The Boundary Foundry

[Content Note: Boundaries; rape culture.]

This is a series about forging boundaries.

But let me back up a bit.

* * *

In June, I read this great piece on boundaries by Jim Hines. I hope and imagine Jim won't be insulted if I note that his piece wasn't revolutionary for me (which doesn't make it any less meaningful); I've been writing about the rape culture myself for almost a decade now, and many people before both of us have made the point that we all have the right to say no. But it was reading his piece, specifically, that I first had the thought: Not only do we all have the right to say no; we all have the right to set boundaries.

That might seem like a semantic distinction, but before someone can acknowledge, no less exercise, hir right to say no, zie must first believe zie has the right to object in the first place.

It's good and important and necessary to tell people who object to being treated in a way they don't want to be treated that they have a right to voice that objection.

But what about those of us who are so inured to being mistreated, who have not only been discouraged from communicating any negative emotion about abuse but admonished that even having those feelings is bad, wrong, punishable?

You have the right to want to say no. You have the right to want to set boundaries. And you have the right to set them.

* * *

A 16-year-old Shaker from a small town in the US asks me if I could write more about boundaries. She doesn't know how to set them, or where. I ask her where her life feels bad. "Everywhere," she replies.

* * *

Part of my commitment to dismantling the rape culture has been setting boundaries, for myself and this community, even if it is a teaspoon in an ocean.

It turns out that you make a lot of people unhappy when you draw boundaries and defend them.

Which, of course, is a product of the rape culture, which encourages hostility to other people's boundaries, sexual or otherwise. It's all part of the same continuum, part of the same endemic hostility to the notions of consent, autonomy; hostility to individual boundaries, privacy, and dignity; hostility to people who demand those things for themselves and others.

It's so deep in all of us. Sometimes we don't even realize we do it. We're mad about someone drawing a line in a place we don't like, and we decide it is because they are mean, because they are unfair, because they are weak, because they are broken, because they are something that gives us an excuse to not have to examine our own failure to respect their communicated boundary.

I've been that mad person. And I have a lot of people mad at me a lot of the time for drawing lines in places they don't like.

I hate making people unhappy. But I hate upholding the rape culture even more.

And here's a funny thing about public boundaries-drawing: It's hard enough to say no when there aren't thousands of people willing to tell you how terrible you are for doing it. And yet it's easier to say no when there are thousands of people in addition to yourself who need you to do it.

There is something empowering about community, even around personal boundaries. We can do more empowering of that sort here. Has been a thought. Rattling around the lint trap.

* * *

Increasingly, I get emails from Shakers on the subject of boundaries. Sometimes the emailers are grateful, thanking me for a public example of setting and maintaining boundaries. Those messages are particularly meaningful to me. Setting and maintaining boundaries (and the consequences for failing to respect them), personally and professionally, privately and publicly, is something that was once very difficult for me to do—even in this space, as longtime readers can attest.

Mostly, the emailers are advice-seeking. I try to answer all of them. A lot of the same questions come up over and over. A lot of times, I think: "This needs to be a post."

* * *

So here we are. This is a series about defining, communicating, and holding firm boundaries. Sometimes I will just write on a general idea. But mostly I want to answer your questions and address issues around boundaries in your lives, with which you want help, back-up, the reinforcing strength of community. Email me.

Please let me know in your email how you'd like me to credit you (e.g. Disqus handle, first name, initials, topic-specific pseudonym).

Here we go.

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