The Reality of Rape in the Gay Guy Community

In a patriarchal society, rigid, binary gender roles can inhibit male survivors of sexual violence from identifying themselves as victims and expressing the range of emotions that may follow a traumatic event. It is estimated that 1 in 33 adult men in the United States are victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. Despite this reality, male survivors experience a pressure to remain silent and preserve a harmful and limited definition of masculinity, which assumes that men always want sex and are incapable of being raped.

Aaron McIntosh, a gay male sexual assault survivor, explains, “We exist in a culture of maleness that doesn’t honor men’s capacity to be emotional, to be fragile, or to be in pain. You lose respect even in the gay guy community when you can’t be man enough to accept this and move on.”

Aaron is a professor at Maryland Institute College of Art, where he teaches in the fiber arts department. This is where he connected with the creators of the Monument Quilt. Since their connection, he has led workshops, helped with exhibitions, and volunteered in various capacities. The first few quilt squares he made served as educational demonstrations, but about a year into his participation with the Monument Quilt efforts, he made a personal square.

“The process was pretty cathartic for me,” Aaron explained. “I had my own personal experience of rape with another guy that wasn’t really contextualized for me as rape until I started working with the Monument Quilt.”

Aaron described how participating in workshops and displays of the quilt impacted his realization that he had been raped. “Seeing and hearing the other stories of survivors of sexual assault and rape, getting more involved in the project, reading more about sexual violence, and having political activist dialogue kind of opened my eyes to my own experience with rape. My first quilt square commemorates that. It’s like an address to the larger gay community which I feel doesn’t practice enough self care.”

Aaron utilized the term “gay guy community” when referring to his experiences and social circles within the queer community. “I feel like I have to acknowledge the circles I run in are specifically male. That doesn’t mean just cis men but includes trans men, like the gay male-identified crowd.”

A stigma is attached to men, regardless of sexuality, coming forward as survivors of sexual assault, but within the gay guy community the stigma is amplified. Aaron discussed how this stigma manifests. “I find that across the queer community people really shy away from addressing sexual assault in a wholescale way. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that our identities are staked on sexuality and, in a large part, sexual freedom from the status quo.”

Aaron continued that the sexual freedom can lead folks to always expect participation. Expectations reinforce coercion; if sex is expected, then “no” is not viewed as a valid option. “I worry that in so much sexual liberation people forget to take care of themselves and respect everyone’s bodies and boundaries. I think in the back of our minds there’s a fear that acknowledging any kind of failure gets in the way of moving forward in wider cultural acceptance of queerness. There’s a history of not acknowledging sexual assault because of the way sexual assault within the queer community is distorted by homophobia, like the false assertion that gay people are child molesters or perverts or nymphomaniacs.”

Aaron added, “In the gay guy community, sexual assault is pretty rampant. Drinking culture is very much a part of gay culture, and a lot of people feel if they don’t drink that they can’t participate.” The pressure to drink paired with the pressure to not be a “prude” is a dangerous combination.

This assumptive culture fosters a silence around sexual assault in the gay guy community. “I think more than anything guys don’t talk about it. I find that it’s only when asking pointedly what are my friends’ feelings about being blackout drunk and someone still took them home and they woke up without their clothes on that we even come close. How did they feel about that? In my experience, that’s an assumed part of the lifestyle, but it’s normalizing sexual assault.”

This normalization can prevent gay survivors from seeking help or support after the assault. “Like any survivor of sexual violence, a deep sense of shame or guilt may be present, but there’s also the feeling of not wanting to come forward because that will endanger the lives of other queers. Additionally, there’s the fear that the queer community would reject them about being open about such abuse.”

Aaron identified open conversation about sexual assault as a critical first step to addressing the issue within the gay guy community. “More honest and open dialogue is definitely needed. It also leaves out all these other conversations about STIs and the rampant rise in AIDS cases amongst men my age. I think it’s all built into this ‘risky behavior’ that is ingrained in this culture of sexual expectations of gay men.” Aaron emphasized that this kind of open dialogue is also necessary for queer youth. “I don’t mean to get on a soapbox, but there’s really no sexual education in our country. Depending on what state you live in you might never hear about queer people or issues in school. Where is the dialogue about men protecting themselves against sexual assault by other men – straight and queer? Growing up as a male-identified person you learn that rape is something that happens to women, and you don’t imagine that it can happen to you.” Without access to comprehensive and inclusive consent education and role models of healthy queer relationships, queer youth are especially vulnerable to sexual violence and intimate partner violence.

Aaron’s square for the Monument Quilt was a fusion of art and activism, or as some have termed it, “craftivism.” Aaron is no stranger to this concept, but he feels his work has “a kind of quiet activism.” Informed by his Appalachian family background, Aaron utilizes traditional forms, including quilts, to challenge heteronormative assumptions.  “I’m looking at the traditional forms from their lives that were very important to me, projecting my own visual encyclopedia of knowledge, and reinterpreting those forms in a way that makes sense to me or through me. A lot of that brings to the forefront my sexuality, my sexual desires and activities. People think they are looking at a taxidermied bear from my family’s bear hunting background, and then they see the bear’s fur is actually made from a very specific kind of gay porn. It’s suddenly, ‘Oh, this isn’t exactly what I thought it was.’

“I think a large part of my work is asking viewers to reconsider their own notions of what Appalachian identities are, bringing the stereotypes out of the woodwork, flushing them out, making them strange.”

Aaron explained how the quilt form is fitting for a public healing space for survivors. “The quilt has a really traditional southern craft form, and it’s also a comfort object.” The Monument Quilt addresses the impact of trauma, but by providing a space for solidarity and healing, it also comforts. “Working with the Monument Quilt creators has been a major inspiration for me, especially looking at how the creators have brought in many voices beyond their own in this piece.”

Aaron’s artistic methods of challenging stereotypes mirror those of the Monument Quilt. The Monument Quilt holds space for hundreds of stories, and through its diversity it simultaneously humanizes survivors while honoring each experience and individual’s complexity. The quilt squares challenges assumptive perceptions of survivors.

Lifting the Voices and Meeting the Needs of Survivors with Disabilities

“As a disabled person, I often I find that I am the only one in the room who draws attention to the needs of folks with disabilities. I would like to see allies take a stand and acknowledge the ways that the sexuality of disabled folks is ignored or feared and that we face significant barriers to having healthy and happy sex lives. Part of that is also ensuring that when a disabled person faces abuse or violence that the programs created to support survivors take us into account and we have the same access to services promoting care and healing.“

Amber Melvin, Monument Quilt team leader


This July marks twenty-five years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This legislation greatly improved disabled* people’s’ access to public spaces and services. The ADA also created more public awareness of the sometimes unique needs of people with disabilities. One area that is still not often addressed is disabled people’s increased exposure to violence and sexual abuse.

Research on the experiences of people in the disability community is very limited, but here is what we do know:

  •  Women with disabilities are raped and abused at a rate at least twice that of the general population of women.
  • Among developmentally disabled adults, as many as 83% of females and 32% of males are the victims of sexual assault.
  • Women with disabilities are nearly twice as likely to experience intimate partner violence than non-disabled women.
  • One organization that serves deaf survivors of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and abuse found that 40% of their clients were people of color, with Black and Latino folks represented in higher numbers than in the local population.
  • Only 3% of sexual assaults against disabled people are reported, likely because their abusers are often people who help with their care taking.

People with disabilities, whether physical or developmental, often utilize assistance from family members, acquaintances, or personal care attendants to help with daily needs like getting dressed, eating, bathing, or transportation. The sad fact is that many people experience abuse at the hands of the very people they look to for help.

In addition to unwanted touching and physical violence; some caretakers may withhold assistive devices like a wheelchair or deny communication assistance, such as refusing to translate sign language as a form of violence and abuse. Disabled folks may fear that reporting abusive providers and companions will result in the loss of essential care. This puts people in an extremely difficult position.

If people with disabilities do choose to report or leave abusive environments, they may find difficulty in getting the support or services that the need. These issues are further compounded by the way that our race, class, gender, sexuality, or age may get in the way with our access to healthcare or to seeking and receiving services. Reporting also means interacting with law enforcement, which can be tricky depending on a person’s relationship or trust of the police. While the ADA has made tremendous changes in the way that people with disabilities access the world, there are still many ways that people remain isolated and silenced. For programs and services to begin to provide support to survivors and ensure that they are adequately and appropriately addressing disabled people’s needs, there are a few simple steps that can be taken.

Some of these considerations speak to people who are managing programs that provide care or support to survivors, but they are also important for people to think about as they interact with friends or family members from the disability community.

1) When speaking with a disabled person about their experience, speak to and look directly at them, not to a caregiver or the person accompanying them. This is true if you are interacting with folks in the community, too – not just in a service program.

2) Recognize that disabled people experience sexual attraction and participate in all kinds of sexual activities and partnerships, just as non-disabled folks do. You should not assume that a disabled person is unable to give consent. Read “Let’s Talk About Sex and Disability”. It is important to respect the agency of disabled people while also looking for patterns of coercion or abuse as to support and ensure healthy relationships and treatment of both disabled and non-disabled people in your life.

3) Train staff and volunteers about the specific needs that disabled folks may have when seeking services. If you do not have adequate information to provide that training, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) has a checklist for facilities. It is primarily focused on the physical requirements for accessibility, but is a good start. The California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASV) also has a resource on supporting survivors with disabilities.

4) Build partnerships with organizations and people in the disability community and allow their leadership and expertise to make your work stronger and more inclusive. Here is a guide on programs and services that may help you to connect to a program or organization in your area. Not a service provider? How about finding the groups in your community to get on their lists and learn more?

5) Research and keep a list of resources that you can refer to as needed, such as ASL interpreting or language translation, accessible housing, experienced counselors, and accessible healthcare providers.

6) Make sure that all of your events and facilities are accessible for wheelchairs, provide ASL interpretation, and opportunities for folks to report other accommodations they may need. You can include space for requests on any registration forms. Promote these accommodations so that people know that they are available to them. If you are not someone who runs a program or provides services, think about any events that you are involved in. Are they accessible?

7) But the biggest thing anyone can do is to be open and aware and inclusive not just of the needs, but also the voices of disabled people. If you are providing services to the community, do you have anyone on your staff, board or planning committees from the disability community? And if you don’t (yet), make sure that you are working to build genuine partnerships with local disability organizations and that if a new program is being created or an event is being planned, the needs of people with disabilities are considered.

At FORCE, we are working hard to create strong partnerships with organizations and advocates in the disability community to ensure that the Monument Quilt provides an accessible, healing space.  We are committed to creating a movement where the voices and stories of all survivors are honored.

*We have chosen to use both person-first language as well as the term “disabled person,” which acknowledges how disabilities are not a result of one’s body, but that disabilities are created by structural barriers that make it more difficult for folks with different bodies to navigate the world.