The first Conversations On Consent with the young men of Scarborough Youth Center’s Man Up Group was scheduled for the Monday just before Christmas Wednesday. Given that Toronto was reeling from the effects of a brutal ice-storm there was uncertainty as to whether this talk would actually happen. I placed a phone call beforehand to the Man Up Group Facilitator Richard to check-in. Initially he was unsure if we should go ahead but then expressed a definite desire to have the talk with his group regardless of whether it was today or in the new year. After some further conversation and sharing about how important he felt this topic was we decided to push ahead and have the scheduled session with a promise for more in the new year.
When I arrived at the Scarborough Youth Center there were only about 3 young men hanging around and Richard explained when I got there that he thought there would have been more young men by this time but he was concerned that we may not get much of a turn out because of the holidays. For my part it did not matter I was prepared to talk to the 3 young men who were already there. Thankfully though more came trickling in and we were a healthy group enough to start the conversation.
Like with the ladies I started the conversation speaking to the young men about my journey to Kilimanjaro. I told them about what happened to my friend’s daughter and why I wanted to have this conversation with them about Sexual Consent. They took in the information and after asking for their consent to publish what we spoke about with no names attached and confirm that it would be ok to take pics with them we got started.
My first question, ‘what is consent?’ always general, was met with a straightforward answer -‘to give permission’-. That was easy enough so I dove right in and followed up with what is sexual consent. There were some smiles and reaction to this one and then I got the roundabout answer that Sexual Consent has to do with giving permission to have sex. I asked them to go a little deeper to talk about what consent actually looks like, so as to get clear, and they shared that the eyes are a powerful tool in giving consent and as well as paying attention to how someone is reacting in the situation to ensure that they are ok with it because consent is an ongoing conversation.
Some very interesting moments showed up in my discussion with the young men. We explored the concept of ‘passionate’ relationships. One of the young men suggested that based on what he had seen in films and on TV, relationships where couples get very angry even to the point of aggression or hitting, could mean that their love is very ‘passionate’ or strong because most times in those ‘tv’ scenarios they end up making love in the end. I was happy to note that this opened up a very lively conversation, with a number of the young men suggesting that anytime you have to get violent or so angry in the relationship it can’t be good. Many suggested that instead of a passionate love-making scene at the end as is suggested in the movies, situations like this could lead to much more deadly circumstances. This was a key moment for me as though I know the media’s influence I was smacked in the face with how powerful it truly is as I listened and watched this young man defend this concept – of ‘passionate’ relationships- very convincingly until the group and myself were eventually able to sway him with reasoned discussion.
Interestingly many of the young men also felt strongly that there is quite a bit of violence against men that is not talked about. The young men felt that in some cases many girls who are their contemporaries were more violent than their male counterparts. In that moment I will admit to feeling a bit of panic as I wanted to honor their position but at the same time not deflect attention away from the high occurring incidences of Violence against young women and Intimate Partner Violence that disproportionately affects females at a much higher rate. I challenged one of the young men to find me the stats that also support this claim, and I thoroughly loved how he got out his phone and whipped up an article from the web complete with stats that proved violence against men is a growing concern. With this unexpected twist we spent some time exploring violence against men.
They shared stories of lived experiences in which friends and even themselves sometimes faced difficult scenarios of bullying at the hands of girls/ girlfriends and sometimes in the home. We spent some time here fielding suggestions of positive ways for young men to deal with these situations. Here I was really moved by the support system that the young men provided for each other. Some of the ideas that came across were anonymously speaking to someone in authority, to deal with bullies. Finding a supportive friend with whom they can share and in extreme situations seeking help from a guidance counsellor, anonymous Phone Help Lines and lastly the police. For the young men it was important to not come across as looking weak and so anonymously seeking help and support resonated as a stronger strategy.
We then went on to explore strategies to deal with challenges that may come up in intimate situations, where they may find themselves getting angry or having to deal to uncomfortable feelings of rejection. Walking away from the situation rang out as the best strategy. Some suggested locking themselves in a room if needed but most importantly to get away from the situation. In a scenario where a young woman says no in the middle of an intimate experience- again here the boys stressed on walking away especially when it’s hardest to do so, just get out of the situation as quickly as possible. At clubs or dances where they want t to dance with a girl – the best ways to approach and what to do when the girl says NO is simple just STOP.
We talked about finding healthy ways to release negative energy like getting involved in martial arts or other healthy physical activity. The influence of friendships and how supporting each other with positive feedback and right information was important. We spoke about them becoming conscious and aware of their own personal triggers, especially in relationships. Getting to know themselves well enough to understand what types of scenarios and situations may cause them to get upset or put them in harm’s way; and to determine in advance how to deal with them. In the end I stressed the importance of having in mind a vision for their lives and in every moment determining whether a particular action or decision gets them closer or further from that vision.
I thoroughly enjoyed and was overwhelmed by the sensitivity and wisdom coming from this group of young men, Their honesty and willingness to be open about these issues was a truly pleasant surprise. I was nervous going in as I did not know what to expect and unsure of my approach; however things turned out very well and in the moment of conversations and beyond I felt connected with them. They asked questions, challenged ideas, dug deep and supported each other. The balanced view from the young men is also very much reflected in the calm and passionate leader of the group Richard. So I must give special Shout OUTS to Richard for being a wonderful guide and mentor for these young men!
Thank you again to Tropicana Community Services for allowing me to reach out to these brilliant young men. I give you KUDOS for providing a space like the Scarborough Youth Center and the Man UP Group to help young men in our community become their best selves!
Raising It Up!
I am officially 6.5 weeks away from the Summit! so I clearly need to ramp my fundraising efforts right the way up! Support the NO MEANS STOP! Campaign. We are raising funds to Support Tropicana Community Services Violence Against Women Programs and to build programs that are specifically designed to educate and empower Boys & Young Men around issues of Sexual Consent.
If you’d like to support online don’t hesitate to click here —> GO FUND ME Widget or scroll up to the right of the page and hit the Go Fund Me Button there. You can also send me a note in the comments below if you’d prefer donate or lend your support in another way! I am happy to come to your Social Gathering, Business group, school or event to talk about this Journey! Share the Image Below with a link to this blog so others can learn more about this journey!
I have attached the Official Press Release —> Kilimanjaro Climb to Raise Awareness PR Jan2014, in case you require some easy background to Share with your Network!
Thank you for reading and Thank you for your Support! Together we CAN be the Change we want to see in this world!
Yours As Always
A Traveling Black Chick!
P.S. This one was long in coming I know…so I apologize for the delay!