Anonymous Contribution - TW: Rape
Rape Culture Locally
After the #MeToo era, the terms “rape culture” and “toxic masculinity” have become common phrases that were mentioned online. Since most of the victims of sexual assault are women whilst the perpetrators are men, the discourse has often focused on that dynamic, and perhaps rightly so. Perhaps I have not seen as much discourse on that locally, particularly with how rape culture pervades the local queer culture.
Yes, Me Too
A couple of years ago I was raped by a guy I met on a Grindr ‘date’. I had already explicitly discussed, both beforehand and once we met, that I did not want to have sex. Settings boundaries was important for me to feel comfortable enough to meet – because I know how guys can be pushy for sex (that’s a whole other story). To this day, it is incredibly scary how any boundaries I set up can still be violated, and no matter how many times I said “no” and “stop”, it did not matter.
Eventually he did stop, whilst I was hyperventilating and frozen in my worst panic attack ever. But what he said when he paused was, “Would you want me to fuck you if I wear a condom?” (loosely translated, partly because I don’t remember the exact words – not a memory I’m fond of remembering). He then asked me to help him finish, which I did (unwillingly), because when you are in a stranger’s car after he’s raped you, you want it to be over as soon as possible.
Blame and Shame
The experience was incredibly horrific and painful, both physically and mentally. Without any form of lubrication and incredibly forceful entry, I had anal tears that were even four days later. But the worst aftermath is the mental trauma, which even after around four years, still suffer from.
For a long while, I felt ashamed about being raped. For someone who was compassionate towards other victims, I was incredibly not compassionate with myself. No matter how many #MeToo stories you hear, it does not change how you feel about yourself. I blamed myself for going on Grindr and for meeting up this guy, I was ashamed of it, I was ashamed of being weak and not being able to fight him off.
And I did not feel comfortable talking about it except to a few friends. Luckily, most of my other friends (not all, sadly) were incredibly supportive and understanding. They also did not pressure me to report the incident, especially once they found out the rapist was someone who practices law and lectures it at our local university.
Importance of Sex in Dating for Gay Men
The traumatic experience has changed the way I experience and look at sex. For many men, sex is an important part of dating. It took me a while to be comfortable with sex again, and if I were to be honest, I have not reached that stage yet. For a couple of years I was stuck in a cycle of wanting to be “normal” again. I had consensual sex with others when I was not mentally ready, just because it also felt wrong to say no. In a way, it’s easier to willingly give something away, than to have it forcibly taken from you. The sex was rarely fun, especially when I kept getting flashbacks and having panic attacks during such moments of intimacy.
Eventually, I stopped pursuing most guys I was interested in. I did want to feel obliged that I need to have sex with them to validate their interest in me, and neither did I want to let them down. After that period, I spent several months alone, not dating, and feeling pretty unworthy and undeserving of anyone’s love.
Realising Rape Culture is Embedded in Our Culture
With the help of psychotherapy, I am finally stronger than ever. Both a blessing and a curse, but I am now ready to date again: knowing how to set my boundaries and that I deserve love even if I say no to sex. Consent is always important, and is mine to give and not for others to take.
However, I am finding it hard to date again, primarily because of how creepy men can be. And you might say, “of course, if you’re on Grindr, what do you expect?” But that’s the thing… I’m not! I have uninstalled that app ages ago. Nowadays I use Tinder (and only swipe right on Verified profiles, for safety) and sometimes I get someone sliding into my DMs on Instagram. In a period of two weeks, I had received three messages mentioning rape. All these messages were unwarranted (let’s be honest, rape messages are never warranted, and I shouldn’t feel like I need to explain myself). I had never sent these people any explicit photos to any of these three guys.
With one guy, he mentioned he would want to sleep together, to which I said I enjoy kissing and cuddling I don’t want sex. His reply was “Maybe I would rape you while you sleep” with a laughing emoticon afterwards. The conversation stopped there as I instantly reported and blocked the user on Tinder.
Many other conversations went similarly, and most I blocked before taking any screenshots. And some of those did not include a maybe, and simply said “I will rape you” as if it were a favour they would do me. More striking is someone, whose third message after we matched on Tinder was that I have a “USE ME” face. What does that mean? And led me to think about how it was not me who is attracting these men, but it is their beliefs that are influencing how they act.
Attitudes Towards Femininity
Despite my desire to express myself in more feminine aspects overtly, I have never felt comfortable or safe doing so. I am still very male-presenting. However, by nature of my personality, I look ‘softer’ and not ‘tough’. This seems to change the attitudes of other gay men have towards me.
I remember one of my exes telling me that I make him “feel like a real man.” This was not long after me telling him that I might identify as non-binary. Upon reflection, it became very clear that the desire for other men to dominate me or use me does not stem from any of my actions. Rather, it may pertains more to toxic masculinity and one’s own feelings of what it means to be a man.
To Be a Real Man
Unfortunately, many men feel like they are superior to women or feminine individuals. Perhaps when it comes to gay men, this may stem from internalised homophobia, or the feeling to prove that you are still a man despite being attracted to people with penises. And it’s okay for people to struggle with that and deal with it in their own way (everyone has their own journey). What is not okay is to be a rapist, whose masculine identity is tied to abusing other individuals they see as lesser. My gender expression is not there to solidify or prove your masculine gender identity!
Looking back on my life, the majority of guys who embraced my feminine side and were attracted to it, primarily did so cause it made them feel better. It made them feel like a man, made them feel superior. And unfortunately, for several of these guys, that superiority disregards the notion of consent; their pleasure is what matters and if they want it, they should get it no matter what. “I will rape you” is not a way to flirt; it is an intent of crime.
Room for Growth as a Society
Personally, I believe there’s a lot of ways our society can grow. This is not a discussion on whether it is acceptable to be more dominant or submissive (all sexualities should be embraced), but rather on the importance of consent. And consent has to be verbal. If someone told you no, you cannot assume “they will enjoy it” and go ahead. It’s okay to want to sexually dominate someone, but this should never cross the line of becoming a rape fantasy. If you desire to have sex with someone who has not given or is incapable of giving consent, please re-evaluate how you approach sex!
Perhaps, especially as queer people, a lot of rapists get away with it because rape is underreported. I mean, I would not trust neither the police nor the justice system to do justice in such cases. This does not mean we have to suffer alone or that we should not change our mentality.
I know how traumatic just one night ended up being and how alone I have felt for a long time. If you’ve experienced sexual assault, know that you are not alone. Although there are several things Malta may falter on, we do have some great resources that one can access freely and with confidence. Personally, I reached out to Victim Support Malta and I was offered several services, to which I only opted for psychotherapy. The psychotherapy has helped me tremendously regain my sense of self, control and self-worth, and I am incredibly grateful to how accessible their services are.