It was a stressy Sunday at Ye Olde Cowhide Shoppe, primarily due to various plastered patrons throwing and/or crashing into things. (Me: “Why is everyone here drunk?” Also Me: “Because you work in a bar, idiot.”) However, one particular incident involving a couple of customers – let’s call them Carlisle (to protect his anonymity) and Spartacus (because I can’t remember his real name) — has stuck in my craw, and I want to talk about it, because it highlights how easily male privilege can be abused, even in an all-male scenario.
Carlisle comes into the store to say hi. We’re amicably chatting away at the front counter, when Spartacus enters and inserts himself into the conversation – and by “inserts,” I mean he literally positions himself between us. We keep talking, and a few minutes later, Spartacus reaches over and starts stroking Carlisle’s beard. Carlisle jerks back and politely but firmly asks him not to do that. Spartacus asks what the problem is, and Carlisle replies that he prefers not to be touched by people he doesn’t know. Spartacus glares at him and asks if he’s racist.
Now that is some Ed Sheeran-level entitlement right there: “I’m a NICE GUY, and if you don’t want me invading your personal space, there is something wrong with YOU.” But Carlisle holds his ground and reiterates that he just doesn’t like it when people he doesn’t know try to touch him. Spartacus sputters and huffs for a bit, then pretends to see someone he knows by the main bar and sweeps out of the store in a rustle of taffeta.
Thing is, Spartacus knows he crosses boundaries, and he has traps in place designed to shame people into allowing him to continue the behavior. That is emphatically not okay – in fact, that is borderline predatory. This was not the first time I’ve seen Spartacus get grabby with a relative stranger, although it was the first time I’ve seen him get shut down, which is empowering. But it’s also disheartening, in that I see so many gay men (myself included at times) accept unwanted advances, because “Hey, we’re all guys here”; because it’s easier to grit our teeth and wait for the situation to pass instead of standing up for ourselves and risk a confrontation with someone who is going to make the whole thing our fault anyway. I mean, did you see what we were wearing? We were totally asking for it.
This is also emphatically not okay.
Long story short, my people: Don’t fucking touch without permission, and don’t feel guilty about not letting yourself be touched without permission. We may be mired in patriarchal rape culture, but we have no business taking advantage of it, or pretending it doesn’t exist.