The Season I Learned to Say “No”

[TW: sexual abuse]

"No" wasn't exactly a hard word for me to master. Just ask
my mother.

I'm a huge proponent of "No." It's not always about other
people, saying yes, making sure others are happy or comfortable—sometimes
saying "No" is the best thing one can do for oneself, and I'm the first to tell
my friends this. In fact, sometimes I feel like a selfish bitch because I care
so little about the politics involved with keeping family and friends happy if
it means sacrificing my happiness.

When it comes to men, though…that's been another story.

I was molested when I was 10; it was a one-time incident at
the hands of my then-best-friend's father during a sleep over. I never said
"No" in that case—he stopped because I started to feel pain and verbalized
that, but I didn't have the tools to say no to him. I don't blame myself for
this at all, and I had nothing but amazing support from my mother and others in
the wake of the incident, but what I learned then was that men are going to
take what they want.

It's fucked up, and I spent many years learning new and
better lessons to arm myself for when I finally started dating.

Being the late bloomer that I was, I didn't start dating
until college. My first relationship was amazing—I could not have asked for a
better model of what a healthy relationship should look like in terms of
communication, consent, and love.

When that relationship ended, I started dating…a lot. After
almost two years in a passionate yet safe relationship, I knew what I was
comfortable with and how I needed to communicate. Not to say that I had
mastered anything—I definitely found myself in plenty of situations where I was
participating in acts that I had consented to but that had morphed into something I was
less than comfortable with but didn't stop. I never felt abused or taken
advantage of or raped, but in my mind, I wanted to stop or change what was
happening but didn't know how to exactly extract myself from the situation
almost because I didn't want to make the guy feel uncomfortable or be "that
girl," whoever the hell she is.

I thought I had developed my voice after I found the kink
scene. Consent is a never-ending topic within the scene, and rightfully so. I
had several wonderful partners with whom I could practice expressing my needs
and desires in a safe space, with them always asking my consent and having safe
words in place to make sure I had the tools to let them know if I needed to
stop. This was the kink scene though, and I was still dating in the vanilla
world.

Two years ago, though, I finally found my strength and my
voice to bring the tools from one part of me into the other.

I was on a second date with this guy who was one of the most
attractive men I've ever met. He was also an asshole, and I told him that
before we had even met (we talked had met on OKC, and everything about his
profile just screamed arrogant and narcissistic). I should have listened to
that nagging voice in my mind that was saying to be wary, but he was hot, charming
in his assholery, and into me.

But after 30 minutes of me sitting on his couch and him
talking at me, I was feeling less than into him, and I told him so. I don't
remember the transition into fooling around, but I ended up on my back with him
on top of me. I'm kinky, and he knew this, but he was playing some sort of game
without telling me—he was pulling D/s moves and ignoring my pleas to get off of
me. He bit my lip hard enough that I started to cry. My pants were off, and his
penis was out, and I was scared he was going to put it in me when I didn't want
it. I'd never felt so close to being raped in my life. The only thing that got
him off of me was when I said I needed to go to the bathroom.

When I came out, I grabbed my clothes, got dressed, talked
with him briefly about what just happened, and left his place crying, that day's solar eclipse literally casting a shadow I felt on me. The next day I emailed him,
trying to gauge what had happened, and he just didn't get it. He didn't see
anything wrong about what had happened. I felt so stupid for even trying to
talk with him again, but I was in such shock about this. I had always felt
invincible up until that point, my intelligence, pickiness, experience, and
fatness shields against sexual abuse.

I still didn't know how to say "No," though. It wasn't until
a couple of months later that I figured it out.

I was dating again, having just ended things with a very
safe and boring guy I had been seeing after the Asshole. This guy seemed
nice—he was polite, well-dressed, and brought me my favorite flowers on our
first date. On our second date, we ended up back at my place to make out. I
told him that my pants were staying on that afternoon, but we could still have
PG-13 fun. In the middle of this, he started fumbling with my jeans button.

"No." Continues fumbling.

"Stop." Continues fumbling.

"No!" *Unbuttons jeans."

In the past, this wouldn't have bothered me that much. I
would have told the guy that that wasn't happening, buttoned my jeans, and gotten back to the kissing. But at that point, I was done. I put on my shirt and
kicked him out. I was done with this bullshit, and it wasn't going to happen
again.

I spent the last year-and-a-half with a man who, for his
faults, always made me feel wanted without sacrificing that continual consent.
It was free-flowing and easy for him to ask if I wanted to have sex or if he
could go down on me or if I would give him a blow job—far from being
cumbersome, it felt so natural to talk like this.

Now that I'm single and dating again, I'm realizing again
that what I'm used to and what I think of as natural isn't necessarily so.

This time, though, I'm ready.

I know what I want, and I know what I need. I know that I
won't be seeing that guy from two weeks ago again because, for how hot he was
and how kink-compatible we were, his view of what it means to be in a
relationship in terms of access to a partner's body is vastly different from
mine. This is a conversation that came up after I said "No" when he took out a
condom without asking. I'm ok with this.

I know that I'm excited to see the guy from last week again
because, when we were making out in the car, he asked if he could pull my hair,
and he asked if I was comfortable with what we were doing, and it was easy and
hot and I only wanted to say "Yes."

It's amazing how easy saying "Yes" is now that I've mastered
"No."