Credit: sookie/Flickr Creative Commons
Opinion
5 min

Can we talk about groping in sex-positive gay spaces?

Talking about consent in these environments can be challenging, but it’s the only way we’ll learn to be conscious of each other’s limits

I was in line at the coat check for a fetish circuit party, wearing a sexy sportswear outfit. A guy in front of me, without so much as a word, reached out and grabbed my dick through my football pants. I pushed his hand away. He did it again. I told him not to touch me. He told me that obviously I wanted to be touched if I was dressed that way.

He stood in line in front of me for five long minutes, and grabbed my dick two or three more times while I told him to stop and hit his hand away. The music wasn’t too loud in that part of the club, so I know he heard me. He had a smirk on his face while he grabbed me. He was challenging me. He may as well have said, “What are you gonna do about it?”

It was only when his friends told him to leave me alone that he did. He obviously cared what his friends thought but he didn’t seem to care what I wanted.

Of course I would love to have grabbed him by the balls while asking if he liked being touched without permission, but that would make me no better than him, so I restrained myself. I pushed the incident out of my mind and tried to enjoy my night.

It’s not the first time I’ve been groped non-consensually in a gay space. But it usually comes in a more cowardly form, like a disembodied hand grabbing my ass from behind. I guess to them I’m a disembodied ass in a crowd. The thing is, I’m not. I’m a person who gets to decide who grabs my ass and who doesn’t.

I like to party in sex-positive spaces in Toronto, where I live. Parties like Trade at The Black Eagle or Boner at Club 120, where play is okay. I also like gear or fetish-wear parties like 4Play and Pitbull, and leather parties. I even organize and DJ at similar parties myself. While sex-positive events have a long history in the city, they’re becoming more popular again and attracting younger audiences, and it’s about time; people deserve to feel sexually unashamed and empowered, and this can be doubly important for LGBT people.

The vibes and the atmosphere are less uptight at these parties. You meet open-minded, chill people, and you often hear music styles you might not hear at other LGBT parties. Wearing leather and other gear is fun and provides a nice relief from the way we have to act in the puritanical outside world. But I’m not a fan of non-consensual groping.

Of course, cruising has a long history of nonverbal flirtation and cues that emerged during decades of gay oppression, when it was dangerous to ask others outright if they wanted to hook up. However, as newer generations integrate into LGBT scenes and social norms shift to prioritize clear consent, many of us interpret these non-verbal actions as non-consensual or even harassing behaviour. Young people are very conscious about consent in a way that was rarely discussed, publicized or politicized in the past. Many of us also have the luxury of verbally expressing our desire and lust without persecution.

Even though Canadian law criminalizes anal sex if more than two people are present or if it’s happening in a public place, my generation still feels less compelled to cruise through gestures and signals. We prefer to seek and obtain clear and explicit consent before we touch.

While there are aspects of our cruising culture that can be considered tradition, and therefore deserve some respect, I would argue that grabbing someone’s dick without any prior interaction shouldn’t fall under that banner.

Just because you’re in a sex-positive space doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all where consent goes out the window. Just because people are at these events wearing sexy outfits is not an invitation for anyone to be groped.

We hear this type of victim-blaming rhetoric — where wearing “provocative clothing” somehow means you’re asking to be touched — used against women. Interactions between same-sex people are no different. It could be argued that if you’re at a club wearing a wrestling singlet with the butt cut out of it, you clearly want to be treated a certain way. Depending on the individual, that may be true, but everyone is entitled to choose who touches them, and whether or not they want to be touched at all.

I’ve had my own evolution of understanding on this. As a 19-year-old first exploring the leather scene, I once saw a guy who I thought was really hot, so I just went up to him and pinched him pretty hard on the nipple. He did not react favourably to that, and rightfully so. As a young person in a space with mainly older, more experienced patrons, I thought I was showing how hardcore I could be and proving that I belonged there. I was actually showing that I had no idea how to interact with people in those environments. He and I have since spoken about it and have no hard feelings, but I made a mistake and learned from it.

I’ve had to make my own decision not to tell off each and every person who grabs my ass or crotch at a club. If I did, I would spend a lot of the time I want to devote to getting lit telling people off, which would ruin my night. But that’s a messed-up decision to have to make.

Sexually-charged environments still require consent; not everyone in these environments is raring to go then and there with the first person who grabs them. I’ve been to various sex-positive spaces throughout Toronto and different spaces have different vibes. A place like Oasis Aqualounge (which requires first-time patrons to sign an agreement that they understand the rules of consent) welcomes many sexual and gender identities on given days and is a chill place to be. Whereas somewhere like Steamworks has a more intentional, less chill vibe.

Then there are men-only dance parties, which can be pretty macho environments. Talking about consent in that kind of environment can be challenging, maybe because it’s a conversation we’re more used to hearing among women, so it’s not considered very macho.

But these conversations are important, especially if we’re seeing a resurgence of sex parties. The time has come to start talking about this openly.

So how do you know when you can touch someone?

For me, if I’m talking to or dancing with a guy and we very obviously have intense chemistry and very obviously want to kiss each other, it’s easy to know. If you don’t know, then ask. If we’re already making out, personally, I wouldn’t think it unreasonable for you to put your hands on me. I’m not being a prude; I’m just suggesting that these situations are very different from reaching out and grabbing a stranger’s ass who’s facing in the opposite direction.

I’m not saying people have to tiptoe around each other at these kinds of events. I’m not saying anything has to spoil any mood or be unsexy. I’m just saying that non-consensually groping a stranger isn’t sexy. I don’t think my dick has ever shrivelled up faster than when that guy groped me in the coat-check line.

As we start to have more open discussions about consent in our communities and what that means to different people, we’ll need to practise listening to each other and becoming conscious of each other’s limits.

No matter where we are or what we’re wearing.