Oct 11, 2018

In the No Part 1

In 2017, radio-maker Kaitlin Prest released a mini-series called "No" about her personal struggle to understand and communicate about sexual consent. That show, which dives into the experience, moment by moment, of navigating sexual intimacy, struck a chord with many of us. It's gorgeous, deeply personal, and incredibly thoughtful. And it seemed to presage a much larger conversation that is happening all around us in this moment. And so we decided to embark, with Kaitlin, on our own exploration of this topic. Over the next three episodes, we'll wander into rooms full of college students, hear from academics and activists, and sit in on classes about BDSM. But to start things off, we are going to share with you the story that started it all. Today, meet Kaitlin (if you haven't already). 

In The No Part 1 is a collaboration with Kaitlin Prest. It was produced with help from Becca Bressler and Shima Oliaee.

The "No" series, from The Heart was created by writer/director Kaitlin Prest, editors Sharon Mashihi and Mitra Kaboli, assistant producer Ariel Hahn and associate producer Phoebe Wang, associate sound designer Shani Aviram. Special thanks to actor Tommy Schell.

Check out Kaitlin's new show, The Shadows.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate

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JAD ABUMRAD: Let's just start the beginning. How did this series -- I know it's ancient history for you already, but how did it come about? What was the sort of spark for it?


KAITLIN PREST: I remember seeing the word "No" just written down on the page, and immediately being like, "Oh my God, I have so much to say about that word."


JAD: Jad here. This is Radiolab. Today we're gonna be airing work from radio maker Kaitlin Prest.


KAITLIN: Wow, how exciting.


JAD: I know, it is exciting.


KAITLIN: Oh, my God!


JAD: Because what we're going to play for you today sent all of us here on quite a journey. Kaitlin is a fellow traveler. She just released a show through the CBC called The Shadows. Apparently it involves puppets. You should definitely check it out. But before that, she was the host and creator of a podcast called The Heart, and here's what happened. About a year ago, about four or five different people on my staff seemingly all at once were like, "You've got to hear this series from The Heart." It was made pre-#MeToo, but now that we're in #MeToo, you stop what you're doing, listen to this series. It's a four-part thing, and it's called No.


KAITLIN: I personally I've always had a complicated relationship with saying no in any context, but especially within a sexual context. And one of the people in our crew wanted to make -- she just said, "I want to make something about, like, "No." Like, just "No."


JAD: Now, when I finally listened to the series, I was like, "Damn, I have never heard anything like this. Like really and truly." And so what we're gonna do is kind of construct for you the journey that we went on. It sort of starts with Kaitlin's work. And so today, we're gonna play you excerpts from her series that she produced for The Heart. And then over the next few weeks, we're gonna dive deeper into some of the issues that she raises in her series. Because like I said, when I heard it and when we started talking about it internally, it sent us on a whole thing. And we ended up having a series of conversations that went all over the place. And we'll play you some of that in the next two episodes. But right now, we want to play you excerpts from Kaitlin's series. And just as a warning, there are scenes in what you're about to hear that are sexually explicit. Very much so at times. And strong language. Probably not the kind of thing that you want to listen to with kids anywhere nearby. Anyhow, we're going to start with an excerpt from the second episode of Kaitlin's series No for The Heart. This episode she titled Inheritance.


FEMALE SPEAKER: I fucked him like a champ.


MALE SPEAKER: Seriously?


FEMALE SPEAKER: The bed was in the middle of the room, and I had a urinary tract infection for, like, two weeks after.


MALE SPEAKER: Shit, dude. That's intense.


KAITLIN: Hello, and welcome to this month's edition of Audio Smut.


KAITLIN: I'm in my 20s. I left my tiny little town for the big city. I live in NYC now. I make an artsy, feminist sex radio show. Third wave, sex-positive feminism tells me that I was onto something back in my teens. Adopting the same ruthless sexual posturing that boys are encouraged to, would allow me to wield some of their power. If we fucked without feelings, we too could be free. Having slut pride would subvert the double standard, and it would force the world to recognize that women's sexual pleasure is real. The only problem is that I hate casual sex. To make up for it, I masturbate with abandon and tell the world about it. I've become an expert at advocating for my own pleasure. I know what I want and I feel entitled to it.


KAITLIN: I really want you to sleep over, but just FYI I'm not secretly inviting you over to fuck. Is that cool?


MALE SPEAKER: Yeah, totally.


KAITLIN: Are you sure?


MALE SPEAKER: Yeah, that's cool.


KAITLIN: After all these years, I've mastered the art of saying no.


MALE SPEAKER: Want a lift?


KAITLIN: That's okay.


FEMALE SPEAKER: Are you free to do this job that totally doesn't appeal to you?


KAITLIN: I don't think it's the right one for me.


MALE SPEAKER: Hey baby, can I get a smile?


KAITLIN: Fuck off!


FEMALE SPEAKER: Stretch yourself out from downward dog into play.




FEMALE SPEAKER: Hey, are you able to come out on Friday to my barbeque?




KAITLIN: I know now that what I'm looking for is love, even though I know it's corny.




KAITLIN: I'm on a big brown couch wrapped up in the arms of my friend Jay.


JAY: You want another beer?




KAITLIN: His arms are really dude-ly. I'm trying my best not to like this more than our friendship would deem appropriate.


JAY: I'm gonna have one.




JAY: You want one?




JAY: You want another beer?




JAY: [laughs]




JAY: Yeah!


KAITLIN: [laughs] I do.


JAY: Okay.


KAITLIN: Cool. Go get it.


KAITLIN: But of course, I can't stop myself from wondering if this friendship is "the" friendship, the right-under-your-nose-that-whole-time kind of friendship.


KAITLIN: Do you want a cigarette?


JAY: Yeah.


KAITLIN: You do? Hi.


JAY: Hello. It's me.


KAITLIN: I've been friends with Jay for eight years. It's, like, my oldest friendship.


JAY: Hey, are you okay? How'd the date go?


KAITLIN: Jay and I have always kept it in our pants, and that's given way to this perfect, friendly intimacy. We call each other 'babe' and 'boo.' We bitch about our relationship dramas. We have extensive G-chat conversations into the night and always sign off with the word 'love' spelled in full.


JAY: What do I do if I hate my current relationship?




JAY: And that's good night. Night. I love you.


KAITLIN: I don't know.


JAY: But that being the case, there are -- I think there are, like, great, great hook-ups that are just hook-ups, you know? Like a great one-night stand.


KAITLIN: I don't think we agree on this and that's fine.


JAY: Yeah.


KAITLIN: Let's just talk about something else.


JAY: All right.




KAITLIN: I've always thought he was hot. It looks a little bit like my cousin Robert I had a forbidden crush on when I was a kid.


JAY: Hey, do you still have that boyfriend?


KAITLIN: Nah. Broke up with that guy


KAITLIN: It's the Fourth of July. It's late. 11:30.


JAY: Hey, I got super sunburned today at the beach.


KAITLIN: I got a text from him asking him if I want to come over for a snuggle party.




JAY: Hey!


KAITLIN: Hello. Hi.


JAY: Hey.


KAITLIN: What's up?


JAY: Come in.




JAY: What's happening?


KAITLIN: We put on some music and sit on the bed.


KAITLIN: So this woman, she's so cool. And she -- we kind of have this thing in common where we're both really feminine people, and we were talking about how, like, she's not really used to making the move, but that she sort of creates the conditions in which a move can be made.


JAY: No, that's bullshit.




JAY: Because that puts, like, some weird power into that, like, submissive role that I just don't think is really there.


KAITLIN: Are you serious? That's dumb.


JAY: No.


KAITLIN: Oh really? You're gonna --- mmm.




KAITLIN: He's kissing me.


KAITLIN TO HERSELF: Are we gonna fall in love?




JAY: I'm -- I feel like I'm kind of nervous.


KAITLIN: Really?


JAY: Yeah.


KAITLIN: That's cute.


KAITLIN: I'm starting to undo my pants. It's too quick.


KAITLIN: Is it okay if we just make out?


JAY: Yeah.


KAITLIN: He says yeah, but he keeps going. He's not reading me.


KAITLIN: Hey, Jay? Is it okay if we -- I don't wanna do sex things.


JAY: Yeah, fine. Whatever.


KAITLIN: Sorry, I just have to pause the scene for a second and give you some information. So what you're hearing right now, if you hadn't already noticed, is a re-enactment.




TOMMY: Here we go.


KAITLIN: Yeah, do it.




KAITLIN: This is an actor.




KAITLIN: His name is Tommy.


KAITLIN: And then I'll be like, "Hey, like can you -- can, like, slow down a little bit?


TOMMY: So it's just like -- like, just ignoring it, basically.


KAITLIN: Yeah, yeah.


TOMMY: Like, not even hearing it.




TOMMY: Okay.


KAITLIN: He was pretty, like ...


TOMMY: Aggressive.




KAITLIN: In the making of this story, I called the real Jay to verify what happened that night. I also asked him if he wanted to write and re-enact the whole story with me. But he didn't.


TOMMY: Are you guys still friends?


KAITLIN: Well, we started being friends again since I called him and asked him if he would do an interview about, like, the weirdest night of our friendship.


KAITLIN: You're going to hear more from the real Jay later. But what I need you to know right now in this moment, is that what you're hearing isn't the real thing. I built this scene so that it sounds as close to the way that I remember it as possible.


KAITLIN: And then we'll kiss again, and it'll get kind of intense again. And then I'll say it again. And then you get kind of pissed at that moment. You say ...


TOMMY: [sighs] Fine. Fine. I think I'm just gonna go to bed. I'm tired.


KAITLIN: I stare at the overhead light. I look at the clock. Almost 1 am. The air is tense. I feel like it's my fault. But I know better than that. I should just go. But I don't. I'm frozen. I can't move.


KAITLIN: Can you come back?




KAITLIN: He's back at the zipper of my jeans. He puts my hand on his dick.


KAITLIN: Wait. If you -- how about, like, 'kay. This is -- what if you just, like, go to the bathroom and -- and just, like, yank one out and come back?


JAY: What? What?


KAITLIN: 'Cause then we can just make out and it'll be fine, right? Just do it.


JAY: Come on. Just touch it. Come on. Come on. Just feel it.




JAY: What?


KAITLIN: On the outside, I act like everything's fine. And on the inside I give up, in the way that feels so familiar to me. I make myself come in front of him so he can make himself come, and we can go back to having a nice night. I feel defeated. At the same time, I'm getting off. I'm really good at masturbating, so it's not hard for it to feel good. For a few moments, I forget that I feel like shit. I'm sad when I leave. I don't get angry until days afterwards.


KAITLIN: July 5th, 2013. I had the most vile experience with Jay last night.


KAITLIN: And then I'm so angry I can barely write about it in my diary.


KAITLIN: Ugh. Too angry!


KAITLIN: It's just a big scribble. I'm angry at so many things. I performed for him.


KAITLIN: I performed to placate him.


KAITLIN: I wanted him to be happy more than I wanted myself to be happy. I forgot about myself.


KAITLIN: He forgot about me. He was supposed to be my friend. My defenses were down. What the fuck? I thought this was a dumb high school dude thing, a college dude thing. I thought I was past this shit. I thought I'd practiced avoiding this shit. I'm fucking 27.


KAITLIN: It's true. He didn't force me to do anything, but I nonetheless felt like I had no choice. Why? Is that on me? Or is that on him? I begin to wonder if having sex I don't want is something I've absorbed from generations past. If it's something I've inherited from my foremothers.


KAITLIN'S MOM: How do you say no, that's rude? Or that's not polite, or ...


KAITLIN: This is my mom.


KAITLIN'S MOM: Why are you saying no? You're hurting the guy's feelings.


KAITLIN: Her friend.


KAITLIN'S MOM'S FRIEND: With someone who you're interested in, if you say no, are they gonna just give up and walk away? And then you're going, "Okay, is -- should I just go along with it so I don't lose that. He could have been a great guy. But if he's that pushy, is he that great of a guy, right? You balance that out, but I think that is where the challenge lies, is with what if he then just walks away?


KAITLIN: Oh, so true!


KAITLIN: Another friend of ours.


FRIEND: I mean, it's subtle because, you know, on the one hand you're having attention. I mean, I was brought up as a female to -- to want male attention, you know? That -- that was a status symbol actually. You know, if you were a attractive enough woman that you could get attention from men, that was considered an important thing. That was how you were maybe going to end up finding a husband and having children and doing that really conventional stuff. So those ideas, they don't just, like, come up all of a sudden, you know? You're -- you're surrounded by that your whole upbringing.


KAITLIN: And like, when was the first time that you had an experience where you felt like you were allowed to change gears?


FRIEND: I was in my late 40s, and he stopped and asked, "Are you sure this is what you want?" I had never ever, ever been asked that before, and I was, like, shocked. I didn't -- like, you know, speechless in responding to him, because I never had been asked that before.


KAITLIN: By this point in my life, I felt strongly that I was different from my foremothers. That my generation would be different. But I talk to people my age and I hear the same attitudes, same feelings.


WOMAN #1: He kept telling me that the reasons I was saying no were stupid.


WOMAN #2: And I was drunk and crying. A drunk, crying girl generally wants to be consoled to some extent but not with sex.


WOMAN #3: I told him he couldn't fuck me and then his dick was in me, you know? And then I was like, "Oh my God, we're having sex. I thought we talked about this." And even then, the whole night was nice. That part was -- just sucked. How do I give him what he wants in a way that's not terrible for me, but I can, like, deal with? It's like your gut instinct will tell you, like, "No, I don't want this." And say no in a cute way and then say no in a force way and then push. And then there was a point where you just, like -- it's like I literally just gave up. Let's just let him have this now, because I fought enough. And like, I do not want to make a scene. I don't want to wake up anyone and like, you know, it's like, "Oh, my roommate's sleeping and she's gonna -- again being like a slut on the couch." And, like, it was like these mental gymnastics that you do to not tell yourself that you're not putting your needs first, but that, like, all these people matter so much.


KAITLIN: I talked to my 20-year-old cousin. She's almost a decade younger than me.


KAITLIN'S COUSIN: Like my first boyfriend, I just wanted to please because I didn't know what I was doing. So I was just going for it and trying stuff and, like, not asking questions. And at the beginning it's, "Oh, I want that person to like me. I want this to be fun for that person." And not thinking about yourself and just being like, "Okay, I'm trying stuff."


KAITLIN: It makes me think of something that my best friend Lara said.


KAITLIN: I was talking about being a people pleaser, and like how -- and you said that that's how -- that's how women ...


LARA: That's how we survive. Yeah. I think women survive by, yeah, being aware and reading social cues. And we know when someone's gonna be angry, we know when someone might lash out. We know when someone's afraid, we know when somebody's sad. We know when somebody's happy, and -- and we know when -- when we're safe, and we know when we're not safe. And sometimes, you know, there's the element of using sex as a social currency to stay safe, and using sex as a social currency to belong in the group, even if the group is just you and one other person.


KAITLIN: I start to wonder if this is how anyone who's historically been on the shitty side of a power dynamic learns how to move through the world. How important it can be to be liked by someone who has your fate in their hands. Sometime after the Jay night, I discovered something that brought me answers.


RAOUL: Yeah.


KAITLIN: It sounds so different, doesn't it? It sounds so cool.


RAOUL: Is this what I'm gonna sound like?


KAITLIN: Isn't that the best?


KAITLIN: It was a recording. Not a re-enactment, an actual recording. I'd made this recording two years before the Jay night when I was 25. In this recording, I'm sitting in a windowless bedroom with a guy named Raoul. I'm doing an interview about intuition for the show.


KAITLIN: So intuition, what is it?


RAOUL: Well, a lot of times for me, intuition just means getting your mind out of the way and being observant.


KAITLIN: This guy Raoul and I dated for a while. I smiled at him in a coffee shop and he'd ran down the street after me asking if he could take me out sometime. I was charmed by him. But after a few weeks, he totally ghosted me. At the time of this recording it's been months since we'd last spoken. And I did that dumb thing where I needed an interview for the show and I was like, "Oh my God, Raoul! He would be perfect!" So here we are. When the interview ends, I leave the tape rolling because it's just good radio practice. Often, the most intimate parts of the interview happen after it's officially over. So we're just sitting on his bed. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I don't want to have sex with him or anything along those lines, but we're flirting a little bit and I'm enjoying it.


RAOUL: Why don't you lay down?


KAITLIN: Hmm. Hmm. I don't know if I feel like it.


RAOUL: Oh, I just want to caress you. Like a massage.




RAOUL: Yeah.


KAITLIN: I'm down. I'm down for that. I like massages. But ...


RAOUL: But I want you to start on your -- lying on your back.


KAITLIN: On my back? Oh, you can't turn off the lights!


RAOUL: No, no, no, I'm not going to! I'm turning this one off.


KAITLIN: You can't try to seduce me.


RAOUL: I won't. But I want you to lie on your back.


KAITLIN: Okay. And you can't touch me in sexy places.


RAOUL: I won't.


KAITLIN: Do you promise?


RAOUL: Yeah.




RAOUL: Can you move this up?


KAITLIN: This. All the way off?


RAOUL: Yeah. So breasts are off?


KAITLIN: Breasts are off. Definitely.


RAOUL: What about under breast?


KAITLIN: Under breast is okay, but you have to be very, like, you know, aware. Use your intuition.


RAOUL: I will.


KAITLIN: But even if it seems like I want you to, you have to be nice and good, okay?


RAOUL: Okay.


KAITLIN: A massage to me is as intimate as a handshake, but I know that's not the case for everyone. So I start to try to vocalize my boundaries, and make sure that what's going on is cool for everyone here.


KAITLIN: Can you -- do feel like you can do -- like, you can touch a woman without, like, having -- like, feeling like you need to fuck her?


RAOUL: Hmm. I don't know. Maybe.


KAITLIN: I don't know. I mean like, so for example -- for example right now, the way that you're touching me makes me feel like later I'm gonna have to tell you that I don't wanna have sex with you. Do you know what I mean?


RAOUL: Mm-hmm.


KAITLIN: And I just wonder, like, if it's possible for -- like, is it possible for men to feel like -- to it -- to genuinely enjoy, like ...


RAOUL: I don't do anything I don't enjoy.


KAITLIN: Right. Right. Yeah. Okay. But don't -- but do you get off on, like, trying to change someone's mind?


RAOUL: Mm-hmm.




RAOUL: I get off on good stuff.


KAITLIN: This is the sound of me and Raoul having sex. When I listen to this recording I hear myself say no again, presumably when he tries to escalate to full-on penetration.




RAOUL: Mm-hmm.




RAOUL: Do you feel okay about that?


KAITLIN: I feel a little bit, like, weird, actually?


RAOUL: Oh, yeah?


KAITLIN: Yeah. I mean, I feel good, but mostly just because I said I didn't want to.


RAOUL: Yeah, but aren't we just retarded when it comes to what we want? How do we know what we want? What part of you knows what you want? Is it your thinking analytical mind that knows what you want? No. How could it be? I mean, it doesn't make any sense. This isn't logical. We can only try guessing what we want.


KAITLIN: After the post-coital cigarette, I didn't stay over, which is really unlike me. I walked home through a gray Bushwick warehouse land angry at Raoul for ignoring everything I said, at myself for totally folding when he pushed my line, and at my body for betraying me, for enjoying the sex. I cut together the interview part of the recording we did, produced the Intuition show and left this recording silent in the archives for years. Until one shitty night just like it happened to me on the fourth of July with an old friend Jay.


KAITLIN: In the months after the Jay night, I dug up this recording and I listened closely to myself. I listened to the way that I actually sound in a night like this, where my boundaries are crossed.


KAITLIN: And you can't touch me in sexy places.


KAITLIN: When my best friend Lara listened to this, she said it definitely sounded like I wanted to fuck this guy. And if you take away the words and just listen to the sounds, this is probably exactly the way that I sounded when I was with Jay. Saying no in this sweet, seductive tone, and trying so hard to be nice and not hurt anybody's feelings that my "no" basically sounds like "fuck me." But on the other hand, I wonder how many people sound just like this when they're getting hot and heavy with someone, and they're trying to draw a line, express what they want in a way that doesn't break the flirtatious vibe, that doesn't negate the possibility of doing other things. I wonder how many people sound just like this when they're scared.


KAITLIN: I think this is why the definition of consent has evolved to mean more than "no means no," or even, "yes means yes." Consent is about knowing that someone is excited about what's going on. It's about knowing that both people are on the same page. And it's knowing that knowing that is really complicated. Not just because communication is hard and sex-ed is awful, but also because there are invisible social and historical contexts at play in these intimate moments; contexts that impact how entitled we feel to our own comfort, how likely we are to put someone else's needs first. These contexts could be historical like race or class or gender, or they could be super-situational, like when one person is a little bit in love with you and you aren't in love with them and you can totally sense that they'll do whatever you want. When things are uneven in this way, it's important to take extra care to create an emotional environment that allows for a no. I didn't feel like I had that space in either of these encounters. But on the other hand, I should have been stronger in advocating for myself.


KAITLIN: I'm bummed, because I thought I was over this shit. But it seems like I'm going to be struggling with this for my entire life. And after all this contemplating, the anger that I have at myself slowly dissipates. And I start getting angry at Jay. I wasn't that angry at Raoul because we weren't that close, but Jay and I were close. I expected so much more from him. I expected him to care more about the way I felt, in the same way that I had cared about the way he felt. I knew that the strong thing to do would be to talk all of this out with him. Two days after the night. He G-chatted me.


JAY: Hey, how was working yesterday? I ended up sleeping all day.


KAITLIN: And then two days later.


JAY: Hey, how was the rest of your weekend?


KAITLIN: A month later, on my birthday.


JAY: Happy birthday.


KAITLIN: Thanks, darling.


JAY: How are you, babe?


KAITLIN: Two weeks after that.


JAY: Hiya.


KAITLIN: Five days later.


JAY: Hi?


KAITLIN: Same day.


JAY: Hi.


KAITLIN: Jay, what's up?


JAY: Thank God you answered, I was getting worried you were actively ignoring me. How are you?


KAITLIN: I stay home every time our friends get together, and I know he'll be there. I try to tell our friends what happened, but when I say it out loud, it does sound like almost nothing. On the surface, we had what Jay would later call a drunken night of masturbation failure. No big deal. The problem is that we don't have a vocabulary around emotion that would let me describe with any sense of legitimacy the totally invisible things that happened between us that night.




JAD: When we come back from break, we're going to hear from the other side of the aisle. From the guy's point of view. Including Jay. This is Radiolab. We will continue in a moment.


RYAN: I'm Ryan and I'm calling from Lake Tahoe, California. Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org.


JAD: I'm Jad Abumrad, this is Radiolab. In The No part 1 in collaboration with Kaitlin Prest. So we're starting things off with excerpts from a series of stories that Kaitlin produced for a show she hosted and created called The Heart. The series was called No. We just heard a chunk from episode 2 of her series, which she calls Inheritance. In the third, she explores things from the men's point of view.


KAITLIN: Yeah, like there was -- somewhere along the way where I was like, I knew that I wanted to interview men. And I just interviewed the people who I had access to, which are my best friends, my exes, and I was like, "Oh, I'll interview men. I'll interview people who have -- have perpetrate -- like, who have pushed on the other side." And so I just -- yeah, I realized that almost all the -- all of my close friends had a story in the same way that all my close women friends had a story about pushing and knowing that they'd pushed too far.


JAD: And that's actually what you hear in episode 3 of the series, called Answers. We're going to play you some excerpts of that now, starting a few minutes into it.


KAITLIN: Just as I, unknowingly and to the disappointment of my parents, absorb certain ideas about how I was supposed to be a girl in this world, boys to the disappointment of their parents absorbed ideas, too.


BOY: Steal the beer, meet the girls, get them drunk, try to get some. That was the plan.


KAITLIN: A 13-year-old boy and his friends create an elaborate plan to get the girls to do sex stuff.


BOY: Combination of, like, like, beer and making the move. Like, that was, like, the magic answer.


KAITLIN: They learned from older boys and men's magazines that getting girls drunk is crucial to the goal of getting girls to do sex stuff.


BOY: I remember she even, like, kind of leans into me and I put my arm around her, and ...


KAITLIN: In the construction site after three beers, he slides his hand underneath the lip of Janice's pants. She sits up straight ...


BOY: That was weird, but, you know, that's, like, so I'll try a little more ...


KAITLIN: She takes his hand away.


BOY: Just give it a minute and then ...


KAITLIN: He puts it back.


BOY: I'm gonna try it again. 'Cause that's what you're supposed to do, right?


KAITLIN: She takes it away. He puts it back.


BOY: This whole, like, you know, no-means-yes thing that is, like, embedded in ...


KAITLIN: A 15-year-old boy leans back in his chair, letting his knees rest on the back of the chair in front of him. Leaning up against whatever girl's butt is in the seat.


BOY: If I was sitting behind a girl who I was attracted to, then I would spend a lot of time leaning back in this not that unnatural but not that natural either, position. And that -- uh, I'm cringing.


KAITLIN: A 26-year-old boy invites his good friend over to his house late at night, and playfully ignores her when she says she doesn't want to do anything below the belt. When she asks him to jerk off in the bathroom, he laughs and they resolve to jerk off beside each other instead. After that night, I don't talk to or see Jay for years. In that time I search for answers elsewhere. I become obsessed with the topic of consent.


KAITLIN: Okay. So the idea about the episode is that I want to hear about a time where, like, someone said no and you pushed it.


KAITLIN: It became clear you both wanted different ...


KAITLIN: Was consent inherent to you, like, when you were young? Or did you have to, like, unlearn things that you ...


KAITLIN: Almost every woman and queer I know has a story about being pressured or coerced into sex by a dude.


WOMAN: ... if you're going to be involved sexually with men ...


KAITLIN: And that made me wonder, does that mean that every man I know has a story about pressuring or coercing someone into sex? I start out by talking to the men in my life that I trust the most.


KAITLIN'S FATHER: Shall the guilty remain nameless or what?


KAITLIN: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Well, it's hard because you're my dad. Do you know what I mean?


KAITLIN'S FATHER: It's fine. Whatever.


KAITLIN: Okay, so tell me the story.


KAITLIN'S FATHER: Long story was I had a real crush on this girl. She got pretty drunk. So I went down and snuggled up. And I was rubbing her sides and then we kissed a little bit, but that was the extent of it. You know, nothing too, too serious by today's standards, but by then that was a big deal.




KAITLIN'S FATHER: At that time.


KAITLIN: What was the big deal?


KAITLIN'S FATHER: Feeling her up, you know? Yeah. And enjoying that, plus she was wearing a furry sweater, which was really nice, you know? Anyway, I still remember it. Anyway, but it was not -- it was not mutual, so ...


KAITLIN: When did you know that she was upset about it?


KAITLIN'S FATHER: Oh, the day after. We heard through the grapevine. We didn't have texting or Facebook then, but you heard pretty quick through the grapevine, yeah, that it -- she was very unhappy about what had happened, and felt abused or taken advantage of. And our relationship was never the same after that. I went and apologized, but that was -- there was no coming back from that. And so I felt regretful and paid for it, because we were no longer friends after that.


KAITLIN: This is a best friend of mine.


KAITLIN'S FRIEND: As soon as I knew that sex wasn't an option, I became a bit of a dick. I got kind of cold and, like, not really communicative or -- yeah, I just became, like, a stereotypical dick. And I became, like, grumpy. And had this really like "fuck this" attitude. Like, "Oh, if I'm not getting what I'm -- what I came here for, then, like, nah." I guess I'm lucky that I got this, like, really intense, detailed email from her, you know, breaking down what I did, why it was bad, how much it hurt her, how it affected her for, like, days after. And -- and I'm not gonna lie, I also had that reaction which you've described. This, like, initial reaction of, like, "Ugh. You're, like, over-exaggerating."


KAITLIN: This is my first love.


KAITLIN: Well, I remember you told me this story of the -- this one night that you had with this woman. Can you tell me that story?


KAITLIN'S FIRST LOVE: I can tell you that story. So, um, we were dancing. We were drinking. She ended up getting really drunk. And her friends were, like, definitely putting down the collective foot, saying that no, I shouldn't sleep with her tonight. That she was too drunk. And she -- she's like, "I want you to come over." Went over to her place and was in bed with her and we were making out and it was getting heavy. She could feel that I was, like, moving in. She kind of like -- it was like, "No, no." Like, just kind of like a whisper. Like, kind of keeping it sexy, but, like, saying, like, "No," you know?


KAITLIN'S FIRST LOVE: I felt kind of confused because that night, like, you know, we were out and she invited me over to her house. And for me, that's, like, a message that she wants to hook up, that, like, she wants something to happen. Otherwise, like, why invite the person you've been making out with all night over to your place at, like, 4:00 in the morning, unless, like, you're looking to, like, fool around a bit more. And so, like, I remember, like, kinda getting off of her, just lying there for a bit feeling kind of disappointed, then, like, started making out again, fooling around again. It was kind of like the same process. It happened and, like, after doing that for, I don't know, maybe 20 minutes, like, I, like, got back on top and was kind of making the same moves and she didn't say no. There wasn't that point of interjection where she like said no before. And, like, so I just went for it, because I was, like, stupid and young. And I feel like it's wrong now, you know? Like, I feel like she had said no before, and, like, I should have just been really vocal about, like, communicating boundaries, and, like, seeing what she wanted for the night, you know?


KAITLIN: Like, do you think that there was a moment where you stopped thinking about what she wanted and was focusing mostly on what you wanted?


KAITLIN'S FIRST LOVE: Yeah. I mean, I feel like probably the entire encounter, I was thinking what I wanted as opposed to what she wanted. I mean, I thought that what she wanted was the same thing as what I wanted. And you know, when it wasn't that way, I felt like I was trying to make it that way.


JAD: In this episode, Kaitlin goes on to speak to a whole collection of other guys who all describe different flavors of the same experience. Of gently pushing -- sometimes not so gently -- past that first "No." We're going to skip over some of that and jump forward a few minutes, because eventually Kaitlin does end up convincing Jay to speak with her on tape.


JAY: Do you want to start?




JAY: Yeah.


KAITLIN: Yeah. I mean, well, what were you thinking?


JAY: That you should start.


KAITLIN: Yeah, that's what I was thinking, too. But when you gave me the option, I was like, was there an alternative? I mean, I would love an alternative. Should we ...


JAY: Not starting would be the alternative.


KAITLIN: I know!


KAITLIN: This is Jay. The real one. No re-enactments, no actors. It's been three years since we had that shitty hook-up that inspired this entire series. I knew that after interviewing all of these men, that he was the one I really needed to talk to. I procrastinated calling him for months. He definitely knows that I was upset, but I don't think he knows exactly why. And in this interview, I have to tell him why. I'm afraid. I'm afraid of the same thing I was afraid of that night. I'm afraid of silencing myself to avoid an uncomfortable moment. I'm afraid that he's going to convince me that my feelings are illegitimate. And I'm afraid that he'll be a jerk. Over the years, Jay has become kind of a monster in my head. A stereotype. He's morphed into a combination of every man I've ever felt sexually coerced by. He's become the poster boy of fake feminist men who think they're feminist because they took some courses in college and really love women. My friend Jay is gone. I don't even know who that person is anymore. But a part of my heart opens when he says yes to doing this interview. I can tell that he doesn't really want to do it. I can tell that he's doing it because he wants to help me out. He could sense how much I really wanted him to say yes.


JAY: Yes, so what if -- I don't know, why don't you ...


KAITLIN: I mean, should we do the hard part first or the easy part first?


JAY: Is there a hard part?


KAITLIN: Well, I mean, I feel quite nervous about talking about, like, me and you and stuff, you know? I know. Why do you have to make that face? Is that face because you feel like it's stupid, or is that face like ...


JAY: No, it's not stupid. It's -- of course it's valid. It's, like, it's legit. But I just -- I don't know, doesn't it feel like such a small thing.


KAITLIN: But see, I think that that's the thing is that it feels so much bigger to me than it does to you, I think.


JAY: I know. I really knew you were going to say that. [laughs] I just saw it coming.


KAITLIN: It's okay!


JAY: No. Is it? I mean, it's gotta be. Whatever. I also just don't feel like me just rehashing every -- it's just so much work. Can't we just -- can't we just move on? Like, really -- is it really that big a deal? Like, honestly?


KAITLIN: I mean, the thing is it's not that ...


JAY: 'Cause it can't be. In your daily life, like, can this really follow you around?


KAITLIN: I mean, there's, like, the honest answer to that question, and then there's the answer to that question which is, like, me really wanting to not make you feel bad. Do you know what I mean?


JAY: To my thinking, it's just like in all of our friendship, knowing what you know about me, don't I get a pass for one infraction of this line? I just -- like, stupid -- I just was a drunken fool. Like -- like, pushed over. All sort -- and just made such a big mistake. And I get that it was a big mistake, but it was a mistake, and it was like one -- and like, you know, would it be so bad? I'm not asking you to get over it. But just, like, in the abstract, if you think about other -- like, another friendship, not ours. Would it be so bad to just get over that one thing, you know? Like, does it really warrant becoming baggage for so many years?




JAY: I don't know. That could also just be me, since I'm the one who fucked up. But I also think you fucking over-reacted so, you know? I don't know.


KAITLIN: I mean ...


JAY: And you also, like, haven't talked to me for years until now you need something, right?


KAITLIN: My giggling tells me that I'm nervous. But I know that in this moment I'm also relieved that we're getting right into it. Looking him in the eye through the computer, seeing into his bedroom, watching him angle the camera so that the light's flattering. The dude bro monster melts away, and I'm just chilling with my friend Jay, about to have a pretty intimate conversation. It's kind of nice. I'm not scared of him anymore. What I'm scared of is that I won't have the courage to say what I need to say. But I start to try.


KAITLIN: Yeah, that's true. That's true.


JAY: So, whatever.


KAITLIN: Fair point. But I have to say that, like, I didn't remember you ever saying sorry, or like acknowledging my feelings about it. Or even just saying sorry. Like, I just didn't remember you saying sorry. Like, I felt like I really trusted you as a friend, and that, like, I said I don't really want to touch junks, and then you kept trying to -- you kept junk-touching. And putting my hand on your junk and stuff like that. You know what I mean? And telling me to touch your junk, and, like, and I kept trying to sort of like push back, you know what I mean? Like in a nice way.


KAITLIN: At this point, I talk for about 10 minutes straight. I tell him all of it. And he just listens, wincing here and there. I tell him what he did, how it made me feel. I tell him about Trevor Smalls and the blowjob in the basement. I tell him that he'd said and did things that had brought me back there. I tell him he made me feel like a means to an end.


JAY: Yeah, okay. I don't -- yeah, I get that. I don't know what else to say. It would have been nice to have had this conversation then, right? Like, after it happened. Because like you said too, it's -- it's like then we jerked off in front of each other, and I was -- yeah, I was, like, a super-pushy drunk hook-up guy. But that's all I was. I wasn't basement guy.


KAITLIN: I know, but ...


JAY: And like -- no, no. But hear me out. I understand that it just -- it pushes, and it's like I heard everything you've said. That you just said. Like, I heard it all. I guess it -- what's frustrating is, like, the fact that there is trauma that then compounds, that's, like, a fact. But it would be nice to know, like -- like, which specific ones were getting added to -- me. Because, like, I know I pushed you back there, but then those things that you experienced are not what happened necessarily? I don't ...


KAITLIN: Yeah. I mean, I think that, like it's ...


JAY: But there's not even much of a difference at that point.


KAITLIN: But that's the thing. Like, I guess it did feel ...


JAY: But, like, that was enough -- that was enough for you to just, like, write me off? Like, where do I get to draw the line and be like, well, you know what? That's not me. Like, I'm not all those other people. I'm sorry that this had -- that, like, we got drunk together and that I tried to do hand stuff and you didn't want to, and then it ended up with us doing hand stuff next to one another, and then I'm sorry that still drunkenly I was a dick. And then I'm sorry that drunkenly I said a bad thing. And, you know, I'm sorry for all that. But it's like, how bad do I have to feel? One thing is, like, parsing out where I end and, like, all the other terrible dudes in the world begin, which is a frustrating thing for a young man to deal with. Fuck, man. Also, like, haven't I done my time? Like, do I really have to feel like I haven't gotten to talk to you for years now because of it. Like, how much guilt do I really have to have?


KAITLIN: See? You're making me feel bad.


JAY: Okay. No, I just want to know.




JAY: You're making me feel bad.




KAITLIN: We talked for about an hour and a half total. I'll spare you all the details. Mostly, we just kept circling back around the same point: why it shouldn't be that big of a deal. I realized that I never got a chance to ask what his inner monologue was of that night. Or what larger personal and social contexts might have been at play. But I wasn't silent. I stood my ground. And I fought for the legitimacy of my feelings.


KAITLIN: But I felt like you missed some of my cues. You were pushy. Most women are dealing with some degree of sexual trauma. It feels like the right thing to look at it through the lens of being a dude. There's something slippery about isolating specific sexual activity. This one's worse than that one. If a friend of mine says that they're upset, my first reaction is to be like, "Oh my God. What the fuck did I do?" I'm so sorry, times a thousand. And I didn't feel that from you. Suddenly to you I was just, like, a means to an end.


KAITLIN: It still makes me angry that I had to fight so hard for the legitimacy of my feelings in the first place. And when I start cutting the interview, I start to hear how accusatory his voice sounds.


JAY: Yeah, Kaitlin. I mean, it sucks. Like, I had fucked up.


KAITLIN: Instead of talking about why he was a jerk that night, we talk about why I'm a jerk for being upset about it. I hear how each of his apologies were paired with a rebuttal of the entire premise of the conversation. Like, this is not what an apology sounds like.


JAY: I'm sorry that still drunkenly I was a dick. And, you know, I'm sorry for all that. But it's like, how bad do I have to feel?


KAITLIN: This is what an apology sounds like.


TOMMY: Kaitlin, I'm so sorry. I mean, I -- I fucked up.


KAITLIN: That's Tommy. The actor who played Jay in the last episode. I hired Tommy to pretend to be Jay for one more day. And I tried out what it would feel like to do more than just explain myself politely and tactfully, but to actually get angry.


KAITLIN: It was your fault.


TOMMY: I'm -- I'm realizing that now. That ...


KAITLIN: Do you know why it was your fault? I'm going to -- I'm going to tell you why it was your fault. You are a fucking asshole! It's fucked up that you belittle the way that I feel about this, just because we didn't have penetrative sex. You were mean to me! Fucking me. You hurt my feelings, and you won't even fucking apologize in a real apologizing way about it. If I fucking hurt your feelings, I would feel like shit about it. You don't feel like shit about it. You treated me like a fucking Barbie doll. I was taught from birth to put what you want before what I want, and it's your fucking job to be sensitive to that. You perform masculinity really fucking well. You're doing a great job at it. You're a man and I hate you for it. You have all the fucking privilege cards. You treated me like shit. You're acting like I've wronged you. I fucking hate you and your kind.


JAD: Wow. Okay, so you made that -- that documentary that we just heard, a big excerpt of. That was -- that was a few years ago at this point.




JAD: Have you spoken with Jay since then? Have you revisited that -- that conversation at all?


KAITLIN: Uh, I wish. I mean, like, it's -- I would -- I would love -- I would love to have a kind of, like, a closing-out conversation with him. I did check in with him over the course of the whole production. And I sent him the cuts before they went out. And I just keep reaching out to him saying, "Do you want to talk?" He doesn't want to talk. He's not answering.




JAD: So Kaitlin's stories for The Heart, which we would encourage you to listen to, you can find the whole thing -- we only played bits and pieces of it. You can find the entire series -- well worth a listen at TheHeartRadio.org. We'll also link you to it from Radiolab.org. Now, what's interesting is that Kaitlin made that series well before #MeToo. And after we listened, we just ended up, like, having a bunch of questions. Like, where are things at now? Like, the conversations around consent, in the moment of consent. The aftermath conversations like the one she had with Jay. How are those happening or not happening now? And we took all these questions and we walked them around a little bit. Talked to a series of academics, app makers, BDSM practitioners. Many, many roomfuls of college-aged men and women. And in the next two episodes, we're gonna bring you in on some of those conversations. Kaitlin will also join us for some of them. In the meantime, I want to sincerely thank her for allowing us to share her work. Definitely check out her new podcast called The Shadows.


JAD: Also want to thank Kaitlin's team that helped her producing the No series for The Heart. Kaitlin wrote and directed what you heard. She also had help from editors Sharon Mashihi and Mitra Kaboli. Assistant producers Ariel Hahn and Phoebe Wang. And associate sound design and music composition from Shawnee Avaram. Okay, we will be back next week with more. 'Til then, I'm Jad Abumrad. Thanks for listening.


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KAITLIN: Hi, I'm Kaitlyn. It's Kaitlyn. Hello. Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad, and is produced by Soren Wheeler. Dylan Keefe is our director of sound design. Maria -- Maria -- Maria Natasha Padilla is our Managing Director. Our staff includes Simon Adler, Becca Bressler, Rachel Cusick, David Gebel, Bethel Habte -- Bethel Habte, Tracy Hunte, Matt Kielty, Robert Krulwich, Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser -- Nasser -- Nasser, Malissa O'Donnell, Arianne Wack, Pat Walters and Molly Webster. With help from Shima Oliaee, Katz Laslow, and Moe Asabiamo. Our fact-checker is Michelle Harris. The end.


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