Doing it All the Time: A Queer Consent Workshop

Kathleen Livingston

At the LGBT community center where I grew up, peer education was common practice. LGBT and queer youth taught each other about sex and relationships. I am grateful to have learned skills for communicating about these matters in community space. Being able to talk about the elements of consent is a matter of survival.

This mini-consent workshop invites a small number of participants at a time (3-5 people) to entertain one or two workshop prompts. Participants in the mini-consent workshop receive “Doing it All the Time: A Queer Consent Workshop” zine as a takeaway. The workshop + zine format is LGBTQ community-based pedagogy in the sense that it grows out of community-based traditions of peer education. Peer education is a method used in feminist, queer, and trans communities to transform heterosexist, homophobic, transphobic, racist, sexist, classist, and ableist attitudes and actions. This iteration of the consent workshop was designed for the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric & Composition’s New Work Showcase at the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). The purpose of this workshop + zine is to open up a conversation about consent and give people practices they can carry into their work and play.

How context changes the shape of the workshop

I pitched “Doing it All the Time: A Queer Consent Workshop” to the Coalition as a 5-10 minute, mini-workshop on consent. What I knew was participants in the New Work Showcase would be filtering around a room to various stations, representing new feminist scholarship at CCCC.

This rhetorical situation was different than a full-length workshop because in a longer workshop, people would come expecting to be in a workshop space. There would be plenty of time built in to open the space, set ground rules, get a bit of background information on approaches to consent, practice new skills, debrief or do aftercare.

The choice to do a mini-workshop was risky because I wasn’t sure the people who attended the New Work Showcase would be prepared to talk about consent. What I’d learned in researching the cultural histories of the Sex Wars was consent tended to be at the crux of a lot of feminist arguments.

There is always a certain level of vulnerability and risk when engaging with the topic of consent. As the facilitator of the consent workshop, I wanted to mediate some of the risks for participants by setting the scene for our work together ahead of time.

Setting up the consent workshop

I arrived early to the ballroom of the conference center in Tampa to set up chairs around a small, square table, creating a shared space in a wide-open room. I arranged our props for the workshop on the table. Laying out the props ahead of time was important so those passing by could get a sense of whether they wanted to participate.

Prop list

  • Workshop prompts, handwritten on playing cards
  • Corkboard, pins, and string for mapping activities
  • Scratch paper and pens
  • Signage
  • Zines as takeaways

Ground rules

  1. People would filter up and fill the chairs, and once I’d gathered 3-5 people, we would begin with the ground rules. This moment requires a pause for people to reflect on whether they’re willing to play by those rules.
  2. What happens in the consent workshop stays in the consent workshop—even if what someone else discloses seems like no big deal to you, discuss with them before you share with anyone else.
  3. Use I statements—don’t try to speak for a whole group of people.
  4. This is your consent workshop—if you don’t want to respond to a prompt, don’t. You are also invited to get up and wander away, or come back later.

    Thinking back, I would build in two more:

  5. There is no play without power. Throughout the workshop, seek to practice consent by knowing your own power and using it well.
  6. We are all responsible for fulfilling our own needs. If you need something, ask.

After ground rules, we discussed the workshop process and what was going to happen.

Script for the consent workshop

Welcome to “Doing it All the Time: A Queer Consent Workshop.” This consent workshop focuses on consent across personal and professional contexts. The reason for the broad focus is, in my understanding of consent, for consent to become habitual, especially in high-stakes contexts like sex, we need to be doing it all the time.

I have these cards. On the back of the cards, there are three ways participants can interact with the material on consent: reflect, make, and connect. Each of these ways to engage involves different levels of investment.

A reflect card asks participants to look at yourself and reflect on one of the elements of consent with the option to share or not share their results.

A make card asks participants to create something to facilitate thinking through an element of consent.

A connect card asks participants to interact with other people on the material.

On the front of the cards, are different elements of consent (boundaries, desire, risk, listening, vulnerability, self-identification, checking in, and so on). There are also prompts asking you to engage with the elements of consent in the ways I described above.

We will place the cards face down. I will ask one of you to choose a card based on how you want to interact with the material. Then, I will read the workshop prompt to the group and facilitate the prompt.

Reflections on “Doing it All the Time: A Queer Consent Workshop”

What I’ve come to understand from facilitating this and previous workshops is: participants will come with their own stories and understandings about the topic, but it’s the workshop facilitator’s role to create an experience for them, with outcomes participants might feel empowered to take action on.

Going into the workshop for the CWSHRC New Work Showcase, I imagined a couple of things about participants. First, participants would be adults who would mediate their own level of vulnerability and risk. Second, participants were not likely to want to disclose sexual stories in a public setting at a professional conference. (Note: if you do want to disclose sexual stories at a professional conference, I want to hang out with you).

The format of the New Work Showcase, and what I imagined about the space and the participants guided the purpose and design of the workshop—to talk about consent beyond sexual consent without leaving the sexual element behind. The intro of the zine “Doing it All the Time: A Queer Consent Workshop” enacts this, calling on the essay for which the workshop is named, “Her Body, Mine, and His” by Dorothy Allison.

When I read that essay, which is about queer pleasures in the midst of the AIDs crisis, I remember why it is so important for people to learn how to practice consent. Why it is so important for those who want to have sex to be able to talk about sex, to have language for our bodies and know how to talk about our histories and desires, about power, pleasure, danger, disclosure, risk. For LGBTQ communities especially, being able to talk about these matters is necessary for our survival.

“Doing it All the Time: A Queer Consent Workshop” zine

keywords: consent, boundaries, desire, pleasure, power, risk, accountability, explicit writing, language for bodies, poorly photocopied images of fruit

Accessibility statement: If there is any way I can make this information more accessible to you, please let me know. Transcript of zine here: Download PDF of Zine

Cindy Crabb, longtime editor of the zine Doris, explains zines as short form, self-published magazines, a form of radical literature used to transmit information and resources left out of mainstream culture. Zines are collectible ephemera, meant to be stuck in a back pocket, and shared among friends. They are a medium for having conversations that get distributed through DIY publishing.

When everyone I knew at the LGBT community center had aged out and moved on, I did self-education on consent. I read zines like “Support” and “Learning Good Consent,” edited by Cindy Crabb, Ask First! by Cheyenne, and the literature on community accountability and consent, like INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence’s “Community Accountability Working Document”, The Color of Violence: INCITE! Anthology, and The Revolution Starts at Home. I read the edited collection Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Empowerment & a World Without Rape.

Doing self-education through zines and in online spaces is a way for LGBTQIA people who don’t have immediate access to community spaces offline to get access to information. By self-education, I mean seeking out information on a topic, or doing research. I understand self-education as part of what queer rhetorics scholar Jonathan Alexander has called “sexual literacy.” In his book, Alexander talks about how students did digital research projects, making use of / learning sexual literacies online. This is relevant to those of us who teach writing because LGBTQIA people are in our courses and because it is powerful to watch students thrive when taught skills to understand community-based issues, and potentially connect to people all over the world.

I designed “Doing it All the Time: A Queer Consent Workshop” the way I did because this is the way I was taught in LGBTQ and feminist communities, through peer education. When I talk about the zine + workshop format as LGBTQ community-based pedagogies, that’s what I’m talking about. The prompts represent a culture of sharing critical information (in this case, about consent). In the back of the zine, I invite participants to feel free to adapt the prompts for their context. I would encourage you to do the same, as long as you use the consent workshop to create a more habitable world.

Flip through the consent workshop below, and you will notice many of the prompts focus on the contexts of teaching, research, communities, and histories, as well as sex and personal relationships. This choice was a function of the space. Because I knew we would be set up in an open space, I decided to focus on the elements of consent across contexts, so participants didn’t feel like I was eliciting personal disclosures in a public space. While a longer workshop might create a space for personal disclosures, the short format and open framework of the event didn’t call for that level of investment.

Having trouble viewing this zine? Click here.

Notes on Queer Contexts

In other contexts, “Doing it All the Time: A Queer Consent Workshop” might take on different focuses. In one undergraduate Queer Studies course, I was explicit about sex and various sex acts because one of the moments consent fails is in not having conversations about sex. Undergraduate students may be having sex, and a consent workshop dealing with sex directly could give them a critical moment to pause and reflect on the risks, and how to talk about their desires.

When I returned to the consent workshop material from the zine at Queer Conversations, a graduate student led symposium at Michigan State University, one participant didn’t feel the workshop focused enough about sex and pointed out the different levels of risk in sexual contexts than in situations of lower risk. I agree it’s so important to talk directly about sexual consent, especially in the context of reports from the U.S. Department of Education showing high levels of non-compliance in how federally funded colleges and universities handle sexual assault. At the same time, professional contexts often have very high stakes, and talking about consent across contexts means more spaces in which to practice.

All this to say, I was careful in how I facilitated the workshop, drawing on empathy, radical listening, and openness, ways of being I learned in community spaces. Teaching consent across contexts, beyond sexual consent, without leaving the sexual element behind has the potential to transform the culture of institutions for historically marginalized students, one cohort of community educators at a time.

Works Cited

Alexander, Jonathan. Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy: Theory and Practice for Composition Studies. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2008.

Allison, Dorothy. 1994. Skin: Talking about Sex, Class, and Literature. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books. Print.

Allison, Elle Abeles-Allison and Zoe Jackson. “Why haven’t we talked about consent yet?” zine. Lansing, MI: self-published. Print.

The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Partner Violence in Activist Communities. Chen, Ching-in, Jai Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Eds. Brooklyn: South End Press, 2011. Print.

Cavallaro, Alexandra J. “Fighting Biblical ‘Textual Harassment’: Queer Rhetorical Pedagogies in the Extracurriculum.” Enculturation 18. Last modified February 13, 2015.

Crabb, Cindy. “Support” zine, self-published.

Crabb, Cindy and friends. “Learning Good Consent” zine, self-published.

Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Empowerment and a World Without Rape. Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti, Eds. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2008. Print.

Haines, Staci. The Survivor’s Guide to Sex. San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1999. Print.

INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. “Community Accountability Working Document.” document

INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. The Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology. Brooklyn: South End Press, 2006. Print.

Neckmonster, Cheyenne. “Ask First!” Zine, Lousiville, KY, 2009.

U.S. Department of Education. “U.S. Department of Education Releases List of Higher Education Institutions with Open Title IX Sexual Violence Investigations.” Last modified May 1, 2014.

U.S. Department of Education: Office of Civil Rights. “Q and A on Title IX and Sexual Violence.” Last modified April 29, 2014.