I’ve blogged recently about my name change and unfriending people who were, for various reasons, consistently detracting from my life. I’ve just realised that the two experiences have something in common: both involved me dealing with a lot of “why” questions. Why am I changing my name? Why am I not available? Why am I not accepting of X behavior? Why do I not want to do Y thing? Why am I shouting?
My epiphanot is that “why” questions are far from homogeneous, because the motivations behind them can vary hugely. There are people who ask you “why” because they want to understand you better. They are interested in (or at least curious about) the motivations behind a choice or preference, so they ask. The answer you give them will undoubtedly affect their opinion of you, but it has no bearings on their acceptance of your choice.
For instance, someone may ask me why I changed my name because they actually give a fuck about me or because it’s an unusual thing to do. When I give them my answer (“because I’ve fucking hated it since forever” being my stock response), they may think me petty or whimsical, a trail-blazing self-expressing individual, or anything in between. My answer, however, will not dent the validity of my choice. For them, even if I changed my name “for the wrong reasons,” I’ve still changed my name.
Many people don’t operate like that. They are not asking me to explain myself. They elect themselves as judge and jury and they demand that I present enough evidence to validate my decision. If the answers I provide don’t meet their standards, my case will be struck out and my choice will be ignored.
In the context of a name change, it’s not really a big deal. A third party cannot decide what I am called, because they do not have that power. The courts did, alas, but they ruled in my favour: alea iacta est, y’all. Someone may elect to call me whatever they wish; I reserve my right not to answer. In other contexts, however, that same attitude can be a serious problem.
I’m going to jump straight to sex, because a lot of people are aware that agency and consent are key aspects of a healthy sexual relationship. Say that someone asks you if you want to have sex with them, and your answer is “nope.” They may respond to your answer by asking you why because they genuinely want to know. Whatever you answer, whether it’s “because I have a headache” or “because I don’t like your face,” it will not alter the fact that you have stated a clear “no.” You do not want to have sex with them: that is a fact. The reasons for that may alter the course of your relationship – are they going to get you a painkiller and a glass of water, or tell you to fuck off? – but they will not diminish the significance of your “no.”
Then there’s the other kind of folk, those for whom a “why” question is a request for you to defend the validity of your decision. For them, if your reasons are not valid or not valid enough, the “no” will not be valid either. Those are the folk who will require you to prove that your headache is really bad enough to prevent coitus. Those are the folk that will try to argue you into finding them attractive. Those behavior are, on their own, excruciatingly annoying, but the underlying mentality is straight-up malignant: for them, until you provide enough proof, as per their standards, your “no” is pending.
This kind of thing is more than an attempt at changing your answer from a “no” to a “yes.” People may attempt to do that without any intention to bypass your consent or deny your agency. This is the greyest of all grey areas, and, whatever I say, someone is going to take it the wrong way, but it is in fact possible for people to willingly and honestly negotiate their way into fucking, same as it is possible to negotiate pretty much anything else. That kind of exchange would go something like:
“Yo, you wanna bang?”
“Because I’m only attracted to My Little Ponies.”
“What if I wore my horse mask?”
That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the people for whom your “nos” have no inherent value. Those people will not accept that your agency and consent are sacrosanct, because, to them, they are not. They won’t automatically respect your choices or your boundaries. The lengths to which they go in order to get what they want will depend more on their social conditioning than anything else, and may range from being a petty whiner to straightforward consent violations. In their own heads, though, the narrative will be completely different: they won’t be doing anything wrong because, to them, your decision didn’t stand in the first place.