I think a lot about raising my son. Not just the stuff I do on a daily basis: bottles, diaper changes, funny voices, and off-key songs.
I think about what I want to teach him later. I think about what values I want to instill, and how I want to go about it. I think about the difficult conversations that we will eventually have to have: about racism, anger, and the unfairness of the world.
I think about how I can raise him to be a good man. I'll do my best, but I think a lot about whether or not that will be good enough.
We will eventually have the sex talk. I don't know what all that will encompass, or when it will happen. But it will happen, and I hope that I'm a good enough father to handle it correctly. That's what I'm thinking about at 3 in the morning.
Rape, in particular.
It's a haunting word, especially at 3 in the morning, when you're still so tired that your eyes burn, but you just can't get back to sleep.
No means no.
It's a simple concept, and one I grew up hearing over and over. It should be easy. No means no.
In case that's still too vague: if you're with a person, and that person says no, you stop. It doesn't matter how worked up you are, it doesn't matter how far you've already gone.
During the talk, there will be much more discussion about consent; which I'm sure will lead to other talks about alcohol consumption, drug use, and a barrel of other things that I'll eventually have to deal with, but can't imagine breaching, this 3 o'clock morning.
Right now, "no means no" is the most I can handle.
The first time I remember hearing the phrase was on "A Different World." If I was guessing, I'd say it was probably the episode titled "No Means No," but I can't remember for sure. All I remember is Dwayne saying the phrase. Dwayne, who I was always thought was one of the coolest guys on television, probably because of his awesome flip-up sunglasses. He was so serious about it, which was a big deal, because he was usually funny.
I remember sitting in front of the TV, making a mental note: No means no. Dwayne is not messing around about this. Got it.
At the time, I was way too young for it to be any sort of an issue, but the idea stuck with me, and even then, it seemed like a blatantly obvious concept: if you're kissing on someone and they say stop, you stop.
Cut to high school, years later.
The phrase hadn't changed, and the concept hadn't changed. No means no. Still simple.
But the thing is, it no longer seemed so simple.
I had a steady girlfriend, and as we were both horny young idiots, we made out pretty much as often as possible. How far we went usually only depended on how much time we had, or how brave we were feeling. If we were in a parked car in the middle of nowhere, we were generally more intense than if we were in her bedroom, with her parents home.
I say "generally" because this wasn't always the case. For example: there was one night we got ourselves worked up pretty good on her front porch. What was supposed to be a goodnight kiss quickly escalated into much more.
And here's where things get not so simple. Because as I was kissing her neck, working my way down, moving my hands from her waist to less innocent places, she began moaning a word.
In case you can't guess that word, I'll just tell you, because that's the point of this entire post. It was "no."
This was a thing we did. When one of us was worked up, the other would tease; when she was obviously turned on, I'd mention that I had to get going, or that we really shouldn't. If she knew I was more desperate than usual, she'd push me away and tell me we really needed to study. And we'd keep going.
I'm not trying to justify my actions--I'm just explaining that we had already constructed a gray area. And that night on the porch, as we took things far enough that we could have probably been locked up, had anyone seen us, that gray area grew.
The next day, we talked about how crazy it had been, how exciting, how fun.
What we didn't talk about was how she had said "No," countless times, and how each and every time, I had kept going.
I didn't even think about it. She was obviously enjoying it, right? Her hands were as busy as mine, and her words were murmured between returned kisses.
Cut to decades later, 3 in the morning, and I can't sleep. I make some tea, drop to the couch, and start perusing Tumblr. And I come across a post about rape. Written by a 16-year-old girl, who has not only been raped, but also knows several other women who have been raped.
Sixteen. So close to the same age as my girlfriend on the porch that night.
Here's what I know now, that I didn't then: rape isn't always as obvious as it is in movies, or on TV. I always pictured it as a woman crying, fighting; the man an obvious villain, taking what he wants without regard to her pleasure.
Cracked (yes, the humor site) wrote a piece about rape that terrified me. The subject of that piece, "Tim," didn't even realize he was in the wrong until later.
I've never had an instance like that, where I find out later that I was the monster of the story.
But I very easily could have, all things considered. There were times like that night on the porch. There were times where I thought I was being charming, but in retrospect was probably just being overly pushy. There were nights where I drunkenly made a move, thinking I was being smooth, but looking back, see that I was violating someone's space.
For the most part, I've always been way too insecure to make a move unless I'm sure it's desired (you know the awkward guy in movies who, at the end of the date, asks, "Would it be okay to kiss you?" That was me.)
But once I was familiar with her, I would get confident, sure my desire was reciprocated. Do you see a problem with that sentence? Because the last part makes me fucking cringe.
Because it sounds like something a rapist would say: "She said no, but I could tell she wanted it."
Like I said, I've never had an incident like the one in the linked Cracked article above. But I could have. One misjudged signal, one too many drinks that made me read a situation wrong.
The gray area that formed in my mind when I was in high school with the front porch girl--hard-dick stupid and full of raging hormones--survived way too long, when it shouldn't have been there in the first place.
That's what haunts me at 3 in the morning as my tea goes cold. But it doesn't haunt me nearly as much as the dodged-bullet thought that because of that gray area, there could have been a woman out there, haunted by her own 3 AM thoughts about the monster who thought he was being charming but was instead being a rapist.
I think about that, and I think about raising my son to be a good man.
No means no. That will be included in every sex talk we have, and it will lead to more complex, less comfortable conversation, and probably to questions that I won't know how to answer.
But I don't want him to ever have that gray area. No means no. If the person you're with says no, it means stop what you're doing. Maybe go make some pancakes, or something.
It should never be a stupid game that horny teenagers play; it should never be open to interpretation.
It is a steadfast rule, and there are no exceptions.
Posted under The Rants on 9/20/15