Saturday, June 18, 2011

Trying To Understand What Happened (part 1)

Preface: This is the first of three posts I've written about the very bad reaction to the two posts I wrote in regard to Sugar Ray Leonard's accusations of sexual abuse against an unnamed Olympic boxing coach, which resulted in my separation from the blog I have been writing for since 2006. I have agreed to not mention that blog or its owner, for whom I have the greatest respect and who is in no way responsible for what I wrote or the reaction to it. I have also not linked to the posts there in order to avoid her blog becoming the target of further attacks.

I will not be writing for that blog in the future, I wish it and its owner the best of fortune.

The furor at my former blog and in other places around my post about Sugar Ray Leonard's sexual assault accusation against an unnamed boxing coach was based in an essential difference between discrimination against women and discrimination against gay men. And, as in all things, that difference hinges on society and the law giving the benefit of the doubt to men who identify as straight. The difference in experience at the hands of the law and society is an important and inescapable difference between the struggle for women and gay men for our rights. It is something that will have to be addressed because it will both be the occasion of other misunderstandings and it will continue to feature in our treatment by the law and by society.

Mostly leaving aside my first, and what I considered the most important problem with Leonard's accusation, I will concentrate in this first post in three about it on the parts which most people objected to.

Women have the collective experience of having accusations of rape and assault summarily dismissed in ways that favor their attackers. That is known and documented past the possibility of rational denial.

Gay men, on the other hand, have the experience of knowing that any defense they make against an accusation of sexual predation is up against one of the predominant features of anti-gay invective and stereo-typing, the gay man as predator and recruiter. That stereotype is never far from the mouths of the opponents of gay men, it has been a feature of anti-gay culture for centuries, from before the modern period in which even the word “homosexual” first identified gay men as a distinct category. That is also documented, though, as I found to my surprise, it is either little known or is not considered important to most people who aren't gay men.

Gay men also have the experience of not being believed when they accuse their attackers. Gay men have often been assaulted and not infrequently killed due for nothing more than that they are believed to be gay. On rare occasions straight men have been the victims of anti-gay violence due to perception or rumor. As I will point out, again, for gay men that takes its most extreme form in the legally-claimed gay panic defense, where presumption of gay predation intersects the presumption of straight male justification and, so innocence.

This key cultural difference was, I am certain, the reason that my pointing out problems of plausibility in Leonard's accusation led to the odd situation in which closely examining an accusation of a sudden, unexpected and uninvited gay assault, made by a man in his late forties on a young boxing champion, in the context of a conversation in which the gay man was telling Leonard why it was so important that he knock out or damage another world champion boxer, was seen as an anti-feminist act.

So strong is the assumption of gay predation that even citing its most extreme and undeniable expression in murder cases, little to nothing I actually said was heard.

It is understandable that many of the assumptions that come from the experience of women might be mistakenly inserted into what I said. But I didn't foresee that. Those assumptions, though, don't transfer from the experience of women to what is being described as happening between two men in this accusation of a gay assault, not without clarification. In the wider culture that assumption is mixed in with the revulsion against even gay touching, which accounts for the widespread acceptance of what would be considered far differently if the identity of the accused was different.

The, almost uniform, denial of the possibility of a young boxer of Leonard's ability using his skill to more than fend off an attack by a man more than twice his age seemed to me to be a willful act of irrational stereotyping of gay men as preying on weaker men by straight liberals and I still do. I think any gay man of even somewhat less than average intelligence, at that time and today, who would make a sudden, unannounced, very likely unwelcome sexual assault on a boxer well, well on his way to amassing an amateur record of 145-5 75 KO, would have to be almost uniquely reckless. For a coach who had seen what he could do in the ring to do it would seem to be even more reckless.

If that isn't a scenario that requires more explanation, it is hard to imagine one that would. If it was accurate, it would tell a lot more about the boxing world than it would about any gay men I've ever known. I have never known a gay man so stupid or insane as to risk that.

Even demonstrating the fact that as the law stands today, it is possible for a judge to legally instruct a jury in a murder case that an alleged gay pass is sufficient mitigation to find lesser charges or even innocence didn't impress a usually reasonable audience that gay men, as a group, are not given the benefit of the doubt by society or even the law. Most outrageously absurd in all of the river of slogans that my post brought out were those asserting it was an expression of male privilege and that any defense against its distortion was "mansplaining". Which, in this context is a new and higher hurdle for gay men to have to jump in order to be heard.

Consider that. In a murder trial a judge can tell the jury that they can consider a pass made by a gay man is enough to hold the murdered man responsible, in part or in total, for his own murder. How is that any different from blaming women for attacks made on them? That is, except that there are not law articles written that judges should be allowed to instruct juries that they should consider negative stereotypes of women in their deliberations.

And that doesn't even consider the chances of an assault charge being brought if the victim is known to be gay, if his attacker can get the police to believe the victim made a pass at the straight man who was manfully defending his honor. That is the crux of the problem, the difference between the accuser having to defend their accusation and the accuser becoming the accused and the combination of the two which gay men can face.

How did it reach this point among people on comment threads, who would have known me, as a gay man, through years of reading my writing about sexism and whose entire, expressed point of view is that nothing is acceptable but complete legal and social equality, bodily autonomy and ownership? That women as all people must insist on being considered as more than objects, as the possessor of full, inherent rights in every context. How the people who have heard me say that over and over again and had heard me say nothing else could turn on me over this issue is something I will be considering.

Given that the accusation was of a gay assault, the only woman mentioned in my post was Leonard's first wife and the only thing I said about her was that the widespread exculpation of Leonard's behavior, including hitting her, was inexcusable even if every word of his accusation was true. That exculpation of his bad behavior as being in some way explained by his being gay-groped, once, was even contained in the long quote I provided from the New York Times, I said that it was something that was frequently said all over the internet. The charge of anti-feminism attributed to what I wrote has been the major shock I've received in putting my ideas in writing. I can't believe that it is unrelated to the gay issues in the subject and that I am a gay man. Apparently the penumbras of some interpretations of feminism extend to include Leonard, a straight man, but exclude me even as I refuse to accept this excuse, widely made in the wake of his accusation, for his wife beating.

That Leonard's accusation is deemed to be above question is due entirely to the identification of his alleged attacker as a gay man. If a male boxer was writing his memoir in his advancing middle age and he said he'd suffered a lifetime of torment, resulting in decades of bad behavior, because one of the women teaching in his high school did what this boxing coach is said to have done, nothing I have said would be seen as terrible. Every point I made about the necessity of his identifying the woman he was accusing so the half-dozen or more of other women teaching at his school would not be suspected would not only be allowed but would be demanded. The questions I raised testing the scenario in terms of age and presumable ability would be considered to be valid ones. All points in favor of exculpation of the accused woman would be acceptably raised. I am pretty confident in saying that every aspect of the story would be within acceptable limits of skeptical* consideration. The claims that one unwelcome heterosexual assault of this kind made on a young man explained decades of bad behavior would be considered absurd and ridiculous.

If it was a woman claiming the same thing about a woman teaching or coaching at her school, most if not all of the same questions would be allowable, perhaps, given that the charge would be of a rarely heard of lesbian attack, that fact would be given as why it was even more urgent to question the account. I am still confident that asking many of the questions I have would be quite acceptable, if not demanded by many of those who condemned me asking them in the accusations against a gay man.

As I have said, a straight man being accused by a woman would traditionally be given every possible benefit of the doubt. It is certain that his identity would also be demanded so other men would escape suspicion, their families not subjected to wondering if their husbands, fathers or grandfathers were sex criminals.

The view that gay men are presumed sexual predators is apparently so ingrained that in the several arguments I've gotten into at even very liberal blogs nothing I said about the problems with the scenario was even heard by the audience, including at least one defense lawyer who, variably, either denied that “gay panic defense” is currently allowed or that it was never used successfully. Even as he gave me one of the key citations proving that not only is it sometimes used successfully, but arguing that since lawyers will find some way to appeal to juries anti-gay prejudice that it should be allowable for a judge to tell those same juries it is a legal mitigation if not exculpation for the brutal murder of a gay man. When I asked him if he was the defending lawyer defending the coach against this charge, wouldn't he have brought up many of the points I raised about plausibility, he deflected the question instead of answering it.

I will admit that I wrote my post in shock that this was the state of the liberal blogosphere in 2011, that one of the major planks of anti-gay oppression is far from gone from the culture of liberals. Given the scenario that Leonard has given, it is clearly possible that a gay man can imagine the coach risking, at the least, a brutal and violent refusal whereas straight people see a young, adult, world class boxer in peak condition as “powerless” in the face of a pass made by a man in his late forties. I expect this is an issue that will increasingly become important for gay men to address, especially in light of the increasing announcements by male celebrities that they were sexually abused by gay men**.

Just as women have to always insist that their attackers not be allowed to escape punishment for their crimes based in the common practices of their subjugation and oppression, gay men will not be able to ignore the distinct mechanisms of our oppression. That the two different methods that straight men have used to oppress us inescapably bring addressing those into conflict won't do anything to lessen the facts of our oppression. Either will always be just under the surface in the thinking of many people, even those who believe themselves to be past it. Of those who might constitute a jury.

This is an accusation of a gay assault, the common practices and attitudes creating the scenario, the actions and reactions of two men involved in an alleged gay assault and the treatment of such a scenario by society are not those operating in the quite different experience of women in what would superficially appear to be a similar situation. The inequities and injustices society imposes on women are not the same as those it imposes on gay men, those differences result in the need to not apply the conclusions that are relevant in one kind of case, to the other kind.

That this issue involves legal conflicts over the presumption of innocence of the accused is an extremely important problem that will have to be dealt with because it's not going to go away. The right to the presumption of innocence is as important as that for equality and the right to vote. In this crime show and "24" addled society, it is under active attack. That society and the legal system have used the essential right of the presumption of innocence to benefit straight men can't be used as an attack on that essential right. Women and children as well as gay men are accused of crimes. We need that right as much as anyone else accused of a crime, no matter what their identity is, no matter how society has abused it to favor straight men. As seen in the cases where straight men are accused of assaulting or even murdering gay men, they are given more than their fair share of it.

Note: Mixed up in this is also the extremely complex recent history of the sexual abuse of young children and the mania of false accusations mixed in among the legitimate prosecutions. I have been struck at how much of the reaction to this has been conflated with that phenomenon. I won't go into that today.

Sugar Ray Leonard's assault accusation, though is an assault by one man on another man, it was not an allegation of child abuse. I don't know what the refusal by those who read my post to realize that fact could mean, though it is also something that will have to be addressed in the future.

* I will deal with issues of skepticism in the third part of this series. What that word has come to mean might be quite relevant to understanding what happened.

** Given that much if not most of the casual discussion has identified, not only this coach but most of the males who are accused of assaulting men or boys as being gay, the convenient distinction of denying what is assumed needs serious review. The distinction between pedophiles and gay men is one which seems to not have caught up with the majority of those I've read commenting on those. Leonard was an adult when he says he was assaulted, there is no reason to quibble over whether or not the man he is accusing is gay except to dishonestly deny how this issue is seen by most people.

That, after years of hearing that distinction between gay men and pedophiles made in the media, it has not gained that much traction in the culture highlights that the would-be liberal discussion of these matters isn't how it's usually talked about. And, quite often, I've found, the would-be liberal slips into the more typical language, exposing how it is really seen.

Note: This post is my analysis of why people had a hard time dealing with what I said, it isn't a full account of what I said. I will be dealing with Leonard's refusal to name the man he is accusing, which is the part of my post which was ignored by just about everyone who commented on it in my third post. I considered that point to be the most important thing I said.

As the subject of these posts is the very negative reaction to my blog posts dealing with Sugar Ray Leonard's accusation, I can hardly avoid talking about how this involves me. I anticipate being criticized for that. I don't apologize for defending myself, I don't know of anyone who is held to a rule that says they can't defend themselves or anyone who would agree to that rule being applied to them. I certainly don't.

Nor will I apologize for writing about this topic. An accusation like this, placed in front of the public is widely commented on, the way it is commented on is frequently in terms that impinge on the condition and position of gay men in society. If Leonard was making an accusation against a woman that was being commented on this way, there would be no one holding that it was off limits.

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