A few weeks ago, I attended a humorous lecture (oxymoron?) led by Mike Domitrz called Can I Kiss You? The lecture was meant to create a better understanding of how consent is obtained in intimacy. Mike, the founder of the organization, travels and speaks to high schools, colleges/universities, and the military. He has been breaking barriers using information and humor to change the way people get intimate with one another.
The topic of sexual assault can be a ‘touchy one’ (pun intended). It is not brought up often in today’s society, but it is something which needs to be more widely discussed. It is a topic that takes a certain amount of comfort to discuss publicly, but Mike Domitrz had the necessary skill to do so effectively. As the title of Flannery O’Connor’s short story indicates, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and according to Mike, a good woman is hard to find as well. He was referring to the fact that both men and women are capable of behaving badly, when it comes to interpersonal relationships. As a matter of fact, Mike was quite politically correct; he never assumed that the forced intimacy situation involved two straight people nor about men always being the ones forcing themselves on women. As demonstrated in Zora Neale Hurston’s, “The Gilded Six Bits,” through the character, Missie May, women can be just as much at fault as guys can. It was Missie May who was the one who went astray from her husband and had sexual relations with another man (Hurston 514).
Mike Domitrz emphasized the importance of getting permission before making a move. At first, the crowd thought this was “dorky” and could be an “awkward” thing to do. Then, through the power of live demonstration, Mike illustrated how much more “awkward” it would be to go in for a kiss and be turned down. He also made the point that asking permission can be romantic when he reminded us that in one of the most romantic movies of our generation, The Notebook, the main character, Noah, asks his partner, “Can I kiss you?” in one of the most intimate scenes of the movie. It was very effective to use that as an example, as everyone agreed that the scene was one of the most romantic moments of all time on film. Yet, in reality, we are all too scared to ask permission to kiss someone. We fear rejection, but Mike pointed out that getting rejected after making the move can be even worse.
The Can I Kiss You? event, in its entirety, was very interactive, leaving no one nodding off in his or her seat. When Mike wanted to stress an important part of his lecture, he would say, “Can I get an ‘Oh yea,’?” To which the whole crowd would reply in unison, “OH YEA!” He would use various phrases and crowd interaction like this to keep our attention.
Mike said that he would choose two people from the crowd to come on stage as a demonstration and have a chance to win cool prizes. Letting the crowd mentality get the better of me, I stood up from my seat and proceeded to jump up and down and flail my arms all around like a Price is Right contestant. Sure enough, I caught Mike’s attention out of all the other students who were jumping up and down in their seats. With a bright spotlight shining down on me and 200 of my fellow classmates hanging on to every word, awaiting what would happen next, Mike shoved a microphone up to my face and asked, “What’s your name?” Without skipping a beat, I replied, “Gertrude.” To which a handful of my friends burst out laughing from the crowd.
Mike, never the wiser, continued on, asking “Gertrude” to reenact silly college party scenes, with questions like, “If I were a guy you liked, where might you put your hand to show that you are into me?” I, or rather Gertrude, answered, “On your arm or your thigh.” (I have quite the brazen split personality.) Mike illustrated that what one may consider a simple hand gesture, another can consider it to be a sign to make a move. He explained that we can often misread signs, especially when alcohol is in the mix, which is often the case when college students hook up. After I put up with the mildly awkward, yet completely hilarious scenarios, I, or should I say, Gertrude, exited the stage with a free Can I Kiss You? tee-shirt and a whole lot more ‘street cred’ from my friends.
Still, weeks later, I have people who I don’t know, coming up to me, asking about the show. The first time, I was out with my friends when somebody came up to me and asked, “Can I kiss you?” Surely, this random stranger was not just being very forward. I looked back at him with a puzzled look upon my face, and I replied, “Excuse me?” He realized my confusion and quickly added, “From the show. You’re the Can I Kiss You Girl, right?” As Andy Warhol said, “In the future, everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes.” I suppose that experience on stage was my fifteen minutes of fame.
Though in Gertrude’s case, she was the one making the moves in the demonstration, that was not the case in Andrew Marvell’s poem, “To His Coy Mistress.” In Marvell’s poem, the male is the one who is trying in every way that he can to get the mistress to sleep with him. When he exclaims, “But at my back I always hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” he is adamantly trying to persuade the mistress to go to bed with him (81). This is something that Mike would say is the wrong way to go about a situation. When a person says that he or she does not wish to do anything physical, that does not mean one should persist further. The person should merely get the hint, and move on.
There were moments when, literally, roars of laughter would be bursting through the walls of McGuire Hall; surprisingly, this speaker, Mike Domitrz, was funnier than some well-known comedians. Though he could easily rival Tom Green, he also brought up serious points. The talk turned humorless when Mike shared a personal story about getting a call from his parents while he was at college. They told him that his sister had been raped. The first person she wanted to talk to was her brother. Mike had a surge of emotions going through him, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to cry or punch a wall. When his sister got on the phone, the first thing she said was, “Mike, are you okay?” This astonished him. After a horrible thing had occurred to her, the first thing she was worried about was how her brother would take the news. His commitment to be sure that no one else go through what his own sister had experienced is essentially the reason that Mike wanted to start The Date Safe Project, Inc.
Mike had everyone in the crowd perform exercises to “open the door” to friends, family, and other loved ones. One exercise included calling up three people you care about, explaining what you learned, and then just saying, “I’m here for you anytime you ever need me.” In the past, this had brought out strong emotions, and many times survivors of sexual assault were able to open up for the first time during this exercise. The last thing Mike had the audience do was choose a saying from the lecture that really spoke to us. Later that night, Mike broadcasted a video onto YouTube of the crowd of Loyola students doing the wave and shouting out the saying.
Today, The Date Safe Project, Inc. it has grown to something larger than Mike could have ever imagined. Speaking to people all over the world, Mike has aided in educating others about the subject and teaching how to properly support survivors of sexual assault. His intense passion and drive has helped spread the word and made this hard-to-talk about subject, one that can be approached in a casual, non-threatening and interesting way.
It is quite an accomplishment for a middle-aged man to stand in front of a large crowd of college students and give a talk about a date-safe project without having people boo, fall sleep, or roll their eyes in annoyance. He was able to connect to the college students in attendance in a way that most people his age could not. The event concluded with free swag—Can I Kiss You? tee shirts, Want Some Action? boxers, books signed by Mike, a chance to win an iPad, post-it notes, along with other items. The post-it notes were meant for writing encouraging notes to people in the hopes of having the dormitory hallways filled with blue post it notes, sending the message that we are all here for one another. Much like William Shakespeare’s poem, “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun,” Mike believes that one does not need to tell his or her significant other false compliments to have a strong, loving relationship, rather, everyone should base their relationships on truth and loyalty (249).
As my friends and I hung up our phones, some more teary-eyed than others, we all left there saying how the speaker was actually really funny and moving at the same time. As I walked down the sea of blue, formerly known as my hallway, I believe it is safe to say that we all feel that we learned some important life-lessons from Mike that will stay with us for years to come.