Why are anti-gay people so confused about consent?

[Content Note:  Rape culture, Sexual Abuse, Anti-Gay Bigotry]

Yesterday afternoon, Zack Ford of ThinkProgress reported on a new statement by NARTH that’s intended to encourage the Boy Scouts of America to continue to exclude gay, bisexual, and (presumably) transgender boys from joining their ranks.  It’s the usual mash-up of misinformation about promiscuous gay men, heightened health risks, and gay people as sexual predators.  Zack does a good job of providing links that deconstruct the information.

However, I want to take a closer look at one of the excerpts from the statement that Zack quoted:

How will child protection be assured? If openly homosexual boys are allowed to participate, how does a Scoutmaster monitor the influence or actions that these boys may have upon others in the troop especially during overnight events?

As someone who has spent some time in feminist circles, I think that the answer is quite obvious:  You teach all the boys involved about consent.  You teach them that they have a right to say no to the advances — be it an offer of a hug or something more physically intimate — of any of their peers.  You also teach them that it is absolutely essential that they respect the boundaries of their peers and do not cross those boundaries without freely given (as in not coerced) and informed consent.  You teach them that if a peer does not respect their boundaries, they should immediately talk to the leaders about it and reassure them that the leaders will be sympathetic and take the matter and their safety seriously.  In short, I don’t think “protecting” boys in this situation is exactly rocket science.

But then again, I have no problem with the idea of consent.  I expect others to respect boundaries and I support those who speak up when their boundaries are violated.  I’m not convinced the same can be said for all — or even many — who raise the specter of sexual abuse when the topic of LGBT people comes up.

I’ve noticed for some time that there seems to be a lot of overlap between those who believe that LGBT people — especially gay and bisexual men and trans* women — are sexual predators and those who think that men in general are incapable of controlling their sexual impulses.  The difference is that when such people think about cis, heterosexual men — they assume that this is just natural and that others — most notably women — should adjust their lives and choices to protect those men from their hard-to-control urges.1  After all, they argue that those men ultimately can’t help themselves.  Insisting they respect consent just doesn’t work.

So it’s no wonder they automatically assume that teaching and enforcing consent won’t work with gay, bisexual, and trans boys.  Many of them are likely invested in ignoring the whole concept of consent anyway.  Which tends to make their pleas to “think of the potential victims of sexual abuse” sound rather hollow to me.

Of course, the other thing is that ultimately, I think that what NARTH and people like them are really afraid of isn’t that boys will get molested by their fellow scouts.  Instead, I suspect that they are worried that closeted and frightened scouts might actually meet and discover other boys like them and learn that being gay, bisexual, or trans* isn’t so bad.2  Because in greater scheme of things, that is one way in which NARTH and other folks like them are especially hostile to consent:  They don’t want LGBT people to feel like they have the choice to truly be themselves.


1I mean, stop and think about those two statements.  First:  “Heterosexual men are just sexual and aggressive by nature, so women should stay where they are safe and avoid tempting those men.”  Second:  “Gay men are just sexual and aggressive by nature, so gay men should be kept away from heterosexual men in order to protect the heterosexual men.”  Notice the one thing that is consistent between those two arguments?

2Yeah, the anti-gay animus and stigma can be pretty rotten at times.  But being gay itself?  It’s actually pretty okay.  (I’ll leave it to those who are bi and/or trans* to comment on whether they feel the same way about their own sexuality and/or gender identity.  I don’t want to speak for others.)

2 thoughts on “Why are anti-gay people so confused about consent?”

  1. I wonder whether what might be going on here is a kind of loss of innocence about scout camps, or gender-segregated activities more generally.

    Back when there wasn’t such a thing as homosexuality, see, you could pack your little ones off on girl camps for the girls and boy camps for the boys and know there couldn’t be any sex, or anything like it.

    This helps to preserve every parents’ dream of having their offspring remain childlike and innocent until sometime in their mid twenties, where they magically become happily married.

    (I kind of think a lot of parents, even though they are more realistic than this, and are supportive of their kids’ relationships and even like their boyfriends/girlfriends, still have a part of them that would kind of prefer it if it were like this)

    Now we have gay people everywhere, the spectre of sex! (or at least kissing) is everywhere.

    Of course, it’s naïve to think that this wasn’t always going on to some extent behind the scenes, and having an inclusive Scouts makes people actually safer. But I think that too might be part of the problem here: one of the driving forces behind homophobia I think is the difficulty of acknowledging people who are attracted to the same sex have always been there, and just because people like to pretend the Scouts have always been solidly heterosexual (and therefore sex-free), doesn’t mean it’s the truth.

    1. the spectre of sex! (or at least kissing)

      Okay. That totally gave me a giggle. I’m reminded of the time one of my friends on Facebook told me that a Writing Quickie (what I call a 40-300 word burst of fictional writing I do just to exercise my craft) I had written made her uncomfortable and she wished I wouldn’t share such things on my timeline. I pointed out to her that Quickie was simply the description of the point-of-view character sitting with his boyfriend and getting a backrub, and that I was a bit disheartened that someone would ask me not to describe such a scene.

Leave a Reply