Against His Will

Notes on the New Gay Predator

In an age when nothing about sodomy (short of priestly ministrations) seems to shock, the specter of the empowered gay predator may be the last queer cultural taboo.

The Commercial Closet, a group that monitors gay imagery in advertising, has been throwing darts at a recent car ad in which a band of deep-woods campers unload their gear for the night. Suddenly they hear distant strains of the theme from Deliverance. It's enough to send them bolting for their buggy and racing away. The folks at the Commercial Closet are right to regard this as a homophobic pitch, but it's also a droll allusion to the ultimate straight-male nightmare: being raped by another man.

Illustration: Dave Henderson
Illustration: Dave Henderson


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Because its victims must contend with fearsome threats to their sexual identity, male-on-male rape may be the most secret sex crime, though it's more common than meets the eye, especially if you include the epidemic of sexual assaults in prison. Few of the perps are homosexual; most would be quite willing to rape women if they could get their hands on them. Male rape, like all rape, is a crime of power, and its unconscious ambition is to enforce the sexual order. As gender traitors who already seem degraded, gay men are far more likely to be violated than to violate.

But in the straight imagination, a different image applies. Here, the terror of being raped (and the temptation that comes with it) is projected onto the homosexual, presumably lusting for straight-male tail. Every homo is imagined as a potential predator, and any display of gay aggression is likely to be seen, at least implicitly, in this light. Generations of us have been marked by the need to play the servile faggot in order to reassure straights that we pose no threat. We are taught from our first wet dream that it's dangerous even to imagine striking out against "real men," and the culture re-enforces this taboo by churning out endless images of what happens to queers who violate it. If a gay man has vehement impulses, he'd better confine them to his own kind. The prevalence of s/m in gay life may be a product of the message, delivered in so many ways, that we can't act out our aggro on those who oppress us.

Not that we don't harbor resentment against straight men. They are the ones who bash us, pass laws against us, and banish us from institutions they control, such as the military. Straight men have much less reason to hate women than gay men have for loathing straight men. Why shouldn't we dream of dominating and even violating them? The answer is: We do, but usually in oblique ways. Many gay porn films feature putatively straight men giving it up. (Ever heard the joke about the definition of a butch marine? He wants to hold his own legs up.) Such aspersions aren't so different from the straight-male supposition that all women are basically asking for it. Then there's the common homo whimsy of "turning out" a straight boy by seducing him with drink and devotion. This is analogous to the hetero dream of plying a girl with charisma or a roofie. Both are not-so-sublimated rape fantasies. When you cut to the chase, gay and straight men operate on the same psychic planet. What's different is the invitation to express these impulses.

Certainly there are limits on how nasty straight men can get, but many options open to them are closed to gays. When a rogue rapper vents his sadistic fury, it's often received as righteous rage. There will always be a place in the human heart for the angry young man. But God help the angry gay man: He's well advised to take a Xanax—or take up a fetish.

Many gay men—like many women—are drawn to the straight-male aggressor. It certainly makes for a hot fantasy life. But why assume that the fantasies we have are the only ones we are capable of? What would the libido be like in a world where women and gays were encouraged to think of themselves as potential predators? Would our reveries, and more importantly our self-image, change if we were regularly treated to the spectacle of straight men being entered against their will?

Life might be better if rape fantasies didn't stand for power and agency—but they do. Those who get to imagine themselves as sexual predators also think of themselves as entitled to rule. Indeed, the act of rape is, often enough, a sadistic response to the gap between real life and the presumed prerogatives of masculinity. In fantasy, if not in fact, the roles of the violator and the violated correspond to the traditional sexual order: playas on top, bitches beneath them, and fags at the bottom. No wonder images of rape that bolster this hierarchy are so cherished now that women and homosexuals are on the rise.

As gay men break free of our subordinate status, it shouldn't be surprising to see our position in the rape fantasy change. Instead of repressing aggression—or shifting it to worship of the belligerent straight stud—we're more likely now to conceive of ourselves as acting out. You can see the same change in images of women, along with the same payback strategy to justify violence. It may be harder for most women (at least straight women) to think of themselves wielding a dick than it is for gay men, who actually do. But this is not about raping someone; it's about allowing yourself to have one of the culture's most gripping fantasies of potency, for better or worse.

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