Against His Will

Notes on the New Gay Predator

There have always been predatory pervs on the silver screen, though not all of them were gay. Some were vampires or werewolves, crafty cannibals or shadowy stalkers of little kids. The question of sexuality was often left unresolved, but not the equation of perversion and violence. Ever since Psycho, killer trannies have been bursting out of closets or donning their victims' skin. And who can forget those serial-killer sagas in which the camera shies away just as the queer clown goes to work on his teen captive? If John Wayne Gacy didn't exist, the movies would have had to invent him.

But never on stage or screen has there been a gay predator who was also a champion—not until Richard Greenberg's queerified baseball saga, Take Me Out. The ample display of male flesh in its shower-room scenes may be the major reason why people flock to this Tony Award-winning play, but what makes it so compelling and contrary is what happens in the shower. A hapless bigot is sexually assaulted by the play's protagonist, a Godlike slugger. That the victim is straight and the victimizer gay sets the fateful events of this drama in motion. It also sets a new standard for showing gay aggression.

The reclamation of the gay predator has been percolating in radical queer culture for some time. Every now and then it pops up in a plucky independent film such as Greg Araki's The Living End, in which an HIV-positive couple goes on a madcap shooting spree, or Jon Shear's Urbania, in which a bereft gay man attacks the phobe who murdered his lover. But these are desperate men lashing out against a world that barely tolerates them. What's new is the image of a conquering queer—a role model, no less—ravishing a straight man.

Illustration: Dave Henderson
Illustration: Dave Henderson


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Of course, there's more to Take Me Out than that. The play features a touching relationship between the slugger and his dweeby accountant (played by Denis O'Hare, who won a Tony of his own). But the object of everyone's affection is no gay sensitif. He's arrogant and morally ambiguous, as male heroes often are these days. His freewheeling aggro is not unlike the ruthless 'tude in rap. When he assaults a teammate, he doesn't act out of desire but from a determination to crush his opponent's ego. It's a rape like any other, except the perpetrator is gay. That makes all the difference.

Rape is terrorism. It's a crime that strikes at the core of human rights. But rape fantasies are metaphors. They stand for more than the act itself. The rape metaphor can evoke infantile passions of omnipotence, sadomasochistic needs of the will, fury sparked by fear of the other. No wonder rape fantasies are so common. But some guilty pleasures are more likely than others to show up in the culture.

Is there a relationship between rape fantasies and the real thing? No doubt. That's why it's important to examine our dreams, even as we reserve the right to have them. Whose rape fantasies are represented, and what are they like? To answer this question is to peer into the core of power relations.

At a time when men are invited to enjoy all sorts of sadistic games, it's no surprise that certain rape fantasies have been given freer rein. Guys are getting to vent their predatory urges in entertainments as diverse as gangsta rap and arty French films. Irréversible, the ultra-violent succès d'estime that breezed through town earlier this year, features a nine-minute rape scene as horrific as the stuff of specialized porn. Slim Shady's rapine ruminations have made him an icon of transgressive allure. Pulp mags from the pre-XXX era, with their lush imagery of women being violated by variations of the Hun, are enjoying a vogue. Prison rape is a leitmotif in Oz.

Even women are invited to display a little aggro (as long as they're willing to have Vin Diesel's babies). The feminist payback film has become a regular genre, as in the recent Baise Moi (Fuck Me), in which two hookers lustily whack their johns. But the rules of this game are clear: Female predation on men must be the product of jealousy or oppression; it can't be about a woman simply strutting her stuff. You won't see Wonder Woman bursting upon an unwilling male, strap-on at the ready. Though more than a few women—and men—might enjoy this turnaround fantasy, the culture sticks to a certain script in reveries about rape. It's a guy thing, except if the guy is gay.

When Eminem rapped about setting a pack of his pals loose on his 10-year-old sister, the album went platinum. But imagine a homothug musing about loosing his crew on a young boy. Imagine a pulp mag in which two pumped queers rip the clothes off a helpless het. Imagine a remake of Irréversible in which a straight man is buttfucked and beaten bloody by a homo hellion in excruciating detail. Not even the French could cook up such a scandale. In the wonderful world of entertainment, gay men can fall in love, we can screw in fascinating ways, we can be the best man at Grace's wedding, we can run with the X-men, we may even get to dominate each other—preferably in leather—but we can't subjugate straight men. Not if we want to be alive at the end of the film.

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