I’m heading off to East Africa and India to research how sexual consent is taught. In an effort to pin down my thoughts, keep grandma updated and stave off loneliness, I’m writing a tinyletter. I’ll post once a week and if you fancy having a read, I’ll do my best to bring you a snippet of the place, the people and the projects.

If you’d like to join me, sign up here. I’ll be glad of your company.

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I started trying to pin down my views on Ulster American and ended up going a bit apocalyptic. Here are some loosely tied thoughts on shows that tackled sexual assault at the fringe because every time I try to move on from them, I keep getting dragged back.

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In Breach Theatre’s It’s True, It’s True, It’s True, Ellice Stevens plays 15 year old Artemisia Gentileschi. She’s a 17th century baroque painter giving evidence in court against her alleged rapist Agostino Tassi. Winding art history analysis and verbatim transcripts, Breach rebuild the trial.

Even though Tassi is the accused, Gentileschi is being questioned. Made to do a lie-detector test, Stevens places her hands into a contraption that’s beautifully portrayed by director Billy Barrett in a way I won’t spoil. Sophie Steer, playing Tassi, leans in. She is terrifying, electrifying. She and Stevens stand, side on, eyes locked, leant towards each other like the edges of a triangle about to touch at its tip. As Steer questions her, Stevens is defiant. She’s telling the truth, she says. She’s telling the truth. She’s telling the truth and this isn’t fair and she’s telling the truth and it’s true. She repeats it again and again. It’s true, it’s true, it’s true.

That moment feels stuck on a loop in my mind and it doesn’t stop for the rest of the fringe.

It’s still going as a video of Samira Elagoz plays slowly on a screen in Cock Cock… Who’s There? Her lips are slightly parted, red and shining wet. Cum drips down her tongue. She takes a seat in front of her own image and looks at it for a while.

It’s still going as two men drink large glasses of wine in the studio theatre of the Traverse in Ulster American. One stares at the other in disbelief. The man on the sofa has just said that if he had to rape anyone, he’d pick Princess Diana. I’m trying very hard not to let anyone notice I’m crying.

It’s still going as, after an hour of trying to keep myself awake in an unutterably boring play I won’t name, the actor who has just bowed and said thank you for listening reveals the play is the true story of their assault, and I end up feeling guilty for the rest of the day.

At this year’s Edinburgh fringe, every second show seemed to be investigating sexual assault and the concept of consent, so much so that a whole section of the programme was classified as responses to the #MeToo movement. Some shows used the topic to make skin crawl. They painted the city in bright gold with letters that read THIS IS REALLY FUCKED UP AND WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THIS. But others did little to challenge or question, using stories of assault as emotional manipulation or simple shock tactics.

Granted, every story of assault is valid, important and stunningly brave of anyone to talk about, with sometimes brilliantly therapeutic effects for having shared it. But I am quite certain that not every one should be made into a play and a paying audience be made to sit and watch it.

I’ve written about, taught and researched sexual assault and consent for a few years. I’m not easily shocked by talk of it and I’m fascinated by ways of portraying it on stage. But this fringe it began to feel overwhelming. I started to wish for days without another show about toxic masculinity or assault. 

There were two stories in particular that I couldn’t get out of my head after the month was up: Daughter and Ulster American. Both caused a significant amount of controversy throughout August. People disagreed about the ways in which the shows could and should caused offence, in the use of laughter and the control of language. I found myself on the extreme end of both performances, loving one and severely disliking the other.

Daughter is a one-man show by Adam Lazarus. It starts as stand-up and devolves into tense drama. Ulster American is a dark satire, a three-hander by David Ireland. Both, I think, intend to attach the end of your laughter with something bitter, questioning how far you should really be finding it funny.

I thought Daughter astonishing (I reviewed it for The Guardian). Lazarus tells a story about his six year old daughter, his wife and his relationship to women. To what extent it is fictionalised is never clear, which is part of what makes it so shocking. It was one of the first shows I saw and one of the only ones to stick with me through the whole month. When people ask what the best thing I saw at the fringe was, this is often the one I mention first. Lazarus’ storytelling is vivid and profusely uncomfortable. It’s incredibly self-aware, knowing exactly how uneasy it makes people feel. I hugely admired too, that the company offered a chat with any uncertain audience members before or after the show to explain what would be/had been discussed. Not everyone showered it with praise though, and Alice Saville’s cutting piece for Exeunt is worth a read.

In many ways Ulster American sets about doing something similar to Daughter. It tells a story of male violence against women through jokes and gritted teeth, becoming more extreme and eventually ending in farcical levels of destruction. Unravelling multiple political and social issues between a playwright, an actor and a director over the course of one evening, it is brutal in both language and action. They hold many similarities. Why then, did I feel so vastly different in Ulster American?

The first twenty minutes or so of Ulster American centre around director Leigh (Robert Jack) and actor Jay (Darrell D’Silva) getting to know each other before they start on their new play. At one point, Jay raises a hypothetical scenario of who you’d rape if you had a gun held to your head.

It’s worth noting any personal experience affects responses towards stuff like this, of course. But I’ve seen sexual assault discussed and performed so many times on stage over the last few years and it’s rarely got under my skin so unbearably. Something about Ulster American was different.

In a podcast I did with Tim Bano and Lyn Gardner, I tried to defend my reaction – namely that I sort of went into shock and cried a lot and desperately wanted to leave the theatre. I said on the podcast that I didn’t find any of it funny. That was wrong of me – it was an overstatement in an attempt to understand and protect my own disgust, because actually parts of it are funny, and some of it later on did make me laugh or guffaw in that kind of I-shouldn’t-be-laughing-at-this way. But for most of it I just felt sick. I felt so deeply stabbed by the audience laughter at the prolonged rape joke, the detail the script went into and the twisting round of words it did to try and justify its place on the stage. Talking for a prolonged period of time about rape to a background of laughter is distressing, and I wish I’d been warned about that before going into the theatre. The whole play felt like the slightly tipsy and overly smug provocateur at the pub who sees how much what they’re saying upsets you, says “just to play devil’s advocate” and intellectually trumps you to force you to admit they have a point, all the while making you feel infinitesimally small and rendering your viewpoint insignificant. In its uppityness it felt like it was devaluing genuine stories of assault.

The audience reaction matters significantly for this kind of play, and perhaps it changed later in the run, but in Daughter the room felt deeply uncomfortable, laughter hesitant and fading as the story got darker, while in Ulster American the unabashed laughter felt emboldened every time the rape joke was mentioned yet again. It felt it was allowing the laughter rather than criticising it.

I wonder if I’d feel differently had a woman written it. I wonder if I’d feel differently if I hadn’t seen the press performance and had read reviews prior to seeing it. I wonder if I’d feel differently if I’d known more about David Ireland’s previous work. I wonder if I’d feel differently if I had never had to relearn intimacy. I wonder if I’d feel differently if I had seen more comedy about sexual assault. I wonder if I’m just being overly sensitive.

But I also wonder if it needed a place on stage. I wonder if a woman would have written it. I wonder if it would get a different reaction if that room was full of an audience of victims of sexual assault. I wonder if that matters. I wonder if we need more comedy about rape. I wonder if we need to embrace the laughter. I wonder if we need to burn it all down. I wonder if my thoughts on this align with anyone else’s. I wonder if the fact that had I been reviewing it for my paper it would have gotten a significantly less positive write up and star rating makes me a better or worse critic than I would hope. I wonder why I still can’t find the right words for this. I wonder if that’s a good or a bad thing.

The loop of Tassi’s trial keeps rolling.

It was going on 400 years ago in that courtroom.

It was still going on as in F**k You, Pay Me, Joana Nastari howled through history

It was still going before the words me too were preceeded by a hashtag.

It was still going as in Chase Scenes, Ming Hon sprinted away from the masculine shadows haunting her.

It was still going while Hollywood blinkered itself.

It was still going as in dressed., Josie Dale-Jones looked to the audience and said, “Men, we couldn’t have made this show without you.”

It was still going while we all read Cat Person and argued over what actual bad behaviour was.

It was still going as in Unconditional, the mother and daughter duo looked at each other and thought how how the world had changed in the two years they’d been making this.

It was still going while incels grew up and grew angry.

It was still going while Elagoz took that video of white liquid oozing from her mouth.

It was still going while Adam Lazarus had his child and it was still going later when he stood blazing in the theatre with lights blinding his audience.

It was still going while David Ireland wrote the scene where they debate whether Princess Diana would have enjoyed it.

It was still going while I slipped into the bathroom and waited to stop shaking.  

This story is not going to get old – not for a long time yet – but the crux of it all is finding ways of talking about it that do it justice. Some shows this fringe really did. Others bored me and felt like a waste of time. And some made me feel sick and want to leave the theatre, saw off my ears and poke out my eyes, chuck pints over the men at the pub who laugh at their friend’s jokes when they’re more harmful than funny, and force every person who has ever sexually assaulted someone to sit in a room and watch each of these shows one after another, over and over again until they get it, until they know each word and movement off by heart, until the sound of the shows starting again makes them want to scratch their own skin off, until they’re sorry, until they say it’s true, until they understand, until they stop.

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TW/CW Sexual assault

 

[how could we use technology to prevent sexual assault, a brainstorm with my pals on tinder/bumble]

 

***

 

N: I would say teaching people not to be dicks.

Or

a small nuke inside guys dicks that girls can flick their fingers to detonate if they’re not down with it.

[Would that not hurt her too?]

Nah implosion technology only destroys the cells within the dick not outside.

 

***

 

J: Make all women’s clothes 1000 degrees hot.

[How would the women avoid being burnt?]

That’s not guaranteed, but they won’t get sexually assaulted if they’re on fire.

[I feel like there might be a flaw in this plan.]

Yeah I agree. Firemen.

 

***

 

L: I think that some identifier everyone had that could record basic info could help, it would remove any anonymity and doubt from the accuser, hopefully stopping anything from happening in the first place. Kind of like the individuality principle in psych?

The perpetrator would know that they wouldn’t get away with it and wouldn’t attempt anything, a deterrent I guess.

 

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T: Fate of humanity in my hands. I’ll think while I brush my teeth and get back to you.

[Kay]

I’m going down the deterrent rather than preventative route.

I’m thinking that if it’s going to have a black mirror twist then this is the easiest transition into madness I can foresee.

Everyone has a little chip installed that’s linked to a little HUD in their vision. When someone has a sexual thought about someone else it pops up as a notification that they can choose to read.  Everyone can set their threshold for notifications, for example a guy might not want to know every time a girl near him thinks he has a nice bum.

But then everyone obviously gets a big ego boost in the day to day use of it and sets the threshold to really low – even passing thoughts like “those jeans are quite tight” get picked up.

And it goes 1 of 2 ways.

Either everyone is hyper sexualised and there are anonymous sexual encounters happening all over the place.

Or.

It turns into this strange, suppressed, witch hunt-style society where everyone is crying wolf and nobody trusts anyone around them.

 

***

 

S: What about something in the bloodstream that stiffens when triggered so people turn into statues and therefore can’t hurt people?

 

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R: I’d design a interface that allows you to download behavioural traits. For example install good behaviour into someone. That way you preserve “free will” (if it even exists” without physically disrupting people’s lives. Because you prevent it all together.

But ideally I’d just enforce education on the global populace and ensure everyone knows right from wrong.

 

***

 

L: Lool Im looking for a sexfriend are u interested?

 

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I’ve written a short story for a new art & lit zine, Kʌvn. It’s about a chip inserted into everyone’s neck that rips them back if the person they’re touching doesn’t want to be touched. The rest of the zine is a little more cheery. The launch party is 14th April, open to all. Kʌvn will be available in a selection of zine/bookshops including Housmans.

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A year and a half ago I sat on my bed googling the definition of rape. A guy I had been casually seeing had left a few minutes earlier. I was confused, upset, disgusted and scared, and I wanted to collapse my body in to the washing machine and rinse myself out.

A year and a half later, I have written about consent in national publications, I have taught consent workshops in schools and sixth forms across two cities, including in my own secondary school, and I’m about to spend ten weeks volunteering on a sex educations programme in West Africa.

Today, I’m utterly bewildered and overjoyed to have been awarded a travel fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to write a research paper on how sexual consent is taught around the world.

I’ll be going to Kenya, Uganda and India later this year to witness programmes doing brilliant, thoughtful, effective work teaching consent. I want to talk to ask many organisations, charities, NGOs, activists, politicians, survivors and students as possible.

I plan on using the findings to contribute to the way consent is taught back in the UK. I will be writing along the way and publishing a paper at the end of the trip.

In the midst of #MeToo and Time’s Up, people are listening. I hope this project contributes something positive to the discussion.

If you’d like to get in touch or know someone I should talk to, please @ me or email kwyver@hotmail.com.

More about WCMT here.

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Photo: Katt Webster for CPT.

 

 

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

 

Writer and performer Alissa Cooper doesn’t tell us what the man is called. She dodges around it, as if applying a title to him solidifies his actions, makes them concrete around her and traps her in. She talks to us but behind her on a screen the words “I can’t say his name” repeat over and over.

Visually arresting and emotionally knackering, this moment guts you.

Sexual assault has become part of our daily conversation. It’s in every newspaper. It’s crawling out of every surface. Speaking up carries so much weight and yet so many are dragging themselves through it. Change feels tangible.

Awareness is vital and it’s both breaking down horrific cultural norms and revealing monstrous actions, but the unrelenting news cycle and debate can be exhausting, particularly if you are surrounded by people who disagree with you, or if you have personal experience of assault.

So talking about it can be tough. Putting words down makes it present all over again.

Because one night, one action, one choice to ignore someone’s refusal can mean that it loops around your head for a long, long time after. A repeated sentence or image, projected again and again onto the back of a wall.

“I can’t say his name.”

There are signs of boldness and unique experimentation that break away from the classic autobiographical one-person show in Love Songs: “Never Have I Ever”; the projected writing on the wall; an appliqued jumper standing in for another character; witty moments of audience interaction. Cooper eloquently links porn and pizza while vilifying the hypersexualisation of East Asian women, and uses a hula hoop to express her emotions when words won’t do, in a way reminiscent of Edinburgh’s hit show Hot Brown Honey.

Though the experiments don’t always land, they hold the most weight. They extract the original meaning of a game or an object and replace them with something that is entirely hers.

For a show with sexual assault at its heart, Love Songs is surprisingly sweet, like a bitter pill covered in layers of sugar, in an attempt to show that she is far more than what happened to her that night. The show is largely about navigating love. It’s jolly, bouncy, self-mocking and funny. When Cooper reveals just how in love she is today, the unbound joy is not even a tiny bit cringe worthy, it’s just delightful.

Cooper is most comfortable when she is dancing around the stage, putting the audience at ease while making us giggle, little winks and nudges tucked into lip syncs. Her humour is charming and her bravery admirable.

There are chunks of the show that aren’t as cleverly curated, where the aesthetics are scrappier, the language slightly throwaway and the poetry unable to stand up either for comedic or theatrical purposes. But ultimately Cooper creates an environment where we really care for her, to the point where we’re happy to listen to cheesy love songs all night and are genuinely thrilled for her happy ending.

 

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“Sexual consent row as feminists accuse Bristol University of downgrading workshop to online quiz”

“Feminist group furious over Bristol University’s ‘reckless’ changes to sexual consent workshops”

These were just two of the headlines last week from newspapers reporting changes made by the University of Bristol to its face-to-face sexual consent classes. But there is more to the story than the headlines might suggest.

Optional consent lessons are still being offered, though they are now taught alongside other topics including drug and alcohol awareness, personal safety and community living. Meanwhile, a section on assault and consent has been added to the mandatory e-induction for all students moving into university accommodation. In previous years, attendance for the classes was low, but the new efforts have increased numbers.

Consent lessons are regularly accused of being patronising, demonising and simply unnecessary, but the ultimate value of a well led session – that it has the potential to prevent someone from committing rape – cannot be underestimated. They offer a platform for difficult questions to be asked, away from porn, Reddit or ill-informed, exaggerating friends. They teach that rape and sexual assault don’t only occur in dark alleys, and that perpetrators are more often than not known to their victim. They teach about homosexual as well as heterosexual assault and about victim blaming, revenge porn and sexting. They teach about rights and responsibilities, and where to get help.

In its current form, sex education in Britain is something to be ashamed of, with the Local Government Association describing it as a “ticking sexual health time bomb” and students as young as 11 demanding better. At the same time, one-in-three female students in the UK reportedly experience sexual assault or unwanted advances on campus.

Every year as freshers’ week rolls around there’s a new article in a university newspaper from a young man denying the need for consent classes, but the hideous statistics speak for themselves and prove the need for these discussions. Any efforts to increase awareness around issues of consent should be welcomed.

Lumping consent into a talk with a number of other topics may suggest it’s not deemed worthy of deeper discussion. However the university reports that attendance for the new classes has doubled. Last year the uptake for the consent lessons was 40% of the 6,000 freshers living in student accommodation. This year 80% attended. Surely it is better to engage disinterested students through the lure of the other topics, while making the most of the opportunity to present them with information about consent?

Online, the e-induction has the potential to engage better with nervous freshers. Around the world, online-only services such as the Nigerian information provider My Question and the Arabic educational service Karaz have proved popular among young people, providing a platform for them to ask questions they are otherwise too embarrassed to ask. It’s not hard to believe that offering a more private space for students to learn about consent could be more effective than a Powerpoint presentation with a group discussion. At the very least, the obligatory course serves students the facts and would perhaps promote a discussion or two over the kitchen table.

Ultimately, it is the content of a consent lesson that makes the difference. As the optional classes have doubled in attendance and the online course is now mandatory at Bristol, these efforts to engage students through new formats should be celebrated. They are an attempt at positive change, not a reckless disregard for victims.

Original: Politics.co.uk

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vagina

L’Origine du monde by Gustave Coubert in 1886. Isn’t it great?

When we were in school they used to show us a video of a group of school kids on a tube train. One of the kids would be on a different carriage and encourage the others to join them there. So one by one they would jump over from their carriage to the next, leaping over the gap between them and being pulled through by their friends. Then one of the kids, I think it was a girl, goes to jump but she’s nervous. Her friends yell at her and she is pressured to jump, and then there’s a sort of crackling and crashing and the video changes to one of a watermelon being squashed into thousands of squelchy little pieces as it gets trapped between the tube carriages and smashes to the ground, the tube racing on ahead. That watermelon was meant to be that girl’s head.

Watching that video is what the script of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. feels like.

Revolt. is a piece of fiercly strong feminist theatre that would have much of Twitter exploding with calls of feminazis. Revolt. is about how we talk about sex, gender, and consent. It’s about how we deal with women, and how we deal with being women. It started its life at the RSC in 2014 with a series of other plays that had the provocation: ‘well behaved women rarely make history’.

So I’m going to talk a bit about women, and consent, and being well-behaved.

A few weeks ago I had sex (woah IKR- I swear this gets more interesting). Then – for various reasons that are explained probably too openly in the link below- decided I didn’t want to have sex and asked him to stop. More than once. He did not. I saw, and still see, this as a form of assault because it was non-consensual. I wrote something about it, and it was clear that not everyone agreed with me. I was sent a few messages.

troll1

troll2

Which was fun.

But that’s not the point, I’m not the point of this. The point is- yes, it’s a tricky subject, and yes, what happened to me “could have been worse”. But that doesn’t mean that it’s okay. If that’s okay, where do you decide draw the line? Is it only not okay if the girl is crying? If she’s bleeding? If she’s shouting for help?

What Revolt. does is say this isn’t okay.

Revolt. reveals the language of control between genders that might make us think these things are okay. Because if we have an unbalanced language we use for sex, how can we expect people to know that those words translated into physical actions aren’t okay too? When I said stop, I was no longer a person having sex, I was an object being had sex with. By inverting the language and switching up how we talk about sex on stage, Revolt stands up and says, look, do you see these things aren’t acceptable?

Which I really needed to hear.

So perhaps this production will mean more to me than others, but there are plentiful reasons why I think it is still an inspiring play for a wide audience.

‘I want to make Love to you

Or

With?’

(This article on the patriarchy of sex is great too.)

I hadn’t read Revolt. before seeing it, but interviewed director Erica Whyman for AYT about it when it premiered. (I particularly remember because Lyn Gardner retweeted it and that was very exciting.) In that interview, Whyman said this:

“On the one hand [this provocation is] an interesting thought about women now, and whether we’re still expected to behave differently to men, and whether we have to behave badly in order to get noticed. But the other provocation is that their plays don’t have to be well behaved and can experiment with form.”

Birch’s script does both of these things. It swears and spins and screams and says this which is stunning:

‘Lie down and become available. Constantly. Want to be entered. Constantly. It cannot be an Invasion, if you want it. They Cannot Invade if you Want It. Open your legs and throw your dress over your head, pull your knickers down and want it and they can invade you no longer.’

The script also has a form similar in style -when looking at it on a page- to the work of Sarah Kane. The power of Revolt. undoubtedly lies in it’s script and its revolutionary call to celebrate vaginas in a way that manages to make the audience rock with laughter. It twists the norm and makes you reconsider the way you speak, and what you expect from others.

So then, the production. It has ups and downs. It’s like it chokes you and holds you up against a wall and you can’t breathe and then suddenly drops you, runs away to get a Sainsbury’s meal deal or something, then comes back a while later and picks you back up.

Everyone in Edinburgh is talking about Lucy McCormick’s Triple Threat, the play about sex and gender with lots of on-stage fingering. (I haven’t seen it but everyone who has is *very* keen to discuss). Next to Triple Threat, it feels like little else at the Fringe could be called radical, but the staging of Revolt.– which by it’s very nature, and the provocation it’s responding to, should be radical- doesn’t even get close to claiming the word.

(But it’s on at the Traverse so perhaps that’s not unexpected? Or is that unfair on the Traverse? But that’s a whole different conversation.).

The staging for the first few sections of the script revolve around beams of light, which I think look pretty cool, but apparently this has been done a lot before, better. It puts the focus on the words, the subtleties of action, the swing of a chair or the writhe of a hip. Anyway, I like it.

But the light beams aren’t used very much and afterwards, any sense of coherent style evaporates. The script suggests no props should be used but Whyman’s staging disobeys this, bringing on all the objects the script vaguely refers to- watermelons and bluebells and potatoes rolling around the stage- and it feels a bit GCSE.

In Birch’s script she has headings, great headings like:

REVOLUTIONIZE THE LANGUAGE (INVERT IT).

which they project onto a massive screen in this production. It feels a little too easy. Shouldn’t we have to guess these, aren’t they sort of stage directions rather than words we should see or hear?

Then there’s the ending. It was building well, the cast were saying things that made so much sense. Then they laid the table and suddenly became a grandma, mum and child and what they were saying didn’t seem to mix with what they were doing. The passion had suddenly disappeared and it wasn’t weird enough to be swept up in nor naturalistic enough to believe. I’m still not sure what we were meant to think of that scene. Finally all of the individual sections are thrown together in a conglomeration of cries and rants and a spinny chair. It feels thoughtless, it’s simultaneously not messy enough and too messy, it’s organised fun. Watermelons are smashed all over the place and I don’t understand why, and all I can think about is that video of the girl’s head as the watermelon as it’s smashed between the tube carriages.

I want to leave the theatre feeling invigorated, wild, like I do after the first two scenes (particularly the first), but instead I’m a little confused, a little deflated, a little unsatisfied. I hope I get to see this play again in the future in different hands, and perhaps those final scenes will make sense to me. But I’m very grateful to have seen this play, because I needed something bigger than another person to look at me and say it isn’t your fault, that’s not okay.

Revolt. She said. Revolt again. And again please.

(Seen on 17/08/16 at the Traverse at the Edinburgh Fringe)

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Notes: A) Trigger warning for descriptions involving sexual assault. Please don’t read if you think it might be upsetting for you. B) I know Zero’s cast and production team but would hope that personal knowledge doesn’t affect my judgement.

You’ve always believed that words have superpowers. They can bring out the strongest emotions and form the most elaborate stories. They can create new worlds, make people laugh, help you fall in love and spread empathy and understanding.

But what if your words aren’t listened to? What if you say stop but he doesn’t hear, so you say it again but this time he chooses not to? What if he thinks he knows what you mean and he thinks you mean the opposite?

If that one syllable can be misunderstood, mistaken or ignored – if someone can put their orgasm before your consent – then what’s the point of using any words at all?

The law acknowledges that it takes a few seconds for a man to gather his wits and pull out or away, but this is longer than a few seconds.

You tell him to stop because it’s too loud and you don’t want your family to hear and you tell him again and you mean it and you’re more nervous now and he’s not stopping and you’re not turned on anymore and as your body reacts to your brain it’s not exactly painful but it’s not feeling good and he’s not listening and it’s like when you’re on your phone and someone’s talking to you but you don’t really hear them because you’re too engrossed in the conversation and it’s not an excuse and you can see from his face that it’s going to end soon so you stop saying no and you give up and you look to your wall by your right side where there’s a bunch of photos of you and your friends from school and you’re all smiling and you wait and you’re silent and he doesn’t even notice and he finishes and he’s triumphant and he has no idea.

It’s maybe only a few minutes but for those few minutes you don’t want to be there, and you told him that by saying no. He gets louder when you want silence and now he’s gone and you can’t deal with the silence so you distract yourself by putting on a scary TV show to scare yourself in a different way.

That night you send him a message. He should have stopped when you said stop. You curl up in your sheets and hug the teddy who has been with you since you were two. You get out of bed and drink a lot of water and brush your teeth until the taste of him is gone.

He gets your message in the morning. He hadn’t realised what he’s done and begins to apologise so much you think his fingers will weave an enormous sculpture of the word sorry and his mouth will turn into a stitching patterned in the same shape. You thank him for accepting it and not being defensive. He says he would never do that. But then he says he only continued because he thought you wanted to.

He didn’t think you meant it when you said no.

You keep wanting a shower.

When you ask directly, he admits he wouldn’t have said anything if you hadn’t told him. He doesn’t really realise it’s wrong until you point it out. He says he wants to cry. You tell him it’s okay. You find yourself comforting your – no surely, can you call him that? He’s still your friend, isn’t he? But he did it so surely that makes him-?

You’re fine. You’re not scarred for life. You tell him that. You try to joke. But as you say that you wonder if maybe you are just a little bit. If you’ll be more hesitant about going home with someone from a club, or be more wary of dating, or if you’ll ever be able to trust a boyfriend so completely that you know they’d never do that, that they wouldn’t be with you like that without your consent. That they would stop if you asked them to. You wonder if you should give a contract to every boy you ever consider messing around with, make them sign an oath that they will never do that. Insert a chip into their neck that automatically pulls them back to the opposite wall as soon as you say the word stop.

You would say it’s a conversation we don’t have enough, but we do. Everyone knows it’s wrong. And of course he thinks it’s wrong too, it’s just that he didn’t see that he was doing it. He was ‘lost in the moment’. And you talk to a friend and ask if that counts as rape and the friend says yes and you google it over and over on incognito and the time between you telling him to stop and him stopping was only maybe a few minutes so surely it’s not that bad, you think, but those minutes have been playing on your mind and made you feel like you need to hold yourself together slightly in case you fall apart. You hide how much it affects you so as to save him from more concern. To be fair, you’ve just accused him of something pretty hefty, so he’s got thoughts of his own to deal with. You carry on talking and after he’s apologised a lot more you start to talk and joke as normal. Your approach to most things is sarcasm, and gradually it re-emerges, but it’s hard to forget those few minutes and carry on joking.

You’re constantly being told off for being too PC, for jumping on everyone’s comments in case they could seem the slightest bit derogatory. And you can’t tell if you’re overreacting, because you both wanted to have sex and up until that moment it was completely consensual, and it wasn’t as if he hurt you or treated you abusively. He just put his own desire over everything for a few minutes. Is a few minutes really that bad? And you need to write it down in order to make sense of it. Because you kissed him after and you meant that kiss and you like him and he’s not the type of person to do that at all, and you’d never expect him to hurt you or anyone else, and neither would he, and he’s horrified that he did it, once you told him. He’s probably more scarred from the realisation than you are. And he’d never do it again. But he still did it.

You don’t want to tell your best friend or your mum because you were one who went searching and you’re worried they’ll say you kind of brought it on yourself, by putting yourself in that position. But you also realise how dangerous that view is. That is only a step away from saying a girl shouldn’t drink because if she gets raped it’s kind of her own fault for not being aware or sensible enough.

And you carry on talking and joking but you still feel uncomfortable and you tell him you don’t want to have sex with him again and he understands and apologises again. Then you tell him you want space because his continuing to message you with kindness and smiley faces feels uneasy. Because however nice he’s been to you for the rest of the time you’ve known him, you don’t want to be reminded of those few minutes. But he doesn’t seem to understand that’s the reason and sends another smiley face, expecting to hear from you soon.

You’ve just been through a sad break up and you told yourself when getting involved this time – nothing serious, it was just fun and not stressful – that you wouldn’t let yourself get hurt. You thought that meant not getting too many feelings. You thought that meant restricting yourself in some way.

Maybe it’s not that big a deal. Maybe you’re overreacting. Maybe you should just forget about it and not let it affect you. Or maybe you can do without guys for a while, until you’re ready to trust someone else with your body and then maybe your heart, because you really don’t fancy either of them getting hurt again anytime soon.

He sends you another message. ‘Are you just not wanting to have someone at all?’ Yeah. Yeah that’s what you want, for a while at least.

Writing it down helps. Words may not have had much impact in that moment, those minutes, but maybe in the aftermath they really do have healing superpowers.

***

The above is the mindset in which I walk into Zero, a one woman play about broken hearts, broken confidence and broken trust. Those, and sexual assault.

We sit on the curb with Beth as she escapes her 21st birthday party for a moment. Grace Vance plays the gobby birthday girl with a mixture of poise, defiance and shattering vulnerability. She leads us through her story, chatting absent-mindedly and thinking back over the past few years of her life, jumping into the characters she introduces, switching accent with ease and skill.

Beth’s story shows the delicacy of relationships and how easy it is for them to be manipulative. It considers how sex and consent must be treated with such tenderness because when they fall out of balance it’s like everything turns to eggshells. Above all, her story shows how difficult it is to simply forget and move on.

Debut writer Rachel Ruth Kelly has an incredible awareness of youthful language which gives Beth’s monologue an ease to it. There is nothing strained about Vance treading over Beth’s story for an hour, getting worked up and calming herself back down. As Beth’s secret is slowly revealed, Kelly uses witty, dry humour to prevent this from being a self-pitying wallow in her misfortune. She picks up on traits of female language that I see my friends using all the time, habits and mannerisms that slowly wear down self-belief.

The thing is, in these types of situations- and I’m not comparing myself to Beth, she’s had it far, far, worse- it’s a feeling of worthlessness. When the feeling of wanting to be cleansed is gone, it’s the worthlessness that prevails, that jumps into your mind as the person you’re talking to looks over your shoulder for someone more interesting, or as you dig your nail into your skin every time you see a couple holding hands. If you’re dumped or ignored or are lying right there with someone you like and they don’t even hear you, or choose not to listen, or in Beth’s case far worse, it makes you feel like you may as well not be there. It brings your confidence levels down to zero and in Beth’s case, where she doesn’t have anyone close enough to help her build them back up, there isn’t a lot of hope for what happens when she gets up and walks back inside the club.

Zero (made by an all female production team) gives a voice to a young woman rendered silent by the media, by bullies at school and by a man who took advantage of her youth, devotion and desire to be loved.

(Zero is at Underbelly, Cowgate at the Edinburgh Fringe)

***

He sends you another message. ‘Are you just not wanting to have someone at all?’

At first you think: Yeah. Yeah that’s what you want, for a while at least.

But on second thoughts: I have plenty of someones in my life already.

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