The floodgates have been opened, and for the first time in what feels like forever, victims of sexual violence feel empowered to come forth against their assailants. People are not only beginning to listening to the experiences of survivors, but believing their stories. Finally, the perpetrators of sexual violencethese menare being held accountable for their actions.
The larger conversation started with Harvey Weinstein, and the woman he sexually assaulted. There is, without a doubt, a misogyny inherent in rape culture, that nearly every woman has experienced, to some degree, over her lifetime.
Once Anthony Rapp came forward with his own experiences of sexual assault as a minor, the floodgates for male survivors of sexual assault survivors opened, too. Former model Scott Bruton recounted a horrific story of George Takei allegedly sexually assaulting him in 1981.
However, what’s been missing from the narrative is how sexual orientation, specifically having a sexually fluid sexual orientation, plays a role in experiencing sexual violence. This is not only true for bi+ (bisexual, pansexual, queer, fluid, no label, etc.) identifying women, which there has been a plethora of research analyzing, but for bi+-identifying men, too.
Anthony Rapp doesn’t identify as gay, but, rather, queer. In an interview with OUT, he clarified why he first came out as bisexual, but then embraced the queer label instead.
“The only reason I didn’t entirely love ‘gay’ is because it would make seem false any romantic or sexual relationships I ever had with women,” he told the magazine in 2010. “I did not feel like when I was having any relationships with women that it was running away from my true nature.”
He did make clear, though, that he is predominantly attracted to men.
Bi+ men (and when I use this term, I use it to describe men who have attractions to multiple genders) seem to have higher rates of sexual violence than gay and straight men. The CDC reported in 2013 that 37% of bisexual men reported experiencing rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. Additionally, 47% percent of bisexual men reported experiencing any sexual violence other than rape from any perpetrator across their lifetime.
Alas, the research on sexual violence experienced by bi+ men is fairly limited. First, bi+ men are often lumped together with gay men with the overarching term “MSM”Men Who Have Sex With Men. While this term is helpful for looking at transmission rates for STIs, it doesn’t speak to the unique challenges that bisexual men face.
Additionally, like any gender and sexual orientation, bi+ men are afraid to come forward to discuss their experiences of sexual assault. Bi+ men are also significantly less likely to be out to most or all of the important people in their lives. In fact, in 2013, Pew Research concluded that a mere 12% of bi men fall into this category. They remain closeted because they fear receiving negative responses from folks who believe negative stereotypes about bisexual men; that they are confused, sexually greedy, incapable of monogamy, and more.
*Simon told me a story of how he and his friend, both under 20 years old, were harassed at a gala raising money for an organization whose fundamental principles are to help LGBTQ youth.
“[My friend and I] experienced groping of our entire bodies from multiple people throughout the entirety of the night And yet no one said or did anything but laugh and wink,” he said. “There is a sense of entitlement to claim our bodies.”
While visiting a friend in college, Simon also experienced sexual assault from a fraternity brother. Simon woke up to a man who he had met earlier grabbing his crotch through his jeans. Luckily, he was able to push him off.
“He went on to claim that since I was bisexual, I could understand the position he was in,” Simon said. “He said that he knew I was into guys and girls and must understand how hard it is to live that double life.”
This assaulter weaponized his closeted experience to keep Simon quiet about the assault. Even worse, it worked. While I don’t know exactly what Spacey said to the young men and boys he allegedly assaulted, I can safely assume, that he, too, used the immoral excuse of being closeted to keep his victims silent.
James* told a story of how an older producer, who got him gigs in Hollywood, came onto him twice. The first time, he was pretty sure he was drugged, but told himself that perhaps having one drink on an empty stomach is what caused him to pass out. The second time, clearly aware of what was going on, he ran away. Promptly after reporting the incident to his superiors at work, James was fired.
There were a few themes among the experiences shared with me. Most of the time, as expected, sexual violence was committed by someone in a position of power. That power may come from the vast age discrepancy or by actually offering something to the younger queer men.
Second, they all said they had no one with whom to share their experiences. This was in large part because the perpetrators were members of the LGBTQ community, which put the queer men in precarious positions. Do you out the closeted bi man who groped you while you were sleeping? Do you make a statement against the large LGBTQ youth organization whose mission is doing good for the LGBTQ community? The one time a man did report the attempted assault, he was promptly fired because the man who attempted the sexual assault was in a position of power.
Third, men seem more entitled to touch the bodies of younger queer men as opposed to straight men. For queer men, it seemed as if an attraction to all (or various) genders, implies automatic consent from those genders.
This also may be due to the fact that the predators themselves are male, and therefore, think they are more likely to get away with the acts if their victims are attracted to men. Or perhaps this allows the perpetrators to delude themselves into thinking that their victims wanted it, as they are attracted to men, too. They can then rationalize their actions by thinking that they’re helping the younger queer men come to terms with their sexuality. Frankly, I’m not sure what the underlying causes are.
Whatever it may be, it’s time to admit that this is a large problem within the LGBTQ community. Queer men are experiencing high rates of sexual violence, and don’t feel as if there’s anyone they can tell.
“If you follow the dots, bisexual men face an impossible choice,” says bisexual activist and policy attorney Heron Greenesmith. She cites a 2013 Pew Research study that found that only 12% of bi men are out to the important people in their lives, compared to 77% of gay men. And in 2016, she says Eric Schrimshaw and his colleagues looked into why this might be.
“What he found was that bi men avoided coming out to prevent being hurt, and many men surveyed said that they had been hurt in the past,” Greenesmith says. “The data on sexual violence confirms this, as does the data on family rejection and youth homelessness.”
She notes that 20 percent of youth experiencing homelessness identify as bisexual.
“And not coming out results in isolation, loneliness, and poor mental health outcomes,” she says. “The cycle is clear, and vicious. Without solid community support and targeted services, bisexual men are left with no good choices.”
It’s time for the cycle to be broken. For bisexuals to feel they have someone to come out to and someone they can tell if they do experience sexual assault. It’s also time for the perpetrators of sexual assault to be held accountable for their actions.
*names changed to protect anonymity
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