A few days ago, a close friend shared a secret. Two people had sexually assaulted him recently – first molested by a stranger at a public place, and then raped by someone he trusted.
He wasn’t on PreP nor took post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) after it happened. The following day, he went to work as if nothing happened, still unable to fully process the attack. He later discovered he had contracted a sexually transmitted disease.
So many stories like his have resurfaced among my immediate and not-so-immediate circles, making me wonder if we’re seeing an undocumented rise of sexual assault and abuse among gay and bisexual men in the Philippines. An acquaintance admitted he contracted HIV after being drugged and raped; another had been gang raped while drunk. Online, queer men on X gleefully post photos of their hookups without their consent and trade leaked sex videos of other queer men.
Is this merely an issue of men being men? Are we acting the same way as our heterosexual counterparts who find the thrill of pursuit and conquest arousing? It’s shuddering to think that somewhere out there exists a queer Andrew Tate -– an avatar of toxic masculinity, except queer –– but one can’t help but note how abusive queer men can be when they talk about other queer men, both online and offline.
It’s ironic how queer men often decry rape and assault as increasingly wrong acts, but also perpetuate the culture of sexual violence, often by joking about sexual assault. But maybe that’s not so surprising. Sociologists CJ Pascoe and Jocelyn Hollander, in their co-authored paper, talk about the concept of “mobilizing rape”:
“While sexual assault has been defined as a situation in which ‘one or more persons impose a sexual interaction upon another unwilling person’, through the concept of ‘mobilizing rape’, we suggest that sexual assault is not simply an individual incident but a wide-ranging constellation of behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and talk that work to produce and reproduce gendered dominance in everyday interaction.
“We conceive of mobilizing rape as a way of doing gender: as an interactional accomplishment that includes not only engaging in activities legally defined as rape but also engaging in other forms of sexual assault and non-consensual sexual interaction, talking about rape and sexual assault, making jokes about it, laughing at imagery about it, labeling oneself or others as rapists, blaming sexual assault survivors for their own victimization, or otherwise symbolically deploying the idea of rape.”
Jumping off from the concept that “mobilizing rape” is a gender performance, one could also argue that queer men trying to dominate other queer men stems from internalized homophobia. By enacting violence against other men, queer men mimic the stereotypical aggression of heterosexual men. A 2016 US research on minority stress and intimate partner violence among gay and bisexual men says, “Minority stress experiences, such as internalized homophobia and homophobic discrimination elevate gay men’s risk of experiencing and perpetrating intimate partner violence.”
I had a call with Sabrina Gacad, the chair of the University of the Philippines’ Department of Women and Development Studies and founder of Lunas Collective, a volunteer-powered helpline supporting survivors of gender-based violence and discrimination. Lunas Collective. We discussed how one’s family –– specifically, one’s parents –– should be the first place we genuinely understand consent. And by that, she means comprehending consent outside its sexual context. Doing that prepares and empowers us to say no when we feel unsafe and uncomfortable.
“It should be practiced outside a sexual context so that when you get into a sexual context, in a sexual relationship, you would know how to articulate consent in less tense situations,” she explains. “It’s as simple as sharing your toys, ‘di ba. As a child, you’re always encouraged to share your toys –– ‘Share mo yan, it’s a blessing, you have to share it with everybody.’ Sometimes, you just don’t want to share!”
Instead of forcing children to do things they don’t want to, she says, parents can find ways around figuring out their discomfort and then finding some kind of positive resolution. By helping children navigate their feelings and articulate why they’re saying no, the lesson will hopefully help them learn boundaries –– for themselves and others.
It made me hopeful that queer-friendly spaces like Lunas Collective help create a safe environment for queer people to acknowledge and confront their abuse. This is especially important for Filipino queer men, for whom acknowledging that they have been abused may not be as easy, as it may cause another layer of shame: that their sexual orientation and gender expression are to blame for their abuse. In short: their abuse is their fault.
As a survivor of sexual abuse, I struggled to take the first step to healing from the trauma. As a teenager, I believed that I deserved to be abused by my uncle and that I somehow was responsible for being victimized that way. It didn’t help that my mother sided with my uncle, which further reinforced my wrong belief that I had set myself up for abuse. Even as I write this now, the shame and disgust still rise inside, and I have to constantly tell myself that I am the survivor, not the accomplice.
My friend has been seeing a therapist recently to unpack his abuse. In some way, it has helped him move on from his trauma. While on an individual level, this is important for queer men like us who’ve suffered abuse to heal, it’s also crucial for Filipino gay and bisexual men to collectively confront why sexual assault happens within our community. What things do we do to enable it? By addressing the culture of abuse and assault, we can hope to stop the cycle for good.
Write to Evan at writerinmanila (at) gmail (dot) com