Last night I ran into Masturbating Joe on the subway. That’s my nickname for him because I’ve seen this homeless guy masturbating on the subway three times now. He’s always on a crowded subway, and everyone seems to just let him do his business, as if it would be rude to interrupt him.
I can’t help but think back to my days of student teaching whenever I see Masturbating Joe.
On my very first day, in my very first class I had a student that I will call little Joe. I asked him a question and he proceeded to slide off his stool and began to rub against it. I walked over to him and repeated the question. He kept rubbing against the stool and wouldn’t look at me. “Joe, you need to look at me, I’m asking you a question.”
That’s when my mentor teacher pulled me aside. She explained that Joe had been sexually molested from the time he was a baby until he was five years old. When he gets scared he starts to masturbate because he was so sexually over-sensitized from an early age it’s the only thing that comforts him. After this abuse was discovered he was put into intense counseling, but after 4 years he still wasn’t getting any better.
During the rest of my time student teaching, I really grew to love Joe. He was sweet and sensitive, and eager for my attention. While he never stopped masturbating in class, it was much easier to ignore it.
I think about him often. He would be 14 now. It’s one thing for a nine year old to rub himself against a stool, but another thing for a 14 year old. I wonder if he was ever able to stop the habit. If not, I wonder if he’ll ever be able to have a normal life. Who would employ him? Who would date him? Will he become Masturbating Joe on the subway?
What happened to little Joe was so unfair. He was robbed of a normal life. Once I knew about his history, it was easy to look past his unusual behavior, but I wouldn’t do that for the grown man on the subway.
When does that switch happen? When does someone’s disorder go from being understandable to unacceptable? It’s not like the circumstances that caused the disorder change as someone gets older.
I’m not saying that we should all take a seat next to Masturbating Joe and hold his hand. But I do think that we need to have a little more sympathy for people who do things that disturb us. You never know what caused them to be that way.