I posted on Facebook tonight about a guy I caught jerking off in the public library. The post was more about a rather hilarious, unintended pun from a security guard than it was about the actual act of exhibitionistic wanking. The reactions, however, have been interesting, and have inspired me to write this blog.
Since that post, I have been called a hypocrite, a snitch, and judgemental… all from gay men.
First things first… let’s get the whole story out since the meagre Facebook post was Cole’s Notes. The library was about to close in an hour, and many of the study desks were beginning to clear out. Up on the 6th floor there was me, an empty desk behind me, and then a young woman. Nobody else was near us, that I recall. A man came and sat down at the desk between the woman and me, an action that I thought peculiar considering the wealth of empty desks scattered along that hall. I didn’t think much of it and got back to my research. Then I heard a sound…
There was a repetitive sound that caught my attention, and in looking back over my shoulder I saw that this man had a large book on his lap, and his hand was under it near his junk in his loose gym shorts. That is where the sound was coming from. There was this moment where we caught eyes; we kind of froze there for a second. I then quickly turned back, processing what I believe I saw. He then quickly put his giant books down and left.
This, to me, felt very violating. So much so that I felt I should probably alert security. As I was leaving, this man was standing just outside. Near the door was a conveniently placed security guard, a fella I was about to pass anyhow. I said to him, “See that guy there, I’m pretty sure he was just jerking off on the 6th floor.” To which he replied, “Can’t really do much unless we catch him red-handed” – making me chuckle at his choice of words. It was interesting to hear the security guard talk a bit more about this. He said that this is a long standing issue in libraries because it is a space where people are able to access the internet and, therefore, porn. Prior to that, it was other forms of erotica that was otherwise unattainable or was too shaming to have at home. They even pushed to block certain sites, but apparently it would go against certain freedoms so it has yet to happen
So, what is it that has created this reaction from some of my Facebook friends? Some sexual entitlement of sorts? An overconfident cruising culture? Misconceptions about my values and about who I am as a sexual being?
Hypocrisy? This implies that I do this stuff…. I do not do this. Do I cruise? Yes. To me, there is a certain excitement that comes from stealth, consenting sexual activity out in the world… why not? I understand the attraction and allure of public sex, and getting one’s jollies off with others in sneaky ways. But the key concept here is “consent.” If this man selected that desk solely because it was beside me or beside that young woman, and that was his thrill, then it is incredibly violating. I did not consent, nor did she (I believe). I know the boundaries of sexual exploration and exploitation within a social sphere, and feel like this person’s actions crossed those boundaries.
Gay cruising is a reality; let’s face it. But, by definition cruising implies consent. It is a conscious exploration of and venture into an area that is known for gay sex. These are most commonly washrooms, particular trails in the forest, areas near nude beaches, parking lots, and locker rooms… spaces that are inherently distant from the greater public, secluded, containing adequate privacy, and ill-frequented by families, women and kids. The Central Vancouver Public Library, out in the open in the silent study area, is an entirely different space with entirely different implications.
Being called these things, and receiving these comments, greatly invalidated my sense of violation. I even began to think I did something wrong by bringing this to the attention of the security guard. Why should I feel wrong? Tell me, when did it become ok to masturbate next to strangers in a public library? If I knew he was doing it, and everyone around knew, and we were all consenting, then go for it Mister, have at’r, wank away! But this was not the case. This felt like a violation. This felt exploitative, like I was or she was or we were the unknowing bystanders to his sexual gratification. That is sexual abuse, plain and simple and his quick departure was quite telling. The assumption that I should ok with this, because I am a gay man, is highly problematic.
Am I a snitch? Yes. I suppose by definition I am. I respect the laws and boundaries placed amongst us in society… they protect us and maintain order and public health. If I see someone steal, I will alert someone. If I see someone harassing a barely conscious drunk girl on the street, I will alert someone. I stand up. I use my voice. I use my judgement and make decisions that I feel help strengthen social order. I feel like we have a civil duty to look out for one another, and that includes, in my opinion, what happened tonight. Silence is the most dangerous thing. How many people have seen precursors to criminality, but remained tight-lipped? How many people turn a blind eye to minor abuses that lead to eventual loss off life? The silence of our friends is worse than the abuses of our strangers.
A friend asked me tonight, “How would you feel if someone reported you to security, even if you had consent from the other guy?” – Well I would feel pretty fucking embarrassed! Which would subside and then become a great story, surely. Again, it all comes down to consent and intent. Would I be jerking off with this guy in the middle of a library with astute students around? Hells no.
Am I judgmental? Yes. I use my judgment to determine black from white and right from wrong. I use my judgement to decide what boundaries should and should not be crossed. I use my judgment to decide when to leave dangerous situations. I use my judgement to determine which friends to remove from my Facebook. Judgement is what helps us navigate the world effectively and within boundaries and limits that feel appropriate to us. Did I call this man perverse? Did I call him names? No. I recognized that a boundary was crossed, that it had the potential to put people at risk, and I used my voice.
Don’t like it. Don’t listen.
Want to get some cruising etiquette: A Beginner’s Guide to Cruising.