The #metoo movement hasn’t been kind to those who’ve tried to add nuance (read: classification) to the discussion.
In the wee hours of last Sunday morning, feminist ally, modern romance expert, and comedian Aziz Ansari was accused of sexual misconduct in a detailed exposé published by upstart feminist website Babe. The story painfully details awkward sex between Ansari and a 23-year-old woman by the name of “Grace”. She describes his relentless advances and how uncomfortable she felt.
There’s no doubt that it’s a cringe worthy story but there is doubt about what the story entails. One side argues that Grace simply had a bad date and is using this article as a form of revenge porn, to capitalize on the #metoo movement, possibly derailing the movement from its original purpose. The other side argues that consent, verbal and nonverbal cues, and pressure to oblige aggressive advances still qualify as a form of misconduct. If you have an opinion on this, it seems you have to choose one side or the other. This is either a setback for #metoo or it isn’t. But why can’t this movement embrace the gray area?
The Cut’s Anna Silman argues, “Why can’t we see it as the moment that the conversation took on more nuance, and with a more nuanced public response, too?” If only it were that easy.
The #metoo movement is a women’s movement, as it rightfully should be. 1 out of every 6 women has been the victim of rape, either attempted or completed. But sexual misconduct doesn’t just happen to women.
Kevin Spacey, who’s now an out and proud gay man, has had a fall from grace almost as painful and immediate as Harvey Weinstein’s. And, the same weekend that the Ansari story broke, famed fashion photographers Bruce Weber and Mario Testino, were accused of sexual misconduct by a slew of male models, in yet another exposé. This time from the New York Times. It seems there are plenty of men out there who can also say #metoo.
However, other than the predators who’ve been taken down, queer men have been largely absent from the conversation. And it’s difficult to assert how we should be included. We most certainly don’t want to steal the spotlight from the women who are leading the movement. But we also need to reconcile what #metoo means for us.
Part of that understanding comes from defining sexual misconduct within our community. There are some clear violations that apply to all men and women, regardless of sexual orientation. Being forced into nonconsensual sex is a crime from every angle.
But there are aspects of gay sexuality that exist outside of social norms.
“The gay community has always been at the forefront of sexual freedom and expression,” writes NewNowNext’s Scott Nevins. “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.” Public sex was commonplace in our community, and depending on your scene, it still is. Quite often, the way an interested suitor expresses interest isn’t just with a look but a grab. Thus, having your ass or genitals grabbed in a public place is just as common. More than just shrugging it off, many of us count it as an affirmation of our attractiveness. Not to mention, many of us have used or are using dating apps in which our first conversation with someone involves unsolicited photos of nude body parts. The words misconduct and violation are hardly ever part of the conversation. It’s something we’ve come to accept. But some of this accepted behavior in our community is the very behavior at the heart of the #metoo movement.
So, to take part in the movement, does that mean we must sanitize our views of sexual freedom? To be part of a mainstream initiative, do we have to part ways with some of the characteristics that make us who we are?
Nevins argues that we shouldn’t have accepted this behavior to begin with. He also points to the legions of queer men who’ve been victims of sexual abuse and how seemingly harmless grabbing can be a trigger. He then breaks down several situations in which it’s never okay to victim shame, and in which sexual assault’s definition becomes more expansive.
On the surface, it seemed that we queer men needed to compromise, to restrain our opinions and personal experiences to find a place alongside the #metoo victims and supporters. But perhaps this isn’t about holding onto sexually liberal values from a different era. Maybe it’s about realizing that we too must view this discussion with empathy and, yes, nuance. Just because we’ve experienced certain violations and brushed them off doesn’t mean they were ever okay.
To be a part of this movement, we have to evolve our views around sex. It’s not about repressing our urges or hiding ourselves. But it is about understanding the climate, understanding acceptable boundaries, and finding ways to continue celebrating our sexual freedom that never make others feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
It’s easier said than done, and there’s so much more to this story than what can be covered in a single editorial, but it’s the start of a conversation, of shifting the discussion in a different direction. Like the heated conversation around the Ansari story, and as Silman pointed out, let’s just acknowledge that the conversation needs to be had and that we’re having it. The answers may not be clear, but this is a start.