Shifting the Center: My Dad’s Simple Condemnation of Sexual Violence

Trigger Warning: Discussion of sexual violence and rape culture
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My dad is a wonderful man – kind and quiet and thoughtful and generous. I can say with confidence that in many ways, I am the man I am because of my father.

When I was a teenager, he gave me an uncomfortable number of sex talks – he saw it as his duty as a physician papa to talk about STIs, condoms, waiting until marriage, etc. Years later, though, as we were sitting together in the mountains of Colorado, I asked him about something that was never mentioned in any of those uncomfortable conversations.

“Dad, in all of those times you talked to me about sex, why did we never talk about consent?”

He thought for a moment, then replied, “Well, I assumed it was a given.”

A given.

God, how I wish that consent was a given, something we didn’t need to talk explicitly with young people about. How I wish we lived in a culture of consent where we breathed in consent and respect and accountability in the way that we presently do rape culture.

But we don’t live in that world. As some people come into clearer awareness about sexual violence by hearing of the lenient sentence given a White rapist from Stanford University and through reading the statement from the survivor of that attack, we see once again the ways that our systems bend over backward to protect rapists (particularly White rapists).

But rape culture is about more than a single viral incidence of violence.

Rape culture is evident in the startling fact that every single one of us knows multiple survivors of sexual violence, yet so often we don’t know that we know survivors.

Rape culture is evident in the truth that just as many of us know perpetrators of sexual violence, perpetrators who will never be held accountable in any way.

But this short post isn’t meant to be about rape culture. This post is meant to be about the ways we can shift those around us to speak out, to act, to work to end sexual violence.

I don’t think I have had another conversation with my dad about sexual violence since that short talk about consent many years ago. I have tried; it just never went anywhere. But I realized this morning that even when we weren’t talking, he was listening.

Last night, my dad sent me this email:

Hi
Should be in bed at 1145 but became pulled and wanted to read the whole article about the Stanford student written by Lindsey Bever in the Washington Post. Definitely  a reading that shows the pain and struggles of sexual assault. She will never be he same but is trying to make that journey back to some normalcy in her life. Very touching. I have a hard time reading a lot of your posts on Facebook but can really appreciate your passion. Sex always has to be  consensual and if one is impaired one cannot give consent.
Take care Jamie.
Love Dad

His email is simple. It’s not a nuanced condemnation of heteronormative patriarchal violence or a stirring call to action for all men.

And yet I sit here in tears. Because it’s my dad.

And my dad spoke out to condemn sexual violence and to remind me that “sex always has to be consensual.” And my dad did so in the context of the Stanford rapist’s father defending his son in such a public and disgusting manner.

That means more to me than I can ever tell him or ever hope to convey here to my readers.

And his words are a reminder that the center is shifting – more and more men are realizing our responsibility to act, to change ourselves and the ways we view the world, which will in turn change our relationships and our communities.

And as I reflect upon this shift, I am forever grateful to those who lead the movement to force a shift, a movement led primarily by cis-women, Transgender people of all identities, and Gender Non-Conforming people, a movement led by survivors and their allies.

The work is far from finished, but this morning I feel just a little bit more hope than I did yesterday.

And I feel thankful to my dad.

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