Eusebius McKaiser wrote this essay on Facebook earlier today, and with his permission, I am reposting it here.
On male rape, and the taboo around it:
Earlier today I was interviewed for a news channel by one of my favourite television journalists. I had told her I would share some of my reflections of how the interview was set up, because this issue matters. When she called me to request an interview, she asked whether I would be prepared to share my experiences of being bullied, which I had written about in my first book, A Bantu In My Bathroom. She said that she was requesting this interview, kindly, in light of the reported incident of bullying, involving the school boy who was assaulted. I agreed, and it was an important interview for me, not just as a commentator, but as someone who has been violated. She asked excellent questions, and it was, subject matter aside, a satisfying dialogue, on camera.
But here is an interesting observation of how it was set up. Nothing in the previous paragraph included the phrase ‘male rape’ or just ‘rape’. (As an aside, the word ‘sodomy’ – mercifully – does not feature either.) And this is because, like the reporter at City Press, this media colleague of mine could not get herself to request an interview to talk about the boy being RAPED, and to ask me to share my experience, documented in book form anyway, having been raped as a child.
In fact, I never talked about bullying in A Bantu In My Bathroom. In the essay in which I discussed the fact that I was raped, I did not offer a detailed description of how I was bullied, verbally and emotionally, by kids at my primary school – just for being effeminate. This also happened at home, sometimes. As I said to the interviewer, whenever I had a playful fight with my sister at home but it got gently out of hand, and we then teased each other, an equivalent of playing ‘the race card’ in my house, aimed at stopping our interaction in its tracks, would be for my sister to cheat in this teasing game, if she could not win a round of teasing, by using the ultimate trump card, the nuclear option, ‘JOU MOFFIE!’ (‘YOU FAGGOT!’) I would just burst out crying. End of game.
But I didn’t write about this in any detail in A Bantu In My Bathroom. I specifically told the story of my cousin raping me, after he had groomed me over a long period of time by being a brilliant role-model, tutor, etc, earning my trust and admiration, and getting credit for my excellent academic results in primary school- he taught me quite a bit of algebra, for example, while I was still only about ten years old.
The reason why, I think, some of the articles in the press do not refer to this boy as a survivor of rape, and the reason this excellent journo did not request me to speak about being raped, or to comment on male rape, is because we dare not think of, let alone describe, men as rape victims or rape survivors. This fascinates me, genuinely. Because it is not motivated by a malicious attempt to suppress the full truth.
The reason for the taboo is, I think, some really, horrendously unfortunate, ideas of what it means to be ‘a man’. A man does not get raped. And so, because men ought not to be broken physically, sexually, emotionally or otherwise, we end up using language, in our homes, and in the media, that try to perpetuate the idea that a male rape survivor is ‘still a man’, as it were– and so if we were to report on his violation as rape, I suspect, at a subconscious level perhaps, that doing so might make a reporter, or you and me around the braai or dinner table, feel as if we are, in effect, re-victimising that man or boy, the equivalent of calling him ‘moffie!’ rather than, say, ‘gay’- and so we are prepared to say he was assaulted, because that is not AS visceral, and does not diminish his masculinity AS much as saying or writing ‘raped’ or ‘rape victim’ or ‘rape survivor’.
That must stop. Men rape. And some men get raped. Let’s say so, plainly.
Because, actually, not doing so has at least two bad effects:
a) Our descriptions of boys and men who are raped will not capture the full trauma that the boy underwent, because, although the sexual assault has made many of us, black and white, old and young, male and female, and many other folks in between, angry and disgusted, I still think that until we properly describe this crime as rape, and with that all its applicable connotations surfacing, connotations that do not automatically go with the word ‘assault’- until then we will never fully be conscious of the reality that men can be violated in similar ways as the violence us men inflict on women. Of course fewer men are victims of rape. That goes without saying, but those boys and men, like myself, who have been raped, were raped, not only ‘assaulted’. All rape is assault. But not all assault is rape. The full features of the violation that comes with the sexual crime of rape must not be shied away from, else we will never mobilise properly to help eliminate this scourge from society; because the awkwardness that can provoke us to act is felt less when we continue the taboo.
b) The second reason we must stop being afraid to talk about male rape is that the taboo is premised on unhealthy assumptions about masculinity. Men are fragile too. And boys. So we should not try to preserve some kind of intrinsic toughness that I have by not describing me as a rape survivor. You don’t render me vulnerable by doing so. Why? Because, simply in virtue of being human, I already AM vulnerable, capable of being broken, and injured. Both men and women are simultaneously resilient and fragile. And when I am raped, I am vulnerable, and it is perfectly acceptable to recognise that the usually robust physical body, and strong psychology, have been viciously disrupted. To refuse to say so, even if well-intended, is to reinforce the idea that men are indestructible. This makes it harder, not easier, for male rape survivors, because it also reduces the space for them – for us – to emote, cry, speak freely, and seek help. It also, as a further consequence, but not an irrelevant one, robs us of an opportunity to help all men understand, a little better, what really happens when we, in turn, rape women.
Let’s talk about male rape. Break the taboo.