimenting me to Angel a bit excessively. Angel was with Aileen, who was visibly hurt by Sean’s compliments. There was something about Aileen’s response that made me realise that inviting me to their soiree was what Sean wanted, not what Aileen wanted. And Sean had just endeavoured into Aileen’s worst fear about this encounter – that he would be more attracted to me than he was to her.
I went to her and pulled her on to the bed, so she was sitting in front me. I looked into the pure sadness of her lovely eyes and told her how breath taking she was – and she was truly breath taking. I wasn't placating her.
“May I kiss you, Aileen?” tears welled up for her and she looked down and nodded. This was not consent. She was clearly nodding to be polite. She was so far out of her depth that the path of least resistance was all she could do. Since Sean was watching, I turned the tables and smiled at her, “Would you like to kiss me?” When she looked up, I could see she was actually curious and giving her the ability to kiss me on her terms was what she needed.
As we kissed, I let her explore all the sensations. She liked that my lips were softer than a mans and that I have a small mouth. She like the touch of my tongue against hers, she even liked being a bit aggressive with me. She asked if she could play with my breasts and nipples. And at that point she opened her shirt to reveal that she had had a double mastectomy and both her breasts were gone. It was a profound moment of immense grace and courage and I will never forget it.
I reminded her that she was breath taking. She didn’t need breasts and I whispered to her that my breasts were the only thing that got me any attention, without them I’d be plainer than a plank of wood, whereas she was truly beautiful as she was. She looked at me a little bewildered and we both giggled, holding each other's gaze. If, in that moment, kicking the men out of the room had been an option, I would have done.
As we continued to make out, Angel and Sean found their way in and things progressed a bit. I was letting Aileen explore my whole body and she was enjoying her discoveries as much as I was enjoying being discovered. Then Sean suggested that I return the attention. So I asked Eileen if I could touch her, and Sean immediately said yes for her like an impatient boy.
At this point, all comradery between myself and Sean ended. I sat up, looked him dead in the eye and told him he was not allowed to answer for her. He was not at all pleased with this and stomped away to a chair. When I turned back to Aileen, I knew if I asked she’d say yes to placate Sean, but her body was folded over, legs crossed, shoulders down, clearly not wanting to be touched or opened. She wasn’t ready to be touched or explored by another woman, and whether that was lack of sexual desire or absolutely understandable self-consciousness, it wasn’t going to happen that night, and it didn’t need to. I kissed her hand, and told her she was lovely and I indicated to Angel for him to take over. Aileen was definitely turned on by Angel. He is an Adonis (I am not exaggerating).
As I turned back to Sean, he got petulant. He made it a point to tell me how much Aileen had said she’d wanted to be with a woman as if that made a difference. If she had said it before in theory, the reality did not turn her on. At this point, I did something I wouldn’t normally have done and I’m thankful that it didn’t go too far, but I beaconed Sean back to me to diffuse his frustration. That I even had to entertain such a thought makes me angry, but it was really the thing that could have saved the evening for everyone, but it didn’t work. He kissed me for a bit, and things were fine for a bit, but Aileen is a screamer - truly, I have never heard someone so vocal about pleasure - and she was in ecstasy by the sound of it. Sean kept shushing her, but the more Angel was Angel, the louder and the more Aileen screamed.
This created a situation that I found appalling. Sean was touching me, but glaring at Aileen and intermittently telling I Aileen to be quiet. It was as if, I was a chore and he was more eager to reprimand Aileen, and more angry about her bahaviour, than he was into the moment. Then he said something to Aileen I didn't hear and he hit her. She abruptly ran into the bathroom and locked the door, crying. Sean followed her and talked his way into the bathroom with her. Angel and I were left alone. It was a sobering turn of events, and it was interesting that Angel and I, who didn't speak the same language, were completely in sync.
After awhile, Aileen came out of the bathroom and things started up again. She really liked Angel, and in hindsight I completely understood why. Angel was an angel. He was beautiful and gentle, but he could also be commanding and completely masculine. He had worked for the police in Mauritius and he was built like a Mack truck. I realise now that Aileen probably agreed to have me there, and may have even feigned interest in being with a woman, so that she could see Angel. But as she tried to muffle her screams with a pillow, Sean yelled at her to shut up - and the bathroom cycle happened again.
At the point, Angel, looked at me and said let’s go, so we dressed. When Sean and Aileen came out of the bathroom, she couldn’t stop apologising. I sat her down in one of the chairs and let her know that Angel and I had had a lovely time. I knew that Angel wanted to see her again, and I suggested that they would. I was going to California for a month in a few days so that alleviated the issue of me being in the equation again.
Aileen was so upset and Sean was so angry that I hugged Aileen and whispered in her ear that I would take her with me if she wanted to leave. She shook her head no with tears running down her cheeks. I looked at Angel who wanted to go, but I wouldn't leave until I knew Aileen was safe. Somehow, I knew Sean wouldn't bully me the way he had bullied her - and with Angel there, I knew I was completely safe. We stayed for about half an hour, until the tension dissipated. When I hugged Aileen good-bye, I told that I would see her again in a heartbeat. It was Sean not her who had ruined the evening.
I’ve thought about this night a lot since the #MeToo movement started because we are not taught to value awkwardness and discordance above social graces, manners, and politeness. And that is dangerous. If I hadn't copped on to Aileen saying, 'yes,' to being with me because she was being polite, I would have done something she didn't want. And it wasn't difficult to see that she didn't want to.
Sometimes playing leads to rejection and disappointment, I’ve come to expect both and am pleasantly surprised when they don’t happen. But no amount of pleasure is worth the experience if it comes at anyone else’s expense. And those delicious moments that Aileen consented to and enjoyed, were worth every effort, but she didn't owe me anything - even and especially when she turned me on to the point of ravenousness.
That said, I do not want to diminish how incredibly uncomfortable it is when things get awkward. But I hope it’s clear that the awkwardness in this didn’t come from Aileen’s boundaries – boundaries that would be just as understandable if she hadn’t had a double mastectomy and should be even more understandable because she did. The awkwardness came from Sean not being able to deal with his own disappointment. He had obvious expectations of the evening, and when it was clear he couldn’t reach those expectations, he made things worse before Aileen started screaming with pleasure. Sean's anger was further inflamed because she was freely enjoying herself, and he wasn't - which is insidious on many levels. Sean wanted to run over consent when what was happening pleased him at her expense, but then he viciously shut Aileen down when she was enjoying herself freely and completely because it wasn't about him.
This makes me wonder about how we raise boys. I keep hearing and reading about how to raise boys so they won't engage in rape culture - and I wonder if the issues around rape culture have less to do with sex and more to do with teaching men how to deal with disappointment from the earliest age. In a world like ours where many children, especially boy children, are given everything they want - not necessarily out of greed or nastiness but just out of a desire to love them and be generous - if we haven't created a generation of men who just don't know how to deal with disappointment.