Kissing, Consent, And Empowerment In Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala
Picturesque view of Antigua, Guatemala from the cerro de la cruz

Antigua became the epicenter of my trip to Guatemala, strangely enough. I didn’t love Antigua, but it was where I spent the beginning, middle, and end of my trip. I do, however, think that it’s worth a visit. It’s small and charming and a good place to gain one’s bearings in Guatemala.

The second time that I passed through Antigua, I had just left Quetzaltenango (Xela) during the hullabaloo of the Guatemalan Independence Day celebrations. I was ready for a change of pace. I made my way back to Antigua after spending a long day bouncing around on various chicken buses. I would spend just one night in Antigua before leaving for Cobán the next morning. I got off the bus in Antigua and headed to meet up with my couchsurfing host. This would be a layover, of sorts. For the second time, I ambled across the cobbled streets of the city with my heavy backpack in tow.

A night on the town

Antigua Guatemala Cathedral
Beautiful cathedral in the center of Antigua, lit up by night

After arriving, relaxing, and catching up with my couchsurfing host, we formulated a plan for the night. We would wander around the festivities for a while and then go to a bar. We made our way to the parque central, still full of people and vendors for the Independence Day feriados. After my host got himself some tasty street food (his stomach could handle it, mine, despite my best efforts, could not), we walked around the corner to the Lucky Rabbit, the bar where some of his friends were hanging out.

It was not particularly crowded or chaotic, and the bar had all sorts of games to play. I bought mojitos for myself and my host and then we went and joined a group of people who were hanging out by the beer pong tables. This, clearly, is globalization at its finest.

My host’s friends were nice people. I met a young Guatemalan couple and their friend, a woman from Argentina. The five of us did the typical bar thing: talked, drank, and shouted to each other over the loud music.

At one point I got caught up in a one-on-one conversation with the Argentinian woman, who introduced herself as Ro. Ro had been traveling for more than a year. She had been in Guatemala for a while and was going to head back to Argentina in the coming weeks. She had been away from home for a long time, she explained to me, and wanted to spend time with her family.

We talked a lot about traveling, and travel styles. Also being a woman who travels by herself, she and I were able to relate about the benefits and challenges of solo travel and about our desires for cultural integration when we travel. At one point she complimented my Spanish and I beamed, flattered. Sometimes I feel self-conscious about my American accent. Her accent, on the other hand, was beautiful, characteristically porteña and peppered with ‘sh’ sounds and the vos form.

And I don’t know exactly what did it. Maybe it was the insightful conversation about travel and languages and cultures. Maybe it was when the conversation would pause and she would look me in the eye and smile. Maybe it was the casual contact, a hand on my shoulder or our arms brushing together. But there was a moment, when I looked at her and it hit me: Ro is really attractive. It’s a fun feeling, to have a crush for the night. It’s even more fun if you’re a queer girl who is single and on vacation. I smiled back at Ro.

Questions, qualms, and queers

The five of us played games around the bar. I was a little bit buzzed from my mojito, and was enjoying the friendly competition and laid-back atmosphere at the bar. Eventually, everyone went outside to sit on the deck. I made a pitstop at the bathroom and then went in search of my group.

Everyone was crowded around a little table up on the balcony. Some were smoking cigarettes, the smoke spiraling up into the cool night air. There were no chairs left, and I glanced around for a free one at a different table. Before I could grab a chair, Ro caught my eye and said, “There’s room over here.” She scooted to the edge of her chair so that I could sit down next to her. I did. She slid her beer across the table to me and I took a sip. She smiled at me, her eyes crinkling in the corners. I smiled back, and then we held that gaze, the seconds ticking by. Finally, I blushed and looked away. My heart was pounding.

Her left side was pressed against my right side. I could smell her and feel her warmth against me. The conversation continued around us, occasionally involving us, but for the life of me I can’t remember what we were talking about. I do remember Ro’s lingering glances at me. Her smiles. Her fingers occasionally brushing my leg, my back.

At one point I noticed that she had a tattoo on her back, and I asked if I could see it. She moved her long hair out of the way and I trailed my fingers down her back, grazing over the soft, tattooed flesh. She leaned a little bit closer to me.

We all continued laughing and chatting, and the whole time I was hyper aware of the woman at my side. And then, we all managed to disperse. To buy another beer. To go use the bathroom. I was yawning from the long day and the alcohol. I went downstairs and found my couchsurfing host, and we agreed that it was about time to go home. I just wanted to say goodbye, I told him. I first found the young couple, and then I went back to the balcony in search of Ro.

She was outside, smoking a cigarette and texting. I went up to her and told her that we were going to be heading out. We locked eyes, expressed how great it was to have met each other. And then, with my heart racing a mile a minute, I turned to the mesmerizing woman in front of me and asked, “Can I kiss you?”

She let out a startled laugh.

“On the cheek?”

There was a moment of silence. “Um…” was the only response that I managed to formulate.

And then I saw the gears start to turn in her head. She looked at me, and her eyes went wide. And then she said firmly, “No.” 

My face got really hot, really quick. I looked up at her and muttered, “I’m sorry.” I needed space. Air. Complete sobriety.

To that, she gave me a sweet, pitying smile and exclaimed in a sweet, pitying tone, “¡Mi vida! Sos hermosa. Ay, mi vida…” And she engulfed me in a hug. Basically, the equivalent of, “Oh, sweetie!” I gave her an awkward pat on the back, wanting the hug, and the conversation, to end. I was so embarrassed. How had I managed to misinterpret her the entire night?

She let me go, and I told her goodnight. I hoped that I didn’t make her uncomfortable, but I probably did regardless. She bade me goodnight. I walked off of the balcony, my mind racing and my legs practically shaking.

Antigua Guatemala Streets
Flowers and barbed wire on Antigua streets

That part where I learn stuff

My mind continued to race during the walk home, mulling over the entire night and all of the minutia of our interactions. Had I been completely blind, I asked myself, seeing signs where there were no signs? But no, I thought furiously, how could I have been blind when she kept putting her hand on my leg? That’s a pretty big sign to me.

But maybe she was just a flirty person. Maybe she felt comfortable flirting with me and it didn’t mean anything. Maybe she was also part of the LQBTQIA+ alphabet soup but wasn’t comfortable acting on anything. Maybe maybe maybe.

There was, however, only one definite in the scenario. That being, no matter how all-consumed I felt by the desire to kiss this woman, she did not want to kiss me. And yeah, rejection sucks and feels crappy. But I was also incredibly thankful that I didn’t just go for it. What a disaster that would have been, to force myself on a person who clearly was not on the same page as me.

Which leads me to my big take-aways from this night.

One. The only surefire way to really know what a person wants is to ask them. With words. Non-verbal communications are fun and exciting, but they are not enough. I was so sure that Ro was interested in me, and I thought that I was “reading the signs” correctly. But when the question was popped, she flat out rejected me. By asking, this gave Ro the chance to establish boundaries that I had to respect. I don’t point this out to pat myself on the back, but rather as a reminder that no person is exempt from asking for consent.

Furthermore, consent applies to the whole body. In retrospect, I also should have asked for permission to touch Ro’s back. In retrospect, she also should have asked before touching me.

We have to unlearn the idea that “going for it” is the proper way to pursue a romantic or sexual interaction with someone. All of the non-verbal clues in the world are still not as powerful as a human being looking you dead in the eye and saying, “Yes, do [random sexy thing] to me right now,” or “No, I don’t want to do [that suggestion],” or “You know, I’m not really comfortable with [suggestion], but I would really love to do [alternate suggestion].” Ask. Always ask. If the answer is no, move on. If the answer is yes… have fun!

Two. I think that I would have felt better about the experience at the time if I hadn’t been “outcome-oriented.” Essentially, I was interested in her and I wanted a specific outcome to occur, and felt disappointed when it didn’t. It’s a very human feeling to a) feel attraction to someone, and b) feel hurt when it doesn’t pan out. However, if I hadn’t been focused on a specific outcome, I think that I would have taken more positivity from the night. At it’s most basic level, that evening presented an opportunity for me to go out with some new people and participate in a cultural exchange. Furthermore, the joy of conversing with Ro, who I found to be an intelligent and interesting woman, should have been enough.

And three. In retrospect, I think that the exchange that I had with Ro was a gift to me as well. This interaction, regardless of the outcome, was an important reminder that my queerness exists. And I cherish that, because sometimes I feel like an outsider in both straight and queer spaces. The straight mainstream assumes that heterosexuality is the norm and the default, contrasted with queer communities, in which there can be pressure to be “queer enough.” But the beauty of queerness is that it has no singular definition, and manifests itself differently for every person. My queerness is unique to me. It is also real, legitimate, and a part of what makes me a whole person.

So here’s to my getting rejected in Guatemala. Hopefully the next time I ask a cute girl if I can kiss her, she enthusiastically wants to kiss me back.

Antigua Guatemala flowers
Flowers in Antigua
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6 Responses

  1. Ulises

    My first thought was that Ro was into you and was simply not ready to express her true feelings openly but after a second read I believe now that your first theory (she was just a flirty person) is closer to the truth and maybe compounded by cultural differences. Now, this is just a guess because I have not met or had a chance to socialize with people from Argentina often so take that with a big gulp of salt.

    Where I’m from (Dominican Republic) people tend to be open and friendly in a way that outsiders misread as overly flirty. In fact, until I got my first job in Puerto Rico I didn’t know that in a professional setting if not acceptable to call a woman “mi amor” or “cariño” which in the D.R. is not frowned upon. So I’m guessing that is what happened with you and Ro.

    Now, I do want to say something about the issue of consent here. I have read about this topic from afar, mainly in how in some states have passed Affirmative Consent laws (often called “Yes Means Yes” laws) and I have wondered about their practicality. Reading your take on it and how you use your own experience to illustrate it is very informative but I just don’t know if it is realistic to expect such complex and unpredictables creatures as humans to comfort to a strict set of rules regarding our interactions with people we’re attracted to.

    I’m saying this not as an aspiring Don Juan who is suspicious of any potential hindrance in my way to my latest conquest but as someone who have always been extremely introvert and distrustful of others. From as far as I can remember I can hear people saying about me “que niño más odioso” because I didn’t smile, I wasn’t friendly and didn’t like people near me. That was my default setting and it wasn’t until after high school that I started to realize that I need it to open up and let people in.

    This is a complex topic and I don’t want it to oversimplify it, but if not for some brave souls who in various context (not necessarily on the dating game) “went for it” I might still be living in my shell.

    • Alissa

      Hi Ulises,

      Thank you for your detailed comment! You’ve touched on a lot of important points. I do agree that cultural difference most likely were at play here. Also, I think that it’s just easy as a woman to be flirtatious with other women, even if there is no intention behind the flirting. Women tend not to pose threats to each other (or at least, we don’t typically view other women as threats like we may view men as threats) so it can feel like a safe and inconsequential way to flirt. But once again, I have no idea what Ro was thinking. The point that I keep trying to hammer home is that the only way to know what someone is thinking is to ask.

      Now, on consent. I think that the biggest logical fallacy that we perpetuate in the “consent debate” is that somehow enthusiastic consent equates to passive and/or robotic sexuality. Consent, properly executed, should be assertive and respectful, and a way of making sure that two (or more! :P) people are on the same page. It’s about working as a team, rather than making assumptions from a person’s silence. Every person has a unique way of interpreting the world, which is why it can be easy for us to misread signs. That’s why this anecdote about Ro is the perfect example. Every sign in the world was telling me that she was into me… except she wasn’t. And the only way I knew that for sure was to ask her. If I had just tried to kiss her, she may have found that incredibly upsetting/inappropriate/threatening etc.

      The issue of consent is important for so many reasons. Fundamentally, it is a way that we work towards destigmatizing sex (which is still so taboo), take ownership of our bodies and sexualities, and fight against rape culture. In a world where sexual violence is so commonplace, consent is critically important in reducing instances of sexual assault.

      I’m going to pass you two articles, which explain these concepts very well. One expands on my “can I kiss you?” mantra, and the other is a super awesome overview of everything I ever wanted to say about consent.

      1. https://queerguesscode.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/un-memorizing-the-silence-is-sexy-date-script/
      2. http://www.doctornerdlove.com/2013/03/enthusiastic-consent/

      I think that consent can seem confusing and scary and hard to navigate, especially since we’re all human and most of us feel physical and sexual attraction to other people and want to act on these feelings without causing harm. I can understand why, especially contrasted with your past experiences, the “going for it” assertiveness might seem appropriate or even necessary. But the reality is that we live in a world that makes gross assumptions about gender and sexuality, and this is especially true when you navigate the world in a woman’s body. Women are constantly harassed, objectified, sexualized, and dehumanized. Consent allows everyone to have agency over their bodies and sexualities, but it is especially revolutionary for women, as it gives us the chance to have ownership over aspects of ourselves that we are taught exist for men’s benefit and pleasure.

      My last point, regarding your important and challenging thought: “I just don’t know if it is realistic to expect such complex and unpredictables creatures as humans to comfort to a strict set of rules regarding our interactions with people we’re attracted to.” I agree, unfortunately. However, although I can’t expect to convert every human being into a proponent of enthusiastic consent, I will still continue to speak out on these issues and try to educate as many people as I can. Working towards social change is not fun, but it is necessary. I see consent as fundamental for healthy sexuality and a world in which there exists no sexual violence. So, on this blog and in my conversations out in the world, I’m going to keep the conversation going and hope that something good comes out of it 🙂

      Anyway, I hope that that clarified some things. Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful comment. If you would like to discuss it further let’s do so over coffee! 🙂

      Best,
      Alissa

      • Ulises

        Hi Alissa,

        There is a lot of information here and yes, I would love to continue the conversation over coffee. As a preamble I would like to give you my quick opinion about both of the articles you linked to regarding the idea of enthusiastic consent and getting an unambiguous “Yes”: I don’t think this is such a radical idea or that it is too far from common custom (in my humble opinion).

        Enthusiastic consent should be part of the conversation between honest people about how they should engage in their relationships. Going by my own experience I say that we are closer to that than to the “just tell me when to stop” mentioned on the first paragraph of the first link…but again, this is a really complex issue and kudos to you for writing about it in the context of your own experiences.

        Take care,

        Ulises

        • Alissa

          Thanks for reading those articles! I think they’re both super informative and well-written, especially on a difficult and strangely contentious topic. In theory, consent shouldn’t be such a radical topic… but we’ve all been socialized to be silent about sexuality in an entitled culture. It’s an uphill battle but an important conversation to have! Thank you for your positive feedback, thoughtful questions, and all of your support!

  2. Ray

    Based on your description of the night, I would have thought that Ro was sexually interested in you, as well. Although Latinos/Latinas are very sensual and sexual people in nature, this seemed a bit more than just “flirtation.” Just keep in mind that you are still in a part of the World where Roman Catholicism still dominates the scene. Since homosexuality is still a very taboo subject in Central and South America – for the most part – I wouldn’t take this personally. Maybe if you two were at a house party or in a private setting instead, then the situation would have ended differently in the way you would’ve wanted it to. Just my two cents from experience in similar situations from the past.
    Ray recently posted…Visiting Tikal – the “Place of the Voices”My Profile

    • Alissa

      Hi Ray! Thank you so much for your comment. I do agree with your observation about Catholicism and the taboo of queerness in Latin America, especially because the “traditional” family structure of male breadwinner/female caretaker is pretty prevalent in many parts of LA… But this is not unique to Latin America! I also believe that it’s important to acknowledge the tremendous amount of work we have to do in my county (the United States) and other nations around the world in terms of breaking down misogyny/fixed gender roles/homophobia. In the States we are certainly not exempt from homophobia (the Orlando tragedy is a prime example of this). There are pockets throughout the world where queerness is more accepted: New York, for example, though obviously even in a queer-friendly city like New York there is still homophobia. In Latin America, Mexico City is supposed to be a very queer-friendly city. I will be heading there in a few weeks and will report back 🙂 The “small town” mindset (i.e. close-mindedness and fear, which can lead to violence) tends to be prevalent world wide.

      I wanted to point out your comment about Latinx people being more sensual and sexual in nature – this is a generalization and a stereotype. Aren’t most humans sexual and sensual in nature? I think that there are elements of Latinx culture that can be considered more sensual – the fact that dance is a huge part of Latinx culture, with dance in and of itself being a generally sensual act, and the fact that kissing on the cheek is considered a common greeting in parts of LA, whereas in the States we typically shake hands, etc. Sensuality is also a pretty subjective term – what is sensual to me might not seem sensual to you, etc.

      I disagree with your remark about Latinx people being more sexual in nature. I think it’s important to unlearn this mentality, because it contributes to the idea of the Latina woman as hyper-sexualized and readily available for sex (which in term contributes to greater risks of harassment and sexual violence towards women of color). Also, it portrays the Latino male as hyper-sexual and predatory (which contributes to the image of men of color as dangerous). Sexuality is a spectrum and all humans experience sexuality differently. The idea of Latinx people as sexual in nature also erases Latinx people who are also asexual!

      Anyway, I appreciate you taking the time to read my post and to comment! Overall it was a very interesting night, but in retrospect I am happy that things turned out the way that they did. I learned a lot from it. Plus, I don’t want to kiss anyone who doesn’t want to kiss me! Hehe. Regardless of the what-ifs of “did she actually want to kiss me or not?” – none of that actually matters. What matters is that this woman feels like her body and her wishes were respected. Something that we should all keep in mind during our romantic/sexual encounters!

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