December 22, 2010
How gay is prison rape?
As there has been some debate recently over the possibility of gay soldiers engaging in sexual harassment of straight soldiers (which some would apparently define as being gay while showering with men who aren't), I thought I would take a look at a frustrating issue that I have never quite been able to clarify to my satisfaction:
Precisely what is gay?
Notice I did not say "what is homosexual?" -- because not all homosexual conduct correlates with being gay. For example, the type of men who rape other men in prison do not consider themselves gay. Nor are they considered gay by other inmates:
Arab men who have sex with other males do not consider themselves gay either.
Unless their rapists are also to be considered gay, in both prison culture here and in Arab culture, gay men are clearly more likely to be victims of rape than rapists. (Because of this, those considered vulnerable are placed in protective custody in prisons.)
Are we to consider all men who rape men to be "gay." Are they? I don't think there is agreement on this point.
In Arab culture, the concept of "gay" seems to be an alien, Western one -- which relates not so much to sexuality but to emotion. Namely, love:
It would seem that in order to be considered "gay" in Arab culture there has to be a capacity of emotional reciprocation, as well as an acknowledgment of it. Thus, it might be misleading for news articles like this to refer to the rape of young Al Qaeda converts as "gay rape."
I cannot resolve these questions in a blog post, and the most I can do is attempt to spot issues. But it has long struck me that being gay involves more than engaging in homosexual acts; it would seem to require acknowledgement of it as a preference, and maybe even a lifestyle.
After being raped in prison, Charles Manson reportedly said "it's only gay if you like it." Which means he did not consider himself to be gay. (Even though he had a prison record as a homosexual rapist.) It's pretty clear, though, that on the outside, Manson preferred women. Is Manson gay? Whether he is or not, a sub-issue involves whether his gay status would be considered an indictment of gays, or of being gay. I don't think it would be, but some people -- especially those who carry on about Adolf Hitler being gay -- clearly would. Yet if Manson is considered straight, that would not be considered an indictment of straight people. Why is that? Is homosexual rape an indictment of gays if the rapists are considered gay, but it is not an indictment of heterosexuals if the rapists are considered straight?
If gays who engage have engaged in heterosexual sex are nonetheless gay, then why aren't straights who have engaged in homosexual sex nonetheless straight? Does gay subsume straight? Who gets to decide these things? Those who care the most? Aren't those who care the most also the most biased? How about the least biased -- those who care the least? Should the people who care the least be deciding things for the people who care the most?
The more I think about these things, the less sense they begin to make.
posted by Eric on 12.22.10 at 11:25 AM
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