Gay Men Don’t Own Your BoobsUnspoken & Unacceptable Sexual Harassment
10 September 2018
Originally, this article began differently. My first few drafts mentioned the difficult conversations on sexual harassment we managed to start in 2017, before moving forwards with hope for further progress in the next twelve months.
But whilst I imagine the Hollywood-centric events leading up to 2018 felt like a chance for women to exhale after so many years of holding their breath, I’ve come to realize that the progression made was far smaller than I (naively) thought and that there are still many, many women breathlessly waiting for things to change.
The new direction of this article was inspired by a New Year’s Eve bash at a friend’s apartment. After one too many glasses of peach schnapps, talk in the kitchen took a serious turn. In my drunken haze, I wanted to know, first-hand, how women felt about a specific type of sexual harassment; one in which members of the gay community are guilty of perpetrating.
My female friends were full of stories of men on Manchester’s Canal Street throwing insults or “playful” jibes, of being groped in gay bars by strangers’ wandering hands, and of being assigned the label of ‘fag hag’ by friends of friends. The true depths of 2017’s victories revealed themselves to be more shallow than they appeared at surface level.
Those victories aren’t as seismic as they could be due to the misogynistic behaviour that is still rife within the gay community; a group for whom acceptance has been a long-fought battle and who should better understand the importance of bringing about change. From passing off thinly veiled insults about a woman’s looks for comedy to grabbing the boobs of an utter stranger, there are many ways that gay mens’ actions mirror those of the boorish, gropey straight men they distance themselves from.
Whilst we can argue that this behavior is rooted in toxic masculinity, that before gay men come out, they’re still subjected to social conditioning which places them above women, such reasoning rings hollow. Why? Because we’re given the chance to disregard the bullshit we’re fed the moment we accept who we are.
Acknowledging that what we’ve been taught the wrong thing is great, but it falls short of proactively treating women with respect. Instead, some feel their freedom from the heterosexual narrative entitles them to say nasty things because we “feel comfortable” around women or because we’re “practically the same” (which is another problem in itself).
From an intersectional viewpoint, the issue is even messier. Yes, guy who says he’s unleashing his “inner black woman,” I’m talking to you. The appropriation of traits which amount to little more than a stereotype has become widespread amongst gay men, and very few realise that this behaviour further marginalizes WOC, mocking them and creating an even bigger divide. You’re not a ‘strong black woman,’ you’re an alcopop-wielding club kid with a fake tan and a string vest, and your view of the world is very skewed if you think you’re on the same level as the likes of Rosa Parks, Katherine Globe, Marjorie Joyner, or Mary McLeod Bethune.
This combination of misogyny and racism highlights an interesting aspect of double standards. We’re a minority (although one that is afforded much more visibility than others), and many of us have experienced homophobia, so there should be a built-in aversion to such behavior. But the double standards come thick and fast.
Even the idea of being ‘gay fat, but straight thin’ shows the gulf between gay men and women. Although this saying reveals the pressure on gay men to look good, it also normalizes the opinion that an average looking man still deserves a beautiful woman; but in a coupling of two men, both should be conventionally beautiful. There’s no room for average when it’s two men. At best, it validates every Adam Sandler movie ever made. At worst, it shows what little regard there is for women who can be palmed off on ‘lesser’ men.
Moving away from the insults and appropriation, I have no doubt that some of you are reading this and thinking but Joe, none of this means that gay men can sexually harass women. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Just as rape is more about power than sex, a gay man grabbing an unwilling woman’s breasts, even in a platonic way, has nothing to do with sexuality. The action undermines a woman’s personhood and anyone capable of robbing somebody of the agency over their own body is capable of sexually harassing that person, regardless of what turns them on.
There’s always been talk in the gay community of being better than those who would knock us back. As drag icon Alyssa Edwards said, “Don’t get bitter, just get better.” If we really want to abide by that mantra and be the best we can be, then it’s time to stop taking cues from misogynistic straight men or fictional gay stereotypes.
I want to end this article on both an informative and positive note. Firstly, I’d like to echo the words of Huffington Post writer Arkee E. by reiterating his stance on the issue: it’s not homophobic to hold a gay man accountable for his misogyny, ladies, so don’t feel bad about it. And secondly, I hope that this proves to be just one of the many difficult conversations we have in 2018, in a year where we have the opportunity to really make a change. Come this New Year’s Eve, hopefully the discussion will be very different.