I remember going to a gay bar in New Orleans a lot. It was a lot of fun because of the music, the scene, and socializing. The downstairs was always packed on Sunday nights — not until late though, as most men retired early to have a decent sleep before Monday. But if you caught the early evening there would be plenty of handsomeness and even raunchiness to please your eyes. Sometimes a guy would take a free seat next to you at a wall table, start a conversation, see where it went. Sometimes you would cruise the bar and look at everyone hoping that somebody might look back. Sometimes they did, but it ended with just looking. These guys were either with someone or clearly not interested. But other times when you were standing in the middle of the crowd some hand would touch you lightly on the ass or pat you on the shoulder, and an inviting look told you that somebody else was interested in your company.
Most touching occurred only virtually by looking at guys, groping them with your eyes, making all sorts of things to them, and with them. You would hope that some of the patrons were making all sorts of things with you in their brief imagination as well. But there was always a chance for physical contact, lots of it actually — dancing with a guy who fancied you, touching guys gently to let you pass through the crowd, letting some drag queen squeeze your tits in her playful mode between the shows, and certainly that occasional climax of your longing when you felt someone’s hand was not asking you to let them pass but inviting you to a conversation.
It would be too quick to assume that conversation was only a pretext. It often was, but all of us being adults we knew what we wanted if we wanted anything with that hand’s owner. Nobody asked any permission to touch you if only this request was glittering in the corner of their eyes when they met yours. Permission granted. After all, it was just a gentle touch, a light pat, a soft squeeze. Wasn’t it why you came there? Not just that, but ultimately yes. It was a way to meet people, make friends, find lovers.
Not that everybody was busy touching other guys. Not that everybody would be reciprocating. Not that everybody would dare freely grope someone by their ass. But that was okay to try and receive either permission to proceed or a look of rather not. Everything was strictly consensual. There was no sex but it was — touching, kissing, groping, lightly jerking, and anticipating. Or looking for ways to escape the arms of your new friend if you suddenly stopped fancying him. You could just say no, and you could pretend you needed to go. Nobody would force you to anything — but some people wanted to be playfully forced, they longed for it.
I wrote a middle part of this piece about the current wave of sexual harassment scandals ripping through Hollywood. But I decided to omit some of it and rearrange it for several reasons:
I haven’t been a victim of sexual abuse and I don’t think I have ever been a victim of sexual harassment. Therefore, I don’t know what a victim feels, why they choose to keep silent, how they cope with the situation and people, and what makes them break their silence much later.
I don’t quite want to accuse the majority of accusers of being second-class mostly unknown celebs returning to the spotlight at the expense of more talented or more successful colleagues, and those men and women who speak out with substantial reasons behind their accusations.
I don’t want to defend the notorious Hollywood tradition and culture of sexual harassment, abuse, threats, intimidation, sleeping your way to the titles of best pictures, and flashing your dicks outside the shooting stage.
However, I also find it strange, suspicious, and bizarre that:
Most accused are men. Most accused are White men.
Presumption of innocence doesn’t work when it comes to celebrities.
Everybody suddenly claims that they have always known.
People are quick in their judgments and casting down their idols with ease.
I believe in several things.
I believe that the American judicial system is capable of clearing out the innocent ones and smashing the real villains. Mistakes happen, the mechanism is slow, and the fact that victims were silent certainly doesn’t help. But if justice is governed by the system, this system must be used instead of only the court of public opinion and allegations on social media.
I believe that men and women need to feel safe at work and at home, in bars and elevators, in dark streets, and in bright ballrooms. People need to know the boundaries and how to communicate with each other so that their “no” is not interpreted as “maybe yes”, and their “yes” does not turn into “no” years later. This is a painful process and it would be rather idealistic to expect people to achieve a foolproof level of personal relations.
I believe that the way to this better world should not go through witch-hunting of particular demographic groups, unsubstantiated accusations, and reverse actions on our admiration of someone’s talent.
I believe, however, that if one person wants to have sex with another person and another person agrees it is their private decision and their conscience as long as nobody forces anything and nobody pretends to be an innocent lamb later. So, casting couch is a thing that might co-exist with the fair casting process. Aspiring artists must have fair and equal access to their potential jobs which would not include any sexual favors to those in power. But the talentless artists have every right to get the job by consensually sleeping with producers or directors — after all, the public would easily see who has the talent and who is just a one-time oddity.
I believe that when parents of a 14-year old boy or a 13-year girl let them go to late-night adult parties unchaperoned knowing pretty well that adult parties come with alcohol and all sorts of adult things, the said boy or girl cannot put all the blame on someone else.
I believe that when everybody says they knew, they are in fact accusing themselves of perpetrating the crime. They — all this bunch of people pretending to be morally good — are nothing less than hypocrites, and accomplices. They kept up appearances when it suited them, they did not care about justice or victims’ rights. When it was useful to be friends with powerful figures they were. When it now became dangerous to support their former colleagues or friends they don’t. If you know for sure — say it right then and there. Sometimes actual abusers don’t make me as sick as all this nice crowd of people who knew but pretended things were fine, made jokes, and continued business as usual.
I believe that this business is dirty and brutal. One day you bring millions to the studios, another day your contract is torn, the projects are canceled, and your face is hastily substituted in the almost ready films with somebody else who has been luckier. The good thing is the studios do not retrospectively wipe you from the already released movies. Yet. But your career is effectively killed. All because the studios care about the money, and they cannot easily discard the public opinion about those who may either bring millions or can make them lose millions.
Finally, though not hopeful that Spacey’s or Piven’s careers can be reborn I am sure nothing would stop me from admiring whatever outstanding work they have managed to perform so far. They (and others) might be terrible people in life but they are undoubtedly great talents still capable of giving us aesthetical pleasure from their on-screen acts.
If one day I go back to that gay bar in New Orleans I am not sure if things are still the same after all these years. Do men still go cruising, do they still touch each other, do they kiss? Or are they scared this behavior is no longer safe even in their free time, even with the like-minded people, even with the mutual consent? Or maybe the world of gay bars is still intact, and people are still honest and open there?
It never hurt to touch other men there. It never hurt to find a polite reason to avoid talking to someone. It never hurt feeling that you were among your comrades in arms so to speak. And I now declare that every single man who has ever touched me, looked at me, spoke to me, danced with me, or made out with me (in or beyond the bar limits) did so with my heartfelt consent. Hopefully, other men will feel the same if I happen to revisit.