Glass Ceilings and Sticky Dancefloors – Gay Men’s Sexism

Roy Ward

Over the long weekend, somebody directed my attention to an article on the Everyday Feminism site entitled ‘Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies‘. It’s a pretty attention-grabbing headline, especially to a gay male feminist, so I clicked through, and ultimately came away massively conflicted about what I’d just read. The writer, Yoko Akili, is a gay male writer, poet and educator, and it is definitely important to view the article within the context of his Queer American perspective.

There’s plenty within the article to agree with. He relates the story of a female friend who had her breasts grabbed aggressively in a club by a gay man she had never met before. The man refused to apologise or admit he had done anything wrong, saying “It’s no big deal, I’m gay, I don’t want her – I was just having fun.”

To be frank, that’s an utterly vile statement. I don’t give two shits whether or not you find somebody sexually attractive – do not ever grab somebody’s junk without their consent. Like, ever. That is assault. It is not okay.

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I’ve seen plenty of online commentators make the comparison with hordes of straight women flooding into gay bars and clubs, making the occasional vodka-induced crotch-grab on a passing Muscle Mary, but I’m not going down that route. Yes that’s equally wrong and equally fucking annoying, but I do think Akili is spot on when he points out that this issue exists and highlights a male sense of ownership of women’s bodies, regardless of sexuality.

When a skinny, permatanned twink grabs a girl’s tits on the dancefloor of a gay club, their motivation clearly isn’t the same as when those teenage boys in Steubenville, Ohio raped a passed-out girl at a party, but they’re both parts of the same damn problem – it’s sexism and it’s misogyny, pure and simple. It’s the viewpoint that women’s bodies are only there for the experiencing of pleasure, of “having fun”. Whether it’s of a sexual nature or not is entirely beside the point. This is what feminism exists for – to challenge behaviours such as this and to expose the pervasively misogynistic worldviews that motivate them.

Akili says that he has “experienced this attitude as being very common amongst gay men”, and opens his article with the admittedly less-than-scientific observation that a group of gay men in the audience of one of his presentations all admitted to touching a woman’s body without her consent, and also to offering a woman unsolicited advice about how to “improve” her body or fashion. He is clearly basing this article on his own anecdotal experience. To a certain extent I, and I’m sure many readers, share those experiences – I’m painfully aware that this behaviour does occur on a regular basis within parts of the LGBT community. That being said, however, I’m pleased to report that the vast majority of my friends who identify as gay/queer men would find the idea of feeling up a female stranger in a club completely awful.

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Here’s a not so shocking fact for you – gay men are no more a monolithic entity than any other social group. We know it’s not okay to begin sentences with hideously sweeping, absolutist statements like “all Muslims are…” or “all Chinese people are…”, because those statements are almost always demonstrably fallacious. Not all gay men grope women in clubs. Not all gay men go to clubs. Not all gay men would routinely walk up to a woman they barely know and start telling her what is wrong with the way she looks or the clothes she wears. Don’t get me wrong – it happens, and the rest of us should do whatever we can to smash that kind of bullshit wherever we experience it. Akili’s problem is that he extrapolates out from his own personal experiences of a small subsection of a nationally-defined subculture and attempts to apply his findings to “all gay men” – a mythically homogenous group if ever there was one.

The part of the article which baffles and confuses me most is the leap Akili then makes from discussing the grabbing of breasts and the inherent misogyny therein to classifying gay men’s “diva worship” and “celebrating women” as “objectification, assault and dehumanisation”. It’s a frankly insulting and entirely unfounded assertion, and it really does come out of left field. If you grope a woman in a club or feel you have the Gucci-given right to tell her how she should look, then you’re a douchebag and you’re a dehumanising misogynist. But to go from that to asserting that when a gay man idolises or celebrates a woman, or group of women, he is objectifying them – there’s no basis for such a claim and it’s almost offensive. To leap from your own personal, limited experience and make sweeping and damning claims about an entire group of people…well it definitely doesn’t sit too comfortably with me.

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Akili’s intentions are pure, I have no doubt. The patriarchy is an insidiously pervasive and damaging force – from the glass ceilings of our workplaces to the sticky dancefloors of our gay bars, it’s everywhere and it must be challenged at every available opportunity. But not all gay men are misogynists, and thank God for that. We do receive a certain amount of the privilege that comes with being male in our Western society, and that’s a huge part of why some gay guys are sexist ass-hats, but it’s not all of us. Gay men aren’t all the same, but if we could all recognise where the misogyny is occurring within our community and stomp it out, maybe we could be. And then that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

About Roy Ward

When Roy was 7 a girl tied him to a tree and tried to set him on fire. He now lives in Leeds with his boyfriend. These facts may be connected. Vada's Deputy Editor, he loves pop culture in all its forms, plus feminism; drag queens and Nigella Lawson. Find him on Twitter @badlydrawnroy.