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Op-ed: Male-on-Male Sexual Harassment Is Real

Op-ed: Male-on-Male Sexual Harassment Is Real

It was a typical Saturday night for me. I was heading out with good friends for a few drinks. I was feeling cool, calm, and confident.

After a while, I spotted someone I knew walking toward me. He's an acquaintance I've known for a few months. He is substantially older than me, and while we don’t have too much in common, we have always been civil to each other.

As he came over, I thought he was going to hug me. His hand slid down my back along my jacket to my ass, where it rested. He squeezed and laughed. Part of me was shocked, and the other part started questioning myself. Was I doing something to incite this? Did he mean this to be sexual? Maybe he just misjudged where my back was?

In any case, I pushed his hand away, looked him in the eye, and told him that I did not appreciate him touching me like that. I thought this would be the end of it, since I had thought I had made sure he was under no illusion that I was interested in his groping.

Later that night, I was in a corner talking to a friend. The same man from before strode over and threw himself over my back. His tongue was out and ended up next to my face. He pelvis lined up with mine and he jostled it around to make sure I knew it was there. He then grabbed my chest. Apparently he did not get the message the first time.

I had to lift his arms over my head and push him away. He laughed and thought it was a joke. I told him yet again that I was not OK with this. His presence continued to make me uncomfortable — while my friends were off having fun, I was avoiding him. I even spent some of the night alone or actively escaping his view.

Since the event I have told some friends and family about this. I described other instances in which a guy made unwanted sexual advances and didn't stop when asked. Not letting up, many of these men got even more aggressive, seemingly as a contest. As the recipient, you're often caught between wanting to react loudly (and physically) or trying to defuse the situation quietly and peacefully, so you don't create a "scene." You try to let the person down easy, at first trying to spare their feelings and then, when they persist, become concerned they will react with anger at your rejection. So you become an uptight jerk when you have to get stern, or you grit your teeth and endure the humiliation and violation their inappropriateness entails. It's a no-win situation.

Many women can sympathize with these conflicted feelings. When I was a teenager my mother told me about her experiences dealing with harassment. Her stories would send shivers up my spine. I don't know if she told me those stories to warn me about being inappropriate with women or if she wanted to prepare me for what I might go through. Either way, I now know firsthand some of the things she's endured.

Some of my friends have been very forthcoming in their support of my reaction to these experiences, and I'm thankful for that. What I am challenged by is a division among my LGBT friends: Some share similar stories, but others think I am overreacting.

Some people think men like the one I encountered at the bar are simply playful or flirtatious. Some gay men I've dealt with feel they have an open-ended invitation to be sexual with any other gay man, and those who rebuff their advances are simply prudes. Others believe that men are incapable of being subjected to sexual harassment — but they're wrong.

Male-on-male harassment is on the rise: between 1992 and 2008, the percentage of sexual harassment charges filed by men with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission doubled from 8 percent to 16 percent, and while a few involved women harassing men, in most cases the perpetrator was also male. Last year, over 10,400 male service members reported incidents of unwanted sexual contact.

Being harassed at work or while serving our country is never acceptable, but neither is it when it happens inside the confines of a gay bar. Until given the green light, keep those hands to yourself.

Conrad Leversi02x100 1

CONRAD LIVERIS is an Australian writer focusing on issues of gender equality and diversity. 

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