For those of you coming into this article without reading part 1, let me recap. I reckon that the best way to keep Vancouver’s sexy vibe growing is to continue building a culture of consent and respect for boundaries. We can discover people’s boundaries through communication, such as asking if you can share a dance or kiss or whatever you are looking to enjoy. Be hopeful for the best case response but prepared to hear and respect a “no” as the answer.
(And if you ARE interested in reading more than that quick recap, you can check out part one via this link.)
What ARE your boundaries? The TEA Model
In order for you to feel that your boundaries have been breached, you need to have an idea of what your boundaries are. My wife, Melly and I hosted a workshop focusing on boundaries through our sex positive group “We Love it All”. We used the acronym “TEA” to explain how people often form their boundaries. Think, Experiment, and Accept Fluidity!
Think! Using your imagination is a great way to begin thinking about boundaries. You may get an idea of your interests, possibilities and hard limits through reflection and your mind’s creative power. You can speculate in advance and reflect after an event. For example, perhaps you have a feeling of discomfort when you imagine a specific scenario, or when thinking back to something that happened previously. Or perhaps something you thought was odd before was now something that you were interested in exploring further.
Experiment! That interest in exploration allows you to test your limits through imagination and fantasies. Your mind is a safe playground where you can determine if something intrigues you enough to try it out in real life, or if you want to keep it in your mental playground only. Either way, the next step of experimenting is to try out your limits in real life. By experimenting with something, you can change your mind before, during or after and build limits accordingly. You are able to explore and see what you like or dislike without committing to either.
Accept fluidity! Developing your boundaries is an ongoing process and your boundaries may change. What may seem strange and unattractive at one point may intrigue or arouse you later in life. Similarly, your desires may shift and things that you once liked may no longer interest you. This is why the certain of your boundaries is an ongoing process. This allows you to shape your experiences without necessarily taking on any activity as a solid part of your identity.
Through this TEA process you form guidelines and limits that you apply to relationships at work, with friends, with family. Essentially, they establish your comfort levels. While the nature of boundaries IS to limit, the joy in them is that by establishing how you want to interact and play, you give yourself a map of things to try out and enjoy. By having a clear sense of what you do and do not want, you are giving yourself a great freedom because you can spend time exploring in a deliberate manner rather than being bogged down by uncertainty at the time.
Because we are all unique, some of us develop boundaries that lie far outside the norm. Let’s call these people “outliers”. For example, one person might think it’s okay to walk up and grab someone’s ass or kiss them with no warning. For another person, a hand on the shoulder or a compliment with a lingering look can be too much. Not all boundary-breaking is intentional or equal, and what you see as breaking boundaries may be well within comfort levels of others. And just as some people have a wide range of boundaries, others have few boundaries.
Our own histories inform what our boundaries are, and as a result some of us are left with triggers that cause us to feel unsafe where others may not. Certain actions may take on a much stronger meaning to you than they might to others. So, while people complimenting outfits and looking at them may be par for the course at a sexed up environment, or hugs common ground at burner or rave events, perhaps you are not into that kind of attention. This leads to a crossroads for you. Do you take this opportunity to call someone out for crossing boundaries, or do you assess if the behaviour itself was reasonable, but uncomfortable for you? Growth can be uncomfortable, but this could be a chance to grow. My point is not to say what is and is not a boundary, but rather to start dialogue (even if it is internal dialogue) about why you have certain boundaries and if they are healthy boundaries or boundaries you wish to maintain. We should police our own boundaries and consider intent and whether or not we are triggered before reacting.
For people with outlier boundaries, then, I would suggest an alternative to getting upset if someone doesn’t know your boundaries and accidentally brushes past you or touches your shoulder. In these situations, be proactive in letting people know you have different boundaries than others. Just as it is important for folks with very narrow or restrictive boundaries to be upfront and forthcoming (without judgment) about their own comfort levels, it is just as important for those with very loose boundaries to be upfront about theirs and be sure to ask permission or dialogue and not assume their boundaries are the same as others. Just because you are fine having your ass grabbed, for example, doesn’t mean everyone will accept you doing it to them, no matter how sexed up the environment is!
We’ve spent some time focusing on asking about boundaries, respecting them and how to have awareness of what your own boundaries are and how to navigate them. But what do you do if you break someone’s boundaries, have your own broken, or see a boundary-breaking situation?
Good question, which just happens to be the topic for the final part of my look at consent and boundaries.