Sunday, May 6, 2012

What Boys Can Learn From Girls (or: Be a Pussy).

A repost of something I wrote years ago.

(Trigger Warning for homophobia, child abuse, and sexual assault.)

My brother is a decent kid, and I love him, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s homophobic. 

To his credit, he doesn’t want to be a homophobe...he’s a good, progressive boy raised by a progressive mom, living in a progressive area (San Francisco), and he has a lesbian sister (me) that he loves.  He’d never beat up or tease a gay kid--he’s stuck up for a gay kids, or kids that were perceived as gay/effeminate, at school and boy scouts, even--he’s totally supportive of civil rights for the queer community and voted against Prop 8.  I’m not saying he should get a medal for this; treating gay people like, well, people, is the bare requirement for being a decent human being, in my book.  But I say this to establish that he doesn’t hate gay people or wish us harm. 

But he’s still homophobic. 

I use homophobic in the literal sense, not the general usage of the term.  He is afraid of gay people.  Well, gay men.  Like many 19-year-old, heterosexual boys, he’s a product of our porn culture, and really likes lesbians.  At least the “hot” ones.  (But that’s a different rant, for a different time.)  Gay men freak him out.  Though he’s known several out gay boys, he’s never had a gay friend, and doesn’t want one.  He’d never dream of interfering in the lives of gay men, but he doesn’t want to be a part of their lives, either.

To his credit, he admits that this is a problem, specifically his problem and not something that gay people cause just by the fact of their existence.  To his discredit, he doesn’t think that it’s possible to change the way he feels, and has no intention of making an effort to change.  “It’s just the way it is,” he says.  “Any guy would feel the same way.”

(Presumably, he means any heterosexual guy.  It’s a little thing, but it really shows his deep bias against gay folk, even with his progressive politics.  All guys are heterosexual.  Gays are “other.”)

We had a long conversation the other day, during which I tried to get to the bottom of his homophobia.  How can a kid who doesn’t really have a moral problem with homosexuality, who actively supports gay rights, who has been raised around gay people and has gay family, still harbor a deep fear against gay men?  It came down to a couple of things.

First, he finds gay sex skeevy.  Okay.  I can understand that; I find a lot of sex gross, hetero and homo.  Hell, the time I heard my parents having sex in the shower scarred me for life, but it doesn’t mean I’m afraid of my parents.  After some thought, he agreed.  Yeah, he thinks gay sex is nasty, but it doesn’t make him afraid.  He just doesn’t think about it.  Which is good, because frankly, I think that people who like to sit around all day long thinking about sex acts in general, and sex acts that gross them out in particular, are just perverts.  (Here’s looking at you, Peter LaBarbera.)  So that explanation doesn’t work.

The real answer, we discovered, is that he’s afraid that a gay man might find him attractive.  He’s super uncomfortable with the thought of another boy checking him out.  He has no idea what to do if a guy hits on him--what will he say?  How should he act?  And, of course, there’s an underlying fear of rape.  Even though he acknowledges that it’s stupid (and arrogant), that he knows gay people aren’t roaming the streets looking to molest his ass, he’s still afraid. 

The kicker of the conversation was when he looked at me and said, totally seriously, “You’re not a man.  You can’t understand.”

Really.  I’m not a man, so I can’t understand what it feels like to be checked out by people I have no interest in?  I’m not a man, so I can’t understand what it feels like to be uncomfortable when someone I’m not attracted to hits on me?  I’m not a man, so I can’t know what it feels like to be afraid of being raped?  Are you fucking kidding me?

The first thought that entered my mind was: Stop being such a pussy.  I didn’t voice it.  I’m trying to eliminate misogynist language from my speech and writing.  So the thought came in, I started to dismiss it, and then I began to deconstruct it.  And I realized that, honestly, I was totally wrong.  My brother didn’t need to stop being a pussy, he needed to start being a pussy.

Slur aside, I can’t stop thinking about how much my brother could learn from the average feminine experience--and, by extension, all the boys that he insists feel the same way he does.  I don’t deny that male-on-male harassment and rape occurs, but it’s not debatable that it happens on a smaller scale than for male-on-female.  Girls are inundated with our rape culture from the crib.  We all deal with it, all the time.

The lectures, warnings, and tragic stories from the older women in our lives.  The news stories.  The PSAs.  The lessons in school, from “good touch/bad touch” in kindergarten to a video on date rape in High School.  Walking friends to their cars after work.  Calling campus police to escort us to our vehicle after an evening class gets out.  The endless “jokes” from stand-up to sitcoms to light-hearted comedies.  Being told that in spite of it all, we’re really the ones with all the power, so what the hell are we complaining about?  Being told that we’re uptight, humorless, and paranoid for complaining at all.  Being told that it’s all our fault.

That might be all (as if that isn’t enough) for a scant few, but most of us know more.  Most of us experience more before we hit Jr. High.  We experience the trusted family member who touches us when no one is around.  The looks we don’t really understand, but still make us ashamed, as our breasts start to develop.  Being fondled on a crowded bus.  Getting crowded, scared, objectified by a boy, then called frigid, dyke, stuck-up, bitch when we don’t take him up on his offer.  The ex-boyfriend who won’t stop calling, coming around our apartments, leaving threatening messages, ignoring the restraining order, and the cops who say their hands are tied.  The teacher who stares at our chests instead of our eyes when we talk, the boss who comes right to the edge of sexual harassment, just enough to make us humiliated and afraid, not enough for us to be taken as anything but hysterical or paranoid if we complain.  Objectified.  Used. Stalked.  Raped.  Blamed.
And so much more. 

One in four of us are sexually abused by the time we reach the age of 18, usually by a family member or friend of the family. Conservatively, one in six of us are raped in our lifetimes; every two minutes, another person is sexually assaultedSixty-two percent of us are sexually harassed in collegeand an estimated 40%-70% of us are sexually harassed at work Eight percent of us will be victims of stalking.

And yeah, I’ll get personal.  I’ll be a face to these statistics.  When I was nine, I was molested repeatedly over a period of a year and a half by a trusted family friend who was living with us.  When I was in Jr. High, I was sexually harassed almost every day.  Two years ago, I was raped while walking home from work.  These are the “big” things, the events that make people gasp and pity, but I’ve also endured the “little” things that all of us girls experience, that may be little, but add up to a hell of a lot over the years.  Hearing my mom say that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman.  Having men at church use the “greeting time” during the service to cop a feel, and being admonished when I wouldn’t let people hug me.  The boss who made me clean up the erotica section of the bookstore every day when he found out pornography bothered me.  The boy who called me a “stuck-up bitch” when I turned him down, the endless men who have stared at my breasts instead of my face.  And on and on and on.  I can’t remember every time that I’ve been humiliated, disgusted, or frightened.  I don’t have the time or space to list all the times I do remember.  And I’m certainly not unique; I don’t just have bad luck.  I’m a woman.

There’s no sign that perverts wear.  There’s no mark that distinguishes the would-be rapist.  And yet, how ridiculous would it be for us to act like my brother, to accept fear as a reason for not wanting to interact with men at all?  I’m a lesbian: I have no desire for men.  And I have every reason to be afraid of them.  But people would think I was a crazy person (not to mention hateful) if I were to casually admit that all men made me uncomfortable, or afraid, or if I said something like, “well, I support male rights, of course, and I’d never want to hurt a man, but I could never be friends with a guy.”    

Honestly, I’m in awe of us girls.  We wake up every morning and go out into the world, even knowing how vulnerable we are, the odds that are stacked against us.  And, for the most part, we don’t let it interfere with our lives.  We’re able to look past the evil done to us and see the good that lies in most of mankind.  We take a chance and befriend and love those who are most likely to hurt us.  We get knocked down again and again and get right back up, and we don’t let the actions of the bad men affect our opinions of the good ones. 

Really, my little brother needs to start being such a pussy.  

(About statistics: Yes, anyone with Google can find a whole bunch of different numbers.  These are all rough statistics pulled from a variety of sources.  Regardless of whether it’s one in three women who are raped, or one in five, it’s still too damn many.  And I believe that the very lack of concrete numbers shows the enormity of the problem.)

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