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Identity Politics Gets Into Our Pants

Gender Politics and Political Justice

Recently, sensitive to the groping misconduct shaming cycle, I received some first-hand experience as a victim of groping. For years, my wife and I have attended a Christmas nosh at the apartment of a gay friend and his husband in Center City Philadelphia. He was a combat Navy corpsman in Vietnam and is a hard-working member of our Philadelphia Veterans For Peace chapter. This year’s nosh was well attended. At one point, as I passed by some men toward the kitchen to pour myself another scotch, someone grabbed my ass. I looked back, and it was a fellow I’d met before who I had had some good conversations with. I made a big joke saying, “This guy just grabbed my ass!” (The only other time I’d been accosted like this was one night 30 years ago feeding the homeless in a rat-infested Philadelphia alley. I was talking with some homeless men, when a rough-looking fellow sidled up to me close and covertly grabbed my genitals. Surprised and quite offended, I shoved him hard and he fell against some garbage cans. He did nothing more, so we left it at that and I went about my business.) In the case of the Christmas nosh, it was much more civilized; in this man’s mind, albeit not welcome on my part, his action had been friendly. I ended up sitting down and talking with him and we laughed it off. Any interest in me was his business; assumptions he may have made about me were his assumptions. I’m happily married to a lovely woman, and thanks to people like my VFP friend I’ve gotten over the homophobia I once harbored. As with women, sometimes the only way to see if your feelings are welcome and will be reciprocated is to take the risk of crossing the intimate boundary space we all have and are all personally familiar with. Because of its timing, the more I thought of this incident, the more I wondered what to make of it. The fact this 50ish man seemed to have some kind of attraction to a 70-year-old married man (my wife was there) was not my problem. But, then, did it somehow mean I was a homosexual, because someone thought of me in that fashion? If it’d been in Texas, from what I hear I would have had to punch him in the face and, if possible, beat him without mercy. But this was cosmopolitan Philadelphia. Then, even employing the Texas rule, would violence have cleared up any questions about who I am? To some, just talking about this stuff is tantamount to being a "faggot." If it had been in a prison context, where rape is a major issue, a violent response would have been in order. I’ll never forget the heroin addict I read water meters with as a kid telling me of his stint in Raiford Prison in Florida. For some reason he had been in the hospital and some huge black dude tried to kiss him. He grabbed the glass water pitcher and smashed it into his face, effectively thwarting the advance. The dirty little secret of military rape, I was told by a man who works in the VA, is that male-on-male rape exceeds male-on-female rape among our troops.

story | by Dr. Radut