As more gays step out of the closet, the heterosexual man is going to need more than an abdominal shield to protect his privacy and macho pride
“There is no kind of harassment that a man may not inflict on a woman with impunity in civilised societies,” said Denis Diderot, prominent French philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment. This quote has influenced the sexual harassment debate since the 18th century. However, more than 200 years thence, the sexual liberation of our 21st century may just present a case to turn this quote around, if not make Diderot turn in his grave.
Sadly, women were, and still are, the object of male harassment. But that’s not what we are writing about here. True, there have been isolated occasions when women have hunted in packs and turned the tables on men, but that isn’t what this is about. Nor is it angst about Adam-teasing having made it to Wikipedia…well, maybe a little.
It’s that as much as the five-letter word that justifies everything from not crying when hurt, to not letting a girl overtake you on the highway: pride. And, it’s this pride that’s under attack when men get wanton sexual attention, and comes really under attack when the hand on the bottom isn’t that of a woman. And it’s this that has some urban males screaming wolf, even if only in anonymous hushed tones.
ON THE GROUND
As Anurag Singh, a 24-year-old investment banker, did in the parking lot of Indochine, an uptown restro-bar in Delhi. “While I was waiting for the valet to bring out my car, I felt someone squeezing my ass… it was a guy and he calmly walked away, mostly because I was too embarrassed to say anything,” he says. Singh is by no means alone. This is not such an uncommon occurrence in Delhi, a fact that many, including this writer himself, would testify to. Only, compared to the faceless hand on Singh’s derriere, yours truly had to suffer the indignity at the hands of a well-known designer. Also, these incidents are neither isolated nor are they entirely an urban phenomenon. And they are certainly not restricted to parties.
Cyril, a journalist, has been openly propositioned, while waiting at bus-stops, by men on scooters. Recently, someone asked him for directions, then gave a sleazy smile and told him he was ‘handsome’. Like many others, Cyril chose to walk away—a little grossed out, a little apprehensive and very embarrassed.
While most men get embarrassed even if they’re teased by women, many men also revel in the attention. But, embarrassed or not, most men, whether straight or gay, are clear that attention from unknown males is something they don’t want. Just as no woman wants her privacy intruded upon by lecherous men.
Gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi admits to the problem: “Testosterone levels in the cities are getting dangerous… even for men.” And, it’s only but natural that the effects of these hormones should spill into cyberworld as well. Adam teasing these days starts with something as inconsequential as checking your Orkut account and getting posts that go like this: ‘Hi, I’m a top gay… if you’re a bottom gay, call me.’ These posts are often accompanied by pictures of naked rumps and almost always a call-back number.
While it’s easy to argue that men have done the same to women for generations, for men, much like the women, that’s not where it ends. The fact is, no matter what you do, the inviting hand-scribbled notes on napkins that come to you in a bar and the men who blow air kisses at you as you ride your bike down a street make you uncomfortable. And the hand caressing your thigh or the one leaving you lewd scraps on Orkut is still an unwanted hand.
And, even though men, much like many women, strut on regardless, and gay rights organisations continue to campaign to make homosexuality legal, or at least not illegal, it is the straight man who has been forgotten and is often teased. This has been made even worse by the pressures that Indian men have traditionally grown up under to showcase themselves as alpha males.
Rashid, also an investment banker like Anurag (purely a coincidence, we have no intention of implying that investment bankers are prone to Adam teasing any more than other professionals), remembers being completely disgusted while watching a movie, once the man next to him put his hand on his thigh and decided to caress it. “I slapped the guy, and that’s where it stopped. It isn’t just me. My roommate was flashed in a public bus by someone wearing a quilt, who then went on to sit next to him,” he says. “The poor chap was traumatised for days.”
While there are many boarding schools where not bending down to pick up the soap is a part of survival training, the question is what exactly can a man do about Adam teasing?
AND NOT WHERE IT MATTERS
Kavi says, “Harassment of any kind is wrong… any intrusion into private spaces, whether you are a man or a woman, is wrong… Just as a woman doesn’t like intrusions, even a man doesn’t.” However, according to him, gay men usually don’t approach straight men because they are afraid there might be violence involved or that they may be rudely ticked off.
Photographer and gay activist Sunil Gupta insists that sexual harassment represents the Freudian ‘I have the penis’ mindset. “We’re a very macho society… and even when it comes to gays, that shows through,” he says, adding, “As more and more people come out of the closet and there’s increasing visibility, more and more such things are bound to happen.”
Psychiatrists agree, while insisting that the situation hasn’t reached pandemic proportions—not yet anyway, “It is happening now because there are more and more gay men coming out of the closet than ever before… and Adam teasing too is a result of that societal change,” says Dr Jamila Koshy, clinical psychiatrist at St Stephen’s Hospital, Delhi.
Akshay Kumar Sharma, a senior advocate at the Patiala House Court, says, “There are no enactments or even specific laws that deal with the sexual harassment of a man… except Article 377 of the IPC, which deals with unnatural sexual acts.” But Indian lawmakers are yet to be introduced to Adam teasing.
Even as psychiatrists believe some measures would need to be put in place if the instances of Adam teasing were to increase, surveys in the US are already reporting that an increasingly large number of men have experienced at least one gay encounter in their life. Sadly, we’re inclined to believe, a huge chunk of them would fall under the category of unwelcome advances.
In a society that believes that real men feel no pain and should never complain, relief from unwanted advances will come only when things acquire pandemic proportions or when perceptions change. This is a time that you could be excused for hoping comes soon, especially now that both Madam and Adam are on the receiving end of the stick.
(Some names have been changed to protect identities)