Written by Mia Schachter.
Photo by Susan M. Gordon.
I went to the doctor last week. My body was screaming at me not to. I thought of my cat’s reaction to her carrier because of her own medical trauma; she knows we’re going to the vet and her whole body spasms in resistance (unlike her calm, healing body against my abdomen right now, her purr penetrating to my bones). I was my cat that day, but I was also my own parent, determining that going to the doctor was in my body’s best interest. I violated my own consent for the greater good. It was a poignant reminder that I am in fact the chief violator of my own consent.
What does my body think when I don’t listen to its very clear “no”? Do I betray its already-tenuous trust in me? Does it get used to the violation and consequently endure or tolerate future violations from others? Does it scream louder at some later point to make sure its voice is heard?
I violated my own consent for the greater good. It was a poignant reminder that I am in fact the chief violator of my own consent.
My whole life I’ve battled what I now know to be gut-based chronic illness. My doctor told me at this most recent visit that in his 35 years of practicing medicine he’s almost never seen a more mysterious case which, on one hand makes me feel super special, and on the other hand makes me feel utterly hopeless.
I’ve been medically gaslit for decades. When I was six I was fatigued and my mom took me to get tested for anemia. Dr. Bob read us the results and said, “She’s not anemic, she just has a lazy personality.” When I was 27 I had four UTI’s in a year and went to Dr. Dave in New York City (some of you may be familiar with the motor-cycle riding, punk doctor on the Lower East Side). He told me I was anorexic (he was not the first doctor to tell me that, as though it was the key to the locked vault of my health issues: “Aha! I found it.”) and when I asked how he’d recommend I eat, he said I should eat double cheeseburgers and milkshakes every day.
“I can’t eat that much dairy,” I said.
“See? You’ll do anything to avoid eating.” He paused, a pause pregnant with his own ego, gestating the most insightful medical questioning known to humanity: “Who else in your family has The Crazy?”
As I learned about an embodied form of consent—consent as a language and a practice—I was learning to listen to my body and began to understand the depths to which I had gone to ignore it. The more I learned about consent, the more I saw and really felt the ways I was ignoring my body in order to get things done. Now as a consent teacher, I talk in classes about getting and gauging consent with ourselves first.
The more I learned about consent, the more I saw and really felt the ways I was ignoring my body in order to get things done.
There are a few things we can do to gauge self-consent. The first thing we need to do is learn what our boundaries feel like in our bodies. Then we need to parse out the difference between feeling uncomfortable (where we can learn, challenge ourselves, take risks, and try new things) and feeling unsafe (where trauma is possible if not likely). For a lot of us, our wires get a bit crossed about the difference between the two because of our upbringing and trauma. For example, many of us will come out of COVID-19 with fears of crowds and enclosed spaces long past when the danger is present. Uncrossing these wires takes a lot of patience and compassion with ourselves.
We can also prepare our own nervous systems. When I knew I had to go to the doctor, I did some breathing exercises. When I was waiting to be called in, I paid attention to the feeling of my feet on the floor and I put a hand on my belly and breathed into it. I reminded myself about all the times I’ve gotten to the other side of a bad doctor visit. I went over ways to stand up for myself if I needed to. Consent can often come in the form of a warning instead of permission. We see that with content warnings or when the dentist says, “You’re going to feel some water. It might be cold.” Preparing the nervous system can help us get through things that we know we have to do, but we don’t want to do.
I want to be very clear I don’t believe if someone has fuzzy boundaries, or is not experienced at holding them, that they are to blame for their own trauma. As the pie chart says, the only thing to blame for rape is rapists. But to overlook the ways we teach our bodies that we are not going to listen to them is masochistic and a form of self-harm. We reject our bodies daily. We tell them that their insight is not welcome when we prioritize our intellect over our emotions. We tell them that their experience of gender and societal norms is dangerous and they should be quiet. We tell them that other people have it worse and they should stop complaining.
To overlook the ways we teach our bodies that we are not going to listen to them is masochistic and a form of self-harm. We reject our bodies daily.
The separation between our minds and bodies is a tool of Capitalism. There’s not much profit to be made if I like myself the way I am, so Capitalism splits us from ourselves and then sells us things to repair the damage. I often think of that song from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, “The Origin of Love,” about Aristophanes’ theory that we’ve been split from our soulmates and wander the earth trying to reunite with them. But I think of the two halves as my own mind and my own body, being wedged apart by marketing and media that tell me I can be whole if I pay for “necessities” like makeup, razors, tweezers, straightening irons, food supplements, diet pills and toxic chemicals with which to beat my body into submission. We’re sold this dualist tug-of-war that keeps us from knowing the feeling of our boundaries. We can’t always predict what our boundaries are or will be, but we can know the feeling of hitting one so we can regulate our nervous systems and speak our needs. Recognizing my healing in the form of reconnecting with my body so I can act from my gut is an anti-Capitalist act of self-love. And that is a daily revolution that I’m committed to for the rest of my life.
About the Author
Mia Schachter (they/them) is an intimacy coordinator for TV and Film, consent educator, and podcaster based in Los Angeles. They teach consent classes online and host Share the Load Podcast. If you’d like to support their work and learn about boundaries and consent you can go to Patreon.com/sharetheload or take a class online via sharetheloadinc.com.