Oh, yeah. We’re doing the word-play.
So. A very, very long time ago, I had a voice teacher tell me that, when I bowed in this graceless, perfunctory manner, the message I was sending to my audience was that I felt entitled to their applause, and that it was on me to draw out that bow so that the audience could understand that I appreciated their appreciation.
Which: The reason I had been doing basically a curt nod rather than a real bow was because I hated myself and felt unworthy of that appreciation. I was intensely uncomfortable accepting praise, and I thought that by sort of rushing through that mandatory bit of the performance process, I wasn’t “taking more than I was due”.
Which I suspect my voice teacher knew.
Which is, I think, why she hit me with “You are being a jerk when you do that” because trying to convince me that I was any good at all was 100% a losing battle at that point (and, hey, it’s an uphill slog 25 years later, so here we are). Telling me I had a responsibility to the people I was interacting with to Do The Thing got me to actually Do The Thing when telling me I was worthy wasn’t getting anywhere.
Which… perhaps you can already guess where this is going, but we’re going to go there anyway.
I mentioned recently that I’ve been doing practice exercises with someone in preparation for her seeing clients as an IPSA member. One of those exercises was a body-check-in meditation that centered on actively seeking out what felt good.
This is something I’ve done before, as a self-check-in, while I was doing life coaching. Every day, several times a day, I had to bring my awareness to parts of my body that I either ignored or only paid attention to when I was scanning for pain or problems. And I had to notice what felt good in those parts of my body. There was a lot of noticing how the wind felt brushing around my bare shins, for example.
While that wasn’t always easy to do, it was self-guided and I could kind of take as long as I needed to or stop if/when things got heavy-feeling with no harm, no foul, involved.
In this more recent case, though, the body-check-in was guided and, when I started feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and shame-flooded (and getting a lot of pressure in my throat, which is Interesting for reasons that I’ll get into shortly), I stuck with it.
For reasons.
So let me talk about that for a minute.
The first reason is that – when we were doing the debrief, I warned her that I was going to sound like The Courage To Heal – “feeling uncomfortable is not the same as being in danger”, and I made the decision to basically lean into it and see if I could get myself through and out of my weirdo shame/overwhelm/anxiety situation while continuing with the exercise.
Which… didn’t work very well, but here we are.
The other reason, however, was that I didn’t feel justified is calling “Yellow” and asking for a slow-down or a break.
I knew that if I said “Hang on, I need to stop for a second” or similar, that she would have stopped.
I knew that I was uncomfortable. But I also knew I wasn’t actually in danger. So I didn’t feel “justified” in “demanding” a moment to come back to myself.
I didn’t want to interrupt.
I didn’t want to make a “big deal” out of something that I knew was… not actually dangerous, just uncomfortable.
I didn’t want to be a burden.
Which kind of brings me to how this experience relates to my long-ago voice teacher telling me to smarten up.
A LOT of my exploration/navigation of sex stuff is about giving myself permission to do things, feel things, experience things. A LOT of it is about learning how to believe I’m lovable enough to deserve/”deserve” pleasure, time, eroticism, fantasy, permission.
But there’s another side to it which is that, when I make the decision to “not be a burden” to a partner, I’m assuming that this other autonomous adult with-whom I’m interacting:
(A) Would be irritated by my changing my mind, needing to take a minute, interrupting their flow, or whatever
(B) Would prefer that I hide my actual experience in order to perform something gratifying but not necessarily true for them
And there are absolutely reasons why I make these assumptions, unconsciously or not. I’ve 100% had partners, parents, and other attachment-relations make it explicitly clear that they want to hear that I’m on board with what they want to do, whether or not that’s actually the truth.
But continuing to make those assumptions in situations where that’s not likely to still be the case means I’m… kind of operating in bad faith?
This isn’t a case of me expecting, or wanting, a partner to read my mind.
In point of fact, I’m counting on them not being able to read my mind because, if they knew “something was wrong”, I’d be upsetting them.
But… you guys, there’s a whole world of questions coming up around this like:
“Why are you assuming that You Wanting A Break would upset your partner?”
“Even if it does… why does that mean you can’t call for a pause. They’re grown ups. They can handle Stop and No”.
Betty Martin has those videos about the different quadrants of the Wheel of Consent, which I find really helpful in terms of explaining the different ways that we (can) consent to administer or accept touch. In the video on “Allowing“, she talks about how “allowing” doesn’t mean you have no limits, or that you’re not allowed to have any limits. It means you ask how the other person wants to touch you and then you get to negotiate around that. But that to do that effectively requires you to know what your limits are, to check in with yourself, and to say something when things start feeling chancy. You have to know-in-your-bones that you can – that you have permission to, and safety to, but also that you have the capability to, the agency to, the self-trust to – say No.
Allowing is not the same thing as enduring.
(I mean, yes, sure, in a BDSM context, sometimes “allowing” also involves “enduring”, but that’s a fairly specific context and I’m talking from the perspective of someone who is neither submissive nor a masochist, so that context isn’t one I’m likely to be in).
So. What does all this mean?
When I wrote my most recent permission slip, I said that “I have permission, and also a duty, to say what I want”.
Maybe if I remind myself that I have a responsibility to the people I’m interacting with to Do The Thing – to recognize when I’m rubbing up against and edge and call for a slow-down, to say “Okay, you want to touch me in X way. Under Y circumstances, or with Z provisions, I would legitimately enjoy you doing that” – that will actually get me to Do The Thing even under circumstances where overwhelm, anxiety, and shame-spiraling are getting in the way of me Doing The Thing for my own benefit.
Notice Pleasure: My fingers in her mouth. Snuggles on the couch. My hand on her collar. Coffee with milk and sugar. Early morning back rubs. The squeeze of her legs around my chest.