Carrie Bradshaw and Consent
As a writer, I believe it is crucial to remain critical of one’s work. There are many research papers I wrote during my undergraduate career that I now look back to and wish I had stated things differently, or had been more inclusive. Though I am still proud of these pieces and what they accomplished, it is too late to go back and change the words that could have been. Which is why I’m choosing now to write with a more critical lens.
Under the assumption that most people reading my blog are friends and family, you are all well aware of my obsession with Sex and the City, and personal identification with the show’s main character, Carrie Bradshaw. As much as I would love to spend thousands of dollars on Manolo Blahniks funded by writing a weekly sex column in New York City, I know this is not a realistic goal. That does not mean the dream should be shoved to the back of my closet, it just needs a refreshed approach. Shifting from a research-based, academic perspective on sexuality, to one combined with complexities in my own sex life/relationships is challenging. So just how does one navigate writing about his or her relationships in an ethical and moral way? Is it even possible?
Revealing myself as herpes positive on social media was a challenging decision to make, for a variety of reasons. One of my main concerns was that it would automatically put the other party in the same limelight. Even though I do not explicitly mention names, inferences can be made, and that person is put in a situation where he, most likely, does not want to be. It becomes an issue of consent, as Ella Dawson so wonderfully writes about here and here. As soon as I read her articles, I put my own work into perspective, and Carrie Bradshaw’s, too. Carrie wrote about all of her loves and ex-lovers, and fruitfully so, however, I cannot say that I ever recall her asking for consent from these gentlemen. Every man I have been involved with has influenced my writing. Never have I once asked any of them for permission, but they’re there—in poems, in fiction, in non-fiction--all parties accounted for. Here I am writing, more publicly than I ever have before, about the intricacies of casual sex in relation to my herpes diagnosis, and it’s difficult to accept that it is not only my experience to claim.
Yesterday, I found myself questioning one specific article I wrote, a combination between a call for action and somewhat of an open letter. It’s a moral conundrum that I have yet to receive a clear answer on; I don’t think there is one. Opinions, yes. Answers, no. It is not desirable for the overarching theme of my work to be labeled as 'spiteful', but that is what I fear. That type of negativity defeats the purpose of writing on the issue all together. I’ve edited and reread the piece time and time again, and I see a lot of things. I see anger, I see hurt, but I also see forgiveness, truth, and light for others, including for that person. There’s depth, there, certainly, but some level of exposure, as well.
I want to be honest. I want to show my moments of vulnerability and doubt. I want to bleed. Even moments such as this, when I am questioning my work, I want it all documented. I cannot anticipate how the article will impact my life, but I know that I’m doing the right thing by continuing to analyze and question the role of consent in my writing.
It is amusing when I think back to my undergraduate work from this perspective. I wrote plenty of research papers about consent in sex, but somehow managed to miss the idea of consent within my personal writing. A recurring theme throughout my gender and sexuality courses, "the personal is political," never fully struck a chord with me until now. Since the whole “I have herpes” conversation is out of the way, I suppose my new disclosure is that if we become involved in any way, I will want to write about you, about us, and I hope you’re not frightened by that possibility, and the probability that I will ask for permission. Consent is not an issue exclusive to sex writers. It plays a role across all writing mediums. There is always going to be something that someone does not want you to say.
People will talk. I’m sure people are already talking. There will be denial. There will be questions. There will be accusations. I’m either the girl he gave herpes to, or the girl who didn’t tell him I had herpes. Small talk in regards to exposure isn’t the goal. In the end, I do hope the light revealed overshadows the darkness. I am not set out on a mission of destruction; I hope for enlightenment. Unfortunately, we can only help those who want to help themselves.