We Getty parents have been deliberately teaching our children about consent since they were very young. After all, consent is not just about sex. It’s about agency over our bodies in all ways.
No one gets to touch your body without your permission, and you don’t get to touch another person’s body without theirs. You are not required to hug your aunt just because she says, “Come give me some shugah, shugah!” You do not have to show parts of your body to other kids just because they ask.
Here’s my favorite story about a surprising application of these lessons: When the Getty kids were much younger than they are now, and because they are siblings who engage in typical sibling behaviors, one day they were bickering in the backseat of the car as I drove. It got physical. Suddenly, I heard, “Stop it! You do not have consent to punch me!”
In recent years, I’ve also grown more deliberate in applying these lessons to my behavior with UUCC and to cultivating a Culture of Consent in the congregation. I open my arms as you approach me on Sunday mornings, and I ask, “May I hug you?” or “Would you like a hug?”
Some among us find it silly—after all, I’ve been hugging some of you for more than 18 years. Still, it’s my responsibility not to touch you without your consent—and to remember that just because you wanted a hug last Sunday doesn’t mean you want one today. (My favorite reinforcement of this lesson is the tea one: Tea and Consent.)
As we begin to relax our UUCC Covid protocols, and as more of us are gathering for in-person activities, I’m thinking more about consent in the context of our congregation. I’m reminded that, as sexuality educators everywhere teach, “Consent is when all parties give an explicit, repeated, enthusiastic ‘yes’.”
Among us there is a wide range of comfort levels with physical touch, and with “personal space” more generally. This diversity of preferences has always existed but is amplified two years into this pandemic during which we’ve experienced great separation and isolation to keep ourselves and one another safe. We are going to resume comfort with physical contact at varying rates, if at all.
So, we must repeatedly seek those explicit and enthusiastic yeses that indicate full consent, keeping as a baseline the most considerate and protective behaviors, and seeking consent for any relaxation of those behaviors. We will continue to wear masks and remove them only after asking, “Are you comfortable with us removing our masks in this private gathering?” and receiving unanimously affirmative responses. We won’t touch without first asking, “Would you like a hug?” or “May I shake your hand?” and receiving an affirmative response.
We promise … to be a safe and welcoming community. Consent is absolutely critical if we are to be true to our congregational covenant, as I know we all strive to be.
I love you, UUCC. Would you like a hug?