When you can be both

A gay man’s issue with sexual harassment and sexual assault

Those were the whispered words that hit my ears, and I felt the intrusive breaths in every syllable.

I turned to my left, and a short and sturdy woman smiled at me. I remember how I felt. Her words created a creepy and scary visual in my mind. Her words rattled me and stayed with me because I don’t want to be fucked by anyone.

This happened between 2002 to 2004 in Washington, DC, at a gay bar.

She was my boss; she was my best boss. She made these comments during our weekly one-on-one meeting. Her words weren’t on the agenda or the notes.

This happened between 2007 and 2009 in New Orleans.

I remember this happening twice. One person was a straight male and a co-worker; the other person was a mostly lesbian woman. Both looked at my arms like my arms were on my face. And both, made comments about my arms that made me feel uncomfortable.

This happened between 2013 and 2014 in Baltimore and Buenos Aires.

They honk their horns, and they wave. I wonder if I know the people honking and waving. On one day, a van stops, and a guy with staring eyes gets out and asks me if I need a ride. I say, “No,” and he says, “Are you sure?”

This happened in Atlanta, between 2005 to 2007.

They are on my behind. They squeeze my arms. They come in almost every orientation: straight, gay, queer, bisexual, and lesbian. They are men. They are women. They are senior citizens too. Either what I wear, or my orientation, or my being in a gay establishment justifies to people how their hands move.

This has happened more times, and in more places, than I can remember.

Walking with my friend, we pass by two men. As we pass, one of them says, “Hello, Ladies.”

It took me a minute to realize he insulted me. My friend and I kept walking, but we talked about what the man said.

This happened between 2000 and 2002 in Chicago.

I was at a Wingstop restaurant with a friend. A table of guys asked us if we knew who won the World Series. We didn’t even know it was the World Series. As we left the restaurant, one of them snarled at us, “See ya later, girls!”

This happened between 2000 and 2002 in Waco, Texas.

This has happened more times than I can count. I’ve had more homophobic slurs hurled at me than any racial slur.

Recently, in my neighborhood, while walking with my partner, I heard these offending words. My partner and I were just being and breathing — walking.

This happened in 2017, in Baltimore.

I was working full-time as a volunteer at a community center. The executive director told me I was too much. The youth at the community center had yelled slurs at me, and they had locked me in a bathroom as they taunted me with the question — “Which bathroom do you use, the boys or the girls?”

This happened in Atlanta between 2005 and 2007.

I don’t know who started it among the boys, but I joined. I’m sure I’ve said and done other things I don’t remember.

This happened in 1990 in 6th grade. I may have been 13 or 14, and I’m sorry.

Why I don’t mention these incidents

Ta-Nehisi Coates said, “privilege is blinding.” I apply his statement to all privileges. Among other blinding effects, male privilege blinds men to the pains they afflict and suffer from patriarchy.

It’s also true that society socializes men to shrug off these experiences.

As a male, besides other males and my female boss, was I ever threatened? Does the possibility of a threat and power always matter?

My male privilege also means I can weaponize and utilize my privileges relative to women.

Being both a target and one who could target others makes me less connected to my experiences and less likely to speak about them.

Besides my male privilege, my level of pain also distances me from these incidents.

I have no trauma from these incidents. I only think about them in a unified way as I engage with the larger questions in society.

One exception is the homophobic slurs.

Are homophobic slurs a form of sexual harassment? I don’t know, but I’m always concerned about my mental and physical safety as a gay man that people can spot when my eyes are closed.

These experiences were wrong, but my experiences are not exactly under the MeToo movement.

My experiences are BothAnd and they are without a movement. But both forms of oppression must go.

Most people can be the predator relative to someone else in the world — even if those people are on the other side of the world.

Many of us can be both the oppressor and the oppressed.

But most of us don’t want to talk about our dual statuses at the same time.

I understand.

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