Me Too: Gay Sexual Harassment

by Joe McCormack

Rage Monthly

Saturday December 30, 2017

In the 1960s, when I was a 19-year-old college student visiting New York for the first time from California, I stayed with an older man in a townhouse in a fashionable part of the city. We had met in a bar in San Francisco and I knew that sex would be expected in return for his hospitality. What I didn't know was that it would be sudden, violent and coerced.

No matter how physically strong, a 19-year-old in a big city far from home for the first time feels powerless, and it was the first time I'd experienced that powerlessness at such a profound level. I subsequently learned that I was not this man's only victim. He and his circle of influential friends regularly preyed upon young men coming to the city and they proudly shared their conquests. I have long since forgiven him, because anger and hatred corrode the soul of the hater while seldom affecting the perpetrator.

In those days, sex between older and younger gay men was not uncommon. Those with wealth, power and influence preyed upon younger gay men who wanted access to that wealth, power and influence. It was not infrequently a mutual understanding -- between a coach and an athlete, a talent manager and an aspiring actor or a business executive and an ambitious novice. When it was consensual, it was accepted, for good or ill, as a norm of the gay subculture. There is hardly a gay man who came of age in the '60s, '70s or '80s who doesn't have such a story to tell.

As new allegations emerge daily against celebrities and public figures, to now pretend that we are surprised, appalled or shocked by this behavior is disingenuous at best and hypocritical at worst. The question should be not did it occur, but were both parties of legal age, was it consensual and did the perpetrator stop when his attentions were no longer welcomed. Of course, rape or sex with a minor is inexcusable, but there are many sexual encounters between older and younger men that aren't so black and white.

After so many years, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to judge attitudes and degree of consent in the context of the times, but we should not be so quick to accept every such accusation as irrefutable proof that the defendant must be publicly shamed and condemned.

Joe McCormack is the managing partner of McCormack + Kristel, Executive Search Consultants. McCormack+Kristel is a national provider of executive search consulting services for nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. Established in 1993, as McCormack & Associates, by veteran search consultant Joseph A. McCormack, the firm was among the first national search practices to specialize in diversity recruiting.

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