Queer desirability politics and its implications on consent
The lines between colonization, patriarchy, desirability, and rape culture become less blurred and more connected.
by Avery Ware
Writer Darnell Moore delineated how objectifying thoughts of oblivious passersby is rooted in “ sexist, misogynistic, and patriarchal ways of thinking — and being.” He further makes the connection to men in queer communities, and how this school of thought is ultimately linked to politics of desire: “if a femme person is on that same street or dancing in that same bar, it’s likely they will be tugged and caressed as if they are property … if a non-white man is on that same street or same bar, comprised of mostly white men, it’s likely they will be rendered exotic, sexually-potent bucks.”
Moore illuminates an under-examined element of queer desirability politics that centers ideological interrogation and application, as opposed to delineations of attractiveness and erotic capital. Patriarchal understandings, informed by colonial scripts, have fueled the ways queer folks understand sex and sexuality. And those understandings have heavy implications on how we acknowledge consent and boundaries.
Queerness does not shield us from dominant ideologies and operations of power in our society. Conversely, especially within the confines of an anti-queer society, queerness operates as an offense – something to be censured and protected from. Even for the most out and proud of us, that internalized queerphobia can result in leaning into patriarchal understandings of living, being, thinking, and behaving. In many queer communities, the politics of desire elucidates the ways dominant cultural expectations erode thinking and influence behavior – sometimes in the most harmful ways.
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Desirability politics, at its core, is a politic that revolves around patriarchy and idealized masculinity that’s informed by colonial thought and object. The desire to present in a way that comfortably aligns with colonial scripts of desire is wholly rooted in patriarchal understandings of manhood. It is ignorant to think that this desire to assimilate through presentation is not coupled with the adopted ideologies of patriarchal sensibilities – such as anger, violence, and control.
Under the ideology of patriarchy is one of sexual dominance, control, and conquest – what is popularly described as rape culture. Patriarchy codes that bodies are used for material gain and that is an essential function of rape culture. Under a colonial understanding, patriarchal ideologies hold that women, non-men, queer folks are lesser objects to be used at disposal of [white] men, and that is a direct result of European colonization and the institution of American chattel slavery.
The institution of slavery, and the subsequent racial caste system, gave white men (and women) unmitigated freedom to Black folk’s bodies. As bell hooks wrote in Ain’t I a Woman, “Black female slaves moving freely about the decks were a ready target for any white male who might choose to physically abuse or torment them…The threat of rape or other physical brutalization inspired terror in the psyches of displaced African females.”
Vincent Woodard writes about the “consumption” of Black male slaves saying, [it] “was a natural by-product of their [white men] physical, emotional, and spiritual hunger for [the Black male body]”. Even in this context, the labels of male and female are wholly determined by colonial thought, as opposed to how enslaved folks actually identified themselves.
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The phenomenon of surveillance, consumption, and disposal of bodies, especially bodies deemed less desirable via their race, class, gender, ability, etc, is one that originated in, and continues to thrive under patriarchal rule. It can be as serious as the aforementioned examples, or as innocuous as darker shades of make-up being regularly named after food.
Following this pattern, the lines between colonization, patriarchy, desirability, and rape culture become less blurred and more connected. Scripts of desire can lead to the foregoing of consent and ignoring boundaries because patriarchy tells men that boundaries don’t apply to them. This ideology is paramount in queer communities and it manifests in ways that cause and or exacerbate cycles of harm.
Gay, bisexual, trans men/transmasculine folks are not immune to doing harm informed by patriarchal sensibilities. Some of the most harmful elements of patriarchal rule tend to erode our communities from the inside out. Whether it’s the unwelcome grope at a bar or sending unsolicited nude photos, each act is done without regard to consent.
Colonial conventions of maleness and manhood create environments where violence is tradition.
Educated within white supremacist settings and socialized into cis heteropatriarchy standards and expectations, ideas concerning desire, sex, and consent can sometimes be confounding for folks within queer communities. Throughout our lives, many of us never had the privilege of being the target audience when these things were being discussed and are often left to navigate the terrains alone.
However, the connection between desire and its implication on consent are intimately tied. There is something to be said about queer men expressing their desires as a simple act of resistance in an anti-queer society. And, it is important to discern between the possession and spending of erotic capital, and the actualization of repeating harmful behavior informed by patriarchal rule.
Sexual assault and rape culture, cannot be understood outside of a patriarchal analysis. Similarly, queer male communities must take seriously the patriarchal frameworks we’ve been socialized into. Putting these things into conversation with each other, we can elucidate the very real implications of desirability politics on a culture that privileges dominance, control, and conquest. When we do so, we begin to center a new politics that actively privileges care, consent, and compassion.
Avery is a recent graduate with a masters in American Studies and a focus in Black queer history. He is currently a Higher Education professional with a focus on inclusion and social justice. He’s also a freelance writer.