Gay men have long been slandered as being defective. Not “real” men; maybe even (horrors) like women. But gay men are just regular men, like all the rest. They just happen to be attracted to other men. As long as any kind of social record of same-sex attracted men could have existed, we have found evidence that they were there with everyone else.
Men who are attracted to women might be afraid of supposedly “acting like gay men,” as we understand that today, just like they’re afraid to supposedly “act like women.” That men can be socialized out of displaying what might be considered feminine aspects of a normal human personality doesn’t mean anything besides that human beings like to fit in with their neighbours and not stand out too much.
Gay men aren’t special. They are not better, not worse, not gentler, not more dangerous, than any other group of men. They are just men who are attracted to other men.
But this thing about men being attracted to other men, all by itself, causes a lot of people to really freak out. They worry because, deep down, they know how men act towards people for whom they profess romantic interest, and they worry about the men and boys they know, or perhaps they worry about themselves, if they are heterosexual men.
The reason people panic over the existence of gay men is because they know how all men are socialized, and they fear that “normal” male socialization will be directed towards less suitable targets: men and boys.
This is homophobia at its most basic, and it’s grounded in the misogynistic premise that the correct target of male aggression (allegedly romantic) is a woman or a girl. This homophobia is proof that people know that women’s complaints about male harassment are legitimate, that our fears of male violence are legitimate, but they want us to put up with it anyway because tolerating that is what they think women and girls are for.
Every time you see homophobic panic among men who don’t care about the safety of women and girls from male violence, you see them reveal themselves as thinking that women and girls deserve that treatment.
The easy proof is in Western attitudes towards “child marriage” in our own countries, both in history and presently, and the treatment of men who violate girls instead of boys.
For instance, how many times have you heard a male historical figure decried as a “pederast” for sexually exploiting a boy whom, if the child were a girl, the adult man could simply have married and assaulted daily under the full blessing of the law? Probably at least once.
How many times, if you have studied European history much at all, have you heard of aristocratic or royal children being born to girls who were married off so young that, if they were boys, the adult man who violated them should have stood out in your mind as a singularly wicked criminal? Straight men have not gained a reputation as pedophiles based on this practice, indeed, it mainly passes without notice.
Are you horrified at Anthony Rapp’s age — only 14, when Kevin Spacey is alleged to have made inappropriate advances towards him?
Consider if you have ever worried that Kevin Spacey, or any man, could simply marry a 14-year-old girl in over half of US states if her parents were persuaded to agree. There are countries like Tanzania where, in some areas, nine and 12-year-old girls can be abducted and forcibly taken as so-called wives for a simple payment of livestock to their parents. But if you would call that socially backwards, what do you call the US where forcibly arranged and underage marriages are still allowed? What should we think about the persistence of Warren Jeffs’ Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) cult?
Now that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, this playing field is theoretically even. But the sorts of parents who are likeliest to agree to the marriage of a young daughter don’t have a tradition of marrying their sons to older men, which would be just as bad, but is unlikely.
Kevin Spacey has now been accused of the sexual harassment of a boy. The story was barely a day old when his 2017 Emmy was revoked, and Netflix hastened to announce that his popular show, House of Cards, was going to be cancelled after its next season. It’s good that people believed his victim and took it seriously, since other young men making similar accusations have not been believed in past decades.
Here’s what troubles me. Woody Allen and Roman Polanski still have careers after far more serious allegations. In Polanski’s case, he was convicted of raping a minor. His films are still considered more important than his torture of at least one girl. R. Kelly still has a career because he picked black girls to prey on — victims whom very few people believe or care about.
Most powerful men, even as #MeToo continues to reveal the sadly commonplace nature of men’s harassment of women, seem to need to be accused by dozens of women before there is even a chance that their careers will be affected. Spacey’s career seems to have come to an abrupt end on the word of one man. This is a worse effective ratio of value assigned to women’s and men’s respective testimony than is formally called for under the sort of Sharia Islamic law that assigns women’s words half the value of a man’s.
Bill Cosby had to be accused by 35 women to really make it clear to the media that he was a dangerous person. The math says that the word of each of those 35 women ended up being worth about 2.8 per cent of the value of Cosby’s word, that of one man maintaining his innocence. I am not in favor of any establishment of religious law, but one might well think how curious it is that a system of formal equality could result in women’s word being effectively taken at about a tenth the value it’s supposed to have in a system formalizing our inequality.
Why isn’t the word of one woman that she was raped enough grounds on which to judge a straight man, but an incident of harassment can be enough if the man is gay?
The fear of backlash among the LGB community based on Spacey’s decision to come out at a time when that acts as a deflection from this story is grounded solidly in experience. But only because straight men think of themselves, and are widely thought of, as better and safer company than gay or bisexual men. This is only because the crimes of straight men against children are naturalized, and the innocence of a girl is seen as a prize for men rather a trust she is owed by every adult.
I expect that there are a lot of straight men who watch “barely legal” films of sexual exploitation, who sexualize cartoon images of girls, who stare blatantly at young girl’s bodies in public or harass them on the street, who are disgusted by the Spacey story because they think of themselves as young men and think that it could have been them. It’s obvious that they extend no such empathy to the girls they disturb — no similar horror to their own fetishization of underage girls.
But straight men aren’t special and better than gay men. Not any more than white male citizens of the US are better than male citizens with darker skin, or any type of male immigrants. They are all men, like the rest, and they’re raised to believe it’s their right to dominate others. They are all encouraged to approach romantic relationships by seeking inferiors to impress rather than peers to build with, and it’s a testimony to human decency that many of them resist going that direction.
In the end, the Spacey story isn’t more surprising than the Polanski story. It shouldn’t be. Men are too often like this. None of them are special.