Growing up as a black gay boy in Youngstown, Ohio, my mother always said “Son, you must operate in this world intentionally, you must treat others with respect, and you must keep your hands to yourself.”
As a child, all I wanted to do was play with my Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and Easy-Bake Oven. Yes, my Easy-Bake Oven. Like many children, I sometimes ignored my mother, so statements like this went into one ear and out of the other. But now as I reflect on my childhood and place those moments into my daily existence, I realize that “keep your hands to yourself” taught me to respect myself, taught me to respect women, and taught me that we all have the right to our own body.
My fellow gay men, I want the best for all of us. We are not automatically granted access to a woman’s body. This letter is even for me as a reminder of my male privilege regardless of my sexual orientation. This is why I humbly ask for you to examine how we operate in this world and how we utilize the space of others.
We cannot touch a woman without her permission. We are not the exception and her permission to us is not implied. We, too, can promote rape culture. We do not get a “pass” to touch her hair or her body or her clothes. We do not have an automatic right to critique her weight or texture of hair. We are still men and women will always deserve our respect. Despite the cultural context, women still speak for themselves. We must learn this and we must understand this. Women have autonomy over their own body. For those of us who consider ourselves feminists, we cannot constantly promote feminism and women’s ownership, then be bent out of shape when she decides that she does not want to be subjected to touching, feeling, or unwanted contact.
Fellow gay men, we cannot invade a woman’s personal space because there isn’t any sexual attraction. Regardless of us not wanting to be sexually intimate with women, we, too, must seek permission and be given explicit consent to anything on their body. We must realize that no still means no. It always will.