Transforming the Red Line’s handicapped seating into his own expanse, the clean man idled his cock. His rite.
Saturday, 7 AM, en route to the only standardized test that’s ever made me nervous, I was re-devouring Chabon’s latest when the clean man’s slow study caught my eye. Ha, I invisibly eye-rolled; that guy sure loves scratching his crotch. What is this, 6th Grade P.E.?
Oh. That . . .
Bryn Mawr: squeeze. Thorndale: up. Granville: down. Loyola: clasp. Morse: stare. Jarvis: up. Howard: tuck.
We are temporarily awaiting signal clearance: the blankest leer.
Because the pleasure was in the performance, and on the Red Line’s northern phalanges, his audience consisted of: six sleeping, or comatose, or just plain tired, men; one cowering elderly woman; and me.
I: startled, puzzled. But most of all, annoyed; not this shit again. Seriously, dude. What the fuck. I don’t need this.
Of course, his act was illegal. And it did make me uncomfortable — especially once I realized he ached for eye contact. But was it immoral? And why is it illegal? And why should it make me uncomfortable?*
After all, I have no beef with masturbation. And I like to see people happy; I like that people feel good. And he wasn’t hurting me, really, right? He was doing his thing, and I, four rows down, was doing mine. He didn’t call out; he didn’t follow me; he didn’t insist on himself. I thought he wanted me to See him — but as I refused, that could just be in my imagination.
But of course, this was different, because we don’t masturbate in public, or have sex in public, for that matter; because we think it is deviant to throw it around in a public space; and if you’re doing so, you must be making some sort of statement — either that you can’t help pleasuring yourself, or that you fucking hate this world you found yourself in, and you demand to be heard, even if through the performance of the simplest pleasure; and because I, your audience, presume it’s communicative, and because it’s not the norm, I interpret it as a threat. So it’s wrong because We Have Rules, and You Are Breaking the Rules, and You Are Breaking Them Because Now I Will Hear You, and
This aggression will not stand, man.
I dreaded the possibility of him frosting me. But I was pissed that he could throw off my morning, and pissed at myself for letting him get to me, and pissed at our world that this act even is something I’m supposed to be afraid of.
And then I was pissed because his damn schlong reminded me of nothing more or less than my daily pet peeve: men, on public transit, loose-limbed, spread-eagled all over their own seats and 15% of their neighbors’. Men who sprawl and claim their balls need air while I fold my shoulders and press my knees and clasp my hands and hold my breath and clutch my purse and seethe at their goddam birthright entitlement.
I was petrified of everything. Earthquakes. Wildfire. Flood. Earthquakes. House fire. Strangers. Neighbors. Mountain lions. I was a terrified child, so I ran around and read my books and Did Whatever the Fuck I Wanted, because what’s the point of living small if some freak thing is going to eat you up anyway?
But most of all, I was terrified of being pregnant. I, a virgin ten-year-old little girl, could imagine no fate worse than Immaculate Conception. Because I would beg and plead and argue and yell and write and for what? Would you believe anyone who said The Second Coming would tumble out of her hairless loins?
At some point, I became too tired to be scared for my own physical safety. So when a man pulls out his cock on the train, I exhale and internally bemoan that I just don’t feel like a fucking facial right now. Just not right now. Jesus.
We have decided that some crimes really are about the object, not the subject. Maybe it’s like my dad said — “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” Once abused by a boyfriend, always a victim; once raped, must cry — cry, damn it, or you wanted that to happen to you.
I can’t shake that this you’re-damaged-forever pops up just in crimes about sex, or ones that we can purport are about sex. (As if rape were just about sex, or as if public masturbation were about just being too anxious to wait until you get home.) And this — this, is a problem. Why do we call rape “rape,” instead of “torture?” Why do we focus on this torture’s modality?
By making rape its own separate category, and by saying rape victims are forever damaged, and even by referring to objects of rape as “rape victims” or “rape survivors” or similar things, we keep telling them — hey, yeah; this is a special situation. It’s a special situation because it’s sex. And ultimately, we call you a “rape survivor” because we are convinced that your sexual purity is a — if not the — fundamental component of your very humanity. So if somebody’s really trying to just move on from a terrible thing she in no way caused, why do we insist on defining these individuals by something someone else did to them?
Oh shit g2g, ladies’ night
*Not to Carrie Bradshaw all over the place.