Consent, Disclosure and the Cotton Ceiling

This is another debate I have not yet commented on but a conversation today on twitter made me want to clarify my thoughts publicly.

I do not believe anyone has the right to sex. I believe that full disclosure is necessary even for casual or one-night relationships. I believe anything less invalidates consent.  Lying about your marital status should invalidate consent. Lying about your health in a manner which could compromise the health of your partner invalidates consent.

The police officers who had sexual relationships with women in order to cement their cover whilst spying on left-wing organisations committed rape. Their lies invalidated the consent of the women involved. The fact that this is not illegal simply demonstrates how utterly woman-hating our laws of consent are.

Consent, as it stands now, is a joke. It is designed so that men can fuck whoever they want whenever they want without any consequence. Women’s boundaries and bodily integrity are violated in a million ways every day. The law is designed to defend these violations by men rather than protect women.

We need to rewrite the law completely in order to defend women’s bodily integrity [and, of course, the children and men whose bodies are violated]. This means we need to start with full disclosure before any, however temporary, sexual relationship. And, yes, this will mean difficult conversations. It will also mean forgoing sex because we cannot disclose for whatever reason but including safety.

These conversations will, I have no doubt, be more difficult for transwomen who will be faced with the increased possibility of male violence. It is this very real threat which makes it all the more important for us to smash the patriarchal construction of consent. It may very well mean a decrease in sex for many but no one has the right to sex. We are morally required to ensure the safety of others and that safety includes not violating bodily integrity.

Real consent can only be given when both parties are in possession of all the facts. It is that simple.

This is why I find the term “cotton ceiling” so disturbing. I understand the need for Trans* to self-organise to share stories of full disclosure and offer mutual support over a difficult issue, however the term “cotton ceiling” does not imply respectful discussions of consent and disclosure. The idea that lesbian women are somehow providing a barrier to sex which must be smashed just like the glass ceiling in employment sounds remarkably like denying women bodily integrity. The term itself implies a level of coercion; coercion removes consent. Lack of consent equals rape. This may not be what was meant when the term was first used but the implication is clearly there and it is supported by suggestions that lesbian women are “transphobic” for refusing to have sexual relationships with transwomen.

Being sexually undesirable by someone who you fancy sexually is a horrible position to be in but no one has the right to sex and lesbians have the right to refuse to have sex with whomever they want. Everyone has the right to refuse sex whatever the reason. We need to have conversations about consent and disclosure but they must be done from a position of honesty. If  you cannot disclose the truth [whatever that may be] to the person you desire sexually, then you should not have sex with them. This is as valid for one night stands as it is for long-term relationships.

4 thoughts on “Consent, Disclosure and the Cotton Ceiling”

  1. The fact that this is not illegal simply demonstrates how utterly woman-hating our laws of consent are.

    It actually might well have been illegal. It was not punished because the people with the power to recommend prosecutions were giving the orders and sanctioning the behaviour, but if other deceptive ways of gaining sexual favours are classed as rape (e.g. having sex with a prostitute and then not paying) then this would be, if there was a body willing to prosecute (a private prosecution might be possible as well).

    I agree about the “cotton ceiling” — it gives the impression of a sense of entitlement, which nobody has. Someone might not want to have sex with a trans person much as they wouldn’t with a fat, thin, short or ginger person, or with a person of a certain ethnicity or religion. That could be reflective of bigotry on their part, but it’s still no excuse to use trickery to rape them.

  2. All these problems would go away if sex wasn’t used as a casual recreational activity, instead of being part of a loving relationship with somebody you actually KNOW.

  3. To be honest, I don’t see that it makes sex as a casual recreational activity problematic at all. If the thought of being honest with someone is too scary (for whatever reason), it’s probably a good sign you’re not really ready for this.

    It’s not that different from teenagers being ‘too scared’ to talk about condoms. Sure, that is an awkward five minutes but most of us have got it down by adulthood, right?

Leave a Reply