As a queer woman who has been in community, dating and attending LGBTQ+ events for some time now, I’m passionate about speaking openly about consent, particularly the ways in which women in our community can work towards centring consent.
As a community, I think we can sometimes see women as “inherently safe”; and because of this, we may not always be thinking about the work we need to put in to creating enthusiastic cultures of consent, and respecting each person’s feelings and boundaries.
There have been occasions in my life, at LGBTQ+ events, where other women have touched me without consent. At the time, I was really surprised. Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to share with those women about how what had happened affected me, and what my boundaries were. It was important to me that I was able to express myself and hopefully influence them reflect and to change their behaviour. I know this isn’t something everyone is safe to do, but for me it was the right choice.
In sharing my story, I also hope to be part of keeping my community safe. Our community is tiny, so we can sometimes run into one another, fear shaming or fear not being safe. The more we talk with one another, and talk about consent specifically, the stronger we will be.
I think sometimes, it can be really challenging, especially for women in our communities, to talk openly and directly about sex.
There is a lot of stigma and stigmatising terms relating to women being sexual. Historically, it has been viewed as more “natural” for men to be sexual. Queer sexuality is also marginalised. So, most of us are probably all living with some internalised queerphobia. When I was growing up in the 1980s, it was considered “disgusting” to be a lesbian. We may have anti-sex ideas passed down to us not only explicitly but from the implicit messages from people’s tone of voice, body language and facial expressions. This can lead to internal feelings of guilt, shame, or discomfort around sex.
I also think that our communities are plagued with more experiences of rejection. We may anticipate:
“Will I be rejected at this new job/town/country?”.
“Will I be safe here?”.
We live with the fear of rejection and that can make it challenging to ask for what we want. Asking for what you want is making yourself somewhat vulnerable. The person may say no and that can feel scary.
Some of us were not out and dating when we were teenagers. We have gotten less opportunities at a very young age to practice talking about consent and sexual/romantic relationships.
The impact of the stigma we experience can create real challenges that we don’t always talk about. But asking about and establishing consent is so important, even when it’s challenging.
We can also come up against expectations about the ways we “should” have sex- even from within our own communities. I’ve seen some queer women saying that you “can’t” be a lesbian if you don’t like certain sexual acts. We have enough people outside of the community telling us why we can’t be LGBTQ+ and making us “prove” we are actually queer.
There is no one way for women to have sex with women.
The way I see it, you are a lesbian, queer, bi, trans, pan, gay, non-binary if you say you are. No one can tell you who you are but you. Your gender or sexuality does not mean you have to do anything you don’t want to do. There is no such thing as “typical” lesbian/queer sex. Just like how cishet people can like or dislike oral sex and various other sex acts.
It is important not to assume based on someone’s sexuality what they enjoy or not. You really do need to have that explicit direct conversation and ask people what they love and what is “off limits”. You can also be confident that it is okay to say no to anything. Your feelings are valid.
Creating spaces where we can navigate and check in about sex is so important. When I’ve been with women who have asked me “would you like me to touch….?’ Or “fingers or tongue?” it helped create a sense of safety for me. When I’m getting to know someone, I now ask “what do you like and not like sexually?” “what is off limits?”
I’ve found being direct and clear has been really useful. We worry we will shock people, but if people aren’t interested, they are usually flattered and decline, which is more than okay. Sex is natural and queer sex is natural. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Being open and clear helps us to keep communication up during sex, and to create environments where everyone knows that they can change their mind, pause or stop at any time. We can pay attention to the persons tone of voice and body language as well as the words they are saying. I want to make sure we are both enjoying what is happening, and that everyone feels safe to say what they really want.