ᓄᐦᑕᐃᐧᕀ ᐊᐢᑯᑖᐢᑯᐱᓱᐣ
nohtawiy askotâskopison
My father’s cradleboard

A conversation between
Jordan Baylon and Morgan Possberg Denne

In this text Morgan and Jordan speak on consent and permission, considering what is sacred and sharing their feelings on relational community.

M - Going into this conversation I think it's best to be chill with things. When things are overly planned, or you think about it too much it becomes academic, and that's not the purpose or goal. There's nothing wrong with academic, but it's not accessible or the vibe.

J - Yeah I think the accessibility is an important part.

M - Yeah it shows. You can have these deep conversations about art, feelings and the world and how one person might process those things but still have it be understandable is important. How we all are inhabiting our own worlds but processing them differently. I think that relates to what I wanted to talk about. The main things I'm thinking of lately when I make work is permission and consent, which I think are linked together.

J - That's when I become interested. Let's break that down.

M - What's the difference?

J - What does either one feel attached to that's real for you, in either case, or both, or neither?

M - When I think about permission vs consent, I think both can be given and taken away. Permission is something you give yourself, but I’m not sure if you’d give yourself consent?

J - Both of these things are very connected to the container that surrounds them. Which is a situation or a context. For example, if this is about me having to locate my individual agency, that means a really different thing on an interpersonal level vs systemic or structural or societal or cultural or communal level. Permission seems more connected to….something that feels raw and unfiltered. Some sort of relational space. vs consent feels very specific to a shared cultural experience around things like sexual violence, hegemony, oppression, colonialism, right? We use the word consent when we’re discussing the points of interface with other humans that often are connected to potential for the most harm. We’re using that word to invoke what a collective space of safety looks like.

M - Consent as related to harm mitigation.

J - Yes , in how I have a relationship to the word. As connected to the Me Too movement and how over politicized that word has become. Not just what we’re talking about, but a culture as well. Permission seems so personal, not as connected to harm. Connected to acceptance, affirmation, holding, welcoming.

M - When I think about permission; it's an oversimplification to say it's a more positive word than consent but it almost is. I feel that there is something more sacred about permission. My association is that you would give yourself to do something, or be ok with something, or to feel something, that feels like a very deeply internal personal healing process. vs. consent I don't have that association with that.

J - I've been thinking a lot about the dichotomy of what is sacred vs what is merely expensive. What is priceless vs something that can be bought. I don’t know if consent even fits into that

M - I think consent can be bought, but permission can not. At least in how I understand them.

J - Consent is connected to negotiation, but permission seems deeply personal. When you offer permission its to yourself and the other on a sacred level, It has to do with your sense of self. Whereas consent is describing a shared space that we may not completely inhabit in and of ourselves. This is connected to the Filipino cultural concept of kapwa, the personal sacred permission space and the ways we relate to each other in a good way, in a community shared space are one and the space in kapwa. We see our individual selves as inextricable from our collective shared experience and identity of being in community.

M - From what I know of most indigenous cultures we would see things that way too. You as an individual and how you experience the world can’t be removed from community, your nation and the land. That's where a lot of the harm of colonialism has come in. This western idea of having to be this special individual is actually quite harmful. Traditionally you’d see yourself as part of a community in kinship with people and the land.

J - Being separate is the original wound for humans. I’m connecting to that. Another way of looking at this is that the word of consent is burdened with our unaddressed wounds. That's why it has a diff feeling space than permission. It resonates with a collectively and systemically perpetuating harm. Cups spilling over generations and generations. I also think about it on a fractal scale too, if the permission is on the level of taproot deep sense of self and values and ancestors, consent is the community space. I think there's other names and words for how we describe the condition of relating on a macro level in society. But we’re not past consent yet. The level of harm that's possible simply in our most intimate personal moments is so high. This word doesn't have the joyful ringing of permission. Permission I can think of sentences for permission. When I think of permission, if I'm giving it it's also reciprocal. If it's myself I’m saying I’m allowing myself to live in a world where this exists. If it's another person, that they exist and their wholeness exists, even if it's not the same as mine. But we affirm each other in that. That's a well shaped emotional space. Even if we can’t always embody that all the time.

We can talk about theory and practice, but where are you personally situated in these feelings? How does it relate to your practice?

M - That's a good question, taking it back to the art and actualization. Maybe I’ll rewind a little bit and say that the reason I wanted to talk about permission and consent; in my experience it's mostly in relation to cultural knowledge and culture. Because of my own lived experience of being mixed Indigenous and going through foster care and then being adopted out and growing up in a territory that isn’t actually my traditional territory. It's kinda being a settler, but also not really in the normal sense of the word. I was placed here in foster care and didn’t choose to be here, but I’m still here. It's a weird thing I’ve always struggled with, and will always continue to. And I should; this is the struggle that should be happening. There's a lot of tension with that around cultural knowledge in art making and permission and consent. This permission and consent around cultural knowledge could be from community, elders, knowledge keepers, peers, or yourself, and I’m interested in how that applies to art making, healing, storytelling, even down to learning actual craft techniques like how to weave something or tan a hide or fish skin which I’ve been doing a lot of. There's a lot of tension there, but it's a really specific type that's specific for Indigenous people in this place. I know this is quite a shared experience of being worried about stealing your own culture. It's difficult. I don't think you can actually steal your own culture. Inherently as a human you have a birthright to your own culture, but because of colonialism we feel like we don't. We’re not always able to give ourselves permission to dive in. I mean there are protocols you have to follow of course. I don’t have an issue with protocol at all, but it's difficult if there's something that's almost died out and it's hard to find the right person with the knowledge. I do think in those cases it's more important to just do the thing to the best of your ability rather than to let a piece of culture die. That's a bit of a point of contention within my community. I do understand the want to protect culture, and feeling like you need to gatekeep, but it's difficult. It all comes back to permission and consent, right?

J - Whats interesting to hear you share that, is it would be easy to respond to you from a place of trying to give you permission. But that's not what we’re doing right now. It's interesting to examine all the layers of this. We feel permission is related to the sacred, and our values and communities, while consent feels further away. The other thing I was thinking of while you were sharing, if we’re talking about permission being sacred, priceless and something that can’t be bought, I think we can diagnose everything you talked about by saying, well, your culture was stolen. I’m using that in the broadest sense, it's the idea that what was sacred was tampered with, was taken away, is either being literally or figuratively or financially or politically controlled by those who should instead live in relation to that sanctity. When it comes to the cultural knowledge of what youre talking about I’m hearing that the word is burdened by the reality of what has been stolen. If it's been stolen, you asked a question about how can you appropriate yourself? Maybe it's a sacred thing of like that can never be appropriated because that's who I am. Who I am is also a part of the fabric of what the collective story looks like. On the other hand maybe it is possible to feel like we’re in the space of the stealing of our actions aren’t bringing that culture collectively back to the sacred. That's what we’re always worried about - like pretendians and people appropriating indigeneity, and allies, other racialized folks displacing you. Other diasporic people displacing the original peoples of this land. It makes sense that the stakes are that high because it doesn't seem safe. Because honestly, we’re not back home yet. And we need to bring it home.

M - I dont think you can appropriate your own culture, but I’ll add a footnote; you do have a right to your own culture because it's yours, but you can misuse it. I’m not qualified to be the singular decider of what “misusing” it is, I mean I have some ideas. Profiting from things that culturally shouldn’t be profited from, or sharing closed practices that shouldnt be shared. I know there's some people who have rights to some very closed ceremonies who decide to share them in germany. They’d rather share the rights to those ceremonies with germans who are paying for it - they’re making $ off of doing this. They'd rather do that then go out in community and connect with youth, and queer, trans, 2S people. The people who are really struggling and may really benefit from having access to those things, often don’t have access to ceremony and culture. In a situation like that, yeah, it's almost like you’re appropriating your own culture. I think that's wrong.

J - I hear us trying to figure out how to talk about it. I feel the emotional throughline of what you’re saying, I understand it. And I also hear you searching for language to match at a communal level what is actually an embodied feeling you have. That's interesting to me. Again, because something is stolen we’re always thinking about credentials now. But if I try to do the futurist thing and imagine a utopia where our values are embodied by us, and we have a space of pluralities. If we’re relating from that place, the relationships themselves are the sacred structure. But we don't have that on a societal level because of colonialism and capitalism. Stolen lands, stolen bodies. It's like we’re looking for criteria on a communal level that is aligned with our values at our most personal, which is where we have to live if we’re people of the global majority who have experienced this colonial violence. It's almost like we need a set of relational criteria. This is the language of people who are stealing, trying to put a price and make money off of the spiritual. The way they have conversations about the sacred is to put a price on it. This related to conversations about representation too. We’re just counting brown faces, wheelchairs etc in spaces. We’re realizing it's not really about whose faces are in these harmful structures, it's about being able to relate in a good way and have structures reflect that. That's what we don't have in a societal way. You’re just trying to be yourself. How many hyphenations do you have to do, impossible metaphysical existential calculus around just to solve that equation. Because you don't have someone to say, ‘OMG morgan it's ok to just be you’. The respect is born out in your relationality. You will respect your knowledge and teachings because you're of your community. I’m still trying to figure this out for myself in my community too. A lot of it is trying to be an elder to yourself sometimes. You’re like an elder, you do have experiences that are very valuable. We have so much more relating to do across so many gradations of experience, making sure the whole family is at the table.

M - A little bit ago you mentioned hyphenations, I see that actualized for Indigenous people in our last names. Lots of people have 2, 3, 4 last names, often hyphenated together, sometimes not. It's our own attempts to understand our own community, and place ourselves into something that has been so colonized that it's hard to even process. But it's actualized in our attempts at cobbling together last names. It's related to something I’ve been thinking about too; we’re trying to climb out of this hole of colonialism and everything related to it, but we’re still grasping for colonial solutions to the colonial problem.

J - That's the thing, yeah! I thought after 2020 we’d still be having more conversations about this, the word structure is being co-opted. I remember talking about intent over impact in 2020. This isn’t new, it's very bedrock, but not reflected in the way we talk about things, or the frameworks of meaning making that we’re applying to our situations which are still very much colonial. I think it's getting more and more confusing to try to work it out on the level of the communal. For folks like us who share a very liminal and venn diagram relationship to all of our structures because we both also have relative privilege and those sorts of things, I also feel like we’re missing that permission space. We don't have spaces to have the sacred kind of conversations. What is the accounting of the cultural currency that we think we’re trading? If we’re looking at it on that level are we willing to also look at capitalism and its interconnectedness with colonialism, and white supremacy? That's a hard conversation, but people want to have it on the level of public discourse, so it just becomes things like policing each other's language. What does the proper certification look like? A lot of people I work with want me to give them a gold star, when like, I want them to just be able to relate to me in the space we’re in - it's messy.

M - It's that fear of vulnerability, but you have to be vulnerable if we’re going to try to move together through this.

J - Vulnerability is the gift. It's the permission to be intimate with what's real for you. One of the cultural artifacts of colonialism is the individualism, every white man for himself and then everyone else is disposable. That's connected to all of this as well. We’re imagining vulnerability as a resource like a fossil fuel - there's already a violence in how we’re framing that. Instead we could choose permission to be who I am. Even though we know that the textures of that, experiences of that, societal implications of that have different stakes for people in different bodies. That's a gift, I think. How do we think about this interpersonal alchemy? How do we do that fractal, portal jumping? It's going back to myself, even just checking in, like do I feel good, is my whole self present in the conversation? Even thinking about Pam Tzeng, another person in our communities, thinking about choices. Choices feel connected to sacred somehow to me. If I'm in relation that means I choose it. The personal agency has meaning because I'm navigating that with others. That's the dance and the music of it all, of relating in a good way.

M- You’re making me think about one of my friends, Cowboy, he talks often about ghosts, and how people often become ghosts in response to colonialism, as a defense mechanism of having to move through the world in the way that it is. One thing he's talked about that stuck with me, is that the tactic of shaming didn’t exist in indigenous cultures pre colonialism. Like shaming others because of something, or as a tactic to do something or not to do something, or to agree with you, or not take action when something is wrong. I’ve experienced that too in workspaces or in the arts, the use of that shaming tactic via white supremacy. I feel this is also very related to permission and consent.

J - We’ve all got the download; you know how when you get a computer they just come with microsoft? You live in colonialism you just get downloaded christianity. All of us have a pretty passing understanding of basic christian tenants. Shame is very connected to permission; to taboo, to the idea that your body is not yours - you don’t make those choices. It took something that is inextricable from my guts and externalized it. But to then take that and extrapolate an  ideological framework and then transmit that through the violence of colonialism,  what you get is a whole society of people who are not connected to where the beauty of community lives, which is also in their bodies. The joy of community is also the joy of getting to be yourself. The joy of being in right relations is the joy of being in harmony, and the joy of allowing your best self to emerge. I really believe that. I want to revisit some old conversations with Cowboy now - ghosts is something I’m working through in my own practice as well. Same christian download of shame and the theft of body autonomy on a basic level. It's brought me to a place now where the ghost thing speaks to a lack of my own substance and presence in one universe and more the reality that as a person who shares these experiences with others, its multiple selves, multiple identities and multiple dimensions some of which are overlapping and some of which are not. When I feel ghostly, its really a description of whatever are the conditions of that universe in which I’m being perceived partially.

M - It's related to people not actually having an understanding of your full self - which, they maybe never can?

J -
They maybe never can, but whether they can intuit that or not, the conditions created by colonialism make it so that the material conditions of me being able to exist as my whole self are at stake and theirs are not if they’re privileged within that system and structure.

M - When you're in community the reality that we can’t fully understand each other almost isn’t a concern.

J - Right. It's not a concern because there's capacity and wisdom and experience and a community practice around conflict transformation. In our individualistic society we don't have that, where instead of working through differences we just build up cases against each other, and whoever loses is disposable.

It's at these moments where I become quiet - oh man! I guess what I’m trying to say is that relating in a good way in whatever scale that is connected to the real is already the magic happening. It's the goal and the outcome in itself. If we can live there and build out connections in that space - it's also where we feel the most resourced. It's also where we feel coregulated with other people, yeah, then we can make mistakes. Privileged artists, they don't worry about making mistakes. Across all these equity deserving communities that you and I intersect with, nobody ever feels like they can fuck up.

M - Even when it comes to specific cultural knowledge, like if you're making work to do with your culture - I’m even seeing white artists doing that now, which is fine and valid, but they don’t have the level of struggle. They don't have to think about or worry about self appropriation of culture. But almost every Indigenous artist I've talked to has worried, or thought about it at some point.

J - Because it's been stolen from them. The white folks don’t even know it's a thing. They imagine they inherited it. I would reframe that as their own erasure, not our lack (equity deserving, colonized folks, disabled, queer folks). We don’t have permission to be ourselves a lot of the time. Having permission to relate at that really basic level I feel like. Did I make a big jump there?

M - Part of that conversation was telepathic I think, but vibes were received. These kinds of conversations are so important, but you kinda come to the end of it and you’re almost more confused. Maybe not confused, but maybe you’re nourished but overwhelmed at the same time.

J - I feel that too. I think at this moment I’m nourished, but maybe what makes it feel more chaotic is the idea that I have to have language for this thing that is very deeply body felt.

M - These feelings are such deep body feelings, and it's so hard to translate them to words. I wish I could just interpretively dance them to you instead.

J - This is a limited discourse! Dance works too! There's also play, you know? If we could just relate in a good way all this stuff doesn't have the same stakes. But we keep trying to relate through broken harmful structures; some outcomes that we don’t want are going to keep happening. Why do we keep perpetuating that structure? Even that thing of “we gotta be vulnerable in order to…..” Instead of “we get to be vulnerable if we just give ourselves permission to do that right now?” I love that! It feels confusing too. It's naming the wholeness that's inscribed by the circle of your body.

M - That whole idea of vulnerability, I'm simultaneously on board and yet not on board at all. In that specific situation I am Schrodinger's cat.

J - it's all about boxes! It's literally about where you get to be. The boxes that are placed on us don't fit. When you place vulnerability in the permission space it's a sacred thing, but if you put it into the land of the stolen it becomes exploitative. All of the things we really value, when they are placed in community, relations, and things we really value it becomes a good thing. When it comes into the space of ownership - not everything should be owned. We’re owned by the land. Colonial culture is all about extraction and controlling.

M - Not to minimize this, the conversation, or any kind of theory, but on a visceral level, it's also not that complex! What if you just were nice to other people, and yourself?

J - Lets be specific! What it comes down to for me in my community practice which is anti-oppression in a lot of nonprofits; is grandma stuff. Have you eaten? Did you sleep enough? Little reads like you need to take a nap! Those are the things that are missing from our relational fabric, in oppressive cultures connected to patriarchy. Its that simple, its just figuring out how to be around each other.

M - We need to go back to kindergarten.

J - Yeah we didn't have that! Decolonial kindergarten. We were already being prepped for the meat factory.