The Need To Talk About Consent

Last weekend, Max Temkin, co-creator of the popular card game Cards Against Humanity, wrote a blog post about a rape accusation. The post went up somewhat unnoticed, thanks to a combination of EVO, the World Cup, and GaymerX happening all at the same time—but he mentions something that we, as a gaming community, should talk about.

You can read Temkin's post here—he describes his previous relationship with the woman who accuses him of rape, and he talks about his complex feelings around social media, to which some people have taken to to protest him and Cards Against Humanity. He notes that he feels hurt, as he claims that he didn't rape anyone, and that he will try his best to continue to be a feminist moving forward.

Temkin writes:

Yesterday morning, Josh forwarded me a tweet that said:

"TIL: Max Temkin, co-creator of Cards Against Humanity, raped a friend of my friend while attending Goucher College. I don't support CAH."

We assumed this was someone making a tasteless joke, and I replied to tell him that it wasn't funny. But after some more digging, I found a Facebook post from a girl I knew in college accusing me of sexually assaulting her, and urging people to boycott Cards Against Humanity.

A lot of the discussion I've seen about Temkin's post has been about whether he did or didn't rape his accuser. It's about who is telling the truth. That's important, of course, but that's not what I want to talk about. What really struck me about Temkin's apology was something else he brought up, which has to do with consent and rape culture:

Part of rape culture that hurts everyone is that it makes it difficult to talk about what is and is not consent, and makes it incredibly scary for people to speak up when their boundaries are crossed. It is entirely possible she read something completely different than I did into an awkward college hookup. If any part of that was traumatic for her, I am sincerely sorry, and I wish we would have had a chance to address it privately. I've sent her an email and a Facebook message and given her my contact information, but so far I haven't heard back (but she did edit her post to remove my name).

Despite the difficult personal situation Temkin is in, I wish he would have invited people to have frank discussions about how difficult it can be to get consent completely right—an issue he himself references when discussing what he calls an "awkward college hookup." While we can't know what happened during the hook-up, he recognizes the potential miscommunication that may have transpired, an issue that is not unique to Temkin or his accuser.

We all probably have stories from high school or college where consent got tricky, muddled, confusing. Like that time you started making out with someone and you weren't sure if you should take it further, but the other person was going along with it so maybe it's okay—and the next time you see each other everything is awkward and it dawns on you that maybe you read it all wrong. Or that time you found yourself doing something you weren't sure about with someone you genuinely liked—how you let it just slide, because hey, it was nobody's fault. Or that one time you were too scared to speak up and tell someone what you wanted, because you didn't want to be fussy and they're a totally nice person. Or that time you didn't grab a condom before having sex, because you'd ruin the moment.

Or the time...

We all have stories like that, right? It's always worse when you're younger, don't know what you're doing, and are still working out unrealistic societal pressures that tell guys they have to be experienced Don Juans and women that they have to be immaculate bastions of purity.

Temkin—who, in that same blog post promises to continue to "advocate for women's rights to the best of my ability"—could have used his platform to open up a dialogue about a subject that affects a ton of people. Doing so would be a great opportunity for just such advocacy. Regardless, it's an important conversation to have with or without his initiating it.

People get consent wrong all the time, and it's not because everyone is some kind of savage, evil rapist (and to be clear, the situations I'm describing are not necessarily rape, but they are situations where boundaries were potentially crossed or needs weren't communicated, just like in Temkin's situation). Most transgressions are small, untalked about. We all falter. How could we not? This is what society tells us about romance: it should just work. You might fall in love at first sight, no words necessary. And if your love interest knows exactly what to do, if they can get it right without asking, not only is that ideal, then it was meant to be. The best romance is one where nobody communicates and everyone gets it perfectly. And if you're having trouble you can open up a magazine that has an article that can tell you what to do—because lord forbid you actually talk to the person you're interested in and ask what they need from you, what they're comfortable with. That would be embarrassing. Don't you know what you're doing? You should know what you're doing.

Consent is not about being perfect, not to me at least. Yes, consent teaches you the importance of asking for permission and making sure you don't cross any boundaries, but it also teaches you the importance of being honest about where you fall short. Consent exists not just as something that should be used to get the green light for a hook-up, but as a mode of thinking about and processing experiences you've had in the past.

Temkin almost gets there: he presents the idea that maybe the woman read the situation differently than he did. Given the public manner in which he was accused, it's understandable that Temkin's primary focus in his post was to defend himself. But allow me to take the discussion where he didn't, as this is a good opportunity to speak more frankly about something that affects us all.

I don't expect everyone to get consent right all the time. But having better conversations about consent would be a start.

Note: The above opinion piece is a revision of what we originally published that is archived at this link. Patricia took the unusual step of rewriting what we'd already published because of a sense from her, me and many readers that the original version and the discussion that followed collectively missed the mark. This was never supposed to be a piece about whether accuser or accused was guilty—everyone is presumed innocent—but rather about ways to handle these kinds of situations better and what we can all take from it in being more open about discussing issues of consent. That isn't how that first piece was received, and as author and editor of the piece, we both feel that's on us. It's never too late to try to do better and I hope this version gets to the core issues more effectively. For transparency's sake, the original version can still be seen at this link. - Stephen Totilo, Editor-in-Chief