When He Was Called Out, I Called Myself Out Too

BY AMI VENRAR

I used to think I have complete control over my body. Every anxious feeling, every desire, every shrapnel of shame that clogs up my oesophagus and holds me hostage – it all passes through me with consent. Only because I allow myself to feel a certain way, even the terrible stuff, do I have to withstand it. What’s that Eleanor Roosevelt quote that came up in The Princess Diaries? “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

All of that changed when I met Shaurya.*

When I rode back in a rickshaw on that odd Tuesday evening in Mumbai after having sex with a (minor) celebrity, I promised myself I would never see him again. I couldn’t understand why. I had great sex, right? By great, I mean that I could tell he enjoyed it, and the validation from him saying “you have the sexiest back” had me belly-full with exhilaration. So, what did it matter that I hadn’t orgasmed?

But something churned in my belly for days, and it was hard to ignore it. So I buried it deep to move on.

Almost a year later, as the pandemic lay claim to all news, a particular story broke online: Z list celeb Shaurya, ultimate woke boy and friend of feminists, gaslit women into seeing him during lockdown. Women came forward on Instagram about their ‘horrible sexual experience’ with him, and how he pressured them to meet him during the pandemic, preaching the exact opposite of his so-called ethos in their DMs. When they didn’t relent, he would gaslight them and accuse them of ‘disregarding him at a time his mental health was suffering’.

As I shook in the knees while I read all these women’s stories, I started to remember how he oscillated from good guy to edgy mean guy in bed. Saying how great I was and asking permission at every stage, then gently stating things like “well I need you to do this because I wouldn’t be comfortable otherwise” when asking me to try something I resisted. And how ‘framing phrases’ became a key tool in making me do the things he preferred, things I wasn’t sure I wanted to do. He was both good cop and bad cop somehow, and tied up that act with a feminist bow. I found myself wanting to please him. I wanted him to confirm that I was, after all, a good feminist.

I know the need for male validation about my own feminism is incredibly passé, but please go easy on this Indian girl. After all, patriarchy still has me talking to a dad who tells me what to wear.

But after three days of overthinking - and a bonus anxiety nightmare - I texted the first woman who came forward with her story. Talking to her felt somewhat cathartic. I simply felt less stupid for not remembering every vivid detail, or for not saying no with a stern voice at every stage. But also, and most importantly, I could finally admit to myself what it was that I was doing wrong. Why was everybody’s voice louder than my own in my head? And why was this truer in bed than anywhere else?

The thing about consent is that the larger world expects you to detail the events clearly. ‘Well, was it something he said? Something he did?’ they ask. But it’s not always that simple. Often, when uncomfortable feelings emerge, it’s routine for my brain to bury it, to move on, to think this is just the voice of my anxiety (and therefore all in my head).

Sleeping with him showed me that I owe my anxiety more agency than I do other men. That I ought to prioritise it. I ought to have it ring loudly in my head, and especially in bed.

Because not everything that happens to me is entirely under my control, but my consent continues to be. It’s all mine, it begins with me, and it goes to bed with me. And there’s power in that.

I speak more loudly now – in real life and in my head. I do think that’s a start.

*Name changed here