Some time ago I was at the receiving end of the unsolicited and unreciprocated attentions of someone I barely knew. At 30, I’ve learnt to deal with such situations, practically on auto-pilot. What made this situation different was that this time, there was a woman at the other end.
The details of the situation are not important. Indeed the matter has been wrapped up and laid to rest. But what struck me was the thoughts and concerns it raised. I agonized and brooded over it far longer than I usually would have. I was apprehensive about my reaction and also more strongly impacted by the other person’s behaviour, than usual.
And at the very base of it, I unearthed something I wasn’t expecting to find and certainly wasn’t pleased to see. I treated that situation differently only because it was a gay person propositioning me and not a straight person. The realisation surprised me because I always thought of myself as liberal and completely open-minded about this.
It’s taken me a good while to hit upon something else though. My response is indicative, not of discrimination or stereotyping. It was an acknowledgment of a situation that was different from what I was used to. I do not understand the norms and the beliefs and the signals of the gay community as instinctively as I understand those of straight people. My extra consideration was coming from the assumption that things could be interpreted differently. If I discovered that at the end of it, they weren’t that different, that’s just, well, learning from experience.
An interesting thought that came my way from a friend was,
A stupid person is a stupid person. It has nothing to do with being gay or straight.
I realized that I had been extraordinarily fortunate in having encountered only insightful, mature gay people prior to this. My attitude so much stems from my experience and it has all been only good thus far.
On the other hand, what if things had been different for me? What if my first ever encounter with a gay person had been someone who was desperate, clingy or immature? Given how little education we get about homosexuality, would it not have been a natural response for me to decide that all gay people were like that?
I’ve taken to asking my straight friends who display homophobia (and they’re mostly men) about why they feel the way they do. A number of them don’t have a clear answer to that and it turns out that they are just going along with what they’ve been conditioned to think, by early influences or popular media. Such people will generally listen to reason and have been even willing to acknowledge that they could be wrong. A sample of the things I’ve heard,
I don’t have a problem with gay people per se. I guess I’m just afraid one of them might hit on me and I wouldn’t know what to do.
There is also another set of responses I’ve received. These are from people who’ve been assaulted, felt up, hit upon (in one case during a job interview) by the first gay person they met. Also considering that this is the average Indian man to whom being the recipient of attention as opposed to the giver is an earth-shatteringly alien experience, you can imagine why this has a diabolical effect on their thinking.
There are no conclusions to draw from this line of thought. Except that my own experience and what I learnt from it, made me understand homophobia a little better. And then again, to tackle something, it’s necessary to understand its origins, isn’t it?
It’s a question I posed to a mixed group of friends. The women were all united in their belief that it didn’t make sense to do so. Most men (and this is an opinion I share) aren’t used to the concept of someone else taking the romantic initiative. And even if there is the possibility of a relationship, their absolute bewilderment over the way the situation happens could very well ruin it. The male ego just doesn’t permit such a relationship, even if there is interest.
The only trouble is when a woman likes a guy, it’s a real pain in the ass to sit around waiting for him to ask her out. Ask any woman about the frustration of watching a guy eye you all evening, start to walk towards you and then stop and turn back. It’s an ARRRRGGGGGHH situation.
The men on the other hand were largely open to the idea. I was quite surprised to hear the things that some of them said,
“It would be really nice to have the girl take the initiative for a change.”
“Guys like compliments and receiving attention too.”
“I’m hopeless at setting up the whole romantic scenario. It would be so great if she’d take charge of that.”
And finally the clinching deal for their side was a male friend who had just announced that he was getting engaged.
“My fiancé proposed to me.”
Now honestly, I think it’s wise to try something out before passing a judgement on it. So yes, I have asked a guy out as well. Not once, several times. It was an enlightening experience.
For starters, it’s horribly nerve-tangling. The worrying about how to ask, where to go, what to do and what the other person will think of you. I felt a rush of sympathy for all the men who had summoned up the nerve to ever express an interest in me. It does take a lot of courage and planning.
The one thing that surprised me was how the entire effort consumed me. Like I told a friend,
“The thrill of the chase is something I could get used to. The not-knowing, even the slight panic…there’s a heady high attached to it.”
I must also add that being in the driving seat, so to speak, being the one bringing together the whole production somehow automatically switched me into a place of only thinking about the absolutely necessary. A friend of mine was goading me into taking things to a more serious level. I thought about it and I surprised myself by saying,
“When you ask someone for a commitment, you are also saying that you’re ready to commit yourself. I’m not sure yet if that’s the case. I just want to see where this goes for now.”
As I said it, I knew I sounded exactly like a guy. And yet, I wasn’t being commitment-phobic, I wasn’t planning on two-timing and I wasn’t ‘in it for the ride’. I really, honestly didn’t know where things were going and having taken up the responsibility to take it somewhere, I just wanted to take it slowly.
The one thing that stands out is that the person who takes the initiative is definitely setting himself (or herself) up for the possibility of rejection…but even more subtly he or she is saying yes to being in a place of uncertainty for at least some time.
Since I started telling a story, I should tell you the end. The man in question is involved with someone else, a fact that I discovered several weeks later and then too only on pushing him. That can happen. He says he wasn’t sure if it was dates or just friendly meetings. What the truth is, is anyone’s guess. Should one take the risk of being stood up or humiliated? There’s no answer to that, except that guys do it all the time (take the risk I mean, not just what this guy did).
As I see it, being the woman taking charge means one is playing an unusual role and there’s ample scope to be misunderstood. If the guy is a jerk, he could easily use the situation for maximum benefit and get a lot out of the girl without giving her anything back. But then again, falling in love is always a risk, every time, in every single situation. Besides the reverse is probably equally true, especially in today’s day and age. A woman can just as easily free-ride on a guy’s attentions and then walk away without a second thought.
So at the end I’m inclined to say that if you have the nerve for it, don’t let social norms stop you. If you’re a guy who agrees with what my male friends said, try not to be an ass or a jerk about it. In the long run, it’ll encourage more women to take the initiative and things will only get easier and pleasanter for you. If like me, you’re a woman who can’t stand to sit around looking pretty and waiting to be asked out, go right into the chase. Just keep your band-aids and chocolates and close friends about. Just in case.
“Would you slap me if I asked you to spend the night with me?”
I said, “No.”
He looked positively thrilled as he squeaked, “Are you sure?” (Perhaps he assumed I was saying yes to the implied question when I said no to the direct one….does that make sense? Search me….that’s male logic)
“Positive”, I monotoned,
“I don’t go around slapping people for things like this. There are worse crimes, you know.”
It is true. I don’t particularly enjoy violence. I didn’t even bat an eyelid when a roadside Romeo ran the oh-so-corny “Umar hai solah, kamar coca-cola” line on me last week. Yup, I’m a lily-livered, many-feathered chicken in such matters. Verbal warfare is my forte but no, I’m not getting into a clash with someone who might decide to fling some acid on me tomorrow.
Now a guy whom I know, that’s different. Well…not so very much. I would stay and defend my ground but I still don’t like the idea of hitting someone to make a point. I mean, if you can’t win by superior logic and intellect then maybe you aren’t superior after all. Why stoop to such base instincts, then?
I have only slapped a guy twice in my life. The first time was a mistake. A hot-headed 13-year old trying to handle peer pressure doesn’t think too clearly. In my case, I just delivered a stinging slap on the face of the guy I thought was passing around a photograph of Pooja Bhatt in a horrendous costume, with my name scrawled over it. As it turned out, someone else was responsible and he was just looking at it. Poor thing suffered a crush on me as well….which oddly enough, seemed to increase in fervour after this episode.
The second time, I wasn’t hitting. I was hitting back. And that needs no more justification than just that.
So yes, contrary to some popular perception, I do not carry artillery around
with me. (Yes, there was that one boyfriend who used to sign off his letters as “Xena’s guy”…..dysfunctional imbecile, he thought it was cute!)
Not that anyone seems to believe it. Why would anyone be surprised? You can say yes. You can say no. Yes, just say it. You don’t need to demonstrate it. Well, sure there are those who don’t understand the word the first time round. But there are a few hundred ways to convince them. None of them involve touching them.
Is the physical so important to underline the emotional, the mental? There are people who are subtle…I’m not one of them. But I don’t need to mash someone to pulp to prove that I’m not to be messed with.
As an endnote to women: Dahlings, if he’s annoying enough for you to want to hurt him, why touch him at all? If you have to hit, aim where it hurts….his ego. Men may come in all shapes and sizes but they are united on this one point. Sticks and stones may break his bones but a carefully phrased sentence can tear him shreds in an instant. A slap is nothing in comparison.
Choose your battles and use your words well.
The fine print:
And anyone who thought that this post had something to with kinky sex on account of its title and are still waiting…HAHAHAHA! Look at the title of this blog….I bet at least half the people who saw it first thought of steamy b-grade movies. I love word-play.