‘I Can’t Imagine What It’s Like For Women’, My Street Harassment Story As A Man

Flickr / Georgie Pauwels
Flickr / Georgie Pauwels

Street harassment definitely happens to men. I’ve had several brushes. Admittedly, most of these have happened while wandering through unfamiliar neighborhoods at night. Regardless of where or when, each instance has involved a man making an un-welcomed advance. I won’t count being checked out or chatted up by men who had no way of gauging my interest. Some men have approached me respectfully. I’ve regretted rejecting them, but I haven’t been able to pretend to like men out of pity.

Other men have been quite aggressive. I’ve been able to ignore stares and comments. What follows are some exchanges that haven’t been as easy to ignore.

During one of many lonely nights in college, I stopped at an adult video store to buy some porn. It was 1997 and online porn wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. This place always had two-dozen cars in the parking lot, but no one in the store. Everyone was back in the viewing booths. I was surprised to see a guy lingering around the toys. As I shopped, he walked past me and mumbled something. When I didn’t respond, he did it again. I figured he was selling drugs. I left with my porn. He followed me to my car. Not sure what he wanted, I turned to face him. Startled, he put up his hands and said, “Look man, no disrespect. I just want to know if I could suck your dick.” I simply said, “Sorry. No thanks.”

With that, I got in my car and drove away. It didn’t end there. He got in his car and followed me for several miles. Maybe he was driving my direction, but he made a pair of turns behind me and stayed quite close.

I finally turned abruptly in a parking lot and shook him. The exchange annoyed rather than frightened me, but it stayed with me.

I stopped in Las Vegas on a multi-week solo drive across the United States. My plan was to explore the Strip by foot. This was 1999 and the northern end of the Strip remained a bit rough. I saw a few women hooking, but a few men who appeared to be soliciting as well. A block or two after noticing, a young man approached me and started walking alongside me. Initially, he asked me for a light. After I declined, he kept walking next to me. I expected him to ask me for change, but instead, he propositioned me.

He wanted to give me head in an alleyway. I don’t recall him disclosing cost. I declined again and kept walking. When he continued walking with me, I stopped and politely but firmly told him I wasn’t interested. He didn’t take the hint. For several blocks, he persisted. The street was poorly lit and dotted with shady people. Frustrated and unsure how far he’d go, I let him have it with a moment that didn’t exactly make me proud. I turned, faced him, and shouted, “Get the fuck away from me or I’ll break your fucking jaw, faggot!” That worked. He looked pissed, but also scared.

I felt like a scumbag for being so harsh and hateful, but he left me alone.

A few years later while backpacking across Europe, I visited Rome. On my second night there, I wandered into a festival. Typically, I avoid large gatherings, but on this trip, I decided to explore. As I made my way through the crowd, I noticed most of the revelers were men. The party was for gay dudes. This was fine, but I didn’t want to inadvertently communicate interest to anyone. I didn’t get much chance to ponder this. A man approached me and started dancing with me—on me, more accurately. He wrapped his leg around my back and tried to put his hand on my ass. When he reached for my crotch, I realized this really wasn’t a sexual advance. My wallet was in my front pocket. He was trying to grab it. Before realizing this, my plan had been to put my hands up and shake my head “No” to show I wasn’t interested. When I felt him going for my wallet, I shoved him hard and took a defensive stance. His friends surrounded him. I wasn’t certain how shoving a man at a giant gay party would be received.

He backed off. His friends moved on. So did I.

The only time I felt scared was in Munich. On the same backpacking trek, I went out late on my first night in town. Again I managed to wander onto a prostitute stroll. The neighborhood was desolate. A car crept up alongside me. The driver put down his window and shouted something to me in German. I shrugged my shoulders and kept walking.

He persisted. I told him I didn’t speak German and continued on my path. When he wouldn’t stop, I changed directions. He actually went around the block and changed directions to continue following me. I looked for a rock to throw at him, but couldn’t find one. I hustled to a busy intersection and darted across the street against oncoming traffic. My fear came from him being in a car and me being on foot. I didn’t know if he was alone. I’d seen enough horror movies to picture gruesome outcomes. Most likely, he just wanted me to suck his cock. I felt threatened nonetheless. Being completely alone in another country influenced this, but the scenario would’ve been unsettling anywhere.

I’ve wondered if any of these encounters would’ve felt different had I been a woman. Despite my lack of interest, I’ve been flattered when men have hit on me. That sense of flattery has changed to mild concern in the face of insistent types. I’ve only had a few scrapes. Encountering this more often might make me guarded to the point of hostility. I guess street harassment can do that. TC mark

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