Last weekend in a social setting, my body was touched without my consent. I felt confused, vulnerable and unsafe. I confided in my friend who proceeded to call him out. The situation escalated, climaxed in yelling, and ended with an apology from the person. He claimed he did not intend to make me feel violated.
He said he thought I was his other Black, female-identified friend, who is one foot shorter, 2 shades lighter and has different body proportions. And that he didn’t intend to cause me harm. He proceeded to condescendingly imply that I should not have felt the way I felt because he is gay and had no sexual interest in me.
Impact over intent.
Intentions can never be divorced from the impact of one’s actions. Never navigate the world believing that intentions make disagreeable, harmful actions permissible. People who mean well can still hurt others; however in order for the pain to stop there, accountability must disrupt the defensiveness around intentions.
Lack of sexual interest in someone doesn’t protect you from accusation of sexual harassment and abuse. In the situation described above, gay men can take part in misogyny and misogynoir, just as women can internalize sexist or misogynistic practices. Being a gay man does not make it okay for you to touch someone without their consent.
Even within marginalized communities and spaces, oppressive ideologies are present. Circulating on Facebook is a comic strip by Anna Bongiovanni on Everyday Feminism titled: How Misogyny Shows Up in the Queer Community.
One comic illustration reads “another example of misogyny is when gay men feel it’s ok to touch or grope women.” Coincidentally, the picture displays a seemingly male-identified person smacking the butt of a woman of color. I draw attention to this because intersectionality must never be forgotten in this conversation.
Historic and current notions that surround the politics of my body are never erased based on the identity of who I am interacting with. The claim to no sexual interest does not trump any trauma I have felt in the past around nonconsensual touches to my body. Therefore when you indulge in touching my body without permission, you will never be innocent. You don’t get to wash your hands clean from the problems that your actions embody.
The Black woman’s body has a deep, dark history of being colonized at the hands of men. This history has influenced the lives and agency of Black women today, and the consequences are massive. A study done by the Black Women’s Blueprint revealed that 60 percent of Black women experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. Any incident of violating the body of a Black woman is a citation of a history of violence.
This is by no means an attack on gay males, reminiscent of actress Rose McGowan’s inflammatory remarks about “gay men [being] as misogynistic as straight men, if not more so.” I don’t find those remarks constructive or truthful. But I do think that in these situations misogyny displayed by queer men against women, it is indicative of an inherently sexist society.
We are only going to reach freedom from oppression when we stop seeing each other through the lens created by oppression. The person who unintentionally violated my body felt the need to draw the distinction between himself and someone who had sexual interest in me. But he performed the same action. The fact remains that he touched a female body without consent. We cannot seek liberation unless we understand the impact of our actions, regardless of self-identification.
Cis women do not get to practice hate or microaggressions to trans women. Heteronormative Black people do not get a pass. Gay men are not allowed to be misogynistic. Marginalized groups cannot exercise hatred for other oppressed groups and expect to find justice and happiness. The battles against oppression intersect.
We need solidarity, empathy and an understanding of why certain actions, languages and practices hurt people with different identities from our own. Ill-intent should never be the default assumption, but at some point responsibility must be taken for hurtful acts. Everyone has the right to feel safe. No one should take part in another person’s oppression and expect there to be no consequences.
Contact Mysia Anderson at [email protected]