10 May Kissing, Consent, and High-Fives
In our latest episode, Teenage Crush: Part One, the whole trouble between our lead characters might have been solved if Brittany had just asked Travis if he wanted to kiss her, rather than her being cryptic.
Back when I was a teenager, I believe consent wasn’t taught enough, or at least in a way that reached us as young adults.
Society from a young age, I feel, had taught us boys that we had to lean in and make the first move with our potential partners. That was a terribly dangerous behavioral pattern to reinforce. Not only for the boys but especially for the people – girls or other boys – those boys wanted to kiss.
I always found it terrifying that I would have to lean in, lips puckered, and I might get punched, or slapped, or pushed away. That I’d face an awkward moment that hurts someone else’s feelings along with my own.
Then, later in life, it dawned on me in a conversation, or while listening to a podcast, I can’t really remember, but the idea was that I could just ask people I like if they want to be kissed. It sounds dumb. I’ll admit, I was very naïve. Up until that point, I think I mostly left it up to women to make the first move on me.
And ever since then, that’s what I have done, asked. And I have NEVER had a bad response.
Most of the time, I’m lucky enough to be able to read the situation, and it’s a ‘yes’. But, when it’s a ‘no’, at least the other person doesn’t have someone’s face advancing on their own like a meteor about to crash into a planet.
When I hear ‘no’, the only thing that’s hurt seems to be my feelings, then I have the chance to learn and move on. I’m not slapped, or punched, or maced.
However, I have been kissed by people I did not want to receive kisses from. People who, of course, didn’t ask.
In fact, there are a few experiences I can think of. Once a heavy ‘friend’ of mine sat on me so I couldn’t move while a stranger cheered on their boyfriend to kiss me. I once woke up to a woman kissing me in my sleep. And I’ve had other experiences where it was highly inappropriate for people to put their lips on mine because they didn’t get a sober confirmation from me.
I feel that in this story, if we saw Brittany ask Travis, “Do you want a kiss?”, we would have heard a ‘no’ from Travis. And the night of the dance might have ended with Brittany reflecting on her feelings in her diary. Then continuing to be friends with him. Or, distancing herself from him, because of her feelings and respect for each other’s boundaries. It’s likely they would have kept hanging out, maybe less often, they’re childhood friends after all. Two people who support each other in many ways as you’re about to see in the coming episodes.
Suffice it to say Travis had dumb sexual comments but almost feels like a whole other argument. Maybe a conversation about consent around those kinds of jokes before making them could have made Travis come off as less creepy in those moments. I mean, they were put there for a good reason to show his insecurity and inexperience in witnessing sexual acts.
Inserting them into the story, I wanted the reader to question his sexuality and how he presents himself. We don’t ever learn his sexual orientation and that’s on purpose. Because that is a piece of information that is given with a person’s permission. No one deserves access to someone’s private information unless there is a criminal investigation involved, in my opinion. As an example, just look at how the Canadian government has privacy acts set up to protect citizens from learning another person’s medical history.
When it comes to the dreaded smooch, Brittany didn’t ask, she kind of joked about it. And she ended up being rejected. In effect, we’re about to see a rift grow between the two childhood friends in the following episodes.
On the topic of consent, my gripe is this, brought to by a silly example: if we can ask someone for a high five, an event that usually requires the voluntary action of two parties to touch hands, and we don’t throw a fit when someone denies our request for a high five, then it should be a social norm that we ask before we touch a person every step of the way. Especially when it comes to a sexually charged action like swapping spit. Wouldn’t it be weird if someone just grabbed your hand and started forcibly high-fiving themselves with your limb? Then I hope you can imagine it’s beyond strange when someone just leans their face into yours when you don’t want it.
If you listen to or read, Teenage Crush: Part One, you’ll see this story isn’t about ‘good people’. It’s about two flawed teenagers exploring social behavior and fumbling through it. It wouldn’t be an engaging story without conflict so we’re here to cringe through their lessons and in a way try to sympathize with these teens.
How do you feel about this kind of ‘social nightmare’?
Josh Ackermann escapes his desk job by writing in his free time. One of his short stories, One Helluva Headache, was published in the English Bay Review. He’s currently revising two of his first novels. And he’s is the creator of the Falling For Stories podcast; among many other titles.