In the Mid-’90s, We Didn’t Know the Word for Consent—But That Didn’t Stop Us
How do we match our desires with our demands? I didn’t have the language to ask.
My endorphins are running constantly. But those times after school, me and The Ponders just wandered around, hung out. Today we would probably call those boys outcasts. They often played Magic: The Gathering—that women never played, were never invited to—with spells and demons, and dragons. But they were also very intellectual and smart and funny, and one of them was my crush.
He was a tall boy who did handstands just to please me. Who could juggle and draw and write poetry. He was lanky, skinny like a string bean, but surprisingly strong. Later, he would pick me up with his arms and carry me the way that you do with a bride over the threshold. His hair was parted in the middle, and with those hands he would move it out of his face, out of his eyes. That’s what I still remember thinking in our Spanish class when he walked in: How I long to run my fingers through that hair.
This was really the beginning of desire for me—what it felt like to desire men.
I remember looking at another soon-to-be boyfriend in college that weighed two hundred pounds and thinking: What would that weight feel like on me? Being so aware of the thought it was startling. That’s what it is—an awareness of your own desire, the moment you catch yourself desiring. Questioning. Fantasizing. That is what interests me. At least that is what interests me now. My own desire. It’s maybe not them at all.
Now I am a forty-year-old woman, married with two kids, living in the South of France, far removed from where I grew up. My teenage self is like a dear friend I’ve known for many years. There is something essential about her. A desirability, a sexiness, a power that I harness when I think of her. The men back then used to call me like a cat. It was a way of arching my back, dripping with self-confidence and the knowledge that I turned myself on by knowing how I was desired by others, and then that, in turn, turned me on, because they were turned on by me. Because you are the object of desire and in this way are enamored with yourself. Though now it’s often said that being an object of desire removes one’s agency, at the time it had the reverse effect. I was the one in control because I was someone someone else wanted. You stand in your power; this I perfected in high school.
Once, I wanted a boy in my drama club. He was a few years older than me, funny and sweet; he played the courageous lion in The Wizard of Oz, which is a big tell if you went to my high school. After a show, a bunch of us celebrated by going to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a little artsy theater in Santa Monica. It played there every Saturday night. My girlfriend and I had never been to the live-action midnight showing of Rocky Horror. They called us virgins. After the show, he and I stayed up all night cuddling, cozy, innocent in that fuzzy line where nothing has happened yet but something could happen, or something is beginning to happen.
We can’t rush sexual aptitude, hence why they say too-advanced porn can be detrimental to early development. So, of course, when I flip through my journal from high school—the one with the angel—I wrote: “Can I lick you?” He asked after my date with him. It’s sweet. And the memory, soft around the edges, floods back to me: being on a blanket in the sand, the lights of the Santa Monica pier in the background, the sound of the waves, and later in a steamy car on a secluded street.
How do we match our desires with our demands?
The entry continues: I said no, not yet, I think I made the right decision.
I don’t remember this specific date, or this specific phrase; I have my journal for that. But here is me and here is consent. And here is a perfect example of it done right.
I think so anyway.
In 1994, I didn’t even know the word consent.
I’m glad it’s so popular now. I suppose we knew the concept. We knew no means no. But I never had to use the word consent in any potential assault scenario of my own.
Meanwhile, I’ve been driving the curves of Mandeville Canyon in my mind while I’m writing this essay. Remembering my sixteen-year-old self at four o’clock on that particular afternoon—I’m no longer in the plays as it’s the spring musicals of senior year and I don’t really sing. At least, I only sing in the car. I’m still “acting” I say, just not onstage. The downbeat of Portishead’s bass is deep and vibrates my car as I push the cigarette lighter out of habit.
I know these turns by heart. I have just enough time for one last cigarette before arrival.
The cigarette lighter pops, I light the cigarette with one hand while steering through the light and shadows of the sycamore trees that line the road with no guardrails. We’ve made out by now, too many times to count. But I don’t know what I’m driving to. I don’t know that today will be the day we don’t resist any longer.
He’s been waiting. Waiting for me. I’m the experienced one now. I’m in the driver’s seat. We’ve said yes without words, which is the way it was done. We don’t ask. In my mind he’s been asking, pleading, for a long time. We make love in his parents’ bed in the bright sun. Is it a good first time for him? Is it special? No focus has been put on men’s first times. No emphasis on making it special, on waiting for the right one. I’d like to think I was the right one, but I know I wasn’t. I was fraught with danger.
But I’ve never read about men’s first times written by men in any serious way, written in the way women investigate—albeit feel an obligation to write about—their first times. To catalog, to make sense of this watershed moment that was meaningful even if it wasn’t meaningful at all.
The myth is that all men think about is sex, but this myth doesn’t hold water, in my experience; it’s women who are doing the serious thinking about sex, or that it’s all we’re all thinking about it. It’s all I’m thinking about. From Morrison loving me two times to loving two men at the same time. How do we match our desires with our demands? How do we give ourselves consent? I didn’t have the language to ask.
In one of those journals, toward the end, where the pages are left blank, unfinished, I find a neon green index card, the kind used to study, where the man who used to walk on his hands has written, Patrick was right, you are a goddess. Thank you for a lovely evening, my love.
I know it’s from an evening when we all did drugs together. I know it’s from an evening before sex. Before we knew what we were in for. It’s this artifact, his handwriting blurred, that I’ve saved. Saved from a time when I was in love with two men. And this was very, very wrong, but I just wanted to be a woman, like Beth Gibbons sings as I sing along. I just want to be a woman and it’s with this song lyric I pull up to Patrick’s house and turn off the car. I glance across the street. I know the neighbors, but no one is home. No one is home but him in this corner of the world on the longest dead-end road in Los Angeles.
Augustine Blaisdell is the author of WOMEN À LA MODE: A Memoir of Writing a Book about Feminists in Paris. Originally from Los Angeles, California, she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and her BFA in Writing, Literature and Publishing from Emerson College. She leads an online International Literary Salon as well as teaches in person classes in the South of France. She is currently at work on an essay collection entitled, FINDING PHILOGYNY: Uncovering the Antonym and the Antidote to Misogyny. You can find more of her work on augustineblaisdell.com and on Instagram @augustineblaze.