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19th of November 2018

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#UsToo: Sexual Assault and Rape of (and by) LGBTQ People - The Good Men Project

—This past spring, The New York Times published an illuminating and insightful editorial by Frank Bruni on the #MeToo movement in Hollywood prior to the airing of the 2018 Oscars. Bruni points to the obvious aspects of harassment in Hollywood, including the Weinstein case, but also intelligently points to the role that films play in normalizing these conditions in his editorial titled “Romance, Rough Sex or Rape.”

He asks us to consider the glorification of male-on-female perpetration. For examples:

Rhett Butler, drunk, threatens to crush Scarlet O’Hara’s skull and then grabs her violently and carries her to the bedroom;Rocky Balboa, after his first date with Adrienne, returns to his apartment where he wears down and ridicules her into being intimate despite her reluctance and repeated requests to go home;Rudolph Valentino as the Sheik who carries off the women despite their resistance—off to somewhere to do god knows what.

I add to this list Ennis Del Mar raping Jack Twist in the tent on Brokeback Mountain. For those in the LGBT population who may take offense to the addition of the revered Brokeback to Bruni’s list because of some false sense of loyalty, I ask simply that you take a more nuanced examination of that scene and the dysfunctional relationship portrayed in that film. As Bruni points out in the editorial, Hollywood may not think of these acts are rape because they are couched as romance, love, and passion. But let’s not be fooled; they are rape.

Pointing out these depictions demonstrates how we collectively as culture enable these actions to continue through some misguided notion about love and romance that begins when we subject children to those Disney representations of Cinderella, Snow White and the rest.

Sexual harassment is not always as obvious as in the cases of Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves, or Donald Trump. Addressing these outlandish behaviors requires a much more surgical approach—a nuance that is requisite in addressing sexual harassment perpetrated at and by LGBT people.

While many of the disturbing actions of cisgender heterosexual men in Hollywood have been brought to our attention by Rowan Farrow, an openly gay man whose own step-father, Woody Allen, has a long history of harassing behaviors, members of the LGBT population also perpetrate. Other than the accusations against Kevin Spacey, photographers Bruce Weber and Mario Testino, and more recently NYU professor Avital Ronnell, who received a slap on the wrist of a one-year suspension, the issue of sexual harassment in the LGBT population has, for the most part, been unchecked and improperly punished.

Why is that? I have come to understand this situation in two ways. First, there is potential covering that occurs within the LGBT population out of concern that uncovering these behaviors will place another burden on our already burdened population, making us less susceptible to even more hate from others.

Second, sexual harassment and sexual behavior with the LGBT population cannot be understood using a heterosexual male-perpetrating-female perspective, leading many LGBT people to feel excluded from these conversations and in turn remaining silent. Thus, in order to develop effective programming that ameliorates the prevalence of sexual harassment by and at LGBT people, we must keep these potential drivers in mind. Here are some considerations to help us effectively address the issue:

First: Programs intended to shed light upon and address sexual harassment must be customized to the LGBT population and not treat issues of harassment among LGBT people as an afterthought. In this regard, we cannot simply adopt and apply a heterosexual paradigm in understanding how LGBT people operate and function. Paradigms developed on one group are not necessarily transferable to others as we learned when psychologist Carol Gilligan debunked Kohlberg’s theory of moral development in relation to women.LGBT people relate to each using scripts that are normed within our own population which do not align with the heterosexual scripts. This is in part informed by years of hiding and being “othered.” The power dynamic that may exist between cisgender heterosexual men and women is different than the dynamic between two lesbian women or gay men. And our dynamic is complex.  Thus, the intricacies of these relationships must be understood.Second: Sexuality and sexual behavior between same-sex individuals is different than sex in opposite-sex couples. The meanings of sex in our population may have even greater salience since those with whom we have sex inform our identities.Third: LGBT people are victimized, violated, and vilified from very young ages and throughout our lives, and we may be more immune to experiences of harassment from each other. Such victimization can take the form of both macro and microaggressions and all aggression in between. Hate crimes have been on the rise and we are being subjected to stereotypical and demeaning depictions in the media. We are glared at when we hold hands on the street; we are denied wedding cakes; we are subjected a supervisor’s alleged jokes about another colleague’s closeted sexuality (yes, this happened to me). As a result of these ongoing social conditions, we each may have developed a thick skin in order to survive.Fourth: Sexual harassment for LGBT people must sensitize us on behaviors, which are inappropriate in how we relate to each other. This is essential since we must differentiate such actions from a friend, ally, boss, or partner (sexual or romantic) from the diurnal attacks we experience in our lives According to the Human Right Campaign, 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women experience rape and physical violence, compared to 35 % of heterosexual women; 26% of gay men and 37 % of bisexual men experience rape, compared to heterosexual men, and 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetimes. These statistics also must be considered in light of other social and structural circumstances which may deem us to feel powerless: 15% of LGBT people have avoided calling the police in fear of discrimination, double that proportion among people of color.

In the end, in order to address issues of harassment in the LGBT population, we must be more than culturally competent and we must tailor programming to the population. In the absence of such a nuanced and attentive and integrated approach to understanding our lives, sexual harassment will be another health disparity that burdens the LGBT population. More importantly, young and vulnerable individuals, who are already dealing with the hate and homophobia of society, will fall prey to insidious LGBT people in power who will take advantage of them and the apathy of institutions which permit these behaviors to go unchecked.

What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.

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