Monday, October 24, 2016

Sexual Aggression Goes Both Ways

Physical and verbal assaults are not relegated to only women.  It's a form of bullying perpetrated by insecure people to make them feel better about themselves by demeaning someone else.  Last week I wrote about the "outdoor locker room" and how men's unsolicited verbal advances on women is more prevalent than we may have thought.  However this behavior is not a simple one-way street.  I've had my fair share of aggressive verbal and physical behaviors from both women AND men.  And while men can be verbally abusive, women somehow feel that they have a certain right to men's bodies that causes them to act far more aggressively than you'd expect.

I'm old and married now, but let me go back several years, even back to when I first started writing this blog even; back to when I was younger and a lot more buff.  I can't count the number of times I was out with friends in a club or a bar, or even at a house party or gathering, when a woman approached me and, without asking my permission or receiving my consent, proceeded to grab my arms or rub my chest.  "You're so big!," they'd coo.  "How big are your arms?"  "I just want to hug you."  "Can you pick me up?"

I was always uncomfortable when this happened and, worse, I was unsure how to respond.  The thing is, men are supposed to want to be adored.  Our workouts aren't so we can get stronger, it's so that we can look more impressive, look more masculine, attract a mate.  We are supposed to want to be desired - it's what evolution and society taught us.  We've also been taught that men cannot be assaulted by women, i.e. that a weaker opponent is unable to harm a stronger one.  Men get assaulted by women all the time.  And men can get raped by women.  It happens, despite people dismissing, ridiculing, or even snickering about the very thought.

And of course, men assault and rape other men.  We all know the stories.  And back in the day, being gay only compounded the matter for me.  Other gay men would feel they had carte blanche to just reach out and grab me whenever and wherever they wanted.  It was nothing for a lone hand to reach through a crowd and squeeze one of my pecs.  In the beginning, I would demurely pull away, but it became so prevalent that I eventually struck back.  I'm not sure how many fingers I broke in those days, but I would very quickly grab a finger on the obtrusive hand and yank it in the opposite direction.  I once complained to the manager of JR's bar in DC about someone who was being uncomfortably aggressive with me.  The manager's response was simply, "get it girl."  Gay assault is not taken seriously at all.  We're apparently supposed to appreciate the attention.

I've never liked being touched by someone, anyone, who was not a very close friend or family member.  As a kid, I had a hard time with swimming lessons because I didn't like being handled in the water by someone I didn't know.  When I'd go out and see friends, it was mostly a wave from a distance or even a handshake.  Eventually, most gay men in DC knew when they could touch me.  I refused to play the game.  Perhaps this is why not many of my DC friendships survived after I moved to Chicago where, interestingly enough, I didn't face the same kind of aggression.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"Hey Baby, Shake Dat Ass Hard!"

Yesterday, while walking back from lunch, my stride caught me up to three mature men who were meandering down the sidewalk.  And by mature, I'll say in their 50s.  Just as I caught up to them, a young woman with a fuller figure came out of a door ahead of us, walking in the same direction.  The words these men then shouted at this woman were shocking - yelling at her to "shake it", calling her "baby", and naming her certain body part, among other things.  The woman neither responded nor reacted.  She just kept walking.  I couldn't see her face.

My stride was more in-line with hers so as I passed through the three men and got ahead of them, I saw the woman then walk passed another man who had come out of a building for a smoke.  As he lit his cigarette, he made a comment to her, watched her pass him, then shouted something to her.  Again, she neither reacted nor responded.

When I started writing this post, I listed the races of these 5 people.  And then I thought, "Does it matter that they are all the same race?  Does it even matter what their race is at all?"  It shouldn't.

With all that's in the media about what's referred to as "locker room talk", I can tell you here and now that the sort of language we've been saying disgusts us as a society is alive and well and living on our sidewalks, not just in our locker rooms.  And while this is not to give Donald Trump a pass on his behavior, it's to say that the rhetoric is prevalent - maybe not in ALL groups, but certainly in some.  It's obviously not the first time I've ever witnessed something like this, and it's not like Donald Trump has caused this to happen.  He's only pulled the rug back to expose what was already there by giving "The Deplorables" permission to be unashamedly vocal about their hatred, contempt, and scorn.

We have such a long way to go as a society. How we talk to each other demonstrates respect for self and others.  Sexual aggression is not reserved just for women; men get a fair share of it as well.  The language I heard on a Chicago sidewalk yesterday demonstrated that those men had absolutely no respect for the woman, and certainly none for themselves.  They weren't quiet or soft spoken; they wanted to be heard and they didn't care by whom.  Time was that "cat calls" used to come from construction workers high over head or from behind a fence.  There was still an element of safety for women because there was distance - some spacial barrier that made women feel uncomfortable, yet still allow them to feel (hopefully) unthreatened.  However today, it's right there; there are no barriers and there is no protection.  Women are being degraded and approached by men who are standing or sitting right next to them.

At first I wondered how these four men would feel if they heard someone yelling these things to their wives or daughters or even grand-daughters.  And I decided that ultimately, they probably wouldn't care.  Because if you can do it to someone, you couldn't possibly care if it's done to someone else, really.  You might bluster about it, but you don't care.  Unless it's done to you.

Today, I kick myself for not staying something at least to the first three men.  I don't know what I would have said, but I should have said something.  It most likely would have created an argument, but I rarely shy away from those, anyway.  Instead, I made the excuse that I was going to a meeting and didn't have time for an altercation.  But how would these men know that what they did was unacceptable if I - or anybody for that matter - didn't say something. Then again, why is it MY responsibility to tell three men in their 50s that their behavior is disgusting.

I often wonder if this behavior actually works or has ever worked.  When a man has cat-called a woman on the street, has she ever turned around to thank him and then proceed to make a date with him?  Has that ever worked?  Common sense would tell me "no", but then I think it must have, otherwise, this behavior would have died out by now.  I mean . . . right?  I'm grasping at straws, here.

This Presidential election cycle has done many things, chief among them the exposure of our country's underbelly.  Like I said, it's always been there.  It's nothing that was newly created or just popped up because of one man's pathetic behavior.  Granted, he's given it validation, but the light has been turned on to the beliefs and lacks of moral compass demonstrated by his dedicated followers.  And going forward, we will no longer be able to just turn off the light, close the door and hope that no one hears noises coming from the room that we might have to explain and most assuredly apologize for.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Bagging Groceries

I posted a quick blurb about this on Facebook once, but then decided it deserved a full-on rant that only I can provide.  So here goes.

If, like me, you are an obsessive person who revels in neatness, organization, and symmetry, then something as mundane as watching another person bag your groceries can put you in such a stressful and anxious state that you either have to stop the person immediately or, again like me, allow the person to finish only to move the cart to another location and re-bag everything as you see fit. Because, for the life of me, I can't understand why someone would just carelessly toss items into a rectangular, canvas bag instead of stacking them neatly so that everything fits into the compartment.

Perhaps there is an overall lack of training when it comes to bagging groceries, so here are 8 simple rules to bagging my groceries:

  1. Don't shove items into the bag.  This is now MY property; treat it with some respect. 
  2. Don't over-stuff.  I'm giving you more bags than you will ever need.
  3. Pack the heaviest and most durable items first.  I know this sounds rudimentary, but you'd be surprised.
  4. Balance the bag.  Don't put all the heavy stuff in one bag and not all on one side in a bag.  Distribute the weight evenly.  Again, I'm giving you plenty to work with.
  5. Don't lay anything on it's side.  It's on the shelf in a specific position for a specific reason.
  6. Pack like items in bags to avoid cross-contamination.  Meat in one bag, veggies in another bag, cleaning supplies in another bag, etc.
  7. Put all refrigerated items in one bag.  This not only helps keep them cold but will also prevent cardboard boxes from getting soggy.  It also helps with unbagging the groceries once you get home.
  8. Separate and sort the items before bagging, unless your customer is me because I've already gone to the trouble of sorting all the items on the conveyor belt for you.

Bagging groceries isn't an art form.  It simply takes brains.  Although when you do it correctly, you can win some cabbage, as well as my respect and admiration.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Accessory Lady

I'm dedicating this post to Kevin, who gets the world's biggest kick out of the fact that I once worked in a women's accessory shop.  So here's the introduction to the story, à la Sophia style:

Picture it.  September. 1988.  A handsome young man involved in a relationship finds himself with lots of spare time on his hands so he decides to apply for a part-time job.  He answers a few ads in the local newspaper (you did that back then) and received a call from a young woman, asking him to come in for an interview the following night.  The young man and young woman meet and an instant friendship is born.  

That handsome young man was me.  And that young woman was Barbara, or Barbie as she was known.  And the part-time job was working sales at Accessory Lady in Tyson's Corner.

So to back up, I was living with Ex#1 in Sterling, VA.  He accepted a job as a manager at The Body Shop, a new store that was coming to Tyson's.  To train for the role, he worked in the Broadway store in NYC for 6 weeks while the Tyson's store was being built in the mall.  I didn't want to come home to an empty house every night, so I decided to get a part time job.  I was already working at my day job as an Administrative Assistant for a realty tax service in Annandale, VA.  So since Tyson's was on my way home, it seemed like an easy idea to just get a job there.

I applied to a few jobs in the mall at women-centric shops.  I really just wanted to work with women at that time.  I was only 22 years old and mostly just wanted to be myself as much as possible, so I figured working with a bunch of women would just be easier.  Accessory Lady was a store that sold high-end costume jewelry, hats, handbags, scarves, and some clothing.  It was a much-more-upscale Claire's.

So on September 27, 1988, I went to the interview and met Barbie, a beautiful Korean-American woman around my age.  We talked and learned that we were both from western Maryland and instantly bonded.  The part-time job would be in her store, currently being built in Tyson's II, the Galleria Mall.  She hired me for the job and within a few weeks I was helping to stock the store with merchandise for its grand opening.

Ex#1 returned from NYC just before Christmas.  His 6-week stay in NYC had been extended to 13 weeks due to staffing problems at the NYC store.  This long separation did not bode well for our relationship.  I had only visited him once in that amount of time and for some reason, and I can't remember why, we didn't talk on the phone.  Perhaps it was because long distance charges was a thing back then, and his living in a hotel and having to pay high phone charges didn't help the matter.  I remember sending him his mail every week along with a note, but I don't remember us talking during that 13-week period.  We must have, but I don't remember.  Needless to say, our relationship dissolved on, of all nights, New Year's Eve 1988.  But that's whoooole 'nother story.

Barbie and I had lots of fun working together, and after my breakup, she and I would hang out together just about every night.  We'd go clubbing and had a set routine of where we would go on any given night.  Sometimes I would spend the night at her house and we would go to work together the next day.

Barbie and Me at work
I was the only guy working in the store.  The company had approximately 200-250 stores nationwide and there weren't too many men working in the company.  So when I got laid off from my day job due to downsizing, it became a big deal when I accepted Barbie's offer to be an Associate Manager full-time,  And then the push came for me to be manager of my own store.  A new store was opening in the newly-built Pentagon City Mall, and it was to be my store.  Accessory Lady hyped the idea that I would be its first male manager.  And then - I don't know - I guess it all got to me.  The reality of the situation hit me like a ton of bricks.

I didn't really care to be working in women's accessories, I just wanted to hangout with Barbie.  And this was never supposed to be my job job, just something to keep me busy at night while my boyfriend was out of town.  And frankly, I didn't even want to be in the DC area anymore for fear of running into Ex#1 out and about.  So I gave up my $19,000 a year job and just quit one day.  I had gone too far on this side journey and I needed to get back to the main road.  I didn't warn Barbie or anyone else about it, I just quit.  I wasn't the most responsible person back then.

Barbie and I were estranged for a while after that, and rightly so.  I've of course gotten much better at dealing with good-byes and ending situations, but at 22 years old, I was still emotionally immature.  I remember we eventually met and talked about things, but since then I had moved back home and was nowhere near DC anymore.  So the friendship, in its most recent form, dissolved.  

But Barbie kept trying to chase me down over the years.  She called my parents to find out where I was and how I was doing.  She invited me to her wedding, but I don't remember ever receiving the invitation, which could have been lost at Mom and Dad's at some point.  We lost touch, mostly because I was either too unstable in my living situation or was just lazy at maintaining contact.   Add to the fact that I HATE talking on the telephone.  I always have.  But then, years later, Facebook brought us back together,

Barbie and Me, 2016
Barbie and I met recently for lunch in Tyson's Corner.  It was the first time in 27 years we'd seen each other.  We reminisced and caught each other up on our lives, our marriages, our parents, her daughter, our careers and our families.  In many ways, she was exactly the same as I remember: same movements, same voice, same speech patterns, same face.  In turn, Barbie said I was completely different, that I was much more calm now, much more settled.  I chalked it up to simply being older and wiser.

By the way, working at Accessory Lady was Job #12.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Griffin Matures

This past weekend, we celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary by road-tripping to see family.  We visited with an uncle and aunt in Ohio, spent 2 days with my clan in Maryland, then spent 2 more days with Kevin's sister, Kerry, and her family in Virginia.

Kerry is the mother of Griffin, our nephew.  He was the ring bearer in our wedding and you might remember he had some reservations about us getting married at all.  Two years ago, Griffin found it almost incomprehensible that "two boys" could get married.  In his world of Disney and iPad video, he had never seen 2 males get married, especially if one of them was a bad guy.

Fast forward two years to this past weekend where we overheard Griffin, at the ripe old age of 7, schooling another kid on the swing set at the playground:
Griffin (pointing to Kevin):  That's my uncle.
Other Boy:  Where's your aunt?
Griffin:  I don't have one, I have another uncle.
Other Boy:  Huh?
Griffin:  My uncle married another boy.  Well, an adult man.
Other Boy:  What?
Griffin:  Boys can marry boys, you know.  They bought a house in Chicago.
The conversation was simply matter-of-fact.  And to Griffin, it was no longer a big deal or ANY deal in his world.  But he's smart enough to know that not everyone thinks the same way he does.  And I wouldn't be too surprised if he enjoyed having the upper hand; at least knowing more about the subject than a peer.

Then Griffin saw me:
Griffin:  That's my Uncle Dop.  The bald guy.  He's got, like, the shortest name in the world.  
So that's who and what I am to a 7-year old.  It give me hope for the future.  On the walk back to the house, we couldn't help but wonder what was going to happen when Other Boy goes home from the playground and tells his parents, "Did you know boys can marry boys?"