I wanted to kill my boyfriend in ways that let me observe his suffering and return the power in our relationship to my hands.
The thought crossed my mind in the heat of an argument. It is a dangerous, albeit relatable, thought for many people who have experienced romantic love. Although I will not commit this thought to action, it tells me that toxic things are taking place in both my environment and the dynamic of my relationship. Thoughts are intangible, but they are far from inconsequential. It is thoughts that create presidencies and sustain toxic cultures.
Keith Boykin recently wrote an article titled “In Defense of Lust” as a response to an article by writer Darnell Moore titled “The Bodies of Others Are Not Mine.”
Moore wrote poetically about fundamental feminist truths around queer men and our objectification of one another. Moore interrogates his own habits when interacting with other men and invites gay men to do the same for themselves. The idea of his essay was to push and queer the conversation around rape culture past the heteronormative lens through which we’ve been looking at it ever since the Hollywood sex scandals around Harvey Weinstein penetrated the public consciousness.
Boykin’s article challenges Moore’s and states the case that thoughts can’t and shouldn’t be policed—that as long as no action is being committed, there is no offense to apologize for.
In a post-The Secret world, it was surprising to read words, especially from a writer, that attempted to declaw the power of thought. Boykin writes: “There’s a fundamental distinction between thought and behavior, and this is what concerns me most about policing our imagination. Sexual misconduct is a serious societal problem that deserves the attention of men of all sexual orientations, but in our effort to eradicate sexual assault and rape culture, we need not rid ourselves of desire and lust.”
Thought and behavior do not live separately; in fact, they depend on each other. Thoughts create behavior. And behaviors, practiced enough, create environments and culture.
Inside of spaces for queer men, patriarchal thoughts are accepted—thoughts like the fantasies void of consent, like what Boykins wrote about Moore: “I turn him toward the tree and enter him from behind, holding his neck down for balance and dominance.”
This is not just a fantasy detailing an erotic wish; this is a fantasy detailing assault—shared publicly with an alarming lack of awareness of how its publishing alone could make its subject uncomfortable or unsafe.
Patriarchal behavior is constantly excused and often fetishized. There are countless articles demonstrating how stereotypical toxic masculine behavior, which includes everything from exhibiting violent behaviors when mad to touching people with no consent, is preferred by a large portion of gay men. Because of this, a patriarchal culture and environment are created. And one of the symptoms of this patriarchal environment is rape culture. This is the culture that made Boykin think that expressing his more-toxic fantasies was a just rebuttal to an article about queerness and objectification.
My second thought when reading Boykin’s article was how people—especially those who claim a radical queer or gay politic—must elevate the conversation around desire, lust and the erotic. Whom you lust over and how you lust and how you express desire for another man is not created in a vacuum; it is informed by everything you’ve experienced up until that lustful moment.
What Moore was pushing us to think about with his article is what informs these “random” moments of dehumanizing someone who has the same gender, sexuality and race experience as oneself.
Moments where black men can’t engage with other black men beyond their body, face or sexuality disturb me because it reminds me of the narrative of black men’s history in America. It reminds me that even between two black men, the physical appraisal of someone takes priority over a type of intellectual or nonsexual emotional engagement with each other.
It reminds me of the auction block, where black people were mules being looked over. It reminds me of the rape and castration of black men and the narrative that the sum of black men’s worth is in their sexuality, their labor and their usefulness inside of the white supremacist patriarchy.
No, your wet dream fantasy is not harmless. It strips black men of humanity and instead demonizes and eroticizes them beyond recognition.
Finally, there was a total lack of any kind of analysis on power. As I read the cases against Harvey Weinstein as well as Bill Cosby, one common thread I found was their power to change environments—to turn professional spaces into sexual ones. To transform friendly outings into dangerous, predatory moments.
The uncomfortable truth is that before a Cosby places a drug inside a martini, or before a Weinstein pulls his dick out of his pants, a sexual, erotic fantasy often occurs that involves the rapist in power and the victim submitting. They act on that fantasy and quickly change the environment from a safe moment to a dangerous, predatory moment. One’s ability to do that as a man still exists, even if the one being pursued is another man. That is something to agitate, interrogate and—perhaps—even police.
Even inside my own experiences with rape, sexual assault, harassment and molestation, it is clear that the untamed male imagination is what activated those violent moments in my life. I know transgender people who were killed because of a cisgender man’s untamed imagination and his shame around it. From experience, I have undergone rape and assault because of closeted, masculine men’s untamed imaginations.
The imagination is something to take seriously. Writers and intellectuals especially should know this, since so much of our work is rooted in the imagination and our ability to capture that of the public.
My boyfriend is alive, but in those toxic moments when I thought about harm and violence, I thought about what else was lurking. I found that a struggle for power and an insecurity informed by patriarchal standards lived in our relationship dynamic, too.
In a way, Boykin is correct: Thoughts and the imagination are not things to be policed, but they are something to be examined, and in some cases, they hold hints to where the soul needs healing. Creating content dissenting against that work is anti-feminist, unnecessary and, frankly, dangerous.