Darnell L. Moore writes for Playboy

Some of the Men Are Victims. Some of the Men Are Harm Doers

The human rights leader intimately examines masculinity, desire and safe horizons

I returned to my friend’s house to let him know I’d made a decision to move on. What we’d shared had complicated our bond—especially the best parts we’d hidden and feared others would discover.

We were two men in our mid-20s who were not yet free. We were broken and often demonstrated our love by breaking each other with ease. I knew as much and had readied myself to leave the man who had been, at times, my best friend, my brother, my confidant, my colleague, my sex partner, my secret, my nightmare and my only desire.

I sat opposite him on the couch in his bedroom. I didn’t sit on the bed, because positioning myself too close to him, in the very spot where we’d broken the rules that real men are taught to follow, would have signaled an invitation to return to where we once were.

His eyes were fixed on me. My eyes were locked onto my hands. His words were precise—there would be no ending to the friendship whose very beginning was complicated because of our secret. I knew I needed to leave, however.

And then he grabbed and pulled and held and pushed me down and resisted my resistance and took off my clothes. I pulled away and removed his hands and clenched my lips and resisted his insistence until I finally stopped and froze and lay there while he broke the rule that real men are taught is okay to break.
I did not want to believe I was a victim; I am a man.
Seven years we shared a friendship, and that is how it ended. It would take another seven years after that ending before I was able to put a name to what had transpired.

I wanted to be wrong. I wanted to believe that love was enough, that our long history of sexual intimacy was enough and that the realities of our complicated friendship were enough to reconsider that what had occurred was rape.

I did not want to believe I was a victim; I am a man. And before I was a man, I was a boy who was forced to have sex with an older female relative who tried to convince me that my body was not mine. And real men can’t be victims because real men fight back.

No real man would allow his body to be pillaged. But I didn’t fight back because I was in shock. I loved my friend. Real men take; they’re never taken. I’d had sex many times throughout my life not realizing that fact.

Men are taught to ignore every “no” offered because our “yes” is the final word. And even now, as I reckon with the confusion left from that moment, I’m clear that I was taught the same lesson.
An intimate’s “yes” is an invitation. Like so many men, I was not taught to be welcomed into another’s space. I was not explicitly told that I needed permission to touch the body of another. I was not encouraged to take the time to ask about another’s desire. But I know that if I’m to land on the other side of violence and in a place where my humanity is left intact, I have to refuse all the lies about manhood that I’ve been taught are true. I have to move beyond all I’ve learned and aim to be a better lover, a better intimate, a better human—for the sake of others and myself.

And I must not forget that intimacy, in its various forms, can be a safe horizon to which we men ascend if we aren’t led to believe we’re at our best when we leave behind the broken pieces of those with whom we engage. The consequence of our respect—of others’ bodies, of others’ needs, of others’ spirits—is wholeness.