Extracting the Yes.

Almost any exchange can be extractive. Although we might try to undermine extractive practices by so-called ethical practices such as obtaining consent through proof of signature and email trails of information, these practices may still obfuscate the extractive power dynamics or the possibilities of extractivist practices inherent in any exchange. I’m interested in the context of the consent acquisition and developing more nuanced and complicated language around the ecosystem of the consenting figures. I think this could help to explain or find language to a wide variety of extractivist exchanges, where consent is nevertheless involved, and still yet how uncomfortable, unpleasant and even violating feelings can be present.

For this I’ll begin again from my body, as this is the body through which I can authentically speak and it is the only body that I know. So I begin here again as I always do, and I will go back again to a central event in my life. I have spent 25 years of my life pondering an event that happened when I was 17, and today I had this breakthrough. It is not “THE ONE breakthrough”; but it is a big one. Said event was a singular event that would usher in a period of recurring events that reminded me of the first. Said event was a simple and momentous event of having sex with my boyfriend when I didn’t want to.

He was the one who first gave language to it–he named it RAPE. He apologized for the RAPE. Perhaps, after doing so, he let the event go and moved on. I have no idea what he did with the event, with the memory, because eventually we stopped speaking. I myself have never since that naming put that event to bed. Though I acknowledge that his apology was genuine, had “good intentions,” there was a perversity to his naming, as naming can do. Naming colonizes, and this naming colonized an experience that we had, gave it language. This language was something specific with which I then found myself engaging. I had to engage with this naming–to dispute or agree. Perhaps it was a language that elevated it, perhaps this elevation was a kind of act which I could now better understand, akin to the language of unlearning white supremacy: Perhaps it was “signaling wokeness,” was “male saviourship,” was “performative allyship.” Perhaps it was all these things AND the intention was good.

Nevertheless. Your/My abuser cant save you/me, your/my abuser should not give you/me language out of your/my condition of violation. You/I give yourself/myself language out of the disempowerment, you/I find your/my power, you/I rename yourself/myself. Is today a re-naming? Perhaps.

I agreed, of course, with the language of RAPE and I don’t regret it. I’d like to say here–I’m not a rape apologist whatever that is, and I’m not looking to undermine myself or my emotions. I don’t disagree with calling it rape, but I am interested in something else. I am looking to complicate this language. I am looking to get underneath this language. Choosing to use the word RAPE was better than covering it up, burying it, letting it be another sexual experience. Choosing to call it rape was choosing life in that moment, was choosing a journey, was choosing a life journey! It helped me understand all those terrible feelings, it helped me unify with other people who had experienced something similar, it helped me find a place for my experience, it helped me on my path towards seeing myself in all the sexually liberated ways that I would. It even helped me to begin my coming out story, my queer story. I am, bizarrely, grateful to the word, to the use of the language. But I can also honestly say, rape never felt neat, it never felt explained, it never explained everything.

Specifically, as other victims can attest to, just calling it rape didn’t entirely explain my consent. Didn’t I mumble “okay” at some point in the event? Didn’t I not physically resist? Didn’t I eventually “let it happen”? Maybe it was grey area rape, maybe it was non-consensual sex–but I never liked these words either. Always stuck in my throat. It was something which didn’t feel “good”. It was an event in which he apparently got what he wanted (the acquisition of the thing which would theoretically bring him happiness or fulfillment in that moment?) and I cried. It was an event that was not so climactic and yet it was terrible, and hugely impactful in my life. It was not only emotionally and physically impactful, it was philosphical impactful. Not as a victim of sexual assault or even of sexism–there are thousands of events of sexism that I have sustained throughout my life–some which have made me more angry. But none as confusing as this one. None which have made me think so hard on a philosophical level about the operations of power and the meaning of consent.

I have written extensively on the topic, I have written so much that I didnt think I could produce more words on the topic. I have thought about it so much that I have spent the better part of my life pondering RAPE and rape culture. Even as I have spent so much time with other topics, I still return to this one as a central problem.

This may explain why, even though what I would like to speak about is EXTRACTION and my continued research on the topic of extraction and extractivism and new extractivisms, I find myself thinking about rape. Or maybe rape was there all along, so obvious in the gash in the earth created by the marble quarry. Or is it obvious? And is rape a gash, or rather, is my cunt a gash from which something is extracted? Honestly, I dont think so, this metaphor doesnt exactly work. Its something else, something adjacent, something more elusive.

(Maybe YOU dont want to pick apart sexual assault like some philosophical playground but I DO. And I have a right to talk as much or as little as I want to about this event. I have the right to talk about my experiences of sexual assault however I want to. Why do I find myself justifying this? I guess I must feel afraid.)

Back to the question. Is my cunt a gash in the earth, my “female” body the earth through which I am pierced by some phallic drill? Fuck that. To this Freudian metaphor I do not consent. To this phallocentric, heteronormative idea of sex, I do not consent. To this position of near paralysis as soft earth is plundered by heavy frantic machinery, I do not consent. To likening of the female body to the natural world, to the male penis as the machine, the invader, the artificial intelligence, the foreign–to all these false binaries I do not consent, I do not agree.

Extraction implies using force, implies as well taking something out of something else, in other words, squeezing something out. Still, I would like to venture that perhaps “extractive event” is useful in understanding this moment, and perhaps many others like it in which consent of some kind, is involved.

As I walk myself through this thinking, I encounter the question: If this event were extractive, then something was extracted–but what was it? It feels commonplace to say that “sex was taken” from a woman, or “sold”. “She sold her sex,” it is said, “her dignity was stolen,” and even “she sold herself,” or more benign: “he took her virginity.” All of these are indeed commonplace but none of these get at (my) experience; inexact at best. At worse–a second violence, a (re)violation and repeat offensive of patriarchy in the mimisis of its form (“The Masters Tools”). None of these things were taken from me. I still have my sex, whatever that is. I still have my sexuality, I still have my power to orgasm, to enjoy sex, I still have my cunt and all my organs intact. I still have my self, my gender(s), I still have my power to define my sexuality. Virginity? I never had virginity to begin with; arriving through the passage of my mother’s cunt would, by that definition, have been my first sexual act.

No. I realize, and this did take me 25 years: what was extracted from me was my consent, and more specifically, my YES (or was it something more like an — okay–).

YES I consented – but the fact is, I desired otherwise*, and this desiring otherwise contains all the difference.

To what did I consent? I consented to the specific moment of “insertion.” Why did I consent? Apparently because there was too much pressure. Emotional pressure, pressure of his words, of his persuasion? Of the history of having already said yes 100 times before? Pressure from not knowing why not now? Pressure from not knowing that it was okay not to know? Pressure that it was harder to say no, easier to say yes. Pressure to the idea of being desired? What did I get? The confirmation of being desired? The false sense that saying yes was tantamount to staying together? “The boost of 1000 likes on a photo that I don’t even like, on a platform that I say that I hate”.

Yes I consented to some kind of YES. But I understand so deeply that I desired otherwise. I desired so, so much otherwise; I desired an ocean of otherwise. There was so much to which I did not consent, so much to which I did not consent, and yet my YES somehow consented, consented to all of it! Consented to all of the things to which I did not consent.

To begin, I did not consent to being asked to have sex. I did not consent to being a young woman. I did not consent to being a body who was understood as a young woman. To be a body called a woman who was understood as the receptive pocket for some kind of act of insertion. Who was a body who was understood to be asked rather than asking, to consider an offer rather than make an offer, to “protect” her body as land, as property, as soft earth. I did not consent to growing up in patriarchy where I was meant to be “guarding” my virginity, my sexuality, my state of “not pregnant”, my state of not “soiled”, not “spoiled”, not “violated”. I did not consent to having to worry about getting pregnant. I did not consent to the learned expectations of a body who was understood as male. I did not consent to the relationship of power between male and female bodies. To the fact of hormones, which made me less horny that day and made his hormones–apparently–rage. I desired to go to school, to stay dressed, to not take off my pantyhose, to not to be asked to do so. I desired not to be asked to consent to something which I clearly did not want. I desired that he would understand this. I desired that he wouldn’t push, that he wouldn’t try to “seduce”, to “convince”, to sway me. I desired that I wouldn’t have to use words to tell him. I desired that I wouldn’t think it would be “easier” to say yes. I desired that he wouldn’t try to extract consent. To get me to say yes.

And there were other things, too, bigger things that I couldn’t even imagine and therefore couldn’t even want. There were desires that wouldn’t be thought of, desires that our bodies were not opposition, that our sex would be queer, that we would circulate each other, that our bodies could fit differently together, that our genders could allow for some other kind of dialogues, that sex would not be called sex, that we would not be in the condition of the parents home in the suburban house, in the institution of schooling, that our sexual exploration could be so much more powerful and spiritual and exploratory and imaginative and creative than those twenty minutes before high school in Virginia could ever have been.

There was a whole sphere of relations, of structures and histories to which we had arrived in that moment to which I had no access to overhaul. That is why when someone ever makes the excuse of why we go to war using the latest indiscretion that just happened it always points to war and never explains all the minor gestures that came before it, the conditions of violence to which there seems no other choice. I did not desire this moment nor the conditions of this moment.

It is this that might be worth hanging on to in this writing, might be worth extrapolating from–this idea that the conditions in which the consent is extracted are not consented to. And this is worth speaking of, and thinking through, whenever we consent to–or ask others–to consent to our wishes and desires, no matter we do and no matter what field we are in.

It might be tempting to think that in digital contexts, it is our content and data that is being mined from us, extracted from us. This may be true metaphorically. But simultaneously, and perhaps more importantly, what is extracted from us is our consent to sign up in the first place, to put our data in the fields, and to share our content. And why do we consent? Because we feel that we must, that it is part of our world, and because we get things that we want. And what do we produce for ourselves every time we share our content? We produce content–our own content, our ego boost of the number of likes, our sense of worth, of value. We experience an artistic act, a creative moment, the act of creating a work of art–as much of our content is. Perhaps that we are an activist, that we are doing something. Or that our ideas have value. That we look cute, creative, that we are being real, genuine, keeping it 100%.

Each time we share, we DO get something. But do we consent to the infrastruture itself? Do we consent to who controls it? To the language that it uses? Do we consent to being asked? Do we consent to the feeling that we must? To the pressure itself? To the feeling that we must make a choice–be in facebook or outside of facebook–you decide? Do we consent to the human slavery that makes possible the chips in our computers, to the devalued labour of the persons making such devices, of the delivery of goods to homes by underpaid delivery persons, to the sedentary nature of an elite group of people’s lives, to the persuasive power of conveniences, to the slow eating away of people’s ability to concentrate, to the way that digital content is overloading minds. Oh yes–we consented. But do we desire otherwise? Oh yes, we desire otherwise, so much otherwise.

And as artist/worker–yes, I signed the contract that said I would earn 350€ for this day of work. I understood that this is the budget said corporation, said artist, said theatre, said commercial outfit, could offer me. There was no more to offer me, nothing more I could extract from them. I consented to the model release, that my image could be used in advertising, that the show could be shown on TV, in an advertisement, on an airplane. That it would be and could be distributed. I signed a paper and my signature is there, proving my consent. And I–as Artist, as “creator”, as “author”, I procure your consent to work with me, for said budget, which is already “over my budget”, already “a lot for me” and yet very little for you. I procure your consent to work in these conditions of less than optimal conditions, which I try to overcome and to make better.

But who, in these conditions of artistic engagement, will be named author, whose name will be in big and bold? How will our successes be measured? Who will get funding to work further, who will get amplified to speak about it again? Who is emotionally invested and will be called to speak about the ramifications of where it goes.

Through my consent, and your consent, we cover up something, many things to which we do not consent, we do not desire. So this consent form — it does not really go far enough, might even cover up something very important, may say nothing of the power dynamic in the first place. And this payment, this payment may make me or someone else believe they, that I, am not a slave, but do I, do you, consent to this payment, repeatedly and again, when rent is as high as it is? Do I consent to the idea of money at all. Do I consent to the act of survival through work? Do I consent to being asked to sign?

I desire so much otherwise, and I believe that you desire so much otherwise, from me and from the world.

to be continued, of course

  • I first was introduced to the idea of “desiring otherwise” in the context of conversations about consent when taking a workshop with Joy Mariama Smith in Berlin. Thank you Joy.