Speaking Out, triggers

A Trigger is Not a Weapon – a case for trigger warnings

Being triggered is not an excuse to get out of addressing the needs of a loved one; it’s not a way to get out of paying attention to loved ones; it’s not done to shift focus from one person’s very valid needs to the other person’s triggered state. These are all abusive behaviors that are unacceptable and have nothing to do with being triggered.

A trigger is an emotional connection between a relatively benign thing in the present and a traumatic event in the past. In order to cope in the moment that a trigger occurs, a person may need to take drastic self-care measures. This could include abandoning a conversation abruptly. In a circumstance such as that it would be reasonable to discuss the incident later with the triggered person in order to build understanding of why the conversation was abandoned, and revisit any pressing matters from the initial conversation.

A trigger owned by the person who experiences it. It cannot be blamed on other people. e.g. if Bob experiences a trigger because of something Sally said, it’s not Sally’s *fault* that Bob was triggered. (That being said, if Sally *knows* Bob is triggered by a certain thing, and maliciously, purposefully activates his trigger, Sally is an ASSHOLE. But the trigger still belongs to Bob.)

Many of us who have triggers are aware of the types of things that set them off. Sometimes a trigger may or may not fire based on a person’s frame of mind. A trigger warning isn’t a requirement of someone who writes something or teaches a class on something. It’s the way an author can empower her readers to exercise pro-active self care. For example, I’m aware that veterans may have triggers around fireworks. So if I’m having a 4th of July party, and I care about my friends and don’t want them to be triggered, I’m going to include in the invite that there will be fireworks set off. This allows invitees with triggers to fireworks to decided if they are willing to be in that environment or not, and to plan any tools that might help them cope.

A trigger doesn’t automatically “excuse” someone from engaging. It lets us get our head in gear for the topic that’s about to follow so it doesn’t lead to a damaging state where we not only cannot accept the information, but we’re possibly also being retraumatized.

Since it’s impossible to know what someone’s triggers could be, I’ve also heard them called “content warnings” or “content note” (abbreviated CW and CN, respectively). I’m a part of a group that habitually posts a TW/CW/CN note at the top of each post with a brief list of topics included in the post, followed by a string of periods and returns so that the actual post is hidden below the “see more” link. This is not something I choose to do on my posts outside of that group, though I enjoy the format within that group.


So, You’ve Been Accused of Sexual Assault…

I’m tired of watching people accused of sexual assault socially impale themselves on sticks in the struggle to escape their accuser. So, as a survivor of sexual assault, I’d like to make a road map for what to do as the assailant. This path is not necessarily the easiest or most pleasant, however there’s purpose behind that. The purpose of this path is de-escalate the situation. As a survivor, I can tell you that had my assailant done this (or ever did this) it would take a lot of wind out of my sails. Sure, there would still have been overwhelming feelings of rage and betrayal and lack of trust, however I wouldn’t have needed to involve the broader community in order to try and regain my feeling of safety. It would not have caused rifts in the community the way that it did. It would have remained a serious and significant life event for me, but would have been a far less arduous journey for my assailant. (And far less arduous for me as well!) So keep your eye on the prize: this blowing over relatively smoothly.

This path requires a certain level of emotional maturity. If you do not have this level of emotional maturity, I recommend not engaging in sexual activity until you obtain this level of maturity. Like choosing between protected and unprotected sex, you need to consider the possible consequences, and not just babies but also emotional ramifications. If you can’t practice emotionally safe sex, then please don’t have sex.

Now that the PSA is out of the way, here are the 4 steps you need to take to help this blow over smoothly:

Step 1: understand that what your accuser says is true

Yeah, I know what just ran through your head: “but I didn’t do it!” While your experience is true, your accuser’s experience is also true. Part of the truth of your experience is that you didn’t know the whole of your partner’s experience. In order to gain awareness of your partner’s experience you’d need to ask for clear, verbal, enthusiastic consent during every encounter, at multiple times during every encounter. You’d also need to ensure your partner was reasonably sober, had all their usual faculties about them, and that they were definitely over the age of consent (i.e. over 18 years old in the US.) You’d also need to be aware of any power dynamics that were at play in the relationship between you. If you held a position of prestige, e.g. a teacher, boss, leader of a community, then it’s possible your partner consented for not wholly their own reasons.

I get that you were probably not taught to practice clear, verbal, enthusiastic consent when you went through sex-ed in high school. Heck, if your sex-ed teacher specified that your partner must be conscious for sex, then your teacher was probably well above par. But I digress… The important first step is to realize that your accuser’s perspective is valid, and is real. You did something that hurt them. The fact you were unaware of it and that it was unintentional doesn’t change that they are hurt. Having hurt them doesn’t make you a bad person, but it does mean you did a bad thing. The silver lining here is that it is possible to apologize for bad things you did.

Step 2: understand what you did wrong and have a plan for how not to do it again

You did something that hurt your accuser. You may be clear on what it was, you may not. Do not ask your accuser to clarify; they will be forthcoming with the information or you have to do with out that information because it would further hurt them to provide it. This step does not require any more information than the awareness that your accuser has provided by accusing you.

Here’s the crux of it: you did at least *something* at least *one time* that was without your accuser’s consent. Knowing which precise action was the time that you violated consent is relatively immaterial. It should never be a question. In order to ensure it’s not a question, you need to ask the questions and listen for clear enthusiastic answers. Here are the three areas where consent is most often unclear, and what questions need to be asked:

  • Develop a practice of asking before activities that are sexual in nature. Ask not just for consent, but for enthusiastic and verbal consent; there should be no doubt in your mind. And ask every time, and multiple times during the same encounter. Sometimes things change internally and you may not be aware unless you ask. Need help on how to phrase this and when to ask it? Here are some resources:
  • Ask young-looking folks for their age, and seek confirmation from peers or official ID. Teenagers want to be more mature than they are, so don’t trust an age you’re given; verify it. And don’t assume based on their presence in a +21 establishment. Either verify using a friend who you trust (not their friends), or ask to see ID. Come up with a fun, casual, comfortable way of asking to see their ID. Here’s how I’d go about it: “I really dig what we’re doing here. You are so attractive and youthful that I really want it to continue, and I’d dig it even more if I was confident I wasn’t doing this with someone under age. Can I see your ID real quick, and then we’ll get right back to it?” Find a way to ask it that works for you. Not asking does not work; not for you, not for them, not for anyone.
  • If there is any chance of a power dynamic at play, ask a million times more questions and regardless of their answers, proceed with caution. This is by far the trickiest because it requires that you notice when a power differential exists and that your communication is so top-notch that you can get your partner to be honest about their true motivations, which they may or may not be honest with themselves about in the moment. This is why most HR Departments forbid managers dating their subordinates; it’s just too difficult. If you are a teacher, a boss, a leader of a community, and your partner is a student, an employee, a member (or prospective member) of the community then there is certifiably a power differential present which means there are power dynamics whether you like it or not. In cases where you are more skilled or have been doing an activity longer, it’s possible there’s a power differential there. If you are purposefully using power-play with this partner (i.e. dominant/submissive roles) then you are creating power dynamics and hence they exist. If you think or know that a power dynamic exists:
    • play the long game – do not proceed with a casual hook-up, and round the proverbial “bases” at a snail’s pace. This gives time for asking the right questions to happen and to notice if your partner is dishonest about their motivations.
    • call it to the carpet – acknowledge the difference in status. Ask your partner what they think about it. Ask it in different ways at different times. Ask yourself the same questions. Have recurring conversations about it. If this causes the relationship to end before you score, then you just saved yourself from potentially being accused of sexual assault. You’re welcome.
    • check in often – even after you’re comfortable with your partner, ask them again, ask yourself again, have more conversations about it. You will probably never not talk about it. That’s the nature of a power dynamic.

Once you have an idea of what behaviors need to change in order to ensure you’re never accused again, make a plan for how you’re going to implement the change. What exactly are you going to say? When in a courtship are you going to say it? Play out scenarios in your mind until it’s comfortable. Practice asking the questions out loud when you’re alone. Role play with a close friend. Then follow through and do it. Whether you “man up” or “ovary up” it’s imperative that this change happen. You’re allowed to make mistakes, but this needs to move towards being your standard practice, no matter the circumstances. The best way to prevent a sexual assault accusation is to ensure you have consent every time, all the time.

Step 3: Apologize, and apologize completely

This step is super important because your accuser needs to know they’ve been understood, and that their issue is being addressed. Regardless of if you’re initially being accused, or if it’s been months or years, an apology clears the air and lets the accuser know that they are being taken seriously.

Level up from the apologies parents would force out of you as a child and really make this a solid, meaningful apology. Here are some resources on how to make a really good apology: 5 Steps to an Effective Apology, 5 Rules for Apologizing Like a Grown Up, and A Better Way to Say Sorry. Integrating what I’ve taken from these resources, here’s a basic formula for a script for this precise circumstance:

  1. “I am sorry that I [repeat accusation in your own words].” Or “I am sorry that I did something that clearly hurt you very deeply.”
  2. “I understand this might have made you feel [empathize with your accuser and think about how they likely feel.]”
  3. explain how you won’t do it again:
    1. option a: “I am sorry that this happened, and while I don’t understand exactly what went wrong, I plan to figure it out and ensure it won’t happen again.”
    2. option b: “I am sorry that I did that, and I plan to ensure it won’t happen again by [insert plan from Step 2.]”
  4. explain how you’ll provide space for them to heal:
    1. option a: “Because of how you must feel after this I plan to [insert practice from Step 4] until I hear otherwise from you.”
    2. option b: “What can I do to give you the space you need to heal?” (please note, that you should agree to and do whatever they ask, provided it does not include causing physical harm to yourself or others.)
  5. understand that forgiveness is not required, nor is it necessary. It also does not absolve you of Step #4 – giving space. Forgiveness is your accuser’s choice. The apology will have the same clearing-the-air effect regardless of if it comes with forgiveness or not.

While this formula is relatively simple, make sure you take the time to do the work to make it a good one. If you’re on the spot, take a breath, listen, think and feel before talking. If you miss a piece of the apology, or bumble it, follow up. If it’s after initial contact, write it out; have close friends or a therapist read it and offer feedback. If you’d previously been asked to not contact your accuser (or if you’re at all hesitant), ask a mutual friend to relay it and confirm that it was relayed. (Note that it’s not required that they “accept” your apology nor are they required to forgive you. The point of the apology is to clear the air, not to give you a pat on the back for having done it; your accuser will not do that for you.)

Step 4: Give your accuser space, a lot of space

As in, imagine the last time a girlfriend/boyfriend broke your heart and you never wanted to see them again, now multiply that by 10 and switch roles. That much space.

In more concrete terms this means: avoid social outings where you’re likely to cross paths with them. If you do end up at the same event: keep a sizable distance from them, avoid their line of sight, and leave the event. Maintain this practice until you hear otherwise.

Does this feel like too much of an imposition? A possible alternative is that you don’t do this, your accuser feels unsafe and pursues a restraining order. While intent plays into the degree of a crime, it does not (to my knowledge; I’m not a lawyer) play into whether a restraining order is warranted. After a restraining order is issued you risk going to jail for having crossed paths with your accuser. So really, your choice is to proactively avoid your accuser or avoid them out of fear of jail time. It’s your choice.

How do you know when it’s been long enough that you can stop giving them space? Because they told you, either directly or via a mutual friend. If you’re getting antsy ask a mutual friend how your accuser is doing. If their response is positive, ask them their opinion on your practice and if it continues to be helpful. If their answer is in your favor then ask the friend to relay the question of how much space would be helpful to your accuser. Do not change your practice until you get the go-ahead relayed back from your accuser and do not ask more than once every three months. Yes, it may seem like I’m erring on the side of the overly cautious, and it is for a reason. This is demonstrating a great level of respect through action. Sexual assault functions on the level of lack of respect and violation of trust. By giving space, ample and without it being required, you’re demonstrating your respect for their healing process. This lays the foundation for trust to be rebuilt. It may take a very long time for enough trust to build up such that being in the same room is an option. This is a piece that you can do in order to help it be an option.

In closing, I hope this serves as a resource to not only help accusers manage a difficult situation, but that it also helps survivors heal less arduously. I also see this as an integral piece of a community healing from an assault among its members, but I’ll have to write more on that another time.


Sexual Assault, Power and Partner Dance

A lovely blog post was posted recently presenting that communities need to be aware of how power dynamics can perpetuate sexual violence and starting some thoughts on what communities can do. I’d like to build a tangent around the survivor that has nothing to do with social capital. This is the story of the tragedy of sexual violence in communities that form their identity around physical contact. (Content warning: this is gonna get sad, folks.) I’ll tell it from my story, but I’ve heard echos of this from many other survivors.

So here’s the situation: you discover this divine experience called partner dancing. You fall in love. If you were like me, you were intoxicated by allowing your brain to turn off and just follow. Or maybe for you it was access to normalized physical contact, and a type of intimacy that is difficult to access outside a romantic partner. And then there’s the emotion of the music that you can tap into and it can take you on a cathartic journey like you’ve never experienced before. Practically transcendent!

Before you realize it, you are, for all intents and purposes, addicted to the unique experience that partner dancing gives you access to. Thankfully your local(ish) community of fellow addicts gives you access to feeding your cravings on a regular basis. Yay!

Now, hopefully for the vast majority of you, this next part didn’t and doesn’t happen. (Although statistically it’s not unlikely.) Somewhere in the midst of a multi-year smorgasbord of dancing I came to realize I had been raped. My dancing glee took a dramatic halt. There were many factors feeding into the halt, but the broadest and most permanent has to do with a fundamental issue between dancing and sexual assault.

Sexual assault is a violation of trust (among other things.) Generally an assaulter has earned their subject’s trust enough to get them into a situation they can’t get themselves out of. It’s also a violation of trust that’s often in a personal and/or intimate context.

Partner dancing requires close personal contact, and can be intimate. Also, particularly on the follow’s part, it requires trust; trust that my partner isn’t going to lead me to do things that would hurt me, or do things to me that are inappropriate under the guise of leading a “mistake.” And the social construct for this trust is that one party asks the other to dance, and with that mere phrase all that trust is placed on the line.

While this seems like a relatively reasonable exchange, in the phases of my healing where I was most tapped into how utterly obliterated my trust had been, it was an unfathomable situation. It was as if I’d set my boundary as a line drawn in the sand a foot away from myself and my assaulter had looked at that line and promptly bore a hole straight through the ground all the way to China causing the planet to implode in on itself. And then someone asks me to dance and I’m like, “but, there’s no planet. OMG WTF ARE YOU CRAZY OR SOMETHING?!” For someone standing on solid ground the question “would you like to dance” is totally reasonable, but when there is no ground below your feet it sounds very far from reasonable.

This is the situation survivors face when they attempt to go partner dancing. Their trust was violated in an arena they thought was safe and now it is impossible to get a sense of safety and trust in even mundane circumstances. And especially in something as personal and vulnerable as partner dancing.

And yet, as a dance addict I CRAVE precisely what I don’t have access to. You would not believe the number of wailing, sobbing therapy sessions I’ve had because my “survivorship” gets in the way of me being able to access that unique experience of partner dancing. Furthermore, this is one of those situations where you can’t go back, you can only go forward. My experience of dance as a blissful smorgasbord is a bridge that burnt down years ago. I’ve built a new bridge. I can dance (even with perfect strangers) just fine. But this is a very different looking bridge. It’s far less simple, straightforward and gleeful. There are more moving parts, more intention and effort on my part. And while “glee” is a rare emotion, I do find happiness and bliss while dancing, albeit less frequently.

My point is: let’s say it’s a perfect world and I have ALL THE SOCIAL CAPITAL. And I come forward publicly, and the community is supporting, and my assaulter is addressed in all the ways that are healthy for me and promote growth for them. In this perfect dream world absent of any and all rape culture, dancing is still going to be a painful struggle for survivors. Survivors are going to disappear. Survivors are going to need a maddening mix of support to know they are included, and yet also space so that they can heal. Survivors are going to have to go on their own individual journey to figure out how to access dancing again, and it’s quite possible that the journey will be too hard and they’ll choose to do other things.

This does not mean that efforts to address rape culture are all for naught. The conversations currently happening in dance communities are key for reducing the barriers that survivors face and helping give them reasons to stay. And not all the barriers are external; plenty are internal. Survivors will always need support. I hope the picture I’ve painted helps bring awareness and deeper understanding to a survivors experience (while also acknowledging that every survivor’s experience is different.)

If all this was too heavy for you, here: have a pallet cleansing cute cat video!

courage, Speaking Out, Uncategorized

How Othering Promotes Rape

Othering is not new or unique. Human societies have been describing their enemy as something “other” than themselves or other than human since time in memoriam. Heathens, Nazi’s, the Taliban all have the connotation that they are incomprehensible monsters. You are absolved of having to have empathy for your enemy because they’re not human.

This is also how we conceive of rapists. The man jumping out from behind the bush in a dark street. The pathological, serial rapist who has some incomprehensible desire to rape. These are characters we don’t understand and we don’t want to have to understand.

Unfortunately, the majority of rapes are not committed by these types of characters. The majority of rapes are date rapes. This means a real live human, someone who the victim deemed was worthy to spend time with, committed the rape. Not a monster.

It does us a disservice to consider rapists monsters. It gives us a pass to stop thinking about what motivations lie behind date rape. Without having to think of a rapist as a person, we can dismiss the “monster” and consider the issue  no longer. There is no reparations for a monster. There is no grey area or understanding a monster. There is no path from monster back to human again.

And this leads to the heart of the problem with othering:

I would hazard a guess that the majority of us have had sexual encounters where explicit, enthusiastic consent was not obtained. This is common and understandable, because you’ve probably only learned of the notion of explicit, enthusiastic consent somewhat recently. And this doesn’t change the fact that any of those experiences could have, in actuality, been non-consensual. And, by definition, non-consensual sex is rape. Hopefully some combination of implied consent and reading body language indicates that it was consensual, but you can’t actually know unless there was a yes. By this course of logic it is totally possible that many of us have committed rape.

(Cue the “I am not a rapist” freak out.)

Now that the freak out is out of our system, why is there a freak out about this idea? The root is exactly this “othering” that I’ve been talking about. The idea that you maybe, possibly, by-chance, or poor circumstance committed rape would logically mean that you are not human. You are a rapist. You are a monster. This goes against the foundation of identity. Our identities are founded on ourselves as human and as fundamentally similar to other humans, especially members of our family, tribe or group. We cannot accept the notion that we may be monster.

So don’t. Don’t try to understand yourself as a monster; try to understand rapists as human. If rapists are not monsters then you are not a monster. They are not “other”; they are human. It is human to make mistakes. Plenty of rapists did not maliciously harm but made an ignorant mistake (which also caused harm.) Calling it a mistake doesn’t absolve the rapist of the damage caused; it merely means that the action was comprehensible.

In order to turn our culture of rape into a culture of consent we need to understand what has not worked with the preexisting culture and where ideals of consent break down in practice. We can, and in fact we must, examine this first hand in our own actions. We and rapists hold the common ground of existing in a culture of rape. How are we contributing to rape culture? What changes can we make to our behavior to proactively prevent rape through our own actions? By discovering the answers to these questions there is hope for eradicating rape culture.


I acknowledge that this post leaves opens a delicate, sensitive area about restorative justice, behavioral reform, and forgiveness. These are things that warrant their own post (or five), but in order to not leave the topic wide open and potentially raw, suffice it to say that I believe survivors should always be safe (as defined by the survivor) from their rapists and should never be expected to forgive their assailant. In no way am I advocating the contrary in this post. I’m committed to elucidating my thoughts and improving the clarity of how all this ties together in subsequent posts. Thank you for your patience and understanding. 


India’s Government’s Response to Rape

I was reading an article today on the latest controversy in India surrounding rape. The subject of the article did not interest me as much as two random little details:

1) “There were more than 24,000 reported rapes in India in 2011, but activists say the real number is many times higher.”

2) “Following a public outcry over the Delhi attack, India introduced tougher rape laws in March, which include the death penalty for repeat offenders and for those whose victims are left in a ‘vegetative state.'”

Bear with me, I might not be taking this where you think I am…

#1: 24,000 rapes? Is that a lot? It’s a big number, but I have no idea how it compares. So I went looking for numbers… The US had 90,000 reported rapes in 2008. That’s a lot more. Factor in that India’s population is significantly more than the US (India=1,210,193,422 in 2011; US=308,745,531 in 2010) and rapes per capita in the US is way bigger than in India. But India’s populous is making a huge fuss. So, Americans… where’s our outrage? This is CRAZY; one in five women experiences sexual assault in our county. Rape and consent need to be a topic of discussion in our country (by our people, not our ineffective legislators) until these numbers change!

(*I realize the year for the statistic is not always the same. I’m making a bit of an assumption that there’s not been dramatic change between 2008 and 2011)

#2: The Indian government’s response to the public’s outcry was to create harsher punishments. I’m all for harsher punishments. And yet, I’m concerned that this isn’t *actually* addressing the problem. If the fine for speeding goes up do you watch your speedometer more closely? I think the average person doesn’t. So when someone’s in the position to rape someone, are they going to stop because they could get put to death? Probably not.

Now, don’t get me wrong: perpetrators need to face justice for the harm they do. From my vantage point it seems spot-on to include jail and the death penalty as possible consequences. My point is only that these are not the things that are taken into account before a rape is committed.

If you want to *prevent* rape, then you need to intervene with potential rapists before they rape. There need to be better education programs that teach respect for other people, empathy and enthusiastic consent. There needs to be a culturally accepted idea of masculinity that is not threatened by women and which does not objectify and use women (and all others “less-than”) to enhance one’s own dominance or social standing. And, of course, there also needs to be consequences when someone does not meet society’s standard.

I hate leaving things without concrete, actionable things to do, but for now this is what I have. Action items will have to wait for another post.


Red Flags

Today I read Me Ra Koh’s list in “13 Characteristics of a Date Rapist: A List You Need to Share.” I greatly appreciate this list because it enumerates what I call “red flags”:  behaviors that people do that concern me, and which, if there are enough of them, lead me to create distance from them in order to protect myself, because, in addition to being traits shared with rapists, these are traits that just generally don’t make for good people who I want around me.

Most of my social encounters are in the dancing world, and, unfortunately, many items on this list become unclear or seemingly irrelevant when applied to the dance world.  For this reason I think it’s critically necessary to refine this list for the dance world. So I’m going to attempt it.

**As Me Ra Koh also points out: these are characteristics of people who commit date rape, having these characteristics DOES NOT make someone a rapist. I would add that a single instance of a single item could be a faux paus, a bad day, a myriad of things. One or more of these applying to multiple interactions is where alarm bells need to start sounding (alarm bells being a tier or two below rape whistles.)

I’m including Me Ra Koh’s item followed by the dance-world addition or adjustment. I’m also writing this primarily for female follows (most rape victims are women and most women dance as follows) This convention is inherently flawed (men can get raped and everyone can/should dance both roles) but it is also the perspective I am most familiar with, so it is what I write from. These concepts can and should be applied across genders and dance roles. Without further ado:

13 Characteristics of a Date Rapist: Dancer Edition

1. Displays anger or aggression, either physically or verbally (The anger need not be directed toward you, but may be displayed during conversations by general negative references to women, vulgarity, curtness toward others, and the like. Women are often viewed as adversaries.)

In my experience of the dance world this point most commonly comes up in “negative references to women” and “women viewed as adversaries.” If I guy is complaining that follows won’t dance with him, and not in the “how do I fix this” way but in a “how dare they” or “what’s wrong with them” or “I don’t like them” sort of way, this is troubling.

2. Displays a short temper; slaps and/or twists arms

nuf said.

3. Acts excessively jealous and/or possessive (Be especially suspicious of this behavior if you have recently met the person or are on a first or second date.)

Seems like this trait doesn’t show up often at social dances. It can be a helpful indicator when dating a non-dancer. If the non-dancer is uncomfortable or jealous about you going out dancing, that is troubling.

4. Ignores your space boundaries by coming too close or placing his hand on your thigh, etc. (Be particularly cognizant of this behavior when it is displayed in public.)

This might seem irrelevant since dancing automatically puts you in close physical contact with another person. We normalize this, but that does not mean that “everything goes.” Quite the opposite. If anything makes you uncomfortable, that’s something to take note of. It’s possible you’re ignorant of the move he’s trying to do; he’s possible that he’s ignorant that he’s not doing it right. Either way a rapist would monopolize on that big question mark in your head, so that question mark needs to come with a big red flag. In situations like this you could try to get more information by addressing it with him directly, or by bringing it up afterwards with a friend or dance teacher (and don’t be afraid to name names! Similar reports from others about the same person is important information!) Or you could try keeping your distance from this person for a period of time (think months) and then re-evaluating to see if he’s gotten better. Improvement might indicate it was innocent ignorance; unchanged behavior would be more of a problem. Point being, if you’re uncomfortable create space in some way, shape or form. If you assert yourself or avoid/turn-down dances with him, or otherwise create space and he ignores it or get’s angry about it, that’s an important red flag.

5. Ignores your wishes

The follow role has often been conceptualized as subservient to the lead role. So what are the follow’s wishes? There are concrete ones: a lead who leads a bunch of dips when the follow already addressed that she couldn’t do dips due to an injury, or a lead who runs his partner into other couples, or a lead who dances in a potentially injurious way (poor technique like cranking during turns.) There’s also a more subtle level: leads who don’t let a follow have a voice in the dance. Obviously inexperienced dancers aren’t going to have this skill, so that should be weighed accordingly.

6. Attempts to make you feel guilty or accuses you of being uptight

If you opt not to do a dip or a trick or if you ask him change something about his dancing to make you more comfortable, how does he react? Graciously adapting to what makes you comfortable is good! Disapproval, snark and taking insult are bad. Also, if you are ever accused of being uptight, I would stay away from that person, they’re not worth your time. Especially if you’re doing a close, sultry or experimental dance like blues, tango or fusion. No dance comes with a requirement that you not be “uptight.” If you don’t like the way he’s dancing, then you don’t like he way he’s dancing. If most all of the moves are too-close for your comfort, then maybe the dance isn’t a good choice for you. None of this makes you “uptight.”

7. Becomes hostile and/or increasingly more aggressive when you say no

For a long time it was taught that you don’t turn down a dance. That practice is impractical, unsafe and unhealthy. So say no if you don’t feel like dancing. And if he freaks out about it, then you know that you don’t need to be near that person.

8.  Acts particularly friendly at a party or bar and tries to separate you from your friends

Someone who tries to take you away from the dance you’re there to attend would be unusual, and so it’s probably not surprising that this would get a red flag.

This could also apply to dating a non-dancer. If he wants you to stop dancing, that’s a problem. (If you choose to stop dancing, that’s different.)

9. Insists on being alone with you on a first date

This I would down play a bit if you met in the dance context, only because dancers are always around other people and it can be helpful to get one-on-one time. That being said, public spaces are always best for first dates, avoid entering a situation where you’ll be alone with someone who gives you red flags, and every relationship should have a healthy balance of alone and with-others time.

10. Demands your attention or compliance at inappropriate times, such as during class

An example of this in dancing would be getting your attention while you’re dancing with someone else. Generally we stay focused on our current dance partner, but there are fun/silly things that we do when dancing on the social floor that could be indicators: butt-bumping while he dances with another partner or initiating a steal/swap/4-way dance. I wouldn’t consider these red-flags on their own (cause they can be totally fun!), but I’d take into account how they’re initiated and if there are other warning factors.

11. Acts immaturely; shows little empathy or feeling for others and displays little social conscience

This is another complicated one for social dancers. Social dance attracts people who need the help of a structured social environment. This means we have a lot of moderately socially inept people, or formerly socially inept people(raises hand.) And as a community we want to be welcoming to people who are still learning these skills. So I encourage us all to develop a highly refined palate around empathy. Don’t let people get off the hook for ignorance or good intentions. Good intentions aren’t enough, and ignorance should be reformed. If we really want to be a help to those who are still learning, then we don’t want to excuse their incorrect behavior. Honest feedback is vital for learning. It’s also something that will make rapists feel unwelcome, while those who earnestly want to improve will thrive. [I have so much more I could write on this; It’ll just have to become a future post.]

12. Asks personal questions and is interested in knowing more about you than you want to tell him

yup, applicable just the same.

13. Subscribes excessively to traditional male and female stereotypes

This one can be super tricky to spot when it comes to dancing. Partner dancing has such a long history of gender-specific roles that it can be so easy to fly under the radar. Surprise at dancing the opposite role is understandable. Insistence could be a sign of a problem. In my local dance community, dancing both roles is relatively common, so someone being freaked out by this becomes more apparent and is more clearly a problem. Yet another reason why learning both roles is a good thing.


I see this list as a starting point. To take this further, we need to notice when we’re uncomfortable and honor that, act on that. Better than any rubric that can be written is the wisdom of your own gut. You just need to learn how to hear that wisdom.

Speaking Out

The Courage to write.

For weeks I’ve been planning this blog. I have a list of a dozen things to write about. I have set aside time to write. And here I sit, struggling to find the voice I’ve spent so long cultivating.

As the old adage says, “write what you know,” and right now what I know is the fear of speaking up.

This fear has been so prevalent in my life that it has a certain comfortable familiarity. I think everyone of morals who has faced a tough decision to stand up to someone or to “not make a fuss” for whatever external reason, is familiar with this feeling. And particularly women. We are enculturated to take care of others, to put other’s comfort before our own. So when we desire to contradict someone, it puts us in a tight spot: be true to ourselves and use our voice, or prioritize the comfort of the person we wish to contradict. Or worse, speak our truth, upset the other person, and be completely discredited in the way women so often are.

The reasons for speaking up are great: I have spent so much of my life learning from other’s mistakes, so it is ungenerous for me to not share my experiences and allow someone else to learn from them. I’m pretty freaking good at explaining things and speaking passionately about things I care about. To waste these talents would be an insult to society. I want to make a difference in the world. (I never thought it’d take the shape of a blog.) And most simply: my perspective is inherently unique, and therefore worthy.

I know these things. I’ve acted on these things. I’ve felt the sting of disagreement, of rejection, of discredit, of dismissal. The agony of repercussions, of anger, attacks and discord. These aren’t the things I want in the world. I want joy and rainbows and bunnies!

But the reality is that I’m not creating the problems. The bunnies don’t actually exist. I point out what is. The truth that jeopardizes other’s fiction. And this is what compels me. I don’t take joy in making trouble, in telling you that the Easter bunny is a lie. It’s merely that I know that the truth will set us free. Freedom is superior to bunnies and fictions.

So I will post this blog entry. And I will post many many more. I will stand and face these very real fears; I will use my voice. Because, in addition to the great many reasons for speaking up, there are those who would silence voices like mine in order to preserve their lie. This silencing alone is reason to speak up. This is why I am compelled write this blog. This is why I gather my courage.