at the panel last night (on the social construction of sexual violence) i was getting a bit frustrated with the white man on the panel who dominated the conversation. it wasn’t necessarily that he was talking too much per say, more that his smug sense of self importance irked me, especially since he had the most to offer in the way of getting at how we confront perpetrators of sexual violence and potential perpetrators, outside of the legal system. he went on and on about “his students” (high-school age boys) in his workshops and their thoughts on gender roles, rape, and culture. a slue of questions went to him during the talk-back, perhaps because of his work with students? or maybe because the room had rather talk about males (the perps and potentials perps)? or perhaps it was just the way white males seem to assume power in any situation and pull attention (despite being surrounded by knowledgeable women of color, one self-identified rape survivor, and a host of other avenues the conversation could have went).
at one point, the white male chose to imitate one of his students, which quickly became a mockery of generally accepted stereotype of young, inner-city Black men. however, at no point in time did the white male panelist ever identify who his ambiguous “students” were. so i thought i’d ask a question.
i wanted to specifically know the race and class make-up of the high-school aged males he was working with, if it varied any throughout his two years of experience, and if it did vary, is his approach different concerning what class and race he is working with? this line of questioning most directly stemmed from the omission of race and class when describing his students (though it was directly referenced in his blackface performance). The line of questioning was also loosely sparked in an exercise he shared with the room. he asks his male students, “if you buy a girl dinner, is it expected she will have sex with you? is that prostitution?”
im curious about a number of factors raised by this exercise, and other issues circling around it left unspoken. building on my initial question of race and class, i wonder the percentage of high-school students that are regularly dating? how relevant is this transactional example (of potential sexual violence) against the day-to-day realities of rape culture? further, is this ‘dating example’ constrained within a hetero-normative confine that restrict our abilities to think violence outside of male-female relations, traditional dating scenarios, non-familial interactions, and stranger rape? even further, i question our understanding of interracial interactions: if i’m using the dating scenario with white male students, are they imagining sitting across a dinner table from a Black body? What levels of respect and understanding of gender and boundaries change concerning the race (or social position) of their date?
i jumbled this entire thought process into: “im curious about the race and class of your students, and further I want to know in your ‘dating scenario’ what is left out of frame of conversation? Like, does it necessarily rely on a hetero-normative framework?” The moderator stared at me as I began to sweat in my really nice sweater, and the other panelist (not the white male) nodded their head in what I believe was an agreement with what I was attempting to get at. The moderator then asked me, “for the sake of time, which question would you like answered more?” I trembled with anxiety, and quickly said “uh, the latter…blah blah blah… heteronormativity”
im not sure why i always feel the need to say something queer, as if its my banner in the room: HEY IM KINDA SMART, AND IM QUEER, LOOK AT ME, I SAY THINGS LIKE HETERONORMATIVITY, AND I LOOK REALLY FLY WHILE I DO IT. but i didn’t really care about heteronormativity, especially since it was not the right word for what i was really asking (im not just talking about “gay and lesbian” relationships). i more so cared about the former question (about race and class), which was my polite way of saying (while asking a question) ‘you’re really actually kind of racist, and i assume you are talking to poor Black children (based on your blackface performance), and i fear for what you say to these boys.’ but i haven’t learned the art of asking a question through the anxiety of making sure i sound smart, stay queer, and look cute in the process.