Virtual Tour for Yes Means Yes: Interview with Hazel/Cedar Troost

Hi ya’ll!

Welcome to the second to last stop on the virtual yes means yes tour. Be sure to check out the grande finale conversation at Feministe tomorrow.

If you haven’t heard about the book yet you should check it out. I have a piece about sexual violence against immigrant women in the book and there is a lot of really great content.

Today I have an interview with Hazel/Cedar Troost, another contributor to the book.

About Hazel/Cedar Troost:

Cedar/Hazel Troost is a trans and polyamorous femme living in Chicago, practicing explicit verbal consent, and passionate about ending trans misogyny. Ze is a former member of the University of Minnesota Transgender Commission, co-organizer of the 2007 Twin Cities Trans March, and the original author of the Cisgender Privilege Checklist currently residing at T-Vox—but hir real love is gardening.

You can also check out Hazel/Cedar’s blog here.

I asked to interview Hazel/Cedar because I thought hir post about consensual touch and body autonomy had some interesting connections the birth activist movement. We got a chance to gchat briefly. Here is an exerpt from our convo:

RD: Can you briefly summarize your theories about consensual touch that you cover in Yes Means Yes?

H/C: 1) Rape culture is one iteration of a larger set of oppressive tactics that aim to take control of your body; it’s a set of tactics that happen in most, if not all, oppressions, but they play out differently.

2) If we’re thinking about rape culture in terms of how one’s control of one’s own body is being impinged upon, it’s about sex and touch, but given that that includes non-sexual touch, we should be theorizing about it as well.

3) I started requiring explicit verbal consent for all touch, and abiding by that rule for touching others as well. Figuring out how to ask without pressure is crucial here. Anyways, touch felt way better because I wasn’t worried about whether I wanted it or they wanted it or whether it would lead to something else. It’s way easier to not start an activity than to break it off, and it’s more easily isolated to the activity rather than a judgment of the person.

4) Despite the fact that it’s really helpful, other folks don’t like you controlling your body this way, because they’re used to assuming a certain degree of control and access.

5) The way we think about consent now is based on what I call a ‘map of consent’–that consent to X implies consent to Y, and consent to either X or Y is generally seen as connected to one’s (emotional) intimacy with another person, which is busted. We might call one map unreasonable because it says that consent to kissing is consent to fucking, but we also have to challenge the idea that consent to fucking is consent to kissing–consent that’s real consent is consenting to a particular activity at a particular time, and has as much or more to do with how much one enjoys that activity than with how close you are to someone.

6) The equivalencies in these maps are really unreliable, both for sexual and nonsexual touch–triggers, kinks, & nerve conditions are the most obvious, but oppression, gender dissonance, and religion all play into it too.  e.g. My rape trigger is something totally innocuous that is almost always done without permission, and petting my hair is actually something that requires substantially more trust on my part than making out does.
7) There’s not any essential difference between non-sexual assumptive touch and sexual assumptive touch, and we have to challenge both if we’re actually going to get rid of rape culture.

RD: What brings you to this work around body autonomy?

H/C: It’s a combination of a lot of different factors. The explicit verbal consent (EVC) stuff really did come directly out of that conference, which was in turn fed by kink, poly, sex positive, and trans communities, but the reason it was so powerful for me has more to do with being socialized in a hundred different ways that I don’t get to control my body, connected to transphobia, misogyny, sex-negativity, fat-phobia, rape, abuse, and ableism.  If you’ve been told all your life that what you want for your body is wrong (b/c transsexuality is wrong), and then when you finally break free of that, the medical institutions that supposedly are there to help you use your need for their help as a means to control you (everything from making you diet to making you quit your job)–in that case, how the hell are you supposed to internalize that you *really* should have complete control over what happens to your body sexually, let alone non-sexual touch?

…Actually, though, as far as the EVC practice goes, a big part of it was just really liking being touched or hugged, and not wanting to deal with the stress of being uncertain that they wanted it (plus the whole not wanting to hug someone who didn’t want to be hugged thing.).  Finding out how much easier it was to not do things I didn’t want to do was the clincher.

As for the linking of different oppressive tactics, frankly the original inspiration was realizing that the structure of organizations like HRC would almost inevitably produce the kinds of results we get now–that is, racism, misogyny, transphobia, etc., and wanting to find a new path.

RD: Lack of consent and body autonomy are huge issues in the birth activist community. Some activists have even gone as far as to say that the treatment of some women by the medical establishment during pregnancy and labor is akin to “medical rape.” What connections do you see between the work you are doing and birth activism?

How could theories of consensual touch change the way we treat and care for bodies in the medical system?

See our gchat convo after the jump.

5:50 PM Hazel/Cedar: I guess, in response to the medical rape dr/patient question–
5:51 PM I think it’s important to take our lens out a little bit here, and think about the medical profession in terms of body sovereignty.
Because medical rape isn’t the exception, it’s the rule–medicine has been a method of social control for a very long time.
RD: i see–thats a good point
5:53 PM yeah, the idea of body sovereignty occurred to first in the context of the HRC et al being jerksbut then also in the context of the WPATH standards of care

5:55 PM and medically mandated eating disorders
RD: thats helpful. i think my main question for you from your piece is whether you think there is a way to use these ideas about consent, or fighting assumptive consent, in the medical context. or is the whole system too built on these ideas?
5:56 PM Hazel/Cedar: I think there’s also a more direct connection to touch & sexuality that makes the term medical rape justified, but I think it’s impossible to think outside a broader context
RD: (big question, i know)
Hazel/Cedar: hah
yeah, I think that the medical system would have to go through a radical overhaul
5:57 PM fact is that we can tell dr’s ‘you have to ask’, but the system that sets dr’s up as highly-educated-authorities gives them so much power that it’s hard to imagine that really working
5:58 PM but what if we had a decentralized medical system? (which I’d think doulas are a part of, yeah?)
6:00 PM the act of individuals having to enter a physically imposing situation, where the institution outnumbers you, controls the space inherently creates a power imbalance; just having things in a hospital makes consent hard
6:01 PM that’s not to say that hospitals should be abandoned, but that if we’re interested in creating real informed consent the rules of the game have to change
RD: That really aligns with the strategy of lots of birth activists, at least for now, is get the hell out of the hospital.
6:02 PM Hazel/Cedar: 1)I’d like to hear more about that, 2)it’s also really connected to the way medicine gets practiced within the trans community;

6:06 PM Hazel/Cedar: In response to this, trans people have created local, national, and international networks to educate each other about how to obtain and self-administer their hormones. We evaluate doctors and therapists to guide each other through the system, and we keep each other informed about what scanty medical research there is. While many of us have access to doctors who are competent to administer or monitor HRT, very few of us have access to doctors who understand how to work with problems that are unique to trans bodies–and so we pass along information from those doctors, and failing that create solutions for ourselves. Many of us turn to herbal, homeopathic, or Traditional Chinese medicine because doctors don’t take us seriously6–we educate and treat ourselves and each other on a low budget, low resource, decentralized basis.
RD: thats also really connected to how birth activists are doing things…its a really interesting connection

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