A strange feeling


Child abuse, the act or the occasional news about it, never sank in me so disturbingly unless it had to do with girls. The idea of boys being physically abused was not as depressing. ‘Catholic bishop molesting young boys’ was just a funny standup routine. Before I go on with this topic, I want to link a documentary that shook my views on the whole issue a great deal.

It’s shocking and disconcerting in many levels. The magnitude of the number of people and organizations involved is disquieting. The lengths these people have gone to suppress the issue worsens the disquiet. Then there’s the emotional side to it. The thoughts -- “What if it had to happened to me? What if I had been molested? How would I feel?” -- are quite scary, awfully embarrassing, terribly disturbing, but most of all, strange.

Yes, it’s a strange thought. Because, I as a person belonging to a gender that is almost devoid of the notion of rape (at least, until recently) am not quite able to relate to the people in the documentary. I can distantly imagine their pain and to a lesser extent the emotions that they went through then and going through now.

My conception of rape has a lot to do with self-respect, dignity and lot of constructs that are highly relative. But my understanding mostly centers women. How it affects the aforementioned constructs with respect to that gender. There’s an unquestioned and invisibly patronizing sympathy because they are the “weaker” sex. There’s also the belief that women are more resistant to rape (or sex in general) than men.1 I don’t want to venture too much in to this area as it’s a little too polemical and I’m fairly inadequate to discuss it theoretically.2

If it weren’t for some movies, my view of ‘male rape’ would have continued to be entirely apathetic. ‘American History X’ was, for me, the first movie to show the agony of rape experienced by a man. Edward Norton’s poignant and rather realistic portrayal of his character’s helplessness and shame sent chills down my spine. I was then exposed to a series of movies, quite coincidentally, that dealt with male rape.3 Over a period of time, I think, the shock started to dissipate and it became an alien phenomenon that didn’t worry me so much.
Then came ‘Split Wide Open;’ it was another ‘Mahanadhi,’ a little less ‘mainstream’ but just as strident. It is probably the first Indian movie to deal with bisexuality, incest, pedophilia and all ‘tabooed topics’ that an average movie viewer can very well do without. The fact that the story was set in Bombay made it all the more harrowing. SWO threw more truths than I could handle in two hours. None of it seemed improbable or far fetched, though. I had read some real life equivalents in newspapers. But, I was/am still not able to understand the stigma, if there is any.

Male rapes, at least its portrayal in media, are quite uncommon in India. Even ‘uncommon’ doesn’t quite explain the situation - it’s virtually absent.4 A phenomenon that is non-existent in the media or the public discourse cannot possibly develop a stigma. Social stigma, needless to say, shapes the depth of victimization. In a typical urban middle-class setup in India, most boys grow up without ever having to fear rape. Notwithstanding the fact that ‘men having sex with men’ is not an entirely alien concept, even among 12 year olds.
Of course, there’s a lot of homophobia. But I don’t think that can be equated to how a male rape victim is perceived. The point is, my upbringing did not in anyway help me alleviate the ‘strangeness’ that I had alluded to earlier.

I saw AHX when I was 19. Five years have passed since then. More movies, more horrific “truths” and more ‘what the …?’ reactions – but it’s still strange. And then I saw the movie ‘Twenty Nine Palms’. Instead of trying to praise the movie (which I may do later), I’ll get to the scene that is most relevant here. Close to the end of the movie a couple is driving down an isolated road are intercepted by 3 men in an SUV (in day light, in an open desert). Before the couple could say anything, they are both slapped around and the woman is stripped naked. Since the movie does not exactly hint such a thing, I was frozen with cold fingers as I muffled “don’t…don’t rape her.”
As the scene continued to unfold, the man tries to wrench out of the goons’ hold only to get pummeled. What followed gave me an emotional overload. As the woman kicks and screams at the sight of all this, she is pinned down the dirt as she watches her boyfriend get raped. Yes, one of the goons sodomizes the badly-injured man lying on the ground, growling in pain.5
It was a mind-numbing scene, but I felt an uncomfortable relief. I couldn’t quite conceptualize him as a victim, at least not immediately. I was just glad that it wasn’t her. The movie’s ending was no consolation either. A week later, I saw another movie ‘Mysterious Skin.’ This movie was just as racking. Though the movie was kind enough to not have me frozen at any point, it was ruthless in revealing the cold vulnerabilities of “manliness.”
The movies helped me get out of the ‘strange’ feeling. Now, it’s not that strange as much as scary or depressing. They guided me to do some abstract deconstruction in this area and this post is a part of that process.
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1This page has a whole list of ‘myths’ about male rape. Makes an enlightening read (at least, in legal terms). I thought this point is worth quoting: The vast majority of men who sexually assault other men identify themselves as heterosexual. This fact helps to highlight another reality, that is, that sexual assault is usually more about violence, anger, domination and control over another person, than it is about lust or sexual attraction.
2 Try the following wiki articles for a brief read: Art 1; Art 2.
3 Pulp Fiction’ was one of the movies which made ‘male rape’ look funny.
4 Male rapes, in various contexts, are reported quite frequently in the English media lately. And there’s also the invasion of ‘western pop-culture’ that carries a good amount of slurs referring to sodomy. So the construction of a stigma for male rape victims is not far away (in India).
5 If you're open to graphic (and sexual) images, try this trailer

4 comments:

The Individualist said...

Hmm. I can totally relate to "The idea of boys being physically abused was not as depressing. ‘Catholic bishop molesting young boys’ was just a funny standup routine."
Many a time, I ask myself if it'd feel as 'funny' if the Catholic bishop had molested a young girl. All of a sudden, it seems to change its form from being funny to being depressing and worrisome.
It is strange indeed. I ask myself if I feel different because of the conceiving factor. It doesn't seem so. I mean, how many of such sexual 'adventures' end in pregnancy? I'd presume its not too high. So, what else is it that makes me feel not so perturbed when its a boy? I somehow see the need to relate it to the imbibed notion that females are of the weaker sex. Thus, that perturbation has probably resulted from the need to protect the 'weaker sex' and the revulsion of such coercive acts used by the stronger sex against the weaker sex to its advantage. This theory seems more impetus when I consider that I don't seem to feel as disturbed when reading an article describing the molestation of a female by another. The concern is probably stemming from the seeming oppression of the weak. And also because of the lack of exposure to such acts of sodomy against males.
But yes. As I watch movies like the AHX and even the likes of The Butterfly Eff, and Shawshank red. and other such movies, one is appalled and disgusted at the acts. All of a sudden, I, of the male sex, who never had to feel insecure to strut around at one in the night in a carefree manner, seem to feel a chill run through my body when I wonder if I was always at risk of being raped. A new feeling grips you. It is quite strange. And makes you feel insecure like maybe, most women do.

The Individualist said...

"This theory seems more impetus "
This theory seems to have more impetus-

Anonymous said...

are you gay?

Suresh said...

^^ No. Are you homophobic?

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