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“What I Mean” : concerning consent ( a response to Justin Bieber )


"What I Mean" : A letter written in loving response to Justin Bieber

by Raz Ma as a response to "What Do You Mean"  in the interest of compassionately championing consent culture.

Dear Justin,

As an educator propagating a movement spreading body-awareness and positivity, I recognize that music has the potential to reach a wide audience to inform many on how to create the container of safety necessary for mutual pleasure. In alignment with my purpose to celebrate consent culture I seek to shed light upon the inquiries you professed throughout the song "What Do You Mean?". You stated in an interview with Ryan Seacrest that the origins of this song were birthed from your experience that “Well, girls are often just flip-floppy…they say something and they mean something else. So … what do you mean? I don’t really know, that’s why I’m asking.”

As a dancer I was moved by the catchy beat of your song and felt a responsibility to respond to the lyrics to share my version of what the other side of the story might be. For clarity & ease of reading, I will respond to the questions and gestures from the music video that you participated in (cited in brackets) as if they are directed to me personally, with the shared background understood to be that we have an ongoing connection that we wish to continue.


["What do you mean?"]

Firstly, I applaud your desire to check in - this is a clear and decisive step in the right direction - especially in light of the tragic messages in 'Blurred Lines' and the sadly-pervasive 'rape culture' of the dominant ethos at the moment. When you seek additional clarity through practicing positive consent and asking questions about my internal state it helps me feel safe, respected, and listened to deeply, and builds my trust for you.

Your repeated questioning demonstrates that you have a track record for checking in if you have any uncertainty regarding my boundaries or desires as our interactions / relationship progress, especially if we move into more intimate territory. Nothing is immutably absolute, and this is especially so in the realm of emotion and relationship - therefore I am grateful that you are interested in reading my responses and are able to speak to the discrepancy between my body language and my words [ “you nod your head yes but you want to say no”…“don’t want me to move but you tell me to go “ ]. If there is ever a mismatch between my body talk and verbalization or a shade of doubt crosses your mind, asking for clarification is appreciated so that I can attune to my core, authentic self in spacious honesty.

I applaud you asking for verbal consent and additional detail - however, I feel stressed due to the pressure your countdown places on my decision-making timeline [ "you're running out of time...better make up your mind" ]. I profoundly enjoy your company and immensely value spending time with you, and protect out time together as precious [ “you’re overprotective when I’m leaving” ]. If I don't give you the answer that I sense you’re attached to – the response I think you want to hear - I feel as though you may leave me right now (certainly physically, but perhaps you may even abandon the entirety of our budding relationship) [ "I don't want us to end, where do I start" ].

You keep glancing at the clock [hearing time tick loudly] - machinations percussively propelling persuasively without pause, moments announcing their steady departure as sonic seconds slipping through the hourglass…3….2….1….

May I request a freeze frame? My body and brain are a billion buzzing bees - I need a moment to track the root causes of my feelings for they often express themselves in emotionally entwined forms that are not easily subjected to rationalization, the limits of labelling, or excisive delineation. [ "be more straightforward" ]

[ (pointing to side of head) "you're so indecisive, what I’m sayin’, …don't know if you're happy or complaining…you're so confusing baby…be more straightforward" ]

I don’t feel myself capable to subject this holy whole to a reductionist breakdown of parts through a forceful use of my mind… I am internally immersed in the richness of emotions that are new to me – a palate of passions layered deep on the canvas of my consciousness, the translucent textures and tones tantalizingly fickle, tickling transitions - bleeding into each other as a symphony of sensation - excitement, arousal, anticipation…is that a bit of fear - or is it just uncertainty? circuits are sparking with a supersonic speed & a range that is novel to me – blustery bliss breezing, blood bounding through my body. [ “better make up you mind…you’re so indecisive” ]

I would be so grateful for a few moments - a handful of minutes to meditate on my moving mood in an attempt to accurately source the origins and causes of my sensations… [ "first you're up then you're down then in-between" ]. Slowing down coalesces clarity, creating space for me to breathe in the complex beauty of the present frame - checking in with myself and acting in integrity with my body, mind, heart, and soul knowing with resonant conviction what I am an enthusiastic YES to, and where I need more discussion and definition. I need to know that you'll stick with me as I take the time I need to make a decision that is not rushed, because my full YES is worth the wait without hurrying through the prerequisite processing.

[ “you're so confusing baby…be more straightforward" ] I humbly reject the notion that I am characteristically constantly indecisive or confusing, but I welcome you stating that a specific action I take makes you feel confused so that I can proceed with constructive action to alter that behavior.

[ “wanna argue all day, making love all night” ] I need the clarity and precision of passionate conversation to remove any hesitation I have in moving forward with being intimate with you, as fear keeps me from feeling safe and getting aroused. I appreciate when you ask me where my boundaries are – which ones are hard and which soft, what I am nervous about, and what holds me back from the unbridled free expression of my purring, pulsing pleasure. Having open lines of dialogue allows me to unfold into ever deeper layers of trust with you where I can feel seen in more of my raw, authentic self and open myself in receptive surrender to you. This vulnerability is my culminating gift - and the condition necessary to give it is knowing that you can handle the responsibility of tenderly holding my heart. Over time I am becoming aware that much of my nervousness stems from realizing just how deeply I love you – so much that it scares me to think it possible to lose our connection.

[ “I wanna know…better make up your mind…(tapping side of forehead)” ]

Much of what I experience in your presence comes from my erupting emotions, which cannot be known by the mind but only felt in the body and soul. My heart beats to a unregulated rhythm that none can manipulate - lest through inspiration [“trying to catch the beat, make up your heart” ]. You point to your head when you inquire 'what do you mean', but I operate on a bodily, emotional plane that cannot be contained by the cranium - a space that I welcome you into. I know you yearn for me to explain with these reductionistic words my internal landscape, alas the field is irreducible, requiring it to be felt. Meet me at the tingling point where we intermingle, melting body and breath - dive through the barrier of skin with your perception. I invite you to project yourself within my body and welcome you into my emotional ecosystem – eye gazing providing one of the permeable barriers into this watery world. Let us be patient, for sinking ever deeper into subterranean inner-connection is a skill that develops with practice and proximity.

It is important to me to provide the space to allow you to sense what I intend - let’s flip the script to focus on your inner world. Would you like to join me in feeling what is happening inside you? Can you stay still as I cradle you tenderly, held, unmoving - in this powerful place of pause, can you go into your body? I am listening so deeply to your response that my consciousness collapses into a single point with the sole goal of absorbing your conveyances – I am here to hold space for what you wish to express, in whatever form it comes, for as long as it takes you to feel complete in this process. [ “you don’t want me to move but you tell me to go” ]

I hope that each of us can find a clear answer to our internal inquiries, for from there we are able to sweetly (and saucily) share our preferences and possibilities. Then, like a luscious booty-licious Venn diagram we can explore the juicy middle where we meet in mutual satisfaction - melding our shared passion - dancing in our desires, matching intensity and pace. [ “This is ours baby, yeah” ] My sensations and inspirations can change from heartbeat to heartbeat – blending, inextricably entangled. I want to know that you can meet me in this place of uncertainty, compassionately responsive to what the moment calls for – together, riding the succession of waves as they collect, crest, and disperse.

[ "first wanna go to the left then you wanna turn right, wanna argue all day makin’ love all night" }]

I delight in the variation of pace and direction and the freedom to explore and express what arouses me based on context rather than the flimsy fiction of following an immutable, formulaic law of libido. Although I may be enjoying an activity in the here-and-now does not necessarily mean it will excite me exactly the same each time – and in expressing my changing state I am giving you the treasure of my honest and full presence. [ “you’re so selfish baby” ] Would you rather have me sedately silencing my expression or putting on a mask to meet you with an empty shell of myself? I don’t believe that your heart’s honest aim is to vainly coerce me into suppressing my needs to cater solely to yours, for when I meet you in full personal truth, you authentically receive all of me.

Ultimately, each being is the only one who knows what they need for self-care, and when we create an environment of acceptance and checking-in, we are empowered to be personally responsible for maintaining our own boundaries, removing the burden of guesswork and mind-reading [ "trying to compromise but I can't win" ] Let’s transcend but/or and move to yes/and – we can both win without sin, becoming sexually symbiotic. How can we ecstatically enjoy embodiment with each other, meeting both our needs at once in a way neither could alone?

In the end, ‘what I mean’ is that I love you, and I need more clarity to feel safe in situations that can be daunting for me to talk about. I value our connection and want it to develop and deepen– can we feel it out together? Thank you for listening and making me feel safe and respected – I am trusting you with my heart.


{ p.s. Listening to ‘What do you Mean’ on repeat while analyzing and writing this piece }

~ expression ~

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