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One night on campus, I realized that women weren’t just afraid of the “creepy” guys

I’ve watched countless women share their #MeToo stories over the past two weeks. Well, as a 28-year-old man who is 6 feet tall, I have a #MeToo to share, too. But it isn’t really about me.

I could tell you stories about unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances I’ve experienced as a man (from both men and women), but that’s not what this is about. It’s about an eye-opening experience I had when I was a university student at the University of Southern Mississippi.

I was working in the darkroom late one evening on a project for my photojournalism class. When I started to leave, I crossed onto a deserted area of campus that was surrounded by buildings. As I stepped out from between the buildings, I saw a young woman walking in front of me. I saw her quickly glance sideways just enough to see that someone was walking behind her, and then her pace immediately quickened. She wasn’t running, but she was noticeably walking much more quickly.

That’s when I realized she was afraid of me. That stung a bit.

To soothe her, I said loudly, “I swear I’m not a creeper.” She stopped, turned and looked at me, and then, to further earn her trust, I smiled and said, “I’m gay.”

She grabbed her chest and breathed a huge sigh of relief, smiled, and then ran over to me and asked if I would please walk with her back to her dorm. She said it’s frightening walking across campus late at night because guys can be really intimidating to her.

I walked her back and she thanked me.

She had been terrified just because a guy had been walking in the same direction as her. It didn’t matter if I was a “good guy” who “would never do anything to harm a woman.”

A woman should never be so relieved for a man to tell her he’s gay (I much prefer the annoying – and totally not true – “Well damn. Why are all the hot ones always gay?” response). But the thought has crossed my mind that a predatory straight guy could use “I’m gay” as a strategy to lure a woman in. And that’s frightening.

Ever since that night, when I’m in similar situations, I do whatever I can to make sure I’m not making a woman feel uncomfortable. I’ve purposefully made wrong turns and gone on a longer route several times just so as not to make a woman fear that the man walking behind her might be getting ready to attack her.

Me, early to a glow stick event at a local bar during my time as a student at the University of Southern Mississippi, c. 2011. I didn’t think I looked frightening (but why am I so bug-eyed in this photo?).

If I’m ever in a situation where it’s unavoidable, I imagine I might get more inventive. Perhaps I could pull my phone out and uncharacteristically blast something that really says, “Don’t worry, the guy behind you is totally gay!” Maybe a song by by Madonna or Beyoncé or Lady Gaga. That might be overkill, though.

While I could, as I said at the beginning, tell you stories about times men and women have made unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances on me (and even cyberstalked me on Snapchat with unwanted, gross snaps), I can only think of one time when I felt intimidated or frightened – and that was because I was stuck somewhere with a stranger who was drunk and who was making comments that felt threatening not only to me, but to a friend who was with me. All the other times, I either felt mildly disgusted or annoyed.

But I’ve never felt as terrified as the young woman I saw on campus that night did. And it wasn’t even because a man had given her a reason to feel afraid. It was merely because she was alone and a man was present. That was reason enough.

That’s why I can’t honestly say #MeToo the way many women can. I can identify with the fact that women have experienced unwanted advances, but I can’t identify with the ongoing fear and intimidation so many women feel just because of the mere presence of a man. As it turns out, it isn’t just the legitimate creeps and predators that women are afraid of. It’s men like me, too.

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