Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies


Yolo Akili explores how gay men’s sexism and male privilege shows up in relationship to women.

At a recent presentation, I asked all of the gay male students in the room to raise their hand if in the past week they touched a woman’s body without her consent. After a moment of hesitation, all of the hands of the gay men in the room went up. I then asked the same gay men to raise their hand if in the past week they offered a woman unsolicited advice about how to “improve” her body or her fashion. Once again, after a moment of hesitation, all of the hands in the room went up.

These questions came after a brief exploration of gay men’s relationship to American fashion and women’s bodies. That dialogue included recognizing that gay men in the United States are often hailed as the experts of women’s fashion and by proxy women’s bodies. In addition to this there is a dominant logic that suggests that because gay men have no conscious desire to be sexually intimate with women, our uninvited touching and groping (physical assault) is benign.

These attitudes have led many gay men to feel curiously comfortable critiquing and touching women’s bodies at whim.  What’s unique about this is not the male sense of ownership to women’s bodies—that is somewhat common.  What’s curious is the minimization of these acts by gay men and many women because the male perpetuating the act is or is perceived to be gay.

An example: I was at a gay club in Atlanta with a good friend of mine who is a heterosexual black woman. While dancing in the club, a white gay male reached out and grabbed both her breasts aggressively. Shocked, she pushed him away immediately. When we both confronted him he told us:  “It’s no big deal, I’m gay, I don’t want her– I was just having fun.” We expressed our frustrations to him and demanded he apologize, but he simply refused. He clearly felt entitled to touch her body and could not even acknowledge the fact that he had assaulted her.

I have experienced this attitude as being very common amongst gay men. It should also be noted that in this case, she was a black woman and he a white gay male, which makes this an eyebrow-raising dynamic as it invokes the psychological history of white men’s entitlement to black women’s bodies. However it has been my experience that this dynamic of assault with gay men and women also persists within racial groups.

At another presentation, I told this same story to the audience. Almost instantly, several young women raised up their hands to be called upon. Each of them recounted a different story with a similar theme. One young woman told a story that stuck with me:

“I was feeling really cute in this outfit I put together. Then I see this gay guy I knew from class, but not very well. I had barely said hi before he began telling me what was wrong with how I looked, how I needed to lose weight, and how if I wanted to get a man I needed to do certain things… In the midst of this, he grabbed my breasts and pushed them together, to tell me how my breasts should look as opposed to how they did.  It really brought me down. I didn’t know how to respond… I was so shocked.”

Her story invoked rage amongst many other women in the audience, and an obvious silence amongst the gay men present. Their silence spoke volumes.  What also seemed to speak volumes, though not ever articulated verbally, was the sense that many of the heterosexual women had not responded (aggressively or otherwise) out of fear of being perceived as homophobic. (Or that their own homophobia, in an aggressive response, would reveal itself.) This, curiously to me, did not seem to be a concern for the lesbian and queer-identified women in the room at all.

Acts like these are apart of the everyday psychological warfare against women and girls that pits them against unrealistic beauty standards and ideals. It is also a part of the culture’s constant message to women that their bodies are not their own.

It’s very disturbing, but in a culture that doesn’t  see gay men who are perceived as “queer” as “men” or as having male privilege, our misogyny and sexist acts are instead read as “diva worship” or “celebrating women”, even when in reality they are objectification, assault and dehumanization.

The unique way our entitlement to women’s physical bodies plays itself out is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gay cisgender men’s sexism and privilege. This privilege does not make one a bad person any more than straight privilege makes heterosexuals bad people. It does mean that gay men can sometimes be just as unthinkingly hurtful, and unthinkingly a part of a system that participates in the oppression of others, an experience most of us can relate to. Exploration of these dynamics can lead us to query institutional systems and policies that reflect this privilege, nuanced as it is by other identities and social locations.

At the end of my last workshop on gay men’s sexism, I extended a number of questions to the gay men in the audience. I think it’s relevant to extend these same questions now:

How is your sexism and misogyny showing up in your own life, and in your relationships with your female friends, trans, lesbian, queer or heterosexual? How is it showing up in your relationship to your mothers, aunts and sisters?  Is it showing up in your expectations of how they should treat you? How you talk to them? What steps can you take to address the inequitable representation of gay cisgender men in your community as leaders? How do you see that privilege showing up in your organizations and policy, and what can you do to circumvent it? How will you talk to other gay men in your community about their choices and interactions with women, and how will you work to hold them and yourself accountable?

These are just some of the questions we need to be asking ourselves so that we can help create communities where sexual or physical assault, no matter who is doing it, is deemed unacceptable. These are the kinds of questions we as gay men need to be asking ourselves so that we can continue (or for some begin) the work of addressing gender/sex inequity in our own communities, as well as in our own hearts and minds. This is a part of our healing work. This is a part of our transformation. This is a part of our accountability.

 

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Photo—Bringo/Flickr

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About Yolo Akili

Yolo Akili is a Writer, Poet and Yoga Teacher. He can be reached via his website www.YoloAkili.com or on Twitter as @YoloAkili.

Comments

  1. mahler9 says:

    This is just so wrong and of the mark. Most gay men I know really like women. That is to say, they like them as people and respect them as people. The DO NOT objectify women the way some (not ALL!) straight men do.

    • Just because it hasnt been your experience, does not mean it is ‘wrong’ or off the mark. People have different experiences without any of them being invalid.
      For example, I am the only female in a company of gay men – it is a reasonably rare situation, I presume, and I can tell you I’m on the receiving end of this kind of misogyny every day. Today ive had someone interrupt me in a meeting to say “interesting shoes” while laughing, and another ask me if I am still going to the gym.

      Great that all the homosexual men jn your life are respectful, but not all of them are.

    • Amen! What a total load of bunk. The writer speaks of the exception, not the norm. It is far more prevalent for gay men to speak up to support women in acceptance of their bodies, not judgement against them. The author commonly misses the mark, but only age and experience will show him the error of his ways. For now he’s a Diva with a platform and believes himself unstoppable and fierce. Tragic is more like it. Hopefully he’ll learn to use his talent as a writer for good instead of creating evil wedge issues where none exist.

  2. Tom Hunter says:

    So, doing things women either ask us to do so often it becomes second nature, or do to us suddenly becomes sexist when we do it?

  3. tl;dr: Despite being oppressed by the same patriarchy* that oppresses women, gay men still have male privilege** and some gay men can be as misogynistic*** as straight men toward women.

    * in laymans terms: the good ol’ boys club that essentially rules everything, if you are not an able bodied neurotypical cis white straight male with money then you are second class. The attitude is engrained into the American culture and is subconsciously learned through acculturation.
    ** male privilege, unconscious advantages and power men have that affects them beneficially in all facets of life.
    *** conscious or unconscious hatred of women or attitude that women are inferior to men

    Its ironic because gay men are resorting to all the rhetorical points as straight men when being confronted with their misogynistic BS: “Not all men” “women are just as bad” “you are being a misandrist ” among victim blaming and slut shaming.

  4. Most gay men are great, but there are some who are true narcissists that do engage in objectifying women and even sexually. Gay men (NOT bisexual) who have sex with women are using them as physical & mental experiments, so they can imagine what it must feel like for her being screwed by a straight guy. Its a psychological role-play for him, but she doesn’t know it. This would mean that the gay man was actually having mind sex with himself, and this is why he is truly stimulated & why he is able to perform at that moment with a woman. This is 100% sexual objectification of a female. And there are gay men who do not consider themselves bisexual, but still have sex with women. That’s up for debate, but moving along…If they are able to even keep it up around a female (a gender they aren’t attracted to, because duh…they’re gay), then that tells me that these men are only focused & aroused by their own masculinity & how it is being received by the woman, as well as the feeling of being inside her. Its as if the gay man is treating the woman like a sex object & using her, almost in the same sense as a date-rapist would, yet luring her in through the use of carnal temptation & getting her consent just so he can feel like a stud for one moment in bed. Its almost as if his sex act with this woman, is a completely different scenario playing in his head. He projects himself onto the woman psychologically – pretending & fantasizing in that moment – that he’s both the woman & the stud banging her. It doesn’t matter how “hot or not hot” these situations are. This is a narcissistic sexual objectifying relationship for the man, even if the woman is all about it. If a woman is into this…then she is also objectifying the gay male. Authentic Heterosexual men & Bisexual men don’t turn inward when having sex with females. A gay man who has sex with a woman is just using her for the feeling & the false fantasy that’s in his head. If you’re into that…just be aware that he isn’t thinking about you when he’s in you, but he is imagining that he’s a straight male banging his female self. 
    NOTE: He’s turned on by himself & how his body is turning her on, yet is not attracted to her cause he’s gay, nor care’s – but rather is only concerned about the fantasy in his head & how his body is being received. This particular gay man would be a narcissist if he’s doing this. And what do Narcissists do…. they OBJECTIFY people.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] And it’s not just modeling as I think we all know that does this. It is all the marketing towards women and men that is horrifying and needs to be broken. As Autumn Whitefield-Madrano points out in “Modeling as Modern Day Physiognomy”, there are codes and codifications engrained in our gaze onto other people. It can be a racist, homophobic, you-name-it gaze, that puts a face into a category and further more an aesthetic that model bookers, for example cannot define. I can define it for you: certain faces sell products whether it be luxury, commercial or a lifestyle. It is the preying upon how women and men are supposed to constantly present themselves according to a higher power that is the problem, whether it be a straight male gaze, a gay male gaze, a straight female gaze, a trans-gaze, whatever the gaze is, I think it should be destroyed. (One gaze that Mears brings up that needs to be discussed more is the power of the male gay gaze in fashion, I recommend this article for further reading: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/gay-mens-sexism-and-womens-bodies/) [...]

  2. [...] To read: Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies [...]

  3. [...] covered good ground on the physical aspect of sexism in the gay community. Peep his article ‘Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies.’ Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

  4. [...] Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies mbadebjqzu1rctihmo1_r1_500.jpg (220×750) [...]

  5. [...] Gay men’s sexism and women’s bodies [...]

  6. [...] Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies New Therapy Treats Patients with Death Experience 50 Years of the Jetsons: Why The Show Still Matters Steampunk is now terrorism, according to the TSA Christo plans sculpture of oil drums to tower above sands of Abu Dhabi—petrophilic 90s hairstyle-meets-Ancient Egypt; also will be the world’s largest, most expensive sculpture This stag do is a REAL riot!—”For £79 participants can use batons, rush police and learn how to throw petrol bombs” [...]

  7. [...] Akili’s “Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies” and riese’s “Why Do Gay Men Keep Touching My Boobs: The Autostraddle [...]

  8. [...] Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies [...]

  9. [...] “Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies” by Yolo Akili – posted last November on The Good Men Project.  I was so excited to find this.  He explains the problem well and I’m always relieved to find folks in privileged positions doing a good job educating our own.  Writing as a queer man of color, he also touches upon the added oppressive dynamic of white men feeling entitled in any way to the bodies of women of color. [...]

  10. [...] a related, and somewhat serious, note: Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies, at the Good Men Project.  Over and out! Share this:EmailTwitterFacebookGoogle [...]

  11. [...] Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies At a recent presentation, I asked all of the gay male students in the room to raise their hand if in the past week they touched a woman’s body without her consent. After a moment of hesitation, all of the hands of the gay men in the room went up. I then asked the same gay men to raise their hand if in the past week they offered a woman unsolicited advice about how to “improve” her body or her fashion. If your husband were gay, would you stick by his side? [...]

  12. [...] sexual violence is power, not sexual attraction.  I must point out here that too many of us have sexually harassed or assaulted women and naively excused the behavior as innocent because we are gay.  Sexual violence by any [...]

  13. [...] + Yolo Akili explores the sometimes-sexist relationship between gay men and women’s bodies. [...]

  14. [...] attracted to women, they are much less likely to be sexist or misogynistic.* Yolo Aliki’s article here at GMP shows that assumption is actually a misconception, and that gay men are fully capable [...]

  15. [...] Aliki’s article on The Good Men Project shows that assumption is actually a misconception, and that gay men are fully capable of [...]

  16. […] Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies […]

  17. […] Pour lui, il s'agit d'une forme de perpétuation de la domination masculine sur les femmes, déniant à celles-ci le droit d'être maîtresses de leur propre corps. Parce qu'ils n'éprouvent pas de désir sensuel envers les femmes, certains gays s'arrogent le privilège de transformer celles-ci en objets. Avec parfois le consentement des femmes qui se laissent faire «de peur d'être perçues comme homophobes». Ce texte, qui date de novembre 2012 mais recommence à circuler sur les réseaux sociaux, est toujours d'actualité. À lire sur Good Men Project. […]

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