Consent 101: Gay Men & Touching
Gay men are some of the most handsy, touchy-feely people in the world. We potentially missed out on a bunch of affection as children, often the shunned black sheep or ones who didn’t feel like we could be open about the sex we were attracted to and loved. Many queer men confess that they didn’t feel like they had childhoods filled with love, acceptance and affection, due to keeping their real selves hidden from society or ill treatment from their family members and friends.
We often strayed from our biological families in search of a chosen, accepting family ready to embrace us for everything we are, homosexuality included. Therefore, gay men touch, hug, and kiss one another more than most groups of people. It’s almost like we are making up for lost affection we didn’t receive as children. Or nods of affection become stamps of love and approval of another queer person against a society that has often rejected homosexuals.
Maybe that is where overt touching came from. Perhaps it is more of a cultural aspect: gay male culture has been attached to bars and nightlife where drugs, alcohol, and sexuality are blended together in one big queer melting pot. Nearly naked men dancing on boxes has become a staple of the gay bar in pre-Covid gayborhoods, where slipping a few bucks down a go-go boy’s underwear is considered acceptable.
Somewhere along the lines, we have allowed that touching and that feeling to go overboard in almost predatory ways. Gay men overly sexualize every aspect of life: we are, after all, men fucking other men. We are biologically designed to have sex with one another. The #METOO movement brought attention to sexual assault, harassment, and unwinding advances from most often men/people in positions of power. While it was mostly women coming forward, several high profile gay men spoke out about their own experience with sexual abuse, making the gay male community re-think its overly affectionate touching.
While meaning no offense at all, I once slapped the ass of a kickball teammate a few years ago without thinking. I was “messing around” and saw his butt just winking at me. I slapped it thinking it was a nod of affection to my friend. He spun around, grabbed my hand, and said: “I love you and you are my friend. And that is why I’m not beating the physical shit out of you right now. I was violently raped as a teenager. No one slaps my ass.”
I was shocked. Both at the admittance of my friend’s sexual abuse unbeknownst to me, but also at the realization that I had just sexually assaulted my friend. This was a huge learning experience. I profusely apologized to my friend, and he was immediately fine and didn’t take offense to it. He knew I was joking around and “didn’t mean anything by it”. He got over it quickly. I, however, did not. I dove head first into doing my own case study involving gay men and our open affection.
This experience with my friend made me think of all the times that I had received unwanted, undesired sexual attention from other, mostly older, gay men. My ass has been squeezed probably 50 times. I am a smaller man, so I have been pulled in for a kiss or a hug by strangers and guys I wasn’t interested in. I have had my body parts judged and talked about hundreds of times. And I have had unwanted sexual comments said to me thousands of times. Think about how many times you have been smacked on the butt by a perfect stranger and actually like it. When and how did we as a community become ok with being #METOOed all the time?
We as queer men cannot feel empathetic towards our female friends one minute and then turn a blind eye to unwarranted sexual activity another. Almost every one of us gay males has been inappropriately touched, grabbed, or had comments made about us. It is now, here in 2020 when there is rampant cancel culture going on, that we need to take a stand against this unwanted behavior. It’s high time gay men cancel cultured and put a stop to touching one another all the time.
Maybe the Coronavirus will help limit this behavior. Maybe when everything returns back to “normal”. Or maybe it won’t. So there can be no relying on a pandemic to halt sexual assault and deviancy. The unwanted sexual attention gay men often fling at one another needs to be checked. If you have an inkling in your head that something you’re about to say or do could be deemed as offensive by someone, then stop yourself. If you have doubt, don’t do it. If your friends ask you if something could be taken negatively, don’t allow them to act like that either. There is no better time than to be cautious about touching one another.
From now on, a clear, honest, upfront consent needs to be given before any type of physical touching or sexual references are uttered. And that looks something like this: asking upfront. But also, again, thinking before you act. If you think your action or statement won’t be taken offensively, ask. The worst someone can say is “no.” Or: “That makes me uncomfortable.” If you’ve thought an act or comment wouldn’t be received negatively, then the person you’re inquiring should have no problem politely responding and declining. You’ll have a clear indication that your behavior is unwanted and then you’ll know not to act like that or make your comment. It’s that simple. If you were considerate and rationale in your actions, there is no reason you shouldn’t be reciprocated with the same level of honesty and respect.
Consent 101 is pretty simple and straight forward. Consent is asking permission to treat a certain person a certain way, after you’ve already internally analyzed the situation. If consent is given, you’re ok to proceed as follows within the bounds that the person permitted you to act or say. Then and only then when you are given an “all clear” a clear “yes” or seal of approval is it ok to go ahead with your words or affection.
But once that permission is denied or revoked, you absolutely must not proceed. A simple “my apologies” or an earnest “excuse me” or “pardon me” is suffice so as not to offend, as long as you really mean it. You don’t need a reason or rationale like my friend had to school me above. A simple “no” answer is all they need to give you. And that should be enough of an answer for you to not pass go or continue with what you had intended to do.
For lots of us overly loving and affectionate queens, this may seem like a blow to us and our egos. We’ve never looked at being touchy feely as being the act of a space invader or as something malicious. But that doesn’t mean we are allowed to touch people without their permission. Again, if you have any doubts, keep your thoughts, opinions, and actions to yourself. Don’t take it personally. Just realize that not everyone has the same comfort levels as we do. Some people just don’t even like to be touched.
What you may find is that this new found openness opens up a dialogue for those of us to discuss past traumas. To deal with issues not handled from the past. You’ll also be surprised at how many people randomly say yes to your advances. Some guys look at it as assertiveness and find the attention attractive and something to be desired. There are people who like being touched and grabbed. But you have to inquire within to gather that information, first.
This Coronavirus time is allowing us to step back and take some time for self evaluation. Look back at your actions to think about how you could have done better in the past, and take that knowledge with you into the future. We can still be our cuddly, loving, affectionate selves. Consent 101 is not asking you to change your whole entire persona. Consent is just asking that you ask and gain permission, before you act. That’s all: just ask first.
We all need love and affection during these turbulent times, that is a given. Many of us who live alone are craving affection and attention when we are currently so socially distant from one another. There will be a time and a place when we can love and hug and embrace one another again.
Give yourself a big hug and realize that it’s going be ok. As long as you ask yourself permission, first.