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Category Archives: Sexuality

My friend Miri recently expounded on why rape and robbery are two different things. Her article is excellent and I highly recommended it, but it made me think a bit about why some people automatically go to theft when talking about an analogy for rape. And I think I’ve figured out why.

Rape is a violation – an entry without consent. In this way, perhaps an analogy to breaking and entering might be somewhat relevant, although similarly imperfect. So why do so many people talking about this go to theft? Not only does theft involve a violation, something has been taken.

For those of us who have experienced rape, something has indeed been taken – innocence, perhaps, or a sense of self-control/self-determination. But I don’t think that’s what people who talk about rape-as-robbery have in mind.

These tend to be the same people who think in terms of ideal rape victims – of pretty young women who are drugged and attacked by lust-filled men who need a sexual outlet. It’s not too far of a stretch, then, to imagine that what they imagine has been taken is the victim’s virginity.

I feel this is why so much of the discourse about rape in our society is centered around the idea of taking, and why so many people view it as something that makes someone impure. And what’s frustrating is that rape does involve taking – but it’s never the thing that people imagine has been taken. Virginity is a meaningless concept. A man who is anally raped by another man imagines that his “manhood” has been taken from him or harmed in some way. Rape doesn’t take any of these things away in a meaningful sense.

Rape takes away self-determination, peace of mind, and in sadly too many cases, innocence. But these aren’t the things our society values. These are the things that rape steals from its victims. Which is essentially why the rape-as-robbery analogy falls flat for many of us. How does one protect against their self-determination or innocence being stolen from them? By definition, the very protection against that act means we are already robbed of our self-determination.

Put another way: the existence of rape in and of itself is part of the robbery that rape is supposed to represent. Theft, robbery, or whatever other property crime one might want to substitute does not, to my mind, invoke a similar threat to one’s personhood. Thus why I say that rape is not robbery. It is far, far worse.

Trigger Warning/Author’s note: this post contains a discussion of rape and underage sexual activity. It is also a very personal post.

The subject of rape has been in the news again recently, specifically in regard to Serena Williams’s recent remarks about the Steubenville victim.

Of course, any time the subject of rape appears in the news, there is invariably a chorus of people talking about how victim X shouldn’t have been doing such and such, and if the wanton trollop had just covered up her tits and not drunk to abandon, she wouldn’t have been raped.

Every time I see someone saying this, I counter with the standard litany that we can’t blame the victim, that it’s the rapist’s fault and theirs alone, that women already know they need to be safe and they don’t need to be informed of it again by someone who wasn’t there.

I’m tired of it. I’m tired of repeating myself over and over only to be told that it’s okay to say the victim’s behavior was incorrect even if it’s ultimately the rapist’s fault. Rape is not about some woman wearing something too revealing and getting some guy so aroused that he just can’t help himself. Rape is about power. If you have been raped, you know this. If you haven’t been raped, you only know this if you’ve listened to people who have been.

I’m going to tell you a story. I was eight years old. It was a typical school day. There was a break between classes and I stopped in the bathroom to relieve myself. I finished, and as I was turning around, an older boy entered the room. I didn’t know him; I think he was in sixth grade. I just know he was a lot bigger than me. He grabbed me, and I thought I was in for another round of bullying. But this was different. He pushed me into a stall. He came in with me and shut the stall door behind him. He was blocking it with his body.

He told me to kneel. I still had no idea what was going on, but I had started to cry by this point. And then he pulled it out. I looked up at him and he said “suck it.”


“Put it in your mouth.”

And I did. I don’t remember the next few moments at all. I do remember him eventually pulling out and laughing at me. “If you tell anyone, I will kick your ass.” Then I remember him hauling ass from the bathroom as he finished zipping himself back up.

It was my first sexual experience of any kind. I was lucky that my father had already explained what my sex organs were, and I wasn’t ashamed of them. I still felt shamed by the assault I had just faced, however. It wasn’t because I had put another boy’s cock in my mouth, either. I actually didn’t mind that part, and maybe part of me even liked that part. But I was ashamed because had been degraded and abused. My dignity had been completely taken away from me in that moment. I didn’t really know the words for what happened, but I knew how it made me feel. I got up off my knees, still crying, wiped my face, washed my hands, and left the bathroom to go on to class.

I really have no idea what made him do it. I never will. But having experienced it, I understand one thing. Rape is not about sex. It is not about arousal. It is not about being horny. It is about dominance and power. Any sexual component of the rape is entirely separated from the shame and humiliation that results. By extension, any arousal that leads a rapist to initiate a rape is entirely separated from the rapist’s desire to control and dominate the victim. And someone who rapes is not doing so because the victim was too enticing. They do it because they can, and they know they can, and something in them makes them think it’s okay, and society validates that feeling that it’s okay by pretending the victim’s behavior was somehow the cause.

I was raped in an elementary school bathroom because I happened to be in the presence of a predator. The girl in Steubenville was raped because she happened to be in the presence of multiple predators. Maybe if she hadn’t gone to that party, she wouldn’t have been raped. By that logic, maybe if I’d held it in until I got home that day, I wouldn’t have been raped.

Don’t talk to me about rape unless you’ve been raped. If you haven’t gone through it, I guarantee I know more about it than you do.

This is addressed to anyone who ate at a Chick-Fil-A restaurant yesterday.

There are three possible reasons why you visited a restaurant that has made it clear that its leadership does not like gay people. (And please; no dithering over the difference between opposing gay marriage and not liking gay people. You either support our right to live with dignity or you don’t. If you don’t, you cannot claim to support us.)

The first possibility is that you are unaware of the firestorm that Dan Cathy caused when he finally, and forcefully, reiterated his and his company’s opposition to gay marriage. For any of you who fall into this category, please educate yourself, but continue reading. Ignorance of the issue does not absolve you of your guilt.

The second possibility is that you actively despise, or do not care about, gay people. You may not like the word “despise”. You may prefer to think that you’re just “uncomfortable” with us. Or you’d rather us not be around your kids. Or you’d rather that we just keep quiet and not shove our orientations in your face. But make no mistake. You despise us. Dan Cathy’s expression of intolerance for us living our lives with dignity resonated with you because you don’t want us to live our lives with dignity. You want us to remain hidden, so that you don’t have to see us being ourselves. You don’t want to see two daddies playing in the park with the daughter they’re raising together. You don’t want to see two women showing affection for one another because it creeps you out. Or because you believe it’s a sin, and you just can’t handle the idea of someone sinning near you.

The third possibility is that you have not thought your position through very well. You couch your support of Chick-Fil-A in First Amendment terms. Or you claim that you want to support a business that is proudly standing up for their values. Or you believe that boycotts harm the employees of businesses more than their leaders. Or you feel that gay people have been more intolerant of Chick-Fil-A than Chick-Fil-A has been of gay people. Or you believe that, while the leaders of the organization may be anti-gay, the employees have done nothing wrong.

All of these justifications for visiting Chick-Fil-A are wrong. If you believe them, that’s your right, but you need to realize that you have not thought your position through. You have stopped short and come to the wrong conclusion. You are either someone who secretly despises (or does not care about) gay people but don’t feel comfortable admitting it, or you are an ally who is accidentally working against us.

All of these justifications seem to target a particular sense of fairness. You may feel that you are noble because you see past the initial offense, or you may feel like you are being fair by not taking sides. You are wrong. I believe that Chick-Fil-A has every right to conduct itself however it wants. I believe in Dan Cathy’s right to say whatever hateful, bigoted thing he wants. I would take a bullet for his right to continue to do so. However, patronizing his business does *not* reinforce that you believe in his right to say stupid or hateful things. It reinforces that those beliefs are so inconsequential to you that you can overlook them. His expression of his desire to force my partner and me to remain unmarried has so little weight with you that you’d rather give his company money than take a principled stance against what he said. In essence, you’re not expressing solidarity with his right to free speech (a right which was never under attack in the first place); you’re expressing your lack of solidarity with the group Chick-Fil-A dislikes. Which means that you dislike us.

This is why, to my mind, if you visit Chick-Fil-A at all from this point forward, and especially if you visited yesterday, you either actively dislike gay people or you have not thought your position through. There is no other possibility. And again, saying that you “support gay people” but “don’t support gay marriage” is a complete falsehood. You either support our right to live with the dignity and rights we deserve, or you don’t support us at all. You can’t claim some mythical middle ground any more.

UPDATE: Wayne Self says everything I wanted to say, but much, much better.

I’m generally a big fan of Salon. Their political writing is usually rather engaging (even if it is admittedly one-sided), and Glenn Greenwald is one of the best bloggers on the planet. Their life and culture writers are always interesting. And their recent focus on human love and sexuality has been, for the most part, some of the best I’ve seen on a relatively mainstream site.

However, they just posted an article from a writer detailing his “disastrous” experience with polyamory:

Rachael and I saw the last translucent veil separating us from our friends ripped away. We hung a welcome sign on our bed. Jason and Mandy jumped right in. High as I was, the sex had a dreamy quality, as though I was watching myself perform pornography through a Vaseline-coated camera lens.

Then, just as Christian predicted, things came undone. I happened upon Rachael and Jason having sex in the poolside shower. I tried to ignore the stab of jealousy and resentment. But I couldn’t. Mandy, jacked up on nearly everything, woke me up in the middle of the night to see the stars. We jumped in the pool and had sex as the sun came up. Mandy’s sex with Jason was raw, animal-like, but with me she was tender and sweet, a perfect counterpoint to her rock-hard body.

Oh gods… not this. The whole article is mostly in the same vein, describing a series of drugged-up experiences in which a man and his wife had random sex with other drugged-up people and the ensuing guilt and bad feelings that neither party is apparently equipped to deal with.

I’m not denying that these things happen. I’m not denying that there are right ways and wrong ways to go about incorporating others into a relationship. But it is slightly upsetting to me that there is so little positive depiction of polyamory in the media. The surprisingly complex portrayals in HBO’s recently-concluded Big Love notwithstanding, media portrayals of “extra” people in a relationship are mostly just lurid stories of infidelity on the part of right-wing politicians and shallow celebrities with nothing in the way of balance.

I recently encountered an essay by JT Eberhard describing his experience with polyamory, and he is famously open about his personal life. When I read the Salon story, my mind flashed back to JT’s post, and I realized how important such openness is. I’ll save my stories for another post, but I do want to make a few points in response to the Salon article.

Our society has a very narrow view of what a relationship is supposed to be. Two people fall in love, and they stay together and remain faithful to one another forever and ever. If one of them strays, it’s a terrible thing, and causes damage to the relationship and loads of heartache. If things get bad between the two (and only two) people in a relationship, they either work them out, or break up, or stay miserable forever. If one partner is in any way attracted to another person, it can prompt jealousy on the part of the other partner.

This narrow view of relationships has the benefit of utter simplicity, but it certainly does not always promote happiness for everyone involved. Some people (possibly even a majority) prefer the simplicity, and it works for them. I thought it worked for me. But then my partner and I realized that the occasional threesome could be a lot of fun. And then we talked about things and realized that we trusted each other with other people even when we weren’t there. And then I fell in love with Cedric. Every moment that Cedric and Matt and I spend together is glorious. I am happier with both of them in my life.

This is the kind of testimony that seems to get lost every time the media covers polyamory. We hear about the jealousy, and the cheating, and the lack of respect, and every other bad thing, but we never hear about the other side of it.