Last updated on September 7, 2020
It’s 2019 and there’s a tribe to capture almost everything under the sun. Sexual fluidness is amongst us and sex-positivity is a thing. At every corner, there is a freedom to exist and express our sexual desires without limits. While we feel limitless, there are still rules of engagement, and sexual assault is not one of them.
For the purpose of this discussion, I researched sexual assault. Because of the times, there were varying definitions. I attribute this to us having more conversations and understanding the ways at which sexual assault manifests in, sometimes, the most unsuspecting ways. Sexual assault is an act in which a person intentionally sexually touches another person without that person’s consent or coerces or physically forces a person to engage in a sexual act against their will.
Somewhere along the way, black gay men accepted behaviours that have put us in a troubling place. We learned to negotiate sex, grab an ass in the club, offer our bodies in exchange, and dismiss obvious signs of discomfort and minimal consent.
As I date, I can’t help but think of the ways we’ve blurred the lines as it relates to consent. These are the ways by which we’ve normalised sexual assault in our own black gay community. And perhaps because of this, we no longer hear our own no.
Informed Consent or Sexual Assault?
In a perfect world, we’d experience a natural high absent of drugs, alcohol, and other party favours. But for most black gay men, a drink or two isn’t a bad thing. It allows us to release our inhibitions and enjoy the festivities. Weed has become a bonding ritual for many on hookups. Cleaners help release, open and enhance the experience. And while we don’t always have to ask if sex is on the agenda, foreplay can lead us to the obvious.
Now for the important part: informed consent. In most places, sexual assault can only take place when one of these parts is not present. To offer consent is to simply say yes, or, act in a way that resembles agreement (kissing, touching, etc.). The informed portion assumes a person is present and has all their capacities intact. And this is where things get cloudy. While you both can be under the influences of substances, responsibility shifts, and informed consent becomes unclear.
No still means no, even after a yes
The reality is, sometimes you pull up and a guy doesn’t look like his picture. Sometimes, your stomach hurts and you don’t want to progress as far as you thought. Or, you simply have lost interest. Whatever your reason, a no during a hookup is still valid. But for many gay black men, the no sounds like a challenge and then the negotiations begin. Hear me out…
While on a scheduled hook-up, Chad arrived. Chad was all things fine. He brought a bottle of wine, we sipped and built the pseudo-relationship needed for the occasion. Ready for the obvious, he went in for a kiss. He pulled back and said: “let’s try that again, but this time, kiss me like you like me.” I was taken aback because, if you kissed me one time and I didn’t respond, it’s likely I wasn’t ready. Shaking it off as an awkward moment, he revealed his larger than life penis. At that moment I knew we had reached our limit.
I said: “hey, just so you know, I’m fine with oral, but nothing else, as I stated before.” He agreed and we continued. Chad worked his magic as did I. We found a rhythm of some sort and engaged accordingly. Feeling all the things, he began to ask, “can I stick it in?” I offered up a solid, “no!” He continued with, “I’ll just stick in the head,” “I’ll go slow,” “come on, you know you want it!” In an instant, I had to stop and remind him that I, in fact, did not want it and let him know this prior to his arrival. He then exited abruptly and ended a hook-up that I knew was doomed at first kiss. So, what happened?
We both had our own agendas in this situation. I felt obligated to him. He drove to see me and even though I wasn’t as interested, I felt like he should have something. Chad shared this same obligation. He felt that his negotiation skills would land him an opportunity to close the deal. The most interesting thing is that Chad isn’t alone in his thinking. I too have been guilty of using charm, micro-aggressions and signals that lead me to think more is possible.
A good deal of my black gay male friends shared with me similar experiences around obligations. Each of us has negotiated one type of sex in lieu of another simply out of obligation. What experience has taught me that we must do better here? It’s as simple as not grabbing a man we’re interested in, in the club. It’s as clear as reading the signals during a hook-up. And, many times, it’s as clear as someone simply saying no. Any sign of push-back should trigger your decision to withdraw and adjust.
Many times, people who have issues with boundaries come up against a big struggle here. If you have an issue with boundaries you may find yourself rationalizing a decision you don’t want to make. You may find yourself using anger when faced with an answer you don’t want. You may find yourself negotiating or acting out of obligation versus intent. In any matter, sure the chase is fun, but when you catch your mate, you must always hear them.
Know better, do better
Yes, sex, when all things are aligned is amazing. But the journey to sex is now coming with more conversation. Sexual assault isn’t a one-dimensional phrase. Sexual assault captures unapproved touches, unwanted advances, and inappropriate interactions too. It’s normal to find someone attractive. It is not normal to invade their space as a means of flirting or to get their attention. It’s not normal to think of clever ways to still get sex, when a no or discomfort is present.
The standard should be, as black gay men, we use our words and enforce boundaries along the way. We must protect ourselves and be as clear as possible. I recognize that not every person is going to see these interactions as sexual assault. But, by definition, a good portion of our dating behaviors could land us in deep water. Continue to master the art of flirting. Enjoy the journey to the hook-up. But remain coherent enough to understand that the experience should be with ease, consent, and a enjoyable for all involved.
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