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  • Writer's pictureRichard Mailman

Can't Touch This

Not If You Know What's Good For you.




As the head of the Spanish soccer federation faces cancelation for kissing a star player on the lips following their World Cup victory, we’re once again forced to consider the cultural influences, social contexts, and shifting standards that contribute to the complexity of what is and isn’t acceptable. As the kiss seen around the world continues to reverberate several things come to mind. The least of them is a party I attended a few years back during the height of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Keep in mind, the names have been changed to protect the “guilty”.


As production was winding down on the T.V. show I was working on, our annual wrap party was announced and as usual, everyone involved was expected to attend. That included Producers, which I was one of, talent, crew members, and network executives. My partner hates these types of events, so the night of the party I left him at home and headed to the festivities on my own. When I arrived, I got out of my Uber, stepped into a crowd that had spilled out onto the sidewalk, and found myself face-to-face with one of our network executives and his husband. We’ll just refer to them as, Tweddle Dee and Tweddle Dum. Already totally lit, Tweddle Dee, the network executive, grabbed me, pulled me in close, and introduced me to his husband, Tweddle Dum. With his arm around my waist, he shoved a cocktail into my hand and his husband shoved his hand down the back of my pants! Then he sweetly whispered into my ear, “Hot ass.” Well, whaddaya ya know. I had my first honest-to-goodness “Me Too” moment!


I can’t say the groping was a welcome one. Neither of them was particularly my type, and “Dum’s” hand was extremely fucking cold. But for a gay man of a certain age, honestly, I was just happy someone was still interested. It wasn’t until the following morning, back at the production office, standing around the water cooler and recounting the party’s most memorable moments, that I even considered I might have been sexually assaulted. It took one of the other Producers I work with, a woman, to point that out. On my Uber ride home from the party the night before, I did actually question the boldness of “Tweddle Dum’s” move, considering the fact that the Harvey Weinstein debacle was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. We were also at a work function, not the Abby in West Hollywood on a Saturday night. But I just figured, well, boys will be boys. Oops, did I just say that?


For most gay men I know, getting groped at a party would actually be considered a win. But isn’t that exactly the point? For most gay men. If I were a woman, I can assure you, things would have been totally different. I’m sure I would have gone straight to HR and then put Gloria Allred on retainer. But taking down a television network and ruining the career of one of its executives isn’t really my thing. And to be quite frank, I’m not looking to change the entire landscape of gay culture. Wouldn’t that be a bore? But I’m not a woman. And I haven’t spent a lifetime as a second-class citizen constantly fending off the unwanted advances of clueless men. And I’ll be honest, I don’t need that explained to me either. I can hold both of those ideas in my head at the same time. Although our feelings and perspectives may not be the same, I was taught to not only understand but respect the differences. More importantly, I was taught to have empathy and compassion for those whose experiences were different from my own. That includes the buffoon who slips me the goose and makes an off-color remark in a drunken move at a crowded party. Are all situations the same? No. Am I comparing a dumb comment to an actual sexual assault? Absolutely not.


Everyone has their way of being in the world. And it’s probably easiest to understand this basic and deeply profound fact if we consider that every human on the planet grows up in a different environment, affected by different influences. The values and beliefs we all hold are intimately related to our origins and experiences. Each one of us has developed a perspective that’s completely our own. Understanding and accepting this complexity can deepen our empathy and understanding of others. And it can empower us to be able to navigate our differences with an open mind and a more forgiving perspective. When we do that, we can adjust our expectations to avoid making assumptions about why someone behaves the way they do.


We must all be held accountable for our actions. But we must also remember that hurt feelings and bruised sensibilities are vastly different from serious mental and physical abuse. We can set our boundaries for what’s acceptable and what’s not, and at the same time temper our response to perceived bad behavior. It’s easy to assume that others are being unreasonable, boorish, or inappropriate, and they very well may be. But we need to be careful. With our actions and our reactions. When barriers are keeping us from understanding someone, think of questions you can ask to gain a more thorough understanding of their point of view. You might just discover that in addition to your differences in perspective, they may just be bound by personal issues and other insecurities that influence their way of being in the world. Likely, you’ll never fully grasp the multitude of complexities embodied by someone you’re offended by. But you can go a long way toward encouraging a mutually satisfying understanding by reaching out in the spirit of empathetic comprehension. In the words of one of my favorite songwriters, Brenda Russell:


In an ideal world On an Ideal day We could care for each other In an ideal way.


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