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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Consenting Adult

There's an old line that straight men are afraid of gay men because they're worried we'll treat them like they treat women, and I think there's more than a grain of truth to it.

I've been watching the #MeToo movement arising from the  fury so many women have at the way sexual assault has been used against them, and as in the case with Anthony Rapp, we see Kevin Spacey also accused of doing this to men.

I have felt  invisible in all the commentary on this topic that I've seen reported, the assumption is simply that what applies to heterosexual women around consent applies to all. I don't think it's that simple. It doesn't resonate with my lived experience.

I want to explore that disconnect, between things that are so real for so many of my female friends and women in general, and my own experiences.

If I think of my own sex life and the encounters I've had. I estimate I'd had sex with around 1,000 men by my early 20s, and maybe 2,000 by my early 30s. I've slowed down now so I guess it's about another 500 or so now I'm  in my mid-50s.

But never once with a woman, so I don't know how that works and don't presume to speak for them.

I've had a lot of sex. A lot of gay men have. There's a  joke that giving a blowjob is like shaking hands for gay men, and it's not far wrong. Having a sexual encounter with another guy is not that big a deal, it's often just scratching the itch.A bit of fun. Something you can do in 10  minutes on your lunch break with a total stranger you'll never see again.

Was it all consensual? No. But when I look back I'd have to say just because it wasn't consensual, doesn't mean it was traumatic or wrong.

I grew up and came out at a time when fucking around a lot was seen as an excellent thing to do. It was liberating, it was fun.

I'm not saying all gay men fucked like rabbits, but a significant number of us did, and that formed its own culture with its own set of norms and rules about what was ok or not, and I think they differ from a lot of what women and mainstream commentators are saying about what they want and what they see as right and consensual. I keep listening to these conversations or statements about consent and thinking "That doesn't square up with my experience."

Consent when you're fucking is simply not always that black and white. Or not in my world anyway.

I know, some gay men have been serious victims of sexual assault and I'd never try and diminish that, but some like me have had very active sex lives and it's been very different.

I spent a lot of time in the backrooms of bars, or orgy rooms in fuck-clubs or saunas. If you walk semi-naked into a nearly pitch-black room filled with other horny men, I'd say consent is pretty well implied by that action. I dressed and acted like I was asking for it, precisely because I was. I wasn't scared I'd be raped when I walked around with my bare arse hanging out of a pair of chaps in my 20s or 30s. I was literally dressing to show I wanted sex.

Having said that, I know that while there could be huge pleasure in sinking into a mass of seething anonymous flesh where all we wanted was poles and holes, I could also extricate myself from it. I could brush men, or body parts, away if I'd had enough or just didn't feel like it. I had agency and power in it. Maybe that's the difference. Male privilege.

And yes, on a purely physical level, being treated like an object, a piece of meat, and treating other men that way, was exactly what we were after. This wasn't about love, (though I do know men who met and fell in love with their partners from these situations).

Sometimes my "No" really did mean "Yes", I wanted to be persuaded, seduced, wooed. And that sits in contrast to a lot of the responses that have come from #MeToo - where No must always mean No, and persistence from a man to a woman is creepy and scary and akin to rape.

And those times when I took someone home, or they came home with me, and early in the morning I'd feel a mouth on my cock, or a cock up my arse or him riding my cock, or I'd do those things,  no consent had been negotiated. It's not a view that seems to be acceptable in the current environment, where the message is consent must be asked for every sexual interaction. I usually didn't mind those early morning actions, and if I wasn't in the mood and he kept going, it was like having a horny dog humping my leg, irritating or funny even, but not a sexual assault.

I didn't feel violated. I didn't feel assaulted. I didn't feel like my personal autonomy was breached. But there was no "enthusiastic and explicit consent" as I've seen some people calling for as mandatory. Or is a sleepy groan consent? Or a protest?

I read another gay man recently say he continually asks the guy he's fucking if what he's doing is ok, to ensure consent. To me that sounds like such a buzzkill. I'll tell you if it's not ok, trust me.

I fear that sex is getting wrapped up in some dangerous aura again that demands policing. There's a definite element of moral panic going on among the real and tangible awfulness that has happened.

Sexual consent is dependent on culture, on social position, on gender and on sex. It is understandable that nearly all the  demands for change have come from women, and trust me, I understand how badly patriarchy treats women, but looking over my own life I keep thinking "Ummm, no... that doesn't make sense to me personally."

And yes I can use the #MeToo hashtag as well. I have been raped. But in the situations that I identify as rape in my life, it was the violence or threat of it that was so traumatic. A cock in my mouth or arse really didn't matter, but that accompanying violence, physical or mental, that was terrifying. That was an assault. That was a traumatic violation.

I don't in any way dismiss the experiences or reactions of so many women, and  men as well, but they are so different from my own, that's what has intrigued me in so many ways as I watch this movement grow. I don't say that my experience is true for all gay men. I know that some men do feel pressured, do feel unable to say no or take control, and end up being raped.

Gay men in the pre-AIDS era deliberately built a very sexualised culture, one that celebrated sex in ways most heterosexuals can't understand, and has been lost to some extent in contemporary gay male culture I think. We created our own set of rules as well. Perhaps that is why these new calls for such restrictive rules strike me as so strange, so old-fashioned and prudish if I try and place them in my lived experience.

We do have consent, but it's not built on clear and explicit conversations about limits, it's built on experience, on agency,on gut feelings and knowing what's ok and what's not in a certain milieu.

But going back to my opening point, I think the core difference I see arises precisely because I'm a man, with all the social power that being a man has. I don't feel fear that I'm going to get sexually assaulted if I dress in a certain way. I feel confident that if I say "No" I won't get beaten up or raped.

We set up a culture that celebrated sex, even to excess, but we developed ways of communicating what the limits were. As a man fucking with other men, we have power and agency that I guess women simply don't have.

Male privilege means that some gay men can treat each other the way some straight men treat women, and it's ok.

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