The Guardian recently published a story about Chris Brown that included the news that he’d “lost his virginity” to a teenage girl at age eight. He didn’t admit this fact. Rather, it came in the form of bragging—about his virility at age eight, the pornography he watched with his older cousins at age eight, and the way in which “sex” at age eight primed him to be a “beast at it” now.
Colorlines.com published an excerpt of this story yesterday to contribute to a continuing conversation on this site about young men, sexual assault and masculinity. It was an overly subtle, incomplete attempt that readers objected to.
For example, reader Andrew Bond posted:
…As others have noted, this story does nothing productive. There is no conversation around it. What happened to the scathing critiques of hyper-masculinity and misogyny as evidenced by the work and personalities of Chris Brown and Lil’ Wayne? And why leave the reader hanging with a brief and unfulfilled comment on sexual assault against young men? Irresponsible all around, and as Mills said, it’s got Gawker or TMZ written all over it.
I disagree with Bond that this news should become a jumping-off point to talk about the performed misogyny of Brown and Lil’ Wayne, who has also discussed his sexual activity at a young age. But I agree that the sexual assault of young boys deserves more than a passing mention. If Chris Brown were a woman, I doubt if the Guardian or we would have handled this bombshell with so few words.
What complicates this discussion for me, however, is the prospect of telling someone in print and in public that they have been raped. I’m no mind-reader or therapist, but those protective layers of hypersexuality that swaddle Chris Brown are there for a reason—to maintain the imagined agency of a little boy who was not old enough to consent to sex.
To disarm someone—particularly someone as troubled as Brown—without sanctuary feels unethical to me.
The fact that Brown doesn’t seem to know that he was assaulted doesn’t come as a surprise. It took the FBI 85 years to change the exclusionary definition of forcible rape from “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will” to a male-inclusive one. (“The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”) We’ve had adult males in the public eye school young boys on how to commit sexual assault against young girls and cast it as innocent fun.
And rape culture is, of course, one of misogyny. It equates maleness with sexual aggression thus absolving male rapists of their crime and disappearing those males who are victims. This culture whispers in our ears that men and boys can’t really be raped by women or girls. To admit to such a violation would suggest femaleness or weakness, which is the worst thing you can be in this sick ecosystem.
The bottom line here is that Chris Brown was sexually assaulted as a child—legally and practically speaking. We wish that wasn’t the case. If Chris Brown had been a girl, it’s unlikely that the Guardian or we would publish this information without more comment about the admission. And it’s unlikely that Brown would refer to what happened to him at age eight as anything but an assault. This is how rape culture does its work—insidiously—until no one, no matter how hard they try, is safe.