THE BLOG
11/01/2015 08:30 am ET Updated Nov 01, 2016

Gay Men Need to Start Talking About Consent

The movie ended, but the DVD spun and spun, replaying the title menu. HOME flared out in the pixelated tableau of menu options stretched across the wall by the projector. All three of us -- me, the guy next to me, his boyfriend on the other side -- huddled in a nest of blankets on the floor. We were too drunk to get up and turn the movie off.

Before my phone died, it was 4:16 a.m., and I assume time went on without it. I started counting the repetitions of the title screen, wasted beyond passing out, as a snore or two sounded out from the other slope of blankets where the boyfriend was. Around the ninth time that HOME zoomed back into focus did I feel a hard-on pressing into my back.

It stuck into my lower spine, and my drunk mind stumbled back into a memory. I was looking at an exhibit of butterflies in a glass case -- a needle driving their bodies into cardboard. I had wondered then how their colorful bodies felt when the sharp point pierced them. I wasn't wondering anymore.

His hand arced over my body and grabbed between my legs. No way I was getting hard -- the whiskey had taken care of that -- so he had to subconsciously settle for what little there was of me to grapple. He dug at me like he was looking for his keys.

A quiet sigh of satisfaction, a slight twist of his torso as the hand retreated to my torso and the hard-on tilted safely skyward and time resumed. Eventually, heavy breath through his sinuses harmonized with his boyfriend's snoring, deep in the caves of our covers. HOME returned, each pixel a glittering eye of a thousand expressions. Accusation. Disappointment. Confusion.

The excuses came easy. We were both drunk. I had decided to come to movie night. I had said yes to the blanket pile on the floor. And I didn't say anything to stop him.

I returned to other drunken movie nights, and the scene replayed with slight variations -- mostly in terms of our relative sobriety. What didn't change was my silence, until I faced the fact that I did not want this. Even then, I never just said no or stormed off. I became a ghost -- quit answering texts and calls, deleted event invites and wrapped myself in the comfortable safety of my straight friends.

When I dated women, I was confident I knew what consent was. In the closet, I believed in my duty as the chivalric man to ensure the women I convinced myself I wanted, wanted me too. After I came out, my vocabulary of consent -- along with most of my closeted learning -- disappeared. Silently I let myself be swept up in the brave, new world of wanting dick.

Today, the predatory systems of sexual abuse across college campuses have prompted a resounding call by straight women in particular to discover what consent really means. Our straight allies are actively navigating the landscape of sexual language, and while progress might be difficult to measure, the conversation is at least taking place. Gay men have a place in that conversation, and they need to speak up.

Somewhere in past hookups, there has to be a moment of doubt. Ask yourself: Did you really want that? Did he? How could you tell? Don't hide from this self-interrogation. Don't excuse away your or another's behavior simply because we are gay men and sex is just what we do -- and lots of it. That, more than anything, I blame for my own silence.

The responsibility of sex -- no matter the number of partners, no matter the kink -- demands a responsibility of character. Whether it's your 20-year partner or Grindr's latest nine-inch wonder, never be afraid to say what you want and expect the same in return. Our sexuality is beautiful and deserves celebration, but nothing about our queerness or how we perceive it means we can ignore how one man says yes to another -- the words, the feelings, the circumstances.

Years in the closet made me regret my silence over my sexual identity, but years after coming out of misinterpreted approaches and mishandled advances made me regret an even more profound silence over my unwillingness to be honest about how I, as a man, wanted sex with other men. We need that language more than we realize. If it existed, maybe an early-morning groping might not have ended a friendship I never knew I valued until I flipped the switch on it -- like the eerie beam of that projector as I slipped shamefully into the day.

_______________________

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

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