Building Consent Culture with Kitty Stryker: Shawn Taylor
Dear reader, I’m Kitty Stryker. This is the first interview in my series “Building Consent Culture with Kitty Stryker” here at Argot. The series will be published every two weeks and will feature scholars, activists, writers and thinkers discussing their thoughts about consent and ideas for building a better future.
This week I wanted to start off with Shawn Taylor, author of the 2008 book “Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity”. When I approached him about writing for my anthology “Ask: Building Consent Culture”, his email back said “I’m going to write about how 'consent culture' is a men’s issue and what we can do to foster it, and how to hold other men accountable. Don’t worry, it won’t be as boring as it sounds.”
It certainly wasn’t! His essay has often been mentioned as a stand-out piece in reviews of the anthology. I’m delighted to get to interview him here.
Your contribution to "Ask", titled "The Power of Men Teaching Men", is an especially poignant and necessary piece right now. Where did the idea for your piece come from? What are you hoping readers will get out of it?
I’m a guy. I’m a guy who understands that he has a certain level of privilege and power—granted some of it is blunted by race—but I still can move through the world in a way others can’t. I’ve been a bystander to harassment one too many times. It was never about being pro-harassment, but about not feeling brave enough to step in. When you intervene, you put yourself in a possibly dangerous situation. But during the incident I wrote about for the book, I realized that I wanted to live in a particular type of world, and the world I wanted to live in had no place for this kind of behavior, I had the power and mindset to intervene, so I did. I really hope folks who read this recognize their power and make the choice to be brave enough to step in. I also hope people see and understand consent as a vital and necessary component for a healthy culture.
What do you see as the major challenges to creating and building a consent culture in the U.S.?
We need to have body sovereignty courses in school. As soon as possible, kids need to know their bodies are their own and no one has the right to touch it in any way, unless you give them permission to. Consent is also a process, not a one size fits all thing. Consent can be given or revoked at any time. This lesson needs to be reinforced repeatedly and in multiple forums: formal classes, workshops, school assemblies, posters in schools, education for parents to have these conversations with their children. The younger we begin, the faster we will have a generation of people who see consent as a cultural “is” and not something we have to struggle to aspire to.
How do things like structural inequality and power dynamics impact consent? How can we resist that (and can we resist it)?
There is structural inequality. Some feel it a whole lot more than others, but we can all resist. One thing I’ve recognized while working with oppressed peoples is that so many of us think that the inequality is inevitable and a foregone conclusion. To resist, we touch who we can reach. If we start small: in your family, your home, your neighborhood, your community; we can accomplish so much. If we don’t begin with a micro approach, the problem can seem so huge that we don’t do anything because the problem is overwhelming.
What do you see happening that gives you hope for the future?
I see young people and women and folks utilizing non-Western thought to address consent and body integrity. This is the direction we need to be traveling in. The future looks wonderfully bright in this area.
What are some ways people can practice consent culture in their daily lives? Do you have specific advice you'd like to offer to other men?
Be curious. Curiosity feeds compassion and empathy. Ask questions; get to know what folks like or don’t. Find out what their boundaries are. Consent, on both sides, can be very empowering. For the men: pay attention to verbal and non-verbal communication. Your gender, and the culture around your gender, isn’t permission to do or say anything you want. Engage with folks through honest conversations. Ask folks what works for them and what doesn’t, in terms of how you relate to and interact with them. Just take up less emotional, social, and cultural space.
Shawn Taylor is a writer, university lecturer, and a scholar of popular culture and propaganda. His essay “The Power of Men Teaching Men” is in “Ask: Building Consent Culture”, published by Thorntree Press and available on Amazon.
Kitty Stryker is a freelance writer, anti fascist anarchist activist, and queer sex educator who has been working specifically in the realm of consent for 7+ years. She has bylines at Buzzfeed, Rolling Stone, Vice, Wear Your Voice, Ravishly, the Frisky, the Guardian, and much more. She lives in Berkeley, CA with her cats Foucault and Marquis.