JDI’s WRD Intern reflects on his own experience and values

T. Smith

A few months ago, I used a ride-hailing service, and like any other customer, I figured that a conversation would ensue. I talked to my driver as I would talk to any stranger, pleasant but still skeptical of intention. My driver was complimenting me on all fronts. My hair, my aesthetic, my mode of speech, if he could see it, hear, it, smell it, or touch it, he was making it be known. Due to how little I hear these things about myself, I didn’t think much of what he was saying, as a matter of fact, I was flattered. My driver continued to tell me about how much he liked me, and how I looked, while also telling me about himself and the “rock star” life he lived. He made me feel comfortable enough to think it was just another man talking to me as a man, which I don’t really do too often as many of my friends are women. I engaged with my driver almost without problem, even as he drove me to his house, then took me through an alternative route just to get back to my final destination. I thought it was a little weird, but I didn’t want to make the situation uncomfortable. As long as he was taking me home, I felt that I was alright. My driver continued to flirt with me, coming on a bit stronger with every line I blushed at. Eventually, he was telling me about parts of himself, that you generally shouldn’t be talking about with anybody unless you’re engaging in a consensual sexual relationship with them. I was in no sense planning on doing that, the conversation became inappropriate so fast, and by the time our encounter was over, he had told me things I never should have known, and he shared something with me, I couldn’t give back.

When I, as a 6'7", black man of relatively built frame, cannot identify the situation I’ve been put in as clearly sexual harassment, it tells me that there is a large amount of work to be done to work on the ways we teach men and boys to understand their environments, and what sexual abuse, assault and other violence looks like, sounds like and acts like. As a gay man, I understood even less the ways sexual harassment could affect me in the ways that Patrick Letellier hints at in his piece Rape. Gay men don’t often talk about rape, but I do, I have to. In the last year I’ve adopted the motto “free the most marginalized communities and you free everyone else!”

On the other hand, women are often taught to monitor their every move, in order to appease the men that they’re surrounded by. “Remember to keep silent when you’re in positions in which you can get a man in trouble.” “Stay away from men like him.” “Just calm down, it wasn’t that serious.” Similarly, society victim shames and blames people who were never expecting to be put in situations in which they would have to regret going out or deciding to make a friend or anything that was never presented as it concluded. And too often people turn away from the problem or worse yet joke about sexual assault and allow toxic ideas to flourish. What does it mean to tell someone to avoid rape? In order to avoid rape, you have to not be rapists, simply. There are paradoxes that lay within our society that allows for the perpetuation of sexual violence to persist. This is how rape culture works.

In order for us to fix these issues, we must fix the ideas that allow for dominance through force to be constituted as right/lawful and change the language and our actions towards the ways we address sexual abuse and other violence’s. We have to stop allowing rape culture to thrive and let consent culture arise. And as men we have to be part of this equation.