I sometimes exist in the eerie intersection between a man’s respect for my sexuality and his mistreatment of women. Sometimes I end up getting very friendly with a guy, only to be approached later by my (often closest) girl friends about the times he has acted inappropriately toward them. Wait, what? I totally gave him my stamp. How can this be?
I hang out in interesting subcultures where it’s possible for someone to not have issues with acting homophobic, but still act in misogynistic ways. Knowing I’m gay, the dudes will be kind to me, they won’t try to sleep with me, and they’ll even pay attention to what I have to say. I have found myself very close to people that other women prefer to avoid.
I imagine the whiplash I feel is similar to that of many guys out there who learn that their best bro friends are consent-violators. He treats them with respect, so it’s hard to believe he acts any differently to anyone else. I have to suppress my instinct to defend my guy friend who has acted inappropriately. After all, I know the friend telling me about his trespasses deserves just as much of my respect for her truth as I would give to him.
Then there are the times where I begin to feel the curious immunity slipping away. My friend’s vision begins to blur, he begins to see his enemy in my place. After lashing out, this Mr. Hyde slithers away to its dark corner. Or perhaps I sense a possessive charge burning underneath his eyes that I had not recognized before, and yet it fades away too quickly for me to say to myself that he has always seen me this way. In either case, these moments are less tangible than secrets.
And let me say, of course it is wrong for these guy friends to respect me more because I am not sexually available to them. Of course it is wrong that I am treated as an exception and not a rule. Of course it is wrong that they require a more powerful rejection in order to respect my boundaries, they need a rejection that gives them the security of blamelessness.
I see red flags, and I have unintentionally ignored them. A man will be too forward and touchy with me, and backs off only when I explain my sexuality (and not when I shirk away from his touch, or point-blank tell him I don’t like it). Or I have had the gut instinct he is being “creepy” with someone else, but because I feel like I can trust him, I assume I am wrong.
Recognizing this curious immunity, I feel a responsibility to use and learn from it. I am able to have empathy for these men, when other women (for their own safety and/or comfort) cannot. I am able to be an undercover operator in his world. Perhaps I could even be a positive influence. If he can treat me with respect, perhaps opening his eyes will help him to respect all women.
In the very least, I must do better to see my red flags and to figure out if a guy friend of mine is doing this before it comes down to another woman telling me he has hurt her. I owe it to all women, and I owe it to him.