'Til It Happens to You'

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 28:   Singer-songwriter Lady Gaga (C) performs onstage during the 88th Annual Academy Awards at the
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 28: Singer-songwriter Lady Gaga (C) performs onstage during the 88th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre on February 28, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

It's been two weeks since the Oscars aired on television and not one article has surfaced on the inclusion of men in Lady Gaga's performance of "Til It Happens to You." This is disappointing to me. Men have been overlooked as a population of whom fall prey to sexual assault, abuse and violence. I assume the men present on the stage with Lady Gaga were gay because they have had the guts to admit this experience. Sadly, sexual assault and violence is a problem that is solely equated with women's issues -- and not linked to the issues that American culture has with masculinity, misogyny and femininity. As a gay man who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, I am not ashamed to discuss what happened to me, nor should any man. How do we get America to change their attitudes toward this problem?

First, I need to clarify an important part of the problem: My commentary does not ignore the realities of the statistics, namely, that sexual assault and violence occurs more often to women by men. I am simply illuminating that the problem needs a diversified perspective on who can and will it happen to, and why do we discount those minorities part of the problem? We are discounting men in general due to perceptions of women and the patriarchy that exists.

Let's just take a simple formula that exists in our culture: vulnerability = weakness = feminine = rape (My mind works in formulas). Can you distill the equation? Why are they equal, or interrelated or intersect? For some odd reason, we continue to perceive women as having less power than men, and consequently, they are the individuals who can fall prey to rape. There's a century of women's history behind us, yet the stereotypes persist and remain entrenched. Despite the apparent anatomical differences between men and women, this should not relegate a woman's existence. Have we not learned from various studies that women have higher functional aptitudes than men in specific areas of learning? Of course this could be related to rearing practices rather than actual innate differences, but the point remains women are as equally as strong as (or stronger than) men!

What happens when gay men admit to the experience of being rape victims? And what was the public's take on Lady Gaga making an example of the men in her music video and Oscar performance? I can tell you: Nothing! We totally ignored it. It's not a man's place to admit to such a shameful act because that makes him the equivalent of a woman: weak, feminine and vulnerable. And I focus on gay men, but heterosexual men take advantage of other heterosexual men. Should we believe that this doesn't happen at college fraternities? Perhaps it is part of the pledge process, or it is non-consensual after a night of drinking. Whatever are the moving parts leading up the event, it never discredits the heinous act and who experiences it.

As a college student more than a decade ago, I lived in a dormitory with a bunch of predominately privileged New Englanders. I didn't possess the language to understand the gender norms and stereotypes, in order to explain why men had to demonstrate their masculinity by speaking and acting in particular ways. I attended a number of frat parties -- and never felt welcomed by them because I was a proud, young gay man (speaking my Brooklynese that they despised). I encountered man on man action at these frat parties, watching the whole scene play out in front of me, and "on the down low."

At Columbia University, which has had plenty of negative media coverage on this very issue, I remember the un-designated "gay" frat house and hearing stories of sexual assault. No one ever acted on it. Nothing was reported to the authorities due to the fear of being re-victimized and stigmatized as "less than a man." Why bring more negative attention to yourself?

Rather than belaboring my point about sexual assault, all I have to say is "Til it happens to you, you don't know how it feels." And more than likely, you assume this is a woman's issue. Try a Google search and you'll see the proof. Before you go knee deep into your attitudes toward sexual assault and violence, remember anyone can be a subject to this heinous crime. I am proud of the gay men who speak the truth and refuse to be victims. I am also proud of Italian-Americans like Lady Gaga who can give voice to those minorities generally ignored by the public.

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