Trying to be a Nice Guy: Consent and Queer Rape Culture in the wake of Ansari-gate

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cw: sexual assault

We met on Recon, but it could have easily been Grindr, or Scruff, or any one of a dozen other apps. We chatted over the weeks leading up to my weekend in Tel Aviv, trading pictures and banalities. Despite my prodding, he remained taciturn about his preferences. You’ll find out when you’re here, he’d said, and the air of mystery, I’ll admit, only added to my anticipation. We arrange to meet at his place Thursday evening, and not even the rain could dampen my excitement as I stood outside the gate waiting to be buzzed in.

Tal* answered the door in his underwear, which, granted, isn’t so out of character for a hook-up, except for the fact that we’d agreed to eat first and play after. I’d skipped dinner and was starving, which I told him.

“Don’t worry,” he said, waving off my concern, “you’ll have a snack now and we’ll eat when we’re done.” The ease with which he dismissed my discomfort and our agreed-upon plans should have been enough to warn me, but I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

As we moved into the bedroom, he asked me if I’d like to have a movie on the in the background while we played. Though he said anything I picked would be fine, he rejected no less than five suggestions before we decided on Pacific Rim. Settling onto the bed, it became apparent at this point that by “watch a movie while we play,” what he’d actually meant was “blow me while I watch a movie.” I am nothing if not a good sport, and instead of getting up and leaving, I stuck around, hoping that the spirit of reciprocity would eventually make itself known.

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It’s a strange sensation to hear the action of a movie—the screech of metal ripped asunder, the cries of battle, the plot-explicit dialogue—while you stare at a whorl of pubic hair and the red-pocked skin beneath it. I’d seen the movie before, and could thus judge the passage of time by the cinematic markers in my memory. When Raleigh meets Mako, I thought, he’ll remember I’m down here, and then, when Newton drifts with the Kaiju, and finally, surely by the final assault—but no. When he did deign to remember me, the interaction was still one-sided, tilted towards his own desires, ignoring mine. At one point he produced a leather belt and proceeded to spank me, despite my use of a safe word. I had to wake up to the sad fact that Tal was more than a bad fuck—he was abusive.

With less than half an hour left in the movie, I decided to leave. I got up to pee, and when I came back, I started to get dressed, explaining that I just wasn’t feeling it, that I was tired, and that I was heading home.

"Sexual assault is not only violence—it’s also ignored or wrongly assumed consent"

“What about dinner?” he asked, with a forlorn, kicked-puppy whine to his voice. “I was going to make us pasta.” While that might have been appetizing over an hour ago, I told him that I wasn’t hungry and really just wanted to go home to bed. “You can spend the night here if you’d like.” I didn’t, and told him that I needed to take my contacts out, and had neglected to bring any solution with me. “You’re in luck!” he said, dashing to the bathroom, “I have a spare bottle!”

Thus began an interminable thirty minutes where Tal refused to hear my clear and emphatic NO for what it was. When pasta failed to entice me, he offered me hummus and pita, and then some freshly boiled chestnuts. He tried to engage me with conversation better suited to the start of an evening (Where are you from? How do you like Israel?) than its dismal end. While standing in his foyer, it began to rain harder, and Tal refused to let me walk to the bus stop without an umbrella.

“I know I have one somewhere,” he said before bursting into show tunes. Though he claimed to be looking, I failed to see how his umbrella could have possibly ended up in the fridge (from which he offered me yogurt and potato salad). After about five minutes of searching, he returned empty handed, saying he must have lost his umbrella, “but you can just wait here till the rain stops.”

That wasn’t an option. While I’d been genuinely motivated by fatigue and a lack of arousal when I’d first tried to leave, Tal’s insistence on my staying had steadily darkened my mood to a chilling anxiety. It felt hard to breathe, and I crept closer and closer to the door. Tal sensed my trepidation and moved to block my way.

 PHOTO: Alex Franco

PHOTO: Alex Franco

“How about a cup of tea before you go? I promise I won’t take advantage of you.”

I’d be lying if I said the fear hadn’t crossed my mind before that moment. I was, after all, going to a stranger’s house to engage in kink, and a healthy dose of fear seemed par for the course. But it wasn’t until Tal promised he wasn’t going to rape me (or worse) that I actually began to worry about it, because such assurances should be a given. I don’t, when shopping, inform the tellers that I won’t rob them, because why would I? There’s a tacit agreement engendered by participation within society, further reinforced by kink negotiations, both of which Tal shattered when he tried to prevent me from leaving.

Tal had picked me up with one arm earlier to show me he could. At the time it’d turned me on—it didn’t any more.

“I’m trying to be a nice guy,” Tal had explained, ignoring that there was nothing nice about trapping me in his home and ignoring our previously agreed-upon limits. This tactic, all too common in the hellscape of modern dating, seeks to push blame onto victims by insinuating that they’re at fault for not “going with the flow.” It amounts to little more than gas lighting, turning one’s own righteous indignation against them, casting them in the role of villain (or shrew, or prude, or, ironically, slut) while the abuser maintains a moral high ground, the poor, victimized “nice guy.” It’s also an insidious part of rape culture. Sexual assault is not only violence—it’s also ignored or wrongly assumed consent, it’s using privilege and pressure to coerce others into our beds, it’s turning a blind eye to verbal and non-verbal clues that our partner is no longer willing.

"One need only be groped in a crowded gay club to know that this problem extends beyond the world of smart phones."

The past few months have seen a slew of women come together to speak out against assault and harassment, especially within Hollywood. The men in question (for it is almost always, inevitably, regrettably, men) wield their influence to coerce women into their beds. Even when consent is initially given (as was the case with the recent scandal surrounding Aziz Ansari), these men’s power enables them to pressure their partners through their reluctance, either tacitly or explicitly threatening to ruin their careers. Even though Tal wasn’t famous, there was an element of power implicit within our interaction—he was a citizen, while I was a foreigner, we were in his home, he was older and stronger, etc. It is crucial to realize the ways in which power differentials play into relationships and how those who choose to can abuse them.

Recently I saw on Facebook a friend commenting how, in the wake of #metoo, queer men and women had to prepare for our “Me Too” moment, when we would be forced to confront our own community’s history of ignored consent and the ways in which queers are complicit (or active) in rape culture. With apps like Grindr and Scruff promoting the ease with which you can meet men, we have created an environment of “assumed consent,” where your very presence seems to give permission for any and all acts. Think of the number of unsolicited dick pics you’ve received, and then apply that same attitude to an in-person meeting. One need only be groped in a crowded gay club to know that this problem extends beyond the world of smart phones.

We can either start the work now, making clear-communicated consent a foundation of our interactions, or we can wait for a scandal to ignite and thrust us front and center for the media to deride, pointing and saying, look, what we believed about them was true all along. To avoid our own implosion, we must begin to examine the ways in which power becomes unequally distributed within sexual interactions and strive to balance it. Victims must be given voice, and more importantly, we must listen. We must construct a world unwelcoming to abusers. We must make life impossible for anyone who would deprive others of their agency and autonomy. Time, at last, is up.

*Name not changed because fuck him.

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Alex Franco is the queer son of an immigrant and a southern belle. He hails from Atlanta, GA, and now teaches English in southern Israel.