Glee’s Kurt & Karofsky: Kissing vs Sexual Assault

The kiss in question

This is not a kiss; it's sexual assault

The show’s handling of Karofsky forcing a kiss on Kurt wasn’t the best it could be. Since Kurt chose to keep the kiss a secret (from everyone but another kid his age), it is impossible for parents and teachers to intervene and show the assault up for what it was. And given that both Kurt and Blaine are gay, it is understandable that they feel some kind of twisted allegiance to the closeted boy. It’s hard not to feel bad for him if you’ve been closeted and confused yourself. However, most of us don’t threaten the lives of our secret crushes.

But the fandom shows how the story failed to interpret the event appropriately. Not only is the event refered to as Kurt’s first kiss, but there are fans out there who “ship” Kurt and his tormentor.

Because the show made it reasonably clear that the reason behind Karofsky’s bully behaviour was an attraction to openly gay Kurt and because the nature of the assault was never actually addressed in the show (Blaine could have done that when Kurt spoke about the kiss “counting”), fans (especially younger ones, from what I can tell) have romanticised the assault.

Kurtofsky

Fan art depicting Kurt and Karofsky in more consensual circumstances

As far as they’re concerned, a boy can shove you into lockers and make your life a torment and forcibly kiss you, as long as he does it because he’s got a crush on you. If I had a pre-teen daughter watching that show, I’d certainly be sitting down with her to talk about what is and is not an appropriate expression of attraction. Violence, intimidation and assault do not make the list.

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5 thoughts on “Glee’s Kurt & Karofsky: Kissing vs Sexual Assault

  1. As a shipper, for me it wasn’t intended as assault. You have to be able to get into the minds of the characters to understand. Karofsky knows that being gay can take away everything he worked so hard for. With Kurt being the only openly gay boy at the school, he sees what he can never be which causes him to project his fear and anger onto the other boy. He’s not trying to punch the gay out of Kurt, he’s really trying to punch the guy out of himself. I see the kiss as a cry for help. He was trying to show Kurt that they’re not as different as he thinks and maybe get a little help and find someone who will accept his homosexuality and not punish him for it. When he goes in for the second kiss and is rejected, his fears are realized. He thinks no one could like him even if they had that in common. He turns rejection into intimidation because he doesn’t want it to get out. You have to see Karofsky for what he is inside and inside, he’s a scared little boy who doesn’t wanna be alone, even if that means living a lie. I think what most shippers were hoping for is what we’re seeing now, and that is a Karofsky redemption. He’s trying to make things right with Kurt and be comfortable in his own skin. No true Kurt lover wants to see him in an abusive relationship. We wanna see Karofsky heal his emotional scars and maybe have Kurt help him along the way and have a relationship come from that, not from the terrorizing and bullying. If he was bullying Kurt because he just hated gays, then I would hate him, but his actions were a cry for help that no one heard. That, Ma’am is the reason I ship Kurtofsky. And I have three kids and am 35. So don’t generalize and assume you know what we’re thinking. It just makes you look like a jerk.

  2. The jerk responds:

    I said especially younger fans, not entirely. And so your impressive age and fertility are besides the point.

    I have a basic understanding of the closeted-bully mindest, yes. That, however, does not mean he did not assault Kurt. His intent is (almost) irrelevant. If my intent is to drive to the shop, and I run over 3 people in the process, my intent doesn’t matter in the slightest. And while I defend Karofsky on a reasonably regular basis, the fact is that the impact the assault has on Kurt is not negated by Karofsky’s own struggle. It is, for a while there anyway, what actually makes the whole thing more frightening.

    I hope for a Karofsky redemption myself. I still see closeted bullies as part of my own community (as do Kurt & Blaine). We know where they’re coming from. Still, hard to trust someone who has actually terrified you in a way that made you leave all your friends behind because you legitimately had reason to fear for your life. And that shit sticks with you, no matter how much nicer they get.

  3. In my real life, I am a grown woman who was once a bullied teenager. I was also the victim of what I suppose I will call date rape, which is how I saw it at the time, though it makes me a little uncomfortable now. In essence, a guy that I knew and who treated me with a fair amount of sadistic manipulation didn’t listen when I asked him to stop and things happened that I did not want to happen and it was traumatic.

    The guy was closeted. Through years of awkwardness and pain that followed, he and I managed to put a friendship together, and even engaged in a rather sweet — if shortlived — love affair. Because he came out to me and opened himself to me, I grew to understand him better; I understood his rage and his confusion and his willingness to hurt others just as he was hurting. He is actually the only person I have ever known who has truly changed, is a different person entirely to the 17yo who was capable of ignoring a 15yo girl’s pleas and tears.

    It is something that only a few people I trust know about. My husband, for instance. Because if I tell people what this man did to me when we were young, they would hate him, and they would judge me self-loathing, damaged goods for the relationship I have had with him the past 25 years.

    This is not in any way a “poor me” kind of story, or to insinuate that I know better because I’m pulling things from my real life.

    This guy treated me similarly to how Karofsky treated Kurt: he was unable to deal with who he was, and he pushed all of that hate and anger he felt back into the world. He belittled me, he hurt me, he ruined my remaining two years of high school to the point that I tried to transfer (but my parents wouldn’t let me, since they didn’t know what had happened). I feel revulsion and pity for the boy that he was, but I feel love and pride for the man he became.

    So while I have no doubt that people are perversely turned on by the darkness of Kurtofsky, I believe that the overall feeling from inside that ship is one of hope: that Karafsky can be redeemed. That he can change, and become someone better than he has been. And that if he changes, if he genuinely owns his past wrongs and changes, it might make him worthy of a second chance (as a person, I’m not saying with Kurt, necessarily!).

    In terms of his storyline, I would like to see him get close enough to Kurt (where are those PFLAG meetings, anyhow?) to truly show this transformation. I can’t see a post-Blaine Kurt — a Kurt who has known sweetness and love and accepts he is worthy of both — ever being in a sexual relationship with Karofsky. I think a lot of those who write Kurtofsky are writing themselves into Kurt, their own insecurities, their own feelings of being unworthy, which allows them to imagine Kurt could accept Reformed!Karofsky’s affection/sexual attention. I don’t think canon Kurt ever would, but I understand the desire to write that story down.

    Sheesh. Time to shut up, me.

  4. Thank you for that comment. I agree. I haven’t been in the situations you have — although, some that are certainly similar, and I think that’s why I take this seriously. I know what it would mean for Kurt to be able to give himself to Karofsky, and it’s not a good development. For me to believe it, Kurt/Blaine would have to end very badly, and Blaine would have to turn out to be something I really believe he is not, and Kurt would have to internalise that.

  5. I just found this column on a driveby looking for something else, but I just wanted to say this-as much as I agree with you that Karofsky sexually assaulted Kurt, and that it was handled badly, I also do not believe–not after being in fandom for over 30 years–that their handling it properly would necessarily mean that there wouldn’t be shippers.

    No matter how icky, unpleasant and generally rapey the dynamic between two people in a story–for that matter, no matter how little interaction the two characters have ever had–there will be shippers. There are people who ship characters with characters that have actually, onscreen and outright, no bones made about it, raped them. (One of my huge annoyances in my life as a Profit fan is that people actually ship Jim/Bobbi, despite the fact that she raped him repeatedly and is arguably canonically still doing so.)ut There are people who ship characters with members of their families when there is a dysfunctional relationship in which incest could conceivably occur, and there are people who ship characters with members of their family when the relationship is portrayed correctly as entirely healthy and mostly happy.

    You can certainly look at any situation in fandom and tell from the source material itself whether or not a sexual assault took place and whether the writers treated it as such. But the existence of shippers proves nothing. That’s like saying that Kurt is somehow portrayed as intersex because someone wrote an MPreg fic about him.

    Fandom can, does and will come up with anything and everything (if you are feeling brave, google a/b/o –not blood types in this situation –and take a look at the ridiculous number of universes where a/b/o is happening and makes no sense.)

    I get irritated as shit with Kurt/Karofsky (or Jim/Bobbi, or any other applicable pairing) shippers who refuse to acknowledge that what happened in canon was sexual assault. But some of them do acknowledge that fact, and they ship it because they like reading noncon or they want a redemption arc for Karofsky or just because they think that the boys are pretty together.

    Shipping happens.

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