The Violate Man

The Violate Man is the first book-length study of representations of male/male rape in U.S. American culture. Although it might seem that this topic is underrepresented, male/male rape appears in the news with surprising frequency. A spectacular example of this are the photographs from Abu Ghraib documenting the humiliation, both violent and sexual, of male prisoners in Iraq. In the U.S., academic studies have demonstrated and newsmedia reports substantiate that male/male rape is a lived reality in society, a health crisis in U.S. American prisons, a rising epidemic in the military, and a significant component of the problem of sexual assault on college campuses. As the problem of rape in the real world continues, representations of male/male rape, especially jokes, have proliferated on television and at the movies. Think, for example, of Betty White’s 2010 appearance on Saturday Night Live, which included a sequence joking about prison rape – “the wizard of ass” is White’s memorable punchline.

The Violate Man argues that because official studies and education on the topic of male/male rape are so rare, it is this unofficial discourse – especially narrative representation in the movies and on television – that currently shapes our society’s thinking about male/male rape. Rather than a topic that is avoided or silenced, discourse around male/male rape is actually common, and it is put to specific cultural uses, frequently coded and decoded, and freighted with a complicated but widely shared set of cultural meanings. This will be the first book to develop critical ways of examining these phenomena and the first to theorize the effects of these representations on a culture in which this violence itself is increasingly common.

The Violate Man focuses specifically on discourse about male/male rape as opposed to acts of rape in the real world. Each chapter addresses a different medium of entertainment, switching carefully between newsmedia, theatre, fiction, film, and serial television. Discrete treatment of each medium allows the book to treat a wide swath of U.S. American culture, while also addressing the formal concerns important to each medium.

Engaging with queer theory (primarily Eve Sedgwick and Leo Bersani), gender theory (primarily Judith Butler and Kaja Silverman), and theories of violence such as those of Freud, Rollo May, and Erich Fromm, The Violate Man argues that questions surrounding male/male sexual violence have much to teach us about the limits of our thinking about sex, gender, violence, equality, and difference. Our contemporary moment is rife with confusion about “toxic masculinity” and other intersections between violence and gender. This book addresses those questions by charting a history of U.S. American images of male/male rape from 1965 to the present day.

My title uses the uncommon adjective violate – a word describing an object that has been violated – because of its homophony with the word violet. In this way I am intending the title The Violate Man to do what narrative representations of the violated male body often silently work to do: create an equation between the violate and the violet, conflating homosexuality or femininity with the violated body.