I was a 13-year-old kid, the son of the company's office manager, spending a blistering hot summer helping out in the warehouse. The guy was about 25, part of the regular warehouse crew, pulling boxes of shoes and socks for delivery to the 20 or so stores the company had in the Chicago area. He had no power over me, at least as far as the employment situation. On the contrary, I am sure that one word from me and he would have been out on the street, looking for a minimum wage job somewhere else. It was a complete reversal of the typical workplace harassment situation.
But that didn't stop him from being the aggressor, in a quiet, insidious, way. The warehouse contained rows and rows of high shelving units packed to the ceiling with cartons of shoes. Standing in the aisles between those racks was like being in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, hidden from view and detection. It was in one of those secretive corridors that he made his move.
First, he showed me some "French postcards " that he claimed to have just found on the sidewalk outside the warehouse. Porn was much harder to find in those pre-Hustler, pre-Internet, pre-Comcast days, so it was quite a surprise to have an older guy showing me risque snapshots. He followed the peep show with increasingly personal questions until I finally got the drift of where he hoped this encounter was heading.
I mumbled "not interested," in my 13-year old Bar Mitzvah boy's voice. He backed off. I didn't say a word about it to anyone, certainly not to my dad. The other warehouse workers were unaware of the incident but played nasty tricks on the man on the basis of generalized homophobia. I can only wonder if there may have been other propositions made between the shoe racks, but at least the other recipients would have been above the age of consent.
Was I a victim? Yes. Was he a predator? Absolutely. Was I traumatized by the episode? I don't think so, although it is certainly made enough of an impression on me that it is the only incident of that summer job that I clearly recall. While it was unfortunate that my first interaction with someone who I recognized to be gay was a negative one, that has not colored my association with the many LGBT individuals with whom I have worked, celebrated and shared with over the years.
I don't believe I have ever acted inappropriately towards a woman-I don't believe I ever will. But perhaps looking back on this episode helps me understand the pain, the discomfort, and the torment of women who must deal with harassment on a routine basis, particularly when the predator has the power to put the victim's well-being or livelihood at risk. And after reading the outpouring of #metoo personal stories this week, I will be ready to intercede if I become aware of that type of behavior around me.
So that our mothers, wives, and daughters can stop becoming #metoo.
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