The XX Factor

Why Are Some Women Turned On by Chris Brown’s Beating of Rihanna? 

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 12: Singer Chris Brown performs onstage at the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards held at Staples Center on February 12, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

“Dude, Chris Brown can punch me in the face as much as he wants to, just as long as he kisses it. (:”

The line above is just one of many similarly disturbing tweets that female fans of Chris Brown posted in response to his controversial inclusion in Sunday night’s Grammy Awards performance lineup. Apparently, the fact that Brown violently attacked his then-girlfriend Rihanna on the eve of the Grammy’s just three years ago does not give these women pause—the singer’s attractiveness overrides all that.

I won’t take up space here writing about how twisted this reaction is; others have already astutely pointed out how it exposes our society’s willingness to downplay domestic violence in favor of our fetish for a good redemption narrative. But, as we puzzle over the psychological misfiring necessary to produce these statements, it may be helpful to consider another example of this kind of dangerous masochism to put it in context.

As gay and gay-literate readers may already know, there is a sexual type in the gay lexicon called “rough trade.” Historically, rough trade denoted hyper-masculine, avowedly straight men working in labor-intensive professions—sailors, cops, firemen, construction workers—who could be enticed into sex with gay men by money or other means. But the “rough” part was not only indicative of these men’s edges; part of the sexual thrill was also that the trade could turn violent at any moment during the encounter, their fragile egos suddenly on the defensive. Of course, it was all very titillating until someone was injured, or worse. While there undoubtedly remain gay men who go after rough trade, the practice of lurking by the docks has mostly been relegated to a less-liberated—and less self-respecting—past.

My point? For the women who composed these unsettling tweets, Chris Brown is rough trade. His good looks, potent swagger and emotional instability makes for an alluring mix that some women will find attractive. And that would normally be fine, were it not for the fact that Brown has already demonstrated himself to be more than an avatar of some private fantasy. The man physically attacked a woman (and moreover, has shown little authentic remorse), and that simple truth invalidates all appeal to dark humor or personal kink in explaining these tweets.

Young gay men have long been warned to stay away from rough trade—the seedy thrill is just not worth the cost, neither to the safety of the individual nor to a society that values mutual respect in matters of sex. It’s a lesson that these ladies, and indeed, our pop culture as a whole, should apply to Chris Brown immediately.