If you listened to the aforementioned Awkward Human podcast, you know this story already. But, it’s too funny to not write as well.
I get hit on a lot. Likely a combination of boyish looks, constantly bared legs, and very visible queerness, men are always approaching me about something sexual. This is not a complaint but more of a thing that happens: I am a sexualized object to many gay men.
They have many different tactics in expressing themselves. Some do a hand on the shoulder with a squeeze and ask if we can hang out. Others suggest I sit on their lap. Some just raise both eyebrows in a Morse Code sequence. The best, and most forward, has to be the man who gesticulates a blow job with an open mouth and bobbing hand. It’s cute until you realize that it is 7AM, you are riding the bus to work, and that the man is furiously rubbing his crotch.
One of the most bizarrely intimate is the handshake. It’s not a normal handshake but an intense secret sex handshake. These men walk up to you, ask you how you are doing, and introduce themselves with a handshake—or they just go for the handshake. But this isn’t a normal handshake: the secret is that they are rubbing your palm, tickling as they wink. Like the blow job face, it’s cute until you realize that this is a direct gesture to sleep with you. It is a cruising move, something that happens in front of a building and ends behind a building. It is akin to the Hanky Code: it is the most direct yet most covert means by which to solicit sex.
This is why it was super fucking surprising when an older Hasidic Jewish man did this to me.
I was walking home from work after a surprise happy hour. I had two cocktails and was appropriately buzzed, now lost listening to music and taking photos of weird plants. After realizing that I had taken a photo of my wonderfully bizarre Moscow Teen outfit, I decided to occupy my walk with Instagramming. I walked past a breaking synagogue and sidestepped the crowd as I edited myself in drunkenness.
I crossed the street and noticed that a man a block away was crossing the street. A block later, I crossed the street again and noticed that…the man crossed too. Whatever. He must live nearby. At this point, I was a block away from my apartment which is in a center for the Jewish community: this person was walking home too.
Then, I was touched: the man was next to me. I thought he was tapping on my shoulder to pass me on the sidewalk so I ignored him but it became quite clear that he was trying to connect with me because he wrapped his arm around my shoulder. I took out an earbud.
“You look really great,” he said. He was wearing a traditional top hat with a black blazer and black pants along with a disheveled white button up that had his tzitzit tassels spread all over his crotch to low paunch area. He had facial hear and an accent.
“I am a French Hasidic Jewish man,” he said. He stuck out his hand.
“Oh, nice to meet you.” His hand was still out.
“What is your name?”
“Kyle,” I extend my hand, in drunken politeness. He maintains the grasp and we are walking, holding a hand between us, in a strange solo Hora.
“You look very nice,” he says, pointing at my legs with his free hand and tickling my palm with the other. “We should do something together.”
Things start clicking: this man is trying to sleep with me.
“I’m actually on my way to dinner—”
“Where? Where do you live?”
A block away. “East of here. That way,” I point in a direction far from us.
“When is your dinner? We can hang out now.” He is still tickling my palm.
“I’m actually late.”
“We can be fast.”
“No, I’m good.”
“When are you free?”
“I don’t know.”
“When?” his face gets very close to mine and I’m nervous he’s going to pin me to the ground, slobber on me, and rub my parts. This would sound appealing if I had met this man in any other context but a tickling handhold, which I now break and stand in front of him because my hand is sweating and my buzz has disappeared.
“I don’t know. Can—”
“Lunch. I don’t know.”
“Can I call you? Can I have your number?”
He leans forward and, although he isn’t, it feels like he is now pressed against me. I pull out a business card from my wallet, one with a non-working email and no phone number.
“Here,” I tell him, handing him the card.
“You look very nice,” he licks his lips or it feels like he is because the conversation is over. “I will see you tomorrow.” He runs away, stuffing hands into his pants to either put the card away or feel himself.
I laugh and wipe my hand on my short shorts and power walk very quickly to create distance, in case he changed his mind and decided to attack me. As I turn the corner, I resume my Instagramming a photo of what I am wearing—short animal print shorts, a gas puddle shirt, chunky footwear—and see how I can be confused for an object.
Interested or not, prude or prowler, it was an encounter. I’ve often wondered who in the Hasidic community is gay and how they function—or if it’s even allowed. Whatever the case, clearly there is untapped desire tied up in heavy handshakes.