Gay men—we need to talk.
Society has been deluged with accusations of sexual assault and abuse. A seemingly endless list of powerful men accused of sexual misconduct grows longer each day.
At first, claims against Kevin Spacey sparked a conversation about the destructive effects of the closet, while accusations against George Takei exposed a mixed bag of reactions that included denial and disbelief.
Simultaneously, our social media feeds filled up with choruses of #metoo from both men and women. Openly gay Hamilton star Javier Muñoz was one for the first gay men to reply to Alyssa Milano’s initial post and reveal his own #metoo moment.
As usual, our community of open minded and enlightened progressives were there on the front lines saying the right things, doing the right things, and supporting every victim by condemning the abuser—no matter which political party or TV show they were associated with. We were steadfast in our belief that you always believe the victim. Always.
Except we didn’t.
I’ve witnessed too much victim blaming, shaming, and excuse-making from gay men when a victim of sexual assault comes forward, or when someone they admire is accused. I am bewildered and heartbroken when I see members of my own community display dismissive and flippant attitudes towards sexual assault and inappropriate behavior, especially when it involves two men.
The gay community has always been at the forefront of sexual freedom and expression. Before the gay civil rights movement, men were risking arrest and public outing from police raids by entering gay bars and partaking in the ever popular back-room scene. Later on, In response to the AIDS crisis and the onslaught of public shaming, our community boldly doubled down to embrace its own sexual liberty, claiming it as part of our story. It was exactly what we needed at the time, but over the years both society and our community have evolved, and yet we still have not strayed too far from the same rotating images of shirtless muscle men and the glorification of sex, youth, and partying. Our community is profoundly overly-sexualized and I worry that our own open-mindedness on sexuality—which has driven so much of our progress—is now clouding our judgement on sexual abuse.
After sitting through multiple dinners, reading an avalanche of social media posts, or hearing conversations at the gym, I am alarmed to see how many gay men are quick to say “Oh, please! Someone grabs my junk every night at a bar. Should I come forward and say that they abused me?”
Not only is this attitude truly demeaning to victims, it reeks of ignorance.
To be fair, many of us (including me) have said or posted things that we never realized could hurt someone. We are all humans who make mistakes, and we hope to grow from our experiences. So I’ve decided to make a quick and easy list to help my fellow gay men navigate dealing with sexual assault, and debunk several overused false claims.
• Sexual assault is not just rape. It can be any inappropriate or threatening behavior or touching without someone’s full consent.
• Just because a victim went to a hotel room, or took a drink, or did anything other than say “yes” does not mean they “knew what they were getting into.” That is the same as saying, “She was wearing a provocative outfit, so she was asking for it.”
• Just because someone is of age does not mean they should know better. Sexual assault happens to people of all ages and all mental capacities.
• Just because some people waited many years to tell their story of abuse does not make it any less true or important. Most victims—especially men—are often shamed into never telling their story because of our society’s insane obsession with gender roles and masculinity.
• Of course there is a scale when it comes to the extremes of sexual assault, but where someone’s experience falls on that scale doesn’t make it any less important or damaging.
• Just because your social media feed is flooded with stories of sexual assault doesn’t mean you get to claim that you are over it. Perhaps, instead of being annoyed that your feed is flooded with stories like this, you should be annoyed that there are so many people who had horrible things happen to them that gave them so many stories to fill your feed with.
• If a victim comes forward with an accusation of assault, we believe them until (and if) the time comes that it is proven to be untrue.
No other community can uniquely appreciate the daunting fear, self doubt and internalized shame of having to come out with a deeply personal confession, and that is why we must be the first to embrace these victims and say “we believe you and we support you.” As this epidemic continues to unravel, there will be many gay men who will miss the mark and exhibit the behaviors discussed above. On behalf of the often voiceless victims I say to those men: Check yourself now, or take a seat.