The #MeToo era was a turning point in a larger, much-needed conversation about consent, but a new book is challenging some of the basic assumptions around that conversation — namely, the fact that a large swath of people impacted by consent issues have often been left out entirely.
“Unsafe Words,” co-edited by professors Shantel Gabrieal Buggs and University of Michigan alum Trevor Hoppe, author of “Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness,” is a collection of 13 provocative essays that stare down hard-hitting questions about sex, power, consent and harm from the writers’ lived experiences as members of the Black, Latino, Asian, nonbinary, transgender, gay, lesbian and sex worker communities. The essayists are queer academics, activists, artists and advocates.
“The #MeToo debate over the past five years has almost exclusively focused on relationships between powerful straight white men and women. This excludes many marginalized communities. Forcing concepts of consent built for straight people onto queer people actually causes harm,” says co-editor Trevor Hoppe.
At the heart of it all is sex, which, the authors implore us, must always be consensual and mutually pleasurable. All too often, however, the #MeToo movement has been framed with a heteronormative viewpoint rife with class norms and racial privilege. “Unsafe Words” reveals the tools queer communities have had to develop by themselves to practice ethical sex — a sex worker negotiating with her client to a gay man having anonymous sex in the back room of a bar, for example.
Co-editor Shantel Gabrieal Buggs. Courtesy photo[/caption]“If we want to have real discussions about consent, we have to talk about racial equity, we need to include perspectives of sex workers, and we must have queer voices at the table being heard,” says Buggs.
The conversation here doesn’t shy away from the toughest questions, like how queer communities could better prevent and respond to sexual violence within an overarching system where all too many police forces include rank-and-file members who are subtly (and often proudly) racist, homophobic and transphobic.
“Unsafe Words” is set for release on Feb. 10 through Rutgers University Press.