* * Please note – this is a new podcast and we apologise for any technical hitches. This episode should become available at 12 noon GMT on 30th November 2021 on all major podcast platforms* *
In I Do Consent Podcast episode 2, Jenny is in conversation with Kitty Stryker, the USA based activist, writer and educator who co-curated the 2020 Online International Festival of Consent and continues to work with Jenny to champion the International Day of Consent. Together they discuss what consent culture means to them, personally and politically.
Kitty Stryker has been working on defining and creating consent culture for over 10 years through her writing, workshops, and website consentculture.com. She’s the editor of “Ask: Building Consent Culture”, and is especially interested in bringing conversations about consent out of the bedroom into everyday life. Additionally, Kitty is a sex worker and academic of the history of obscenity, censorship, and queer culture.
In her copious free time, Kitty enjoys working as a street medic for direct actions, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and caring for her two cats. She identifies as a queer, asexual, sober, anarchist and femme.
Jenny Wilson 0:02
Hi, and welcome to this recording of IDoConsent podcast recorded in November 2021. And my guest on this episode is my partner in crime Kitty Stryker. Kitty has been working on defining and creating consent culture for over 10 years, through her writing workshops, and a website consentculture.com. She is the editor of the book, “Ask -building consent culture”, and she’s especially interested in bringing conversations about consent out of the bedroom and into everyday life. Additionally, Kitty is a sex worker and academic of the history of obscenity censorship, and queer culture. Welcome, Kitty.
Kitty Stryker 0:50
Hi, thanks for having me.
Jenny Wilson 0:52
It’s great to have you here. And to be working with you again on the International Day of Consent, having done our great festival last year and plans towards next year, it’s it’s a real privilege to be working with you. What I thought would be good for this as this is one of the first episodes of the podcast is to hear from you (and I might chuck mine in as well)… But to hear from you what your definition is of consent culture – when you’re talking about consent culture, What do you mean?
Kitty Stryker 1:32
Well, I think consent culture is a living document is what I call it, it’s something that is inherently difficult to define. I mean, simply put, I suppose, consent culture is a culture that centers consent, instead of coercion or entitlement, or capitalism, or white supremacy, or transphobia, etc, etc, etc. It’s a culture that puts consensual interactions at the forefront. But what does that actually look like? I mean, that’s a constantly evolving thing. And I’d like to say that I don’t consider myself an expert, because I’m constantly learning. And I think that that’s really the best way to look at consent culture – it’s something you’re constantly learning.
Jenny Wilson 2:36
Yeah, I totally get that I … People sometimes refer to me as an expert, and it makes me really uncomfortable. I see consent as a practice, really, you know, people repeat the like, the dictionary definition of consent is that it’s about permission and agreement, and people tend to see it as this really simplistic yes means yes, no means no, black and white, binary kind of a thing. But actually, when you think about the process of agreement… you know, that’s actually a really complex, potentially really complex thing, the process of reaching a place of agreement with people.
Kitty Stryker 3:21
Yeah, and I mean, I guess what I, when people say like, “oh, I’m a consent expert”, it just makes me think that they’re really good at manipulation. Um, I don’t, I don’t trust it. And I think that part of the reason I don’t trust it is that you can’t be an expert on other people. You can be an expert on yourself, perhaps, maybe… I’m not even sure how much I believe that, frankly. God knows I’ve evolved extensively over the past 10 years. But I do think that, yeah, there’s this mutuality in consent culture, that’s really important.
Jenny Wilson 4:06
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, for me, that’s the kind of culture bit of it. Like you just mentioned now, consent culture is not capitalism, is not white supremacy, is not the patriarchy, etc, the systems that we all operate in, and actually, it’s really hard to imagine, I think, what really it would be like to live in consent culture… because the thoughts that exist in my head are formed from words and ideas and contexts that are absolutely wrapped up in hierarchies and privileges and people having power over other people. And so it’s kind of really hard to imagine In this kind of beautiful Nirvana that consent culture could be if we all lived in it. I mean, it’s like, yeah, it’s like utopian almost.
Kitty Stryker 5:14
Yeah, it absolutely is utopian. And I mean, I mean, I’m an anarchist..so I know a lot about utopias that don’t exist in real life. In fact, I think consent culture and anarchy work really well together, in a lot of ways, because they’re kind of addressing the same autonomy at the core of it. Um, I think that I mean, I’m a anarcho syndicalist, so a lot of that autonomy is also an awareness of others, and encouraging them to have the maximum amount of autonomy. God knows, and you and I have talked about this before, during a pandemic, that is really sorely put to the test at times because I live in a space where I do believe that people should have personal autonomy and free will – and I also believe that stopping a pandemic means that everybody sucks it up and does certain things like wearing masks or staying home. And like, those two feelings don’t coexist, really… like they’re completely opposite. And yet I hold both of them very strongly. So I think that’s why it’s difficult for me to say that you could be an expert in consent, because I think that these are deeply philosophical, and spiritual even, concepts that it is impossible to have mastery over.
Jenny Wilson 6:56
Yeah, yeah. Yes. So, I’m absolutely with you in that my concept of what a consent culture looks like, in-so-far as I can articulate it, is it is a world that is (for want of a better word) socially just… you know, that is caring… that everybody is looking after everybody else, as well as themselves rather than this kind of…. Like I’m an anarchist, too, and like a lot of people think of anarchy as being kind of selfish hedonism.
Unknown Speaker 7:40
No that’s libertarianism.
Jenny Wilson 7:42
Exactly. And I have a real problem with that stuff.
Unknown Speaker 7:46
Sorry, libertarian friends. That’s, interestingly, that is a discussion I have a lot with my libertarian friends of like, you know, especially my left-leaning libertarian friends believe that part of living without a government, or having minimal government involvement, would give more people the space to do the right thing. I think that puts altogether too much faith in people and having good intentions. But perhaps I’m very pessimistic. I don’t know. It’s hard to say. All of these things, it’s really hard to say what it looks like, because it’s so far from our reality. .. that it is completely unthinkable. I remember (And this has been something I’ve been thinking about for a long time) I remember when I was in university, and I took a future studies class…And we were asked if we would want to live in Huxley’s “Brave New World”. And I said, “Well, absolutely, yeah, I have no problem with that”. And my teacher was just absolutely gobsmacked. He was like, “but don’t you care about free will?” And I said, “Well, I wouldn’t know what freewill was. And that would be easier. Honestly” I would be less stressed out and upset because ignorance is bliss. And I think that I struggle more knowing of the concept of free will and knowing that I don’t have it. Not really. That is a much more difficult thing to deal with. So I think a lot of my consent culture activism stems from that… stems from this idea of like, Yeah, we don’t really have informed consent. We don’t fully have the ability to say no and therefore our Yes, is questionable. And so I’m seeking to move towards that as much as possible, while also acknowledging that our society doesn’t really make it possible.
Jenny Wilson 10:15
Yeah. Oh, God, this sounds really depressing. But…
Unknown Speaker 10:20
I know it always does. It always does…honestly, whenever people are chatting with me or I do a workshop about consent culture, there is a period in the middle, that’s just like, ‘yeah, we’re up against a lot. And this is hard work’. But you know what, I felt like that when I started doing yoga, too, and physical therapy. And I had to be super aware of every muscle in my body. And it took so much concentration, and effort to be aware of every single tendon. But with enough practice, after a while, it became easier and easier. And just like, with consent culture, I don’t think you’re ever fully going to be an expert, you’re never going to have complete awareness of all muscles all the time. But you become better at recognizing what the issue is, and being able to address it before it gets worse. And I think that is extremely hopeful. Because I think that what happens for a lot of people is that we don’t know how to make things better. And so we just keep digging the hole and making things worse, and then feeling like it’s hopeless, when it really isn’t. I mean, I feel much more positive about my interactions with people, because I’m aware of what my ouch spots are… and I’m able to communicate them before they become a problem.
Jenny Wilson 11:54
Mm hmm. Yeah, it’s absolutely about digging in and doing that work. And it is uncomfortable. And it is awkward. It is difficult to have those conversations. It’s really interesting when I’m actually doing sex education work with young people in Britain (we’re really buttoned up in Britain). In fact, people of all ages, I use a pizza metaphor for one of the exercises that I do – the “want, will, won’t” exercise. It’s like, we talk about “what would you like on your pizza? What do you really want on your pizza? What won’t you have on your pizza?” And you get into all these ridiculous innuendos about.. “Well, I will I will have pizza. But I’ve never tried olives, mmmmmm”, you know, like olives become like this kind of kinky suggestion. But, yeah, so I’m thinking that what might be good to explore a bit is is what, What are those kinds of key tools of the practice that you’ve kind of come up with? I know you’ve got the book – and the book was invaluable to me. The book introduced to me for the first time the FRIES framework, which I’ve talked about on another podcast. And I’ve adjusted the the FRIES framework a little bit from Planned Parenthood’s original model. But there’s lots of great tools and examples in the book. Do you want to say a little bit about how the book came about and where it came from?
Kitty Stryker 13:30
Yeah um, so Thorn Tree Press asked me to put together – well, I pitched, they were kind of interested in a consent culture book. And I pitched one, that was going to be an anthology. And my idea, funnily enough for a consent culture book, part of the idea of how I wanted to format the book was a bit of a bait and switch. I wanted to be a white woman who was known for talking about consent on the cover. I got Laurie Penny, who’s an incredible journalist and a friend of mine, and Carol Queen, who is an esteemed sexologist, and another friend of mine, also to white cis women to bookend the book, and then I filled everything else with marginalized people. And the reason why I wanted to do it that way, was because in my experience reading about rape culture, which is what all of the material was, at the time, it was almost exclusively white cis women writing about rape culture, and I knew in my activism that there were a lot of voices that just were not getting heard and not getting a foot up in that conversation and it left a lot of nuance and cultural experiences out. So I figured, if I make it seem like it’s that norm, sort of in quotations “normal” consent related book, then I would get second wave feminists to pick it up. And then through that be kind of tricked into reading consent conversations about racism in the workplace, or trans women and puberty blockers when they were teens, or workplaces consent and consent to harm and what does that look like? And it worked. In fact, it made a couple of second wave feminists read it and got very angry at me for doing that, which I think is very effective. I’m pleased about that. And it meant that I could publish writers who had never published anything before. I took a huge amount of risks. I barely edited the people who wrote, because I wanted it to be in their voices. I didn’t want it to be overly academic, I didn’t want it to shy away from being academic. So we have a huge array of ways in which people talked about consent. And that was incredibly purposeful. I think it was harder for people to understand, because they expected a level of consistency. And I might change that in the future. But I have to say, I really liked that some of the essays were incredibly 101, super basic, very accessible. And some of them were, you know, graduate courses in one aspect of consent culture. I think that that meant that you could revisit the book over and over again and learn more as your understanding of consent culture deepened. So yeah, and part of how I did that was I wrote all of the people I wanted to, to write for it, and said, “Hey, this is my plan. I’m planning a bait and switch, I would love for you to be involved. I wanted to let you know, like, I understand that it might be uncomfortable, to submit to an anthology, when you just have my word, and I’m a white cis woman, I recognize that here’s a bunch of other people that I’m asking who have said, Yes, you are absolutely free to say no, you can pull out at any time. I won’t be upset” Honestly, because I knew it’s extremely easy for me to find white cis people who will happily whip out an essay of 1000 words in a week. So if somebody really needed to pull out a week before I sent in the draft, it would have been fine, you know. And so part of that, that was so interesting to me was the process of putting together the book was modeling the consent culture that I wanted to see. And it did mean a little bit more work for me. It meant that I did have a couple of writers drop out. And I did have to fill their places somewhat last minute, but that was okay. And I was so excited that they felt comfortable saying ‘this is more than I can do’. And didn’t feel punished for advocating for themselves. That was really, really important to me.
Jenny Wilson 18:51
Yeah, yeah, I think that’s absolutely the case. I really relate to the putting it into practice, meaning it can be a bit more work sometimes. And it goes back to the thing you were saying about, you know, like yoga, you know, these, this practice is new muscle memory for us to learn, but like… so I try to parent consensually and it takes me a lot longer to negotiate stuff with my 10 year old than it does to go “because I said so!’
Kitty Stryker 19:23
Jenny Wilson 19:24
And you know, and she’s home educated for the same reason, which is also you know, a lot. But those are things for another podcast, I guess. But, you know, practicing consent in our everyday lives. And, you know, I/we mess it up every day as well, you know?
Kitty Stryker 19:43
Absolutely. I think that’s really important. I think more people should talk about that because I think that there’s a fear of messing up that means that we end up being more committed to a non consensual life. Because If we can say, ‘Oh, well, you know, we’re all being pressured. So it’s fine that I pressure people’, it allows us to remove some of that accountability. The only person we truly have control over is ourselves. And I think that a lot of people want to sidestep that, which I understand – I mean, I’m a recovering addict, I completely get it. You know, like, having accountability for everything you do is really hard. And it kind of sucks sometimes. Yeah. But it’s important.
Jenny Wilson 20:33
Yeah. So important. It’s that thing of consent is about everybody using all of their agency. And that’s a wonderful freedom, and at the same time, a huge responsibility – it’s a lot.
Kitty Stryker 20:47
Absolutely, absolutely. And I think that some of the.. I mean, I think part of the reason why I as an educator of consent culture is, perhaps a little less media friendly, sometimes, is because I’m very open with how close this is to shadow work, where you are doing some really deep, intense therapy, in order to really address some of these issues. I think a lot of consent educators want to make it light and fluffy and catchy. You know, it’s all ‘Consent is sexy’, or, you know, ‘just ask’ or, you know, whatever. And it’s like, yeah, that’s cute and kitschy, but like, that doesn’t address, like, “why do I feel entitled to somebody else’s time?” And that’s really where the problem is, you know? Or “why do I feel like I can’t say no, in this moment?” Like, “I’m sick, I don’t want to go into work. Why do I feel like I can’t say no?”, that’s a much bigger issue than ‘Consent is sexy’. It’s not always.
Jenny Wilson 22:13
Yeah. And that’s why its consent culture.
Kitty Stryker 22:17
Yeah, exactly. And I mean, I think that, um, yeah, people people want consent to be easy, and simple, and black and white. And the further I get into it, the less I believe that that’s true. Which, for me, is extremely exciting. I find that much more interesting than just ‘here’s a formula, do it correctly and everything you do will be consensual’, that’d be very dull. Um, I think, thinking about what is the nature of humanity? And how does that relate to consent, free will, autonomy? That’s so interesting. And, you know, it’s been considered for 1000s of years. So, I think that, um, I will be surprised if I am an expert by the end of my life. Because it’s such a deep topic that’s like, what makes us fundamentally human. Um, so I think it’s exciting and interesting. And it isn’t always fun. Kind of like a mushroom trip. Where sometimes you do a mushroom trip, and it’s not great. But you always learn something about yourself, whether it’s good, or whether it’s bad, or whether it’s complicated. You always, always learn something. And I feel like that’s what draws me back to consent culture work.
Jenny Wilson 23:57
well, I’m, I’m very happy to have gone on this trip with you, Kitty. I’m going to wrap things up because I’m conscious of keeping these podcasts fairly short for people. But I think hopefully, I can get you back and have another conversation with you on another podcast really soon.
Kitty Stryker 24:18
Absolutely. I would love that.
Jenny Wilson 24:19
Great. So before we go, in the run up to the day of consent, 2021. I’m asking all the guests, if you had one message for the International Day of Consent, as succinct as possible, what’s your message?
Kitty Stryker 24:38
Um, I would say every day, try saying no to something that you genuinely don’t want to do. Whether that’s saying no to yourself, whether that’s saying no to your boss, whether that’s saying no to your partner, practice saying no. And being firm in that and comfortable with that. Um, I think that it’s important for us to say no and it’s really important for us to learn how to hear no. Um, and the holidays are coming up so this is a good thing to have practice for.. you will probably want to say no more than once during the holiday season and get started now.
Jenny Wilson 25:32
Great that’s a that’s a wonderful message to leave us with… practice saying no people! As uncomfortable as it is, it’s a great skill to learn for sure.
Kitty Stryker 25:44
You know, it becomes less and less uncomfortable the more you do it, I love saying no now.
Jenny Wilson 25:50
Oh, thanks, Kitty. It’s a pleasure as always to talk to you.
Kitty Stryker 25:55
yeah, thank you so much for having me.
Jenny Wilson 25:57
Transcribed by https://otter.ai